Review - Daredevil (Netflix), Season 3

Daredevil (2015), Season 3, TV-MA, 13 Episodes - I have been impatiently awaiting the third season of Daredevil since it was first announced at San Diego Comic Con two years ago.  Once the actual release date was announced a few weeks back to be October 19, my anticipation and excitement was at an all-time high.  Aside from that date being a very important one in our household (it is my wife's and my anniversary, this year being our fifth), it was also earlier in the year than I had originally expected after it had previously been announced to release by the end of the year.  Even when new series showrunner Eric Oleson attempted to temper expectations by saying this season would not be a direct adaptation of the classic 'Born Again' story by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli (a personal favorite) - which was widely expected - my excitement didn't diminish.  Fortunately, despite my over-eagerness, Season 3 not only lived up to my personal lofty expectations, but it may have even exceeded them.

Quick expositional interlude: for those who may not know, 'Born Again' is a Daredevil story from the mid-1980's which sees Wilson Fisk systematically dismantle Matt Murdock's life after learning he is in fact Daredevil.  Matt then slowly and painfully builds his life back up, the pieces of which are literally and figuratively born again.  It is widely considered the seminal Daredevil tale, despite being over thirty years old now.  So you can see how it could be a story that fans would want to see adapted (especially if you saw how The Defenders ended).

Well, Oleson didn't lie.  Season 3 is not a direct adaptation of Miller and Mazzucchelli's classic work.  What it is though, is exactly what Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) was for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU): a spiritual and thematic adaptation of a highly regarded piece of the character's comic book history, tweaked a bit to fit within the already existing MCU framework.  They may have taken a different path from point A to point B but the end result is more or less the same, and like The Winter Soldier before it, Daredevil Season 3 accomplishes this to spectacular effect.

The meat of this story takes place in the present day MCU (after The Defenders, The Punisher, and the second seasons of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist), but also uses a number of flashbacks to flesh out characters and plot points.  Matt (Charlie Cox) is believed to be dead, but in actuality has survived and is recovering at Saint Agnes Orphanage under the watchful care of Father Lantom (Peter McRobbie) and Sister Maggie (Joanne Wahlley).  As Matt recovers and his heightened senses slowly return, he begins sneaking out and combating crime in the city again.  Meanwhile, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio) continues his methodic manipulation of the legal, prison, and law enforcement systems, leveraging his way into protective custody in the penthouse of a ritzy downtown hotel.  Similarly to the way Season 1 portrayed the parallel evolutions of Matt and Fisk into hero and villain respectively, Season 3 sees both trying to regain their previous stations after falling to personal lows.  Unfortunately for Matt, it seems as though the deck is stacked in Fisk's favor, leaving him with a larger mountain to climb.

Season 3 is full of stellar performances, from both returning characters and new.  Cox, D'Onofrio, and their clash may be the main draw, but Deborah Ann Woll (Karen), Elden Henson (Foggy), Geoffrey Cantor (Ellison), and Royce Johnson (Mahoney) all get a chance to shine.  Especially Woll, as we are finally shown Karen's back story, something that was alluded to during the first season.  Newcomers Jay Ali (Special Agen Rahul Nadeem) and Wilson Bethel (Special Agent Benjamin Poindexter) were excellent additions, both as unwitting pawns in Fisk's machinations, one struggling to make ends meet for his family, the other mentally unbalanced and searching for guidance.  Speaking of new cast members, I certainly cannot forget to Joanne Wahlley's contributions here as she successfully portrays a very important, complex character in Sister Maggie, who is also striving for redemption in her own right. 

Composer John Paesano produced yet another amazing score for the series, especially a particular track that plays during a Fisk press conference (believe me, you'll know it when you see and hear it).  Paesano's work for all three seasons has been top notch, really contributing to the mood and tone of the series.

Oleson stepped in as the Season 3 showrunner when the team of Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez left after helming both Season 2 and The Defenders, and crafted a deep, dramatic, thrilling, action-packed season that deftly tackles a number of themes (faith, the crisis thereof, depression, mental instability, corruption, betrayal, and redemption just to name a few), as well as providing great character development across the board, which is no small feat. The action, fight choreography, and stunts also all continue to be excellent.

In preparation for this season, I recently re-watched the first two seasons and The Defenders (which I call Daredevil Season 2.5) , and while I absolutely loved them all for how they portrayed my favorite character, this third season may be my favorite of the bunch. It takes elements of a classic story like 'Born Again' (which I also re-read for good measure), using them as a skeleton, then adds layers, drawing inspiration from a number of other other comic book influences in order to produce an excellent third act to the Marvel/Netflix series.

In the past week, we have received the news that both the Iron Fist and Luke Cage series have been cancelled.  There is no word yet if that is a move to make room for different series in their place, combine them into a team-up series of sorts, or if it is in preparation for the launch of Disney's own streaming service in the near future.  With the success of the Daredevil series, I hope that it is able to continue, but if this does turn out to be a final installment under Netflix's watch, it provides a fitting end to this chapter of live-action Daredevil.

Daredevil Season 3 is excellent television and is absolutely worth checking out (even considering my well-known Daredevil bias), but if you haven't seen the first two seasons or The Defenders, I strongly recommend that you do so.  Having seen them will make the payoff of this season that much better.


