When Daredevil premiered last year, it felt like a breath of fresh air to some viewers. From the perspective of Marvel's "everything counts" approach to its film and television, where everything from The Avengers to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. takes place in the same universe and every story ostensibly informs the others, Daredevil was a revelation, proof that the workmanlike ethos of the Marvel Cinematic Universe had more to it than action-movie quips and thrills. The first season was moody, violent, and gripping crime fiction, the first Marvel project that didn't really require you to be interested in a grand cinematic experiment for it to land.
But say you did not care less about Marvel, and you were just looking for some good TV. In that case, Daredevil came across as rote, a gritty crime drama in a landscape chock-full of them. Sure, it had killer fight scenes and ninjas and a gripping performance by Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime, but like most Netflix shows, you had to let it sink its teeth into you before you found the parts that made it special.
Either way, Daredevil's first season boded well for Marvel's grand plan to create a subset of adult-oriented Netflix series. Unfortunately for Daredevil's second season, Jessica Jones happened. The Krysten Ritter–led series about a PTSD-afflicted superhuman private eye was the logical next step for Netflix's mature corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a psychological thriller that was gripping from the very beginning and was unabashedly about misogynist culture and surviving trauma.
"Bang" can't help but feel like a step back from all that. On the one hand, it's a bit unfair to make the comparison between the two shows — one is an action-fueled crime story garnished with a bit of courtroom drama, and the other is a noirish psychodrama that isn't nearly as in-your-face about its action sequences. Nevertheless, maturity of content and thematic maturity are two different things, and where Daredevil's first season slowly worked towards both, Jessica Jones felt like the clear step forward that Daredevil clearly needs to take in its second season.
Of course, we're just getting started with this season … but man, does it start slow. Matt Murdock is now the regular guardian devil of Hell's Kitchen — he's driven out the gangs in power by putting away Wilson Fisk, but there are still enough small-time crooks to keep Daredevil more than busy — something that doesn't please his partner, best friend, and confidante Foggy Nelson. Nelson expresses regular frustration with Murdock's crusade, upset at what he perceives as reckless behavior, and it's not like they don't have their share of legit work to do. The firm of Nelson and Murdock is quite busy, if still not very lucrative, since the big-hearted attorneys can't say no to innocent people who need their help, even innocent people who have no money.
Daredevil's actions in season one have certainly had consequences. The power vacuum left behind in Fisk's absence has become irresistible to former power players like the Irish mob, who have something of a confab in a dark room, making grand statements about how it's time for them to take the city back and whatnot.
Too bad they get massacred about 60 seconds later. We don't get to see who does the killing, but it might as well have been an army — the room is ripped to shreds, with only one survivor, a coward named Grotto, who hides behind a bar.
Grotto has enough good sense to ask Nelson and Murdock for help. He heads to Josie's bar to find them after hours, asking them to help him cut a deal with the District Attorney's office so he can obtain witness protection and hide from whoever is hunting the Irish down. Matt senses he's really scared, then Grotto collapses from blood loss and has to be checked in to the hospital.
While Karen Page takes Grotto in for medical attention, Matt and Foggy do some investigating. They learn from the police (and Turk, the arms dealer) that a mysterious paramilitary outfit has been targeting gangsters across the city — the Irish, the cartel, and the biker gang known as Dogs of Hell — all of whom were already on a short fuse as players began moving in on Fisk's old territory. But it's only when Matt, as Daredevil, goes to shake down the cartel that he learns it's not an outfit doing the killing. It's one guy. A guy who made quick work of a cartel outpost about as easily as he did the Irish mobsters, grotesquely hanging them all from meat hooks. A guy who knows Grotto got away, and is on his way to finish the job.
This is where Daredevil finally kicks into gear, with a wonderfully tense, Terminator-esque sequence, where the guy — Jon Bernthal, playing the yet-to-be-named Frank Castle, a.k.a. the Punisher — stalks the hospital with menace and purpose, coming after Grotto as Karen races to get him to safety. She's able to get Grotto to her car, but the assailant has planned for that, and attempts to snipe them from the rooftop. That's when Daredevil shows up.
The first proper fight scene of the season is thrilling stuff, with confident choreography that doesn't rely on close angles and rapid cuts, but instead captures both Daredevil and Punisher fully in the frame as they engage in hand-to-hand combat. Both of them have distinct styles, too: Daredevil fights angry and brutal, while the Punisher is surgical and efficient, getting the upper hand on our hero more than once. He ends the fight with the word that gives the episode its title, and a bullet to Daredevil's head. "Bang."
Devil in the Details:
- That first scene, man. It feels weird, no? Following Daredevil as he cleans up thieves from the shadows Batman-style sounds like it would be cool, but it doesn't quite work. The way he's just outside the frame wrecking dudes tracks poorly in practice. Thankfully, the action gets much better from there.
- Foggy Nelson, biker whisperer. Foggy Nelson is a tough character to nail. He's the everyman, the comic relief, the moral center, the voice of reason, and the superhero sidekick at all once. Unfortunately, this Foggy can only pull off maybe two of those things at a time, and when Foggy tries using an old acquaintance to get an audience with the Dogs of Hell, only to end up bargaining for both his life and information on the Punisher … well, that stretches credulity. I've watched this episode twice now, and I don't think it's Elden Henson's performance so much as it is the writing — if he had two fewer lines in each of his scenes, maybe they'd land better. I like Foggy, and I like that he's talky, but his character seems like the only hit-or-miss one of the bunch.
- Sexy billiards. It looks like Matt and Karen might be on the road to sexytown, with a super-flirty game of pool happening as Karen guides her blind boss's hands to line up a shot. That said, Karen isn't just a love interest; the show quickly establishes her as an important part of the team, and it's her efforts that keep Grotto alive during the Punisher's attack.
- That roof fight, man. I really liked it.