Daredevil Season 2: Let’s talk Ninjas and Theology

Karen_JeromeThe tensions between vigilantism and the rule of law are meant to be embodied in Matt Murdock. In some ways he’s a bit of a walking contradiction. What is justice? If it lies in the rule of law, then why act outside it? And if you’re going to act outside it, then why not be as barbarically brutal as the Punisher? At least, some would argue, the Punisher’s way annihilates the problem even if it annihilates all hope.  Heck, what’s “hope” anyway? Is Murdock’s moral code his weakness or his strength?

Want a clear answer? Too bad. The answer is not black and white, because reality resists such insulting dichotomies. The strength of this show lies in these very themes and the in the show-runner’s ability to illustrate the temptations of a hero who sticks to his principles without wavering, even if the burden of holding such principles becomes great. My opinion is that Daredevil possesses a true wisdom in his recognition of the value of even the most disgusting life, and real wisdom often has the unfortunate ability of appearing impractical or downright stupid to those who do not understand it.

And then, there’s the Catholicism that permeates the entire show, right down to the promotional posters that are meant to draw direct parallels to Caravaggio’s paintings. Yes, the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen is a Catholic, (hyuck hyuck, see what they did there?), albeit a Catholic with some actual substance. What I mean by that is while this fact is meant to be rather amusingly ironic, it’s also not just a cute gimmick meant to make us all chuckle. This religion matters to Murdock, matters enough to form his essential traits: a deep and abiding belief in redemption being possible for all. While this is noble and admirable, it is a conviction that comes with some hardships. The difficulty with living by a moral code is that if it tempers you, you’re adhering to it correctly, but if you begin to behave badly in its name you need to have the humility to backtrack.  Murdock’s guilt gives him a bit of a martyrdom complex, and he starts to push the very people he cares for away from him.

Which is why this new season introduces two, new, complex characters in Elektra and the Punisher to challenge Matt Murdock’s concept of justice and make him reevaluate his superhero identity.  Some of the best dialogue is in the earlier part of the season when the Punisher has Daredevil tied to a chimney and they both verbally spar over who has the better method. Both are breaking the law, but the Punisher is confident that his way is the one of reality: “I’ll do what’s required…I hit them, and they stay down.”

Both the Punisher and Elektra put Murdock into situations where they try to get him to kill a scumbag: Elektra finds the mob boss who killed Matt’s father; Punisher makes a crook confess a murder to Daredevil and then makes him watch him kill him, letting Daredevil know that he could intervene with lethal force if his esoteric code allows. Both times, the hero refuses to kill (even though he wants to!), and as the show goes on he becomes frustrated with everyone’s willful misunderstanding of his convictions. “Vengeance is not justice – what [the Punisher] is doing is completely wrong!” he exclaims after hearing someone praise a murder spree of the Punisher’s.

This season nailed some pretty major themes, but it does have a few flaws. Shows made for Netflix bingeing have some pros and cons: the format will always have pacing issues because each season strives to be more complex than a 2 hour movie, but ends up straining the plot a bit to fill all the time they do have. (I noticed the same problem with Jessica Jones.) The Elektra and Punisher story-lines, for instance, are two separate threads that left me, as a viewer, feeling split. I kept waiting for these unique characters and complex plot lines to converge for the sake of harmony, but we don’t get that. Perhaps, being a bit too ambitious, the show-runners gave us two seasons in one and left some things feeling rushed or not resolved.

I’ve seen critics roll their eyes at the fight scenes too, calling them excessive or ridiculous, but I really, really enjoyed them. The stairwell scene was especially well done, and I don’t have much of a defense against action-scene detractors except to say, “IT’S THERE BECAUSE IT’S COOL, OKAY?” So here, watch this pretty gif and we’ll gloss over that, yes? Excellent.


Various Thoughts:

  • Foggy will always make me laugh, especially by puncturing a tense moment, right as Matt shows up late in a tux, by saying, “why are you fancy?”


  • Team Claire: what a badass, especially for calling Daredevil “Saint Matthew” in an attempt to get him to stop being such martyr. She talks to him like a wife would, so I’m not done shipping them yet.


  • I was appreciative of the fact that Karen had an easier time researching than writing. Welcome to creative work, sweetheart.


  • I think we just see the same ten ninjas over and over. Ah man, these guys AGAIN!


  • When Daredevil keeps Punisher from killing a mobster, and Punisher yells, “altar boy!” All the giggles.


