Daredevil Season 3: Reconstruction
Superheroes are always reinventing themselves. Eventually, they all take on an enemy or challenge that is far beyond anything they have ever faced. They are defeated, or emerge barely victorious, at a very high cost. Our hero may have survived, but they are not the same—this harrowing ordeal has fundamentally changed them, and now they must rediscover what kind of hero he is going to be. It happened to Captain America after he was assassinated in the Civil War comics, and Thor went through a similar revival after Asgard was destroyed in Ragnarok. This has happened to Superman and Batman so many times I have lost count (anyone remember Electro Superman or Gatman?). It’s always been something of a hobby for Daredevil, who is constantly reconstructing himself. And now, much like its comic book counterpart, the Netflix series has finally completed a full cycle of Daredevil and laid the groundwork for the next one.
I could retire to a remote tropical island if I had a nickel for every time Matt Murdock declared he was going “back to basics.” Which makes sense, since Daredevil is, at its core, a comeback story. Something terrible happens to Matt, and then he adapts and overcomes. As a child, he was blinded by the contents of a chemical truck, so he learned to use his other senses to compensate. His eyes may not work, but Matt can “see” better than most people thanks to his enhanced senses. Not many mainstream superheroes have such an obvious drawback to their powers. Peter Parker’s life is a mess because he’s a broke teenager, but everything else about being Spider-Man is awesome. Although his beloved Uncle Ben was murdered, it was the result of a moral failing, not a side-effect of his powers. But for Matt Murdock, the day he got his incredible abilities was also one of the most traumatic times of his entire life. A young boy, blind, alone and frightened, learned to defend himself by transforming his weakness into strength.
At the beginning of season three, Matt has once again been laid low, by having a building collapse on him at the end of The Defenders. The head trauma interferes with his senses, so he must learn to fight again. It’s easy to empathize with his frustration—he spent most of his early life overcoming his handicap, and now he must return to square one. But Matt’s rehabilitation is also a physical manifestation of his inner conflict. He grapples with what it means to be Daredevil, why he does it, and also how he does it. Matt finally admits to himself that Daredevil was originally created for his own personal fulfillment, not the good of the community. Throughout most of the first season, his actions actually made things much worse in Hell’s Kitchen, yet he never considered giving up his crusade. If Daredevil is truly going to be a hero, he has to serve the greater good, not just enact vengeance. Yet again, Matt struggles with whether or not to murder the Kingpin, but from a different perspective. Instead of meting out punishment, he seeks to save lives. Wilson Fisk is clearly a danger no matter where he is, and bodies continue to pile at his feet. If the Kingpin is so powerful that even prison cannot curtail his murderous schemes, does Daredevil have a moral responsibility to kill him? If he removes a terrible threat, do the lives he saves justify the one he takes? Matt twists himself up about it so much you’re not really sure what he’s going to do when the final boss fight begins.
Even the villains are reinventing themselves in the latest season. While in prison, Fisk embraces his role as the Kingpin of crime and makes his move to reclaim the throne. Real estate fraud is abandoned in favor of a high-end protection racket. He builds a new empire from within government custody, turning his cage into a castle. Blackmailed FBI agents serve as his personal goon squad, and Fisk sells himself as the solution to all problems with the authorities. There’s even a media campaign of misinformation to rewrite his personal history to portray him as a wrongfully accused pillar of the community. It actually works for a while, which is why Daredevil has to seriously consider the possibility that death is the only answer.
Then there’s newcomer Agent Dex (better known as Bullseye to comic fans), who undergoes a transformation similar to Daredevil’s, but in reverse. He is the hero’s dark reflection, the Joker to his Batman. Much like Matt Murdock, Dex was an angry and troubled orphan boy with a talent for violence in need of some professional adult supervision. With regular therapy and a rigid routine he was able to keep himself out of trouble, and eventually become a tightly-coiled killing machine for the government. But none of the adults in Dex’s life taught him how to tell right from wrong on his own. Unlike Matt, he accepts no responsibility for his own actions, always blaming someone else. He just doesn’t understand why everyone can’t see how awesome he is, and he’s going to keep killing people with office supplies until they do. Once he finally admits to himself that murder is his one true passion, the nervous and soft-spoken Dex stands taller and walks with a swagger, confident he can take on whatever comes his way.
Sadly, the secondary characters got the short shrift this season. While Agent Ray Nadeem underwent his own metamorphosis as the Kingpin slowly corrupted him, he was so obviously being manipulated that it just wasn’t interesting to watch. While her confrontation with the Kingpin was genuinely gut-wrenching, Karen Page’s secret backstory turned out to be underwhelming, and kind of proved she actually hadn’t changed all that much. Poor Foggy Nelson has nothing to do but smile or look concerned as he shakes various hands. Thankfully, the shortcomings of this season are few and tolerable. With its compelling character drama and exquisitely choreographed combat, Netflix’s Daredevil continues to be one of the best comic adaptations on any screen. It remains the gold standard for superhero television, setting a bar that its sister shows still struggle to reach. Now that they’ve proven they understand the Daredevil cycle, I hope there’s another three seasons ahead of us.
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