Monday, 28 March 2016

Review - 'Daredevil', S02E12 - 'The Dark at the End of the Tunnel'

The second season of Daredevil has contained more than its fair share of fantastic moments, overall. Honestly, looking back over the season so far, there isn't been a single weak or disappointing episode – which, on the surface, would have to make this season something of an improvement over the first, which did have its occasional weak-points.

Moving into the season's penultimate episode, though, it's probably a good time to start thinking about how the season, as a whole, has managed to come together. In this regard, at least, there do seem to be some minor issues – issues which become increasingly apparent with this episode.

Throughout much of the season, we have had two very distinct story-lines running side-by-side – one centred around Daredevil, himself, and the other focused on the Punisher. Much like how the first season split its focus between Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk, it was clear from the start that this season was set to be as much an origin story for Frank Castle, as the Punisher, as it was a continuation of Matt Murdock's own story. Unlike with Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk, though, the shifts in focus between Daredevil and the Punisher, here, haven't always been as smooth as they could have been. Matt and Fisk were, after all, set firmly against each other throughout the entire season – and, shifting focus between the two felt like natural. Here, though, as the season moved past the initial confrontations between the two, these separate story-lines began to diverge wildly – and, it felt as though it was increasingly difficult to find the time to adequately cover both.

With this episode, for example, we have what feels like a very decisive end for the Punisher's 'Blacksmith' story-line – yet, perhaps due to the fact that the Punisher was (naturally enough, given the show's title) not really the true focus of this season, it came about in a manner that felt a rather abrupt, and not entirely satisfying. With the possibility that Frank Castle may have died in the explosion that ended the previous episode (a development which was, of course, no more convincing than the possibility that it was Frank who anonymously killed Reyes), it was left to Karen to pick up the pieces.

Following advice from Mitchell Ellison (Geoffrey Cantor), who seems to have become her new boss as she stumbles into a new career as an investigative journalist, Karen resolves to change her story about the botched sting, and the later cover-up, into a new story about Frank Castle, himself – one intended to show the complex individual he truly is, rather than the villainous figure he has been portrayed as. In order to do this, Karen reaches out to the only other person show knows of who might truly understand Frank Castle – Colonel Ray Schoonover (Clancy Brown), under whom Frank served in his time in the military.

During the interview, though, Karen finds her life unexpectedly in danger, once more, when she is able to piece together enough clues to realise that Schoonover is actually the mysterious 'Blacksmith' that Frank has been hunting – and, who had previously tied to have both her, and Frank, killed. But, of course, Frank is still very much alive – and, he has been able to piece together the same information (after his encounter with some other former squad-mates in the previous episode). So, it's not long until the Punisher makes another appearance.

While I do have to admit that I might very well be in the minority, here, there was something a little disappointing about having this phase of the Punisher's story-line be told from Karen's perspective. Karen's discovery of Blacksmith's true identity was as much a case of dumb luck as it was deductive reasoning. Given that we had only met Colonel Schoonover once before, during Frank's trial, this revelation also seemed to come entirely out of nowhere. This whole sequence simply struck me as too abrupt to be entirely satisfying.

Similarly, the rapidly escalating tension between Elektra and Stick finally received some focus, now that it appears to have reached the point of out-right violence – but, even with the flash-backs we are given in this episode, it all still comes across as a bit muddled. Also, while the revelation that places Elektra at the centre of the conflict with the Hand has the potential to be very interesting, there still needs to be more information given to the audience, on that front. For the moment, the whole situation still feels a little confusing.

I do have to admit that the girl that they managed to find the play the young Elektra in these flash-back was scenes (Lily Chee) was fantastic, though. She definitely deserved more screen-time than the handful of scenes she received, here. The sense of a very genuine bond developing between Stick and Elektra during these scenes was also done very well.

Despite these issues, though, this was still a very entertaining episode. Matt's desperate attack on the Hand, in order to rescue Stick after the Hand got hold of him, was pretty great. With the Hand's warriors finally seeming to catch on to the fact that Matt couldn't actually see or hear them, and was only able to fight by listening for the sound of their weapons, there was even a moment of genuine tension added to this encounter as they changed their tactics to fight unarmed. Even if it didn't last, it was still pretty great to see the hero placed at a genuine disadvantage, for a little while, due to the villains actually being allowed to employ clever tactics – it feels as though this sort of thing simply doesn't happen often enough.

Also, while it is a little disappointing that Foggy has started to feel almost entirely superfluous at this point in the season, it is still very interesting to see the deterioration of both Matt and Foggy's business partnership, and their friendship, continue to play out in such a tragically realistic way, here. There might have only been a single scene devoted to that, in this episode, but it was still a pretty great one.

With the Punisher's story-line being over, whatever role he has to play in the season finale is likely to have the feel of an epilogue, as it seems pretty clear that the final episode will be focused entirely on the Hand. While this story-line is certain to resolve itself with some more of the show's typically fantastic action sequences, hopefully there will also be time for more information regarding Elektra's new-found role in the conflict – because, it still feels as though there definitely needs to be some more elaboration on that.

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