Light Spoilers for Daredevil: Season 3 Below
Like Huey Lewis and his infamous one-sentence review of Michael J. Fox’s band in Back to the Future, I have very little to say about Daredevil: Season 3 other than this: I’m afraid it’s just too darn long. The original Netflix bloat offender is back in all of its contractually-mandated 13-episode glory, and while it’s nice that the cast and crew get the extra time to spread out they’re also stuck telling a story which could have been accomplished far easier in just 10 episodes.
As is, the season, acting as a sequel to both The Defenders and Daredevil: Season 2, primarily concerns itself with Matt Murdock’s rejection of his friends and long-delayed reckoning with Kingpin. Presumed dead after a literal building fell on top of him at the end of The Defenders, we start on Matt being tended to by Sister Maggie, a well-known and lovably gruff figure from the comics who eventually looms large over the season before suddenly going away. She helps to Matt’s his wounds, both physical and psychological, and sends him back to Hell’s Kitchen to put his powers to good use.
So, of course, he begs some goons to simply kill him on his very first night out. Luckily, the cops arrive before the goons can finish him off.
Meanwhile, Karen and Foggy continue their roles as Matt’s long-suffering emotional punching bags, first quibbling over whether Matt’s really dead and then struggling to know what to do when Matt finally reveals he’s alive but no longer wants anything to do with them. He’s just too dangerous to be around. He’ll only get them kil…blah, blah. Standard brooding vigilante superhero stuff.
He does have a point, though. For example, off the top of your head can you name just how many times Karen has almost died because of either Daredevil or the Punisher? I can’t, but the answer is higher than it should be. Still, there are so many scenes of Foggy and Karen debating what to do about Matt – forget all about him? try even harder to love him? – you remember just how much these two resemble the long-suffering friends of an alcoholic who keeps falling off the wagon.
That, of course, is a continuation of the entire arc of Daredevil to this point, which has largely been centered on Matt’s struggle to balance the two halves of his life. Karen and Foggy represent Matt Murdock the side, but Elektra (who is referenced, but unseen this season) the Daredevil side. This season, he stops trying to choose, rejecting both halves and opting instead to be the “Man in Black.” No, that doesn’t mean he starts a country band and falls in love with Reese Witherspoon, although I’d certainly watch that (Sample first album name: Blood, Sweat and Prayers). It means he reverts back to his season 1 persona of just being a dude in black. No superhero name. No fancy costume. Just head-to-toe black and fists of fury.
This creates an opening for a copycat vigilante, and the season finds that in the form of a disgraced, mentally disturbed FBI agent manipulated by Kingpin into becoming a new, far more murderous version of Daredevil. By the halfway point of the season, Matt and fake-Daredevil (who comic book readers know eventually becomes Bullseye) square off in thrilling battle, serving as the visual embodiment of the show’s central struggle – Matt vs. himself. He didn’t even need Richard Pryor and some old junkyard to make it happen, either (you’re welcome, Superman 3 fans).
But then there are flashback episodes. Kingpin, who is again masterminding everything before an eventual “let’s just punch each other” battle in the finale, gets one (his second overall in the series). So does Karen (her first).
Seemingly endless time is devoted to Agent Ray Nadeem’s (Jay Ali) constant-worry face, as the FBI agent responsible for getting Kingpin into protective custody and out of prison takes fooooorrrrrrrever to catch up to the audience in realizing this big ole white-suited teddy bear just might be up to something. Fake-Daredevil, Ben Poindexter (Wilson Bethel), is similarly gifted with an inordinate amount of screen time charting his mental deterioration (it involves a girl he’s stalking and his constant listening to one very specific self-help tape).
The Kingpin-as-Trump parallels are thrown out there even if those dot’s don’t always completely connect.
A newspaper office massacre borders on tasteless given real-world events but ultimately manages to come off as respectfully tragic.
And because this is Daredevil it still all comes down to Matt flirting with whether or not to break his moral code, Kingpin serving as the devil on his shoulder taunting him into it, Karen and Foggy the angel’s crying “Think of your soul!”
It, in short, is pretty much what you’d expect from Daredevil, for better or worse. There’s nothing as compelling as The Punisher or Elektra’s mini-arcs from last season, but that does mean it’s far more focused and determined to reclaim its grittier roots. It’s mostly self-contained, with maybe two, three tops references to the other Defenders. And everyone is forever stuck playing catch-up to Vincent D’onofrio’s Kingpin. It’s just too darn long, but there’s a hallway fight scene to end all hallway fight scenes (all due respect, Atomic Blonde), plenty of Catholic guilt, and Matt’s ongoing struggle to save his neighborhood while also saving his soul. It’s Daredevil.
It also ends with a stinger scene setting up a likely fourth season.
The Uncertain Future of the Netflix Marvel Universe
But will that ever happen? These days, we just don’t know. Disney and Netflix continue to maintain in the press that while Disney’s forthcoming streaming service will offer original Marvel TV shows Netflix will be keeping The Defenders characters. Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s top exec, recently reiterated this point, saying they are free to do whatever they want with the properties. Renew. Cancel. Make another spin-off. Whatever happens, it’s their choice.
He said that a mere week after canceling Iron Fist. Now, just a couple of days after he said that Luke Cage has been canceled. This means two of the four Defenders no longer have their own shows. Add on top of that the following: The Defenders, as an actual team-up series, is reportedly unlikely to ever get a sequel, and Jessica Jones’ mastermind Melissa Rosenberg has already announced she’s leaving after that show’s third season to develop programs for Warner Bros. Television.
Now, Netflix drops Daredevil’s third season in-between the far more hyped The Haunting of Hill House and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and in the middle of one of the most Halloween-programming heavy Octobers in recent memory. (Also dropping this weekend: Amazon’s new season of Lore and Blumhouse’s new Halloween movie).
It does beg the question of what kind of future the Netflix Marvel universe has. Are they lying to us in the press about what’s really going on, distracting from an obvious wind down of contractual obligations? Or is this just a natural thinning-the-herd process? Luke Cage and Iron Fist make sense as cancellation targets considering their lack of critical fanfare compared to the other shows. Why not just repackage them into a new Heroes for Hire series, as long expected? And we still have new seasons of The Punisher and Jessica Jones on the way. The ongoing formula of having each Defender separate from their loved ones is getting old, but is it so broken as to want them to call the whole thing off? Not yet. That is if we actually have a choice in the matter.
Whatever happens, though, I do have one suggestion. Above anything else, it’s the one thing Iron Fist: Season 2 got right: cut these things down to 10 episodes. Please.