  • Elektra and Stick’s relationship didn’t make much sense to me. He protects her as a kid, even kills for her, and then just decides, “Well that was a mistake!” and tries to off her at the end of the season. If you’re fighting a weird cult of undead, why is the dead body of their Ultimate Weapon a good thing? (A suspicion uncomfortably confirmed by the last scene of the season before the credits.)



The Feminine Gaze and Jessica Jones

My initial impression of Jessica Jones from the promotional material was that it was going to be Marvel’s version of Veronica Mars. I’ll stand by that impression since finishing the series as there really is a lot of overlap: the main character is a strong woman but a mess, dealing with her own rape and using her considerable skills to face the offender and defend other victims through P.I. work. While both heroines have no-nonsense attitudes and rapier wits, Jessica Jones is a much darker show even though it explores the same themes.

The show really does achieve a unique female gaze by exploring feminine power and shattering most gender stereotypes that work to heap male expectations on women. I know that sounds like a cliché because most shows are attempting these feminist themes, but Jessica Jones manages to hit a cord that really works. Male characters are downplayed so that the women can shine. Luke Cage, an extremely interesting character with his own powers, is a side character and a love interest, much like the way most women are treated in mainstream superhero movies. Really, he’s there to be eye candy: what (straight) woman wasn’t looking at those rippling muscles? The cinematic choice to constantly show off his chiseled physique amused me greatly. (Hi girl, I’m just going to stand here in nothing but a towel so you can admire my dripping after-shower muscles while we talk strategy.)

The other men are helpless, pawns in the villain Kilgrave’s plans against their will. Men are portrayed as useless ( Reuben), helpless (Malcom), irrational (Simpson) or incapable against the main villain. That sounds kind of harsh, but consider that this is the way most women characters are portrayed in superhero movies with a male protagonist.  (Oh no! Mary Jane has been kidnapped again, and her dress is so wet it shows off her nips!)

And then of course, there’s Kilgrave. Most of Marvel’s villains are pretty bad, but they can usually be made fun of. The tension can be cut by making fun of their mommy-issues, or taking shots at their wardrobe, for instance.  There is nothing funny about Kilgrave: he is a character so twisted and deplorable that no light can get in, and very few laughs. He’s an impeccably dressed, well-spoken sociopath who can control minds and never be caught. David Tennant does such an awesome job portraying the villain that I’ll never look at Doctor Who the same again.

That isn’t to say that the show doesn’t have its laughs. There are several quotable lines that made me fist-punch the air or just laugh out loud.

Jerk: “Rude girls end up alone”

Jessica: “Counting on it!”

Really, the show is so dark at times that I found myself saying quite often: “Wow, this is Marvel?” This is not to say that darkness and gritty themes ought to be avoided in on-screen adaptations of comic books, but I was and still am very impressed by Netflix’s Daredevil and the showrunner’s ability to balance the light and the dark in a way that didn’t weigh too heavily on the viewer and did so without sacrificing dramatic gravity.  Matt Murdock certainly had his relationship drama (who can forget the emotionally poignant scene where Foggy finds out Matt’s true identity, and tearfully confronts him?) but Jessica Jones is fraught with it.

As the viewer I felt constantly punched in the gut: any ray of hope is usually dashed and made to look stupid, since Jessica’s coping mechanism is her salty cynicism. While charming and hilarious at times, I found it making me very upset with her as the show went on. She says out loud at one point that she “is shit” and only listens to the people who confirm her negative views of herself. Anyone with anything positive to say about her is either an idiot in her view, or a stalker.

However, her personality flaws are not unexpected since her character has been through hell, so I was resigned to her crustiness while still hoping for better. Think about it: A punch in the face is easier to shrug off than sexual assault. The violence of this show isn’t bloody, it’s psychological, because that’s the kind of torture that women usually have to bear the brunt of.  While that falls within the feminine gaze the show succeeds in achieving, this can be wearying to the viewer. It is however, completely legitimate.

This creation is a testament to the creative team of the Marvel Universe. Audiences can be treated to intimate and emotionally raw stories revolving around crime drama, or wonder about the infinite, far-reaching galaxies beyond and their inhabitants, and keep both things within the same world. Evil can be penumbral or more overt: the villain can be a posh psycho hiding in plain sight or an ostentatious mutant in a goofy helmet declaring his superiority over humanity.

I’m looking forward to more of Hell’s Kitchen drama. Perhaps Matt and Jessica will meet? This is comic books, after all.

Just our favorite guys chillin' with burgers.

Just our favorite guys chillin’ with burgers.