- Showrunner Erik Oleson said a couple weeks ago that this season would not be a straight adaptation of 'Born Again' and it wasn't, but it certainly drew heavy inspiration from that story arc.  From the revelation that Sister Maggie is Matt's mother, to Karen's drug use (albeit in the past here), to Matt being driven off a pier in a cab ("There is no corpse" repetitively is a straight lift from Miller's 'Born Agan' script), to Fisk employing an impostor Daredevil in his efforts to discredit Matt.

- The 'Born Again' story first appeared in Daredevil (1964) #227-233.

- Foggy running for District Attorney is also pulled from the comics, although at the moment I cannot remember what issues this plot first appeared in.  Foggy's candidacy potentially being manipulated is also pulled from the comics.

- Wilson Fisk donning the all white suit emulates his classic look from the comics.  All that was missing was the purple ascot (which Vanessa jokingly references during Season 1).

- I was really disappointed when Ben Urich was killed off in Season 1.  Both because he was portrayed wonderfully by Vondie Curtis-Hall and he is an important character in the world of Daredevil.  However, the shift of Karen Page from Nelson & Murdock Office Manager to reporter fills this void amazingly well.  They even fit in Karen refusing to divulge Daredevil's true identity, just as Ben did in the comics.

- Special Agent Benjamin 'Dex' Poindexter is introduced and presented very similarly to the way Mary Walker was in Iron Fist Season 2.  There was a slow build to her story and evolution as a character, clearly implying that she is/will be Typhoid Mary.  Poindexter is most definitely Bullseye, but is never actually called that at any point during the season, nor does he done the Bullseye costume, just the Daredevil digs as he plays the role of impostor.

- The series ends with a scene of Poindexter in surgery to repair his broken back (also something that occurs in the comics, although in a different way).  In the comics, he is given Adamantium during this procedure.  This could be Marvel's first hint at the X-Men and their universe being a part of the MCU (Adamantium is a X-Men related thing, the rights of which were only recently made available to Marvel again when Disney's acquired Fox earlier this year).

- While on the surgery table, Poindexter's eyes pop open, revealing a bullseye look to his iris.

- Elements of Poindexter's back story were also taken from the Bullseye: Greatest Hits (2004) series by Daniel Way and Steve Dillon and the Bullseye: Perfect Game (2011) series by Charlie Huston and Shawn Martinbrough.

- I loved that Melvin Potter (Matt Gerald) appeared again, especially being manipulated as he often was in the comics.  Melvin was once again wearing the body armored shirt he had designed for himself in an earlier season (yellow/blue Gladiator design as in the comics).  He even uses a couple circular saw blades as projectiles during his fight scene as Gladiator is known to do in the comics.

- Speaking of Melvin, this time around we also get to see his beloved Betsy (actress not credited at this time), whom he is always trying to protect from Fisk.

- Karen fears that she tipped off Fisk to Matt's being Daredevil during her meeting with him.  This is a nice little nod to her role in 'Born Again' when she traded Daredevil's true identity in exchange for a dose of heroin.  Different circumstances obviously, but the guilt that stems from her actions fit the differing narratives similarly.

- Fisk's allowing the current/original owner to keep 'Rabbit in a Snowstorm' shows a level of humanity in him that generally isn't seen.  I can honestly say that I didn't think that scene was going to end that way.

- Maggie's back story (leaving Matt and his father due to postpartum depression) is actually pulled from a relatively modern story arc by Mark Waid and Javier Rodriguez from Daredevil (2014) #6-7, a two-issue tie-in to Marvel's 'Original Sin' event.

- Early on in the series, there is a shot of Matt, in his homemade black suit perched on the cross of a church's rooftop, which is a visual nod to the cover of Daredevil (1998) #3 by Joe Quesada.

- Joe Quesada provided comic styled artwork for Season 1 and Season 2 of Daredevil.  This season's comic styled piece was created by Paolo Rivera (seen above).

- Father Lantom being killed by a billy club thrown by Poindexter mimics the way Bullseye killed Karen Page in Daredevil (1998) #5 by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada.

- Similarly, that same episode ends with Karen holding an injured and battered Matt in her arms, which echoes the shot of Matt holding a dead Karen in his hands in the same issue.

- Other familiar faces from earlier seasons of Daredevil returning to their rolls: Danny Johnson (Ben Donovan), Stephen Rider (Blake Tower), Amy Rutberg (Marci Stahl), Ayelet Zurer (Vanessa Marianna/Fisk), John Patrick Hayden (Jack Murdock), and Skyler Gaertner (young Matt).

- Crime family head Rosalie Carbone (Annabella Sciorra) makes an appearance, having previously been seen in Luke Cage Season 2.

- Even within the corrupted FBI unit, no one refers to Fisk by his name (a return to his imposing rule of Season 1), they only refer to him by his code name of 'Kingpin'.  This is the first time the phrase is used to directly describe Fisk (it was previously used by prior prison kingpin Dutton is Season 2).

- I liked the way that both Fisk and Jack (Matt's father) were used as the voice of Matt's conscience at different times throughout this season as he questioned himself and his actions.

- In the final episode, Matt makes a crack that Karen is a more stable private investigator than Jessica Jones.  This is pretty much the only other, greater MCU reference outside of discussion of the Midland Circle building collapse that occurred in The Defenders (at least that I caught upon first watch).

- Once again (as with Iron Fist Season 2), I didn't notice a Stan Lee cameo during this season.  Although I honestly wasn't looking either.  I've gotten sick of that gimmick, even in the Netflix series where they have been handled in a much, much less intrusive or jarring manner.  


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