Last year I reviewed Season One of Daredevil, the Netflix series about Matt Murdock (played by Charlie Cox) – blind lawyer by day, masked avenger by night – who also happens to be a devout Catholic. . .of a sort. It’s a leitmotif in that first season that Matt makes frequent trips to church to visit Father Lantom (Peter Robbie), from whom he seeks forgiveness of sins and some practical advice about life. That’s mostly missing from Season 2, although references to Daredevil’s Catholicism come up in the generic introduction and credits that front every episode, and occasionally and obliquely throughout.
That intro shows melting red wax images of Murdock’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood (Manhattan’s Midtown West), including a Catholic church, an angel, and finally the mask Daredevil wears, suggesting our hero is formed by the Church. And as you’ll see if you watch the Season 2 trailer below, the promise of a series suffused with Catholicism couldn’t be stronger.
But it’s not very Catholic in its execution. That’s not to say there is no Catholic content beyond the use of the word “Catholic” and the single meeting in Season 2 between Murdock and Lantom. One interesting “Catholic” element is Matt’s new chastity. In the first season he had a brief on-screen affair with nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), but in the second season that affair has ended, and his romance with the secretary of his law firm, Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) never gets physical.
Meanwhile an old flame, Elektra Natchios (Élodie Yung), comes back into Matt’s life and tries to rekindle their earlier (from college) sexual relationship (seen without explicitness in flashbacks, although one scene has a hair-tossing, bare-back moment). But our hero is having none of it. Elektra is another martial-arts expert (Miss Yung is an honest-to-goodness black belt in karate), and together she and Daredevil take on New York’s evildoers.
But what makes Season 2 utterly different from last year’s iteration is another new character, one familiar to comics fans: Punisher. His real name is Frank Castle and he’s played just about perfectly by actor Jon Bernthal, who has the muscular, square-jawed-Marine look of the comic book Punisher, if not that character’s imposing size, which is also true of Cox’s Daredevil. Bernthal gives the series’ best performance, and the show is at its best when it slows down its usual hectically violent pace to allow its characters to reflect on the nature of crime, love, and justice – to let its actors act. Look especially for a scene with Daredevil and Punisher in a graveyard.
But like Elektra, Punisher is a killer. I’m not sure which of them should be considered the more cold-blooded, although there’s no doubt that Punisher’s body count is higher. And their homicidal actions are ostensibly set against Daredevil’s refusal to deliver the coup de grâce to anybody, something both Natchios and Castle encourage him to do. Punisher says to him: “You’re a half measure.” Obviously, our Daredevil’s no pacifist, but he has his moral scruples! They just happen to be puerile.
Now I don’t say that in order to sneer at mercy – certainly not in the Church’s jubilee Year of Mercy – but to point out that you can’t do what Murdock does and not kill people. As surely Miss Yung knows – as any martial artist (including me) knows – you simply can’t hit as many people as hard as Daredevil does – with fists and clubs of various sorts – and not have a bunch of them die.
Daredevil is a sort of Disney ride of violence, and Murdock is a fighter who doesn’t just dispatch bad guys with one or two blows, but more likely with fifteen, most of them to the head, often with the victim backed against a wall or down on the floor, the effect of the repeated blows leaving the thug’s face a pulpy mess; rendering the man “lifeless” but not dead. This is absurd.
In my view, dramatic license goes only so far, and the beatings leveled by Daredevil – and sometimes taken by him – go way beyond the limits of credibility. One punch can kill. A dozen, if not fatal, can (and almost surely will) cause concussion and even irreparable brain damage. If Daredevil really wanted to avoid killing, he’d be better off embracing the satyagraha of Mahatma Gandhi than the one, true Church of Christ.
As the tension mounts and the criminal conspiracies in Hell’s Kitchen grow in immensity and danger, Daredevil and Punisher confront one another as hostile allies. Daredevil seems to recognize that his way of fighting just isn’t effective, and he says to Punisher:
“Maybe your way is what it’s gonna take,” and he makes the Sign of the Cross.
And it’s true. The evil here is, if you’ll pardon the expression, cartoonish in its pervasiveness, and the approach to it taken by Elektra and Punisher at least has the virtue of diminishing the threat. But every one of Matt Murdock’s opponents returns to the fight. If the war against evil is a war of attrition, Daredevil is losing it.
It’s Punisher’s world, and Matt Murdock is just living in it.
Daredevil Season 2 is rated TV-MA, “unsuitable for children under 17.” In addition to the serial fights, stabbings, and shootings on streets, in restaurants, warehouses, and hospitals, Punisher drinks copious amounts of black coffee. Not a role model. There is frequent spitting out of blood, but no sex or nudity beyond what’s mentioned above.