Friday, 18 March 2016

Review - 'Daredevil', S02E01 - 'Bang'

While there may have been the occasional, very brief, dip in quality over the course of its first season, Daredevil still managed to pretty fantastic, overall. It was a great introduction to this darker and grittier corner of Marvel's ever-expanding cinematic universe set in motion by Marvel's deal with Netflix (which was eventually followed by the equally impressive Jessica Jones) - and, it certainly felt as though it would be a tough act to follow.

Obviously, this first episode of the second season has its work cut out for it. Not only does it need to re-introduce us to the show's cast of impressively well-developed characters - but, it also needs to, essentially, justify the second season's very existence, by setting new plot-lines in motion, and introducing new threats. The 'second season slump' is, after all, a well-known phenomenon when it comes to show's such as this one - so, there was sure to be a vested interest in making sure that Daredevil would be able to rise above that.

With that in mind, it came as something of a relief to see that the second season's first episode didn't waste any time in setting new plots in motion - establishing what is certain to be a recurring theme for the season, with the power vacuum left behind by Wilson Fisk and the desire of various criminal organisations to step forward and take over. Amusingly enough, though, just as the episode begins to establish the threat posed by this power struggle, it then goes out of its way to undermine it, when a meeting of the Irish mob ends in a brutal shoot-out that leaves only a single survivor.

This entire sequence was an especially entertaining moment in this first episode for a variety of reasons. First of all, the simple fact that this gathering would be allowed to play out in its entirety, complete with a very impressive speech, only to suddenly be interrupted at a crucial moment managed to add a very macabre touch of black comedy to that moment of brutal violence that I definitely appreciated. Most importantly, though, this sequence was, of course, intended as the audience's first introduction to the Punisher (Jon Bernthal) - making the great decision of showing us what he can do, before revealing the man, himself. The idea that his attack would be assumed (by both the police, and Matt) to be work of an entire squad, at first, was another amusing little touch.

Naturally fearing for his life, this sole survivor, Grotto (McCaleb Burnett) reaches out Matt and Foggy - believing that the two lawyers, who have earned themselves a reputation for trust-worthiness in Hell's Kitchen, will be able to help get him into a witness protection program, and out of Hell's Kitchen. The only problem, though, is that he is also in urgent need of medical attention - requiring a trip to the hospital, and a hastily constructed cover-story.

Matt and Foggy, meanwhile, begin to conduct their own investigation of what they still mistakenly believe to be a new, heavily armed and highly trained, criminal organisation. Reaching out to the police, they learn that the Irish mob weren't the first organisation to be targeted - and, each sets off to follow this new trail. Matt makes the sensible decision of suiting up as Daredevil and investigating black-market weapon deals. Its a trail which eventually leads him to another recent massacre, just in time for its sole survivor to reveal what the audience already knew - that this was all the work of a single man. Foggy, meanwhile, makes the baffling decision of trying to talk his way into the club-house of a bikie gang that was, also, recently targeted - and, finds his own life threatened in the process.

I'm still not sure I understand what Foggy was trying to achieve, here - even after watching the entire episode. The fact that he could bluff his way into the gang's club (concocting a story of being the childhood friend of one of an already dead gang-member) was impressive enough, sure - but, the entire plan seemed foolish from the start and, even worse, he didn't even really learn anything important. I can only assume that this was the whole point of the scene - that, perhaps, it was intended to suggest that Foggy's desire to help Matt (whose nightly activities, as Daredevil, he learnt about last season) is driving him to take reckless risks. That's really the only way that this scene makes any real sense - because, it certainly wasn't a good plan.

Karen, meanwhile, finds herself in hospital, posing as the wife of a man who was injured in a bar brawl. Of course, their hasty cover-story doesn't quite seem to work. It is not long until the Punisher arrives to tie up a loose end - giving us our first proper look at the man, himself.

It would probably be fair to say that, more than anything, it was introducing the audience to the MCU's version of Frank Castle which was the main goal of this first episode - and, in that regard, the episode was a success. Jon Bernthal may have had only a single line of dialogue in his first appearance - but, he is able to use his brief screen-time, here, to establish the Punisher as a uniquely threatening presence. The cold and casual way in which he stalked Karen and Grotto through the hospital, in particular, was something that wouldn't have looked out of place in a Terminator film (one of the good ones).

Perhaps the best moment of this first episode, though, came toward the end - when, rather than delaying things as you might expect, the episode ends with the first, very tense, physical confrontation between Daredevil and the Punisher. It was a fantastic action-sequence, which made it clear that this highly-trained soldier is quite capable of providing a formidably challenge. If anything, the sequence almost seemed to suggest that the two were equally matched - except, of course, for the fact that the Punisher is so fond of guns.

On a more personal note, it was also great to see that the very genuine rapport that had developed between Matt, Foggy, and Karen is still very evident as the new season begins. Matt and Foggy, in particular, have a handful of moments to establish just how close their friendship remains - even able to survive Foggy's knowledge of the risks that Matt takes to protect Hell's Kitchen. In their scenes, together, the three still manage to add enough moments of lightness and levity that the the darker elements added by the Punisher's appearance never feel overwhelming. It was an important balance that the series did a great job of maintaining last season - so, I'm glad to see that it is still maintained, here.

The second season of Daredevil has managed to get off to a great start - one which, thanks to the decision to not hold back the Punisher's reveal, manages to feel significantly different to the beginning of the first season. Exactly how large a role the Punisher is going to play, and how large a threat he is going to be, still remains to be seen, of course - though, for now, I am very interested in seeing what the series is able to do with this character.

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