The real kicker is that, as we sit down to write this, we’re still reeling from Netflix’s shock cancellation of Daredevil. Another casualty of Disney’s ongoing plans to venture out on its own and launch its own streaming platform, Daredevil is by far the saddest cancellation we’ve had to endure this year. It’s a monumental loss for not only Netflix, but to the entire pantheon of superhero television as well. Here is not the place to dissect corporate business decisions, rights issues and streaming service competition though. Instead, let’s simply remember the good times – namely, Daredevil‘s fantastic third (and ultimately final) season.
It could have gone so horribly wrong, after all. Arriving on the scene with new showrunner Erik Oleson (Arrow, The Man in the High Castle) in the driving seat and an untried, untested writing team in tow, success was always going to be a close-run thing. Thankfully, Oleson proved with a barnstorming and powerful first episode that he and his team were up to the task of continuing the good work of previous seasons, with everything thereafter only going from strength to strength.
Season one redefined superheroes on the small screen with its gritty crime aesthetic, complex character arcs and visceral action scenes. Season two and the subsequent Defenders mini-series were enjoyable follow-ups, but nowhere close to hitting the heights previously scaled by the show’s freshman year. To that effect, season three rightly took the show back to its roots, presenting an emotionally broken Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) as the blind crusader fighting against the twisted machinations of New York’s Kingpin of Crime, Wilson Fisk (the utterly mesmerising Vincent D’Onofrio).
Oleson’s run dispensed with the more fantastical elements like the Hand and Elektra from the previous run, instead weaving a dark and morally grey crime epic packed to the rafters with twists. Taking inspiration from the seminal 1986 Daredevil story ‘Born Again’, Season three stripped Matt Murdock down to the bone and tested him in ways that pushed him to the limits of both sanity and destitution. Gone was the Daredevil suit, the weapons, the law firm, his super-hearing (at first) and the ever-reliable support of allies like Karen Page, Foggy Nelson or even Melvin Potter. As underdog stories go, Daredevil had it down to a fine art. The introduction of Sister Maggie (Joanne Whalley) lent the series an engaging new dynamic, anchoring the more melodramatic aspects and giving further justification behind Matt’s crusade.
Running parallel with Matt Murdock’s decline was Wilson Fisk’s return to power, a storyline that delivered many of the big shock moments of the season. His climb to the top through clever manipulation and corruption was made all the more powerful by the introduction of the tragic FBI agent Ray Nadeem (Jay Ali), a character that lent the show a focal point for which we could see the extent of the Kingpin’s genius and reach. Coupled with this was the introduction of another key classic villain, the deadly assassin Bullseye (Wilson Bethel). At first, we had our concerns that the sadistic psychopath of the comics would receive a sympathetic backstory akin to that of Fisk and be somewhat lessened, but the writers cleverly used this idea to chilling effect, depicted in a visually arresting sequence during the fifth episode.
As expected, the show upped the ante in terms of bone-crunching action, creating yet another jaw-dropping one-take fight scene to rival similar stand-out instances from previous seasons. The realism of the action depicted was another feather in the show’s cap that thankfully wasn’t diluted or discarded this season, with the producers and directors pushing the envelope further then we could ever have imagined. When combined with the detailed characterisation and the tight plotting, the action was particularly effective and unmissable.
This blend of strong character drama with visceral action has always been Daredevil‘s edge, and this season delivered in style. Said-style was no better exemplified than in the season’s standout episode – Karen. More or less reduced to a sidekick in the Season Two, here Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen Page returned to her rightful place as an important part of the story, with much of the drama up until this key episode finally exploring the consequences of her murder of James Wesley during the first season. This all came together neatly in ‘Karen’, an episode that is tense, terrifying, and ultimately tragic. Real edge of your seat stuff, especially for those who know the comics!
It’s a crying shame that we won’t experience another year of Daredevil, especially one with this particular creative team calling the shots. Granted, it at least has a proper conclusion, albeit an open-ended one that promises more great stuff to come, and the series is most certainly going out on a high. But there’s no denying we’re going to miss what has been arguably the best superhero show to date. Season Three embodied everything we’ve come to love about the series, whilst remembering to take things further and experiment. That fact alone makes the end of the show so much harder to take.
Justice is blind. Especially when it comes to justice for great television!
Daredevil: Seasons 1-3 are available to stream on Netflix.