Spoiler alert! This article contains spoilers for Marvel’s Daredevil and Marvel’s Defenders.
After a two year hiatus, Daredevil takes fans back to the streets of Hell’s Kitchen in a season that echoes the show’s premiere in 2015. Between the return of many familiar faces and hallway fight scenes, it strangely feels a lot like coming home—and home has never been this dangerous or exciting.
If you need some catching up (and honestly, I don’t blame you; I, too, needed a refresher), Daredevil circles around Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox). Blinded by a chemical accident as a child, Matt developed superhuman senses (he can hear heartbeats and feel vibrations, for instance—it’s complicated). Long story short, he lost his dad, was sent to a Catholic orphanage, trained in martial arts with another blind ninja, went to Columbia for law school, started a firm with his best friend Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), and became a lawyer by day, vigilante by night.
(If you thought you had a lot to catch up to with Marvel movies, let me tell you: the TV shows are something else.)
The last appearance of the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” was in last year’s Defenders, which ended with a whole building collapsing on top of Matt and his lover-turned-enemy-turned-lover, Elektra (Elodie Yung). To no surprise, he survives this: the post-credit shows Matt, heavily injured, waking up in the church’s orphanage where he grew up.
That’s where the third season of Daredevil picks up. With the rest of his senses completely screwed up from the building collapse, Matt no longer believes in God and claims to no longer care about his self-dictated rules anymore, particularly the “no killing” one. Preferring to die as Daredevil rather than live as Matt Murdock—which has to be the most iconic sentence from any Marvel trailer ever—he remains in the church, despite Sister Maggie (Joanne Whalley) urging him to stop moping and go back to his real life. Meanwhile, Season 1’s main villain Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) makes a deal with FBI Agent Ray Nadeem (Jay Ali) to get out of prison. It’s clear that Fisk is planning something, and a key piece in his game is the highly unstable, merciless Agent Ben Poindexter (Wilson Bethel). With his friends Foggy and Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) in danger and Fisk framing both of his alter egos, Matt is forced to come out of hiding and stop Fisk once and for all—even if it means breaking his moral code and killing the man.
Wilson Fisk, known in the comics by the codename Kingpin, is truly the most frightening character of the season. Having been sent to jail in Season 1 by Matt and his friends, he returns with only two goals: to reunite with the love of his life, Vanessa (Ayelet Zurer), and to completely destroy Matt’s life. Vincent D’Onofrio had been praised in his performance as Fisk in Season 1, being hailed as one of the best Marvel villains of all times. The show seriously suffered from his absence in Season 2, so it’s a relief to see him on the screen again.
The return to the “vigilante Matt versus criminal mastermind Fisk” formula pays off: it’s impossible to resist the urge to binge-watch all 13 episodes at once. Matt may be a master fighter, but Fisk is always three, five, ten steps ahead of him. He knows that Matt is Daredevil. He controls the FBI. He has eyes everywhere. He manipulates bad and good guys alike. Fisk has returned to make Hell’s Kitchen into Matt’s personal hell, and it really feels like nothing will stop him. Accompanying this is D’Onofrio’s show-stopping performance: he steals the spotlight of every scene he’s in—be it in brutal murder sequences or softer moments with Vanessa. After three years in this role, D’Onofrio has reached iconic levels with Fisk’s character.
Daredevil also has a lot of new elements working in its favor: the origin story of Karen Page, the amazing performance of newcomers Jay Ali and Joanne Whalley, and the much-awaited adaptation of Frank Miller’s comic storyline “Born Again.” But the wildest element introduced is, by far, Poindexter. Known in the comics as Bullseye, Poindexter is one of the most memorable villains in the Daredevil lore. With a perfect aim, he’s able to turn literally anything into a weapon. Stapler? Weapon. Baseball? Weapon. Bowl? Weapon. He’s a pretty big deal, and his appearance has been anticipated since the show’s premiere.
And, boy, does the show deliver. The fight scenes between him and Matt are breathtaking. Matt has the upper hand only until Poindexter grabs an object, and then suddenly he has to deal with a scissor impaled on his shoulder or a pencil stuck in his leg. For the first time, it actually feels like someone is able to kill Daredevil. Not only that, but the show also knows that it’s at its best when it develops its villains. The fifth episode, “The Perfect Game,” is dedicated to giving him an origin story, but plenty of other details are also filled in throughout the season. Poindexter is both a weapon and a complicated character, and Wilson Bethel’s performance expertly explores this dynamic.
But something has yet to be said about Charlie Cox’s performance as Matt Murdock. Daredevil has a vast and talented ensemble cast, but Cox is clearly the heart of the show. It’s not easy playing a superhero, especially a blind and broken one with plenty of comic book baggage, but Cox does it masterfully throughout the entire season. His stunts in fight sequences are jaw-dropping (the 14-minute prison sequence in “Blindsided” is the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen), but so are his character’s smaller, personal moments.
As much as Matt would rather only live as Daredevil, Cox has grown into both sides of the role throughout the years. That’s why the first episode, “Resurrection,” is almost painful to watch: Matt is broken and hopeless and wrecked, and Cox delivers some of his best scenes in these very small, yet very real moments. It’s easy to cheer for Daredevil because he isn’t a god, or a supersoldier, or a genius—he’s human. As he curls up in bed with broken ribs, a bleeding forehead, and damaged hearing, it’s clear to see how easy it would be for him to fail.
Will Matt kill Fisk? That is the main question of this season, one often teased in the promos and trailers. But, honestly, as much as Fisk scares me, I spent all season hoping that wouldn’t happen. Part of it was D’Onofrio’s Fisk, who is way too good of a villain to end up six feet under. Part of it was Cox’s Matt, whose firm moral code would be irrevocably changed by it. But the biggest part of it was this timeless rivalry—the Devil versus the Kingpin—that brought me back to Hell’s Kitchen once again, and that will hopefully keep luring me in for many years to come.