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YIN/YANG REVIEWS: Daredevil (Season 3) / Sorry to Bother You

Updated: Jul 19, 2019

By Derek May:

YIN: Daredevil (Season 3)

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Matt Murdock. We’ve known of his survival at having a building dropped on him at the end of The Defenders, but through second seasons of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, we’ve not seen hide nor hair of The Man Without Fear. Given that we may have seen the last of Luke and Danny (they were both cancelled last month), I like to think that the extra time was taken to craft the best-possible storyline for our blind hero. And as far as I’m concerned, it was time well spent.

Daredevil came out swinging in its premier season, wiping the slate clean of Affleck and any remnants of cartoony cheese. To coin an overused phrase, it was “gritty,” providing a street-level “view” of the crime, corruption, and charisma of Hell’s Kitchen post “The Incident” with aliens and Avengers. It was artful and honest, its characters authentic and endearing, and set the tone, as well as the bar, for each show that followed. And while I personally enjoyed Daredevil’s second outing, some thought it was a step down, particularly as suffering from too much setup of things to come and a divisive characterization of Elektra. But in either case, season three (which premiered on Netflix on October 19) has been widely lauded as a return to form, and I couldn’t agree more.

It was that personal, street-level point of view and focus on character that really connected with people the first time round, and season three brings Murdock back down to, and even below, that earth. In archetypical hero’s journey fashion, Matt has been dropped into the very depths of hell following his auspicious survival. Washed up bloodied, broken, and barely breathing, he finds his way to back to his roots, at the very orphanage he grew up in, cared for by the very nun who raised him. Though his body begins to heal, his soul is shattered, and the arc of the season truly focuses on Matt coming to terms with who and what he is. New showrunner Erik Oleson masterfully runs Matt through the ringer, burying him physically in the bowels of a church and emotionally in a suicidal depression, railing against man, god, and himself. Loosely inspired my Frank Miller’s “Born Again” comic, Oleson works the story into the Marvel TV universe, adding a depth and nuance rarely seen, and beautifully executed.

One of my biggest issues with both Luke Cage and Iron Fist is that both shows focused far too much on the characters surrounding the hero, and not on the hero itself (one might argue Daredevil S2 suffered similarly). And while this season certainly gives each character their due along the way, the focus is, as it should be, on our titular hero. In Charlie Cox’s three years in the role, he’s succeeded in giving Matt a humanity and vulnerability, but also a seething, underlying rage kept simmering under the surface and under control. But now, finally, he’s able to let that out, mining more of the character’s issues with his religion, his family, and his sense of self. Cox traces a clear throughline across Matt’s journey, and rarely misses a step. But his greatest scenes undoubtedly stem from his collaboration with Joanne Whalley as Sister Maggie. Their repartee is not only witty and layered, but offer the most genuine philosophical discussions, without feeling preachy or heavy-handed. Their respectful but contentious relationship crackles, and as it evolves, becomes simply more and more fascinating.

I hadn’t seen Whalley in years (though apparently she’s been working steadily, per IMBD), and it look me a few episodes to even realize it was her! And I have to say, I really never thought she had it in her. While I enjoyed her movies of the 80s and 90s, I never pegged her as a particularly impressive actress. But she slapped me straight with her amazingly grounded performance, finding such a unique and skillful balance between hardass nun and empathetic soul. And while I’m not entirely sure she was told her character’s biggest reveal from the beginning, Whalley still manages to thread a seamless arc through a heartbreaking and emotional narrative.

The external threats come in the form of returning villain Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) and new addition Wilson Bethel as Benjamin “Dex” Poindexter. Fisk, limited in season 2, embodies that same return to season one. He uses his menacing intellect to orchestrate what amounts to a legal escape, and proceeds to masterfully set up his chess pieces in what feels like a quite inevitable checkmate—motivated in large part by the relationship with his love Vanessa, also established in S1. D’Onofrio, like Cox, imbues his character with that underlying and ever-present rage, and what separates hero from villain is quite often more about its judicious release than its existence. While season one kept Fisk to the shadows, season three provides a detailed exploration of his calculated menace and manipulation, proven in perhaps no better way than his turning of troubled-but-dutiful FBI agent Dex into the murderous lackey Bullseye.

Perhaps it’s a requirement for the show, but Bethel finds his own unique way of demonstrating the boiling rage and killer instinct that is fueled and nurtured by Fisk in a psychotic sort of father-son dynamic. And while it might seem to be treading old ground at this point, the fact that each of the three characters shares such an underlying issue is no coincidence. With Dex impersonating Daredevil several times, we can clearly see what might have been had Murdock let loose his own inner demons. The inevitable clash of the three, culminating in a climactic tri-brawl, holds much metaphorical significance without feeling exaggerated.

It might even be argued that Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) fits as a fourth to that trio, as her own demons come back to haunt her, and her buried rage and pain begins to surface. Not only are the consequences of her killing James Wesley from season 1 finally addressed, but the backstory of her experience with the life-changing death that led her to Matt and co., is given its due. Karen is caught in the middle of various extremes, dealing with Matt’s disappearance and resurrection, her desire to bring Fisk to justice, and the threat of her secrets being exposed. Woll continues her nuanced portrayal, jumping somewhat effortlessly between myriad emotions, sometimes within the same scene, and expressing much of the tension and fear of the show while still holding firm to Karen’s steadfast courage of convictions.

Our final heroes include stalwart Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and newbie Jay Ali as FBI agent Ray Nadeem. Foggy presents the ever-true innocence in contrast to the too-often cynical and world-weary Matt and Karen. It would be so easy for that character to feel trite, but somehow Henson keeps him both affable and sincere. And as per usual, Foggy ends up proving that he’s more than blind optimism, offering a slew of heartfelt and compelling arguments to just about everyone else on the show. And this time, he gets to prove his chops when he steps into the line of fire as a defense against it, growing the character and accepting a place of equality, even leadership, amongst the group.

As for Nadeem, he could easily have been one character too many in a crowded series, but they manage to make him both vital and sympathetic. His arc never quite went the direction I expected, turning just shy of predictable, and served as a hapless but noble cog being manipulated by everyone, and yet somehow ends up getting the best of them all.

Even with all these characters to service, the overall feel of the show is one of less restriction. Without having to set up Elektra, the Hand, the Punisher, etc., the show is free to keep a tighter, yet breezier focus. The action is still plentiful between conversations, and feels rawer, dirtier—again, more akin to the first season.