A lot has changed in two and a half years, but Daredevil has not.
In some ways, this isn’t that big of a problem. One of the most remarkable things about Daredevil is that, despite seven whole seasons of Marvel/Netflix television shoring up beside it in the gulf between its last season and this one, it still remains rather singular. Despite belonging to a clutch of shows designed to build towards a superhero crossover, Daredevil is the only one that has ever really bothered with any of the trappings of superheroics — even if they are decidedly of the more grim and grounded sort that barely even suggest that the titular hero is superhuman.
But in ways that are immediately apparent from just a glimpse of the posters, trailers, and teasers Netflix has released to market its third season, Daredevil is showing its age. There are, it seems three concerns for Matt Murdock this year, and they are (1) Darkness, (2) Catholicism, and (3) charismatic foils. Matt Murdock is dead, long live the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, the show says. Oh, and notice the “devil” part of “Daredevil?” You probably didn’t, right? But hey, Wilson Fisk’s back.
This is all to say that the deck is stacked against Daredevil, and the show doesn’t seem to realize it. Its first new episode is by and large a long pity party for Matt Murdock. Picking up immediately after the end of The Defenders, Murdock is assumed dead, and after he’s discovered he is taken in by the clergy of his former parish and nursed back to health in the orphanage that raised him. In the care of Father Lantom and Sister Maggie, Murdock wallows in despair.
All that grim, overwrought stuff you might feel apprehensive about? It’s here. You’ll watch Matt (briefly) go deaf in one ear, effectively blinding his superhuman senses. You’ll see Father Lantom try and coax Matt back towards faith, while Matt brings up story of Job, the biblical story that’s almost entirely devoted to one man’s suffering. And then, because he must, Matt will pick himself off the floor and begin to work out again, sparring in the church basement, getting back into push-ups in a big way, cleaning out his super-senses with a neti pot.
It all culminates in Murdock reprising his original makeshift all-black costume to go out into the night, looking for wrongs to right — not because he feels he must protect people, but because he has a death wish.
That is what roughly 80 percent of this 52-minute premiere is concerned with, and it’s all quite boring. In a few brief scenes, Karen Page and Foggy Nelson appear — the former holds out hope that Matt may still be alive and keeps the rent paid on his old place; the latter has moved on. The episode’s only real movement doesn’t come until its final 10 minutes, when the show pivots from Matt’s world entirely to introduce us to Special Agent Rahul Nadeem.
Agent Nadeem is a family man with bills to pay, stuck in a terrible feedback loop in which he can’t get a raise and his superior won’t promote him, because Bureau policy doesn’t permit agents struggling under too much debt to rise too high in the ranks, lest they become ripe targets for compromise. He’s fed up, and desperate for some kind of break — and completely to his and everyone else’s surprise, he finds one.
On a routine visit to prison, Nadeem gets lucky. Wilson Fisk, after months of being locked up and never saying anything, is ready to make a deal — and Nadeem just happens to be the guy on hand to broker it. And while it’s far from certain, it looks like Fisk is taking his first steps back into the real world, and back, of course, to Murdock.
As far as cliff-hangers go, this is pretty baffling. Nothing in particular happens, we just meet the means of Fisk’s escape — Nadeem — and the means by which he is ripe for manipulation. Fisk’s return to Daredevil isn’t a surprise, either; it’s the reason people might show up in the first place. It’s one big preamble that doesn’t actually illuminate anything other than the notion that perhaps you should start season three with episode two.
I should note that as harsh as that sounds, I’m still quite interested in Daredevil’s third season, and for whatever reason, I’m not dreading the next episode. There’s something soothing about Daredevil’s ponderousness: like a lot of Netflix shows, it’s good at being unobtrusive and frictionless, empty calories delivered with a touch of style.
It’s also worth remembering that while there isn’t much action in this episode, Daredevil still has the best fight choreography of all five Marvel/Netflix shows. Between Charlie Cox, his stunt double, and the show’s choreographers, Daredevil often manages to stage fights that are unusually good at storytelling; they never lose sight of the dogged desperation and desire for penance integral to Murdock’s character. A great Daredevil fight scene is an argument for why you should bother caring about Matt in the first place, and you could conceivably see a version of this episode in which we dwell on Matt’s self-imposed exile less and let all his self-loathing hit us when he dons his mask again, but subtlety isn’t really Daredevil’s game.
Again, that’s okay, though. Daredevil’s telling me where it’s headed with strobe lights and subwoofers, blasting Jock Jams and calling in the Kiss Cam. And even though it flubbed its entrance, I still want to see where it’s going.