Excellent writing, a superb cast and a solid combination of style and substance combine to make Marvel’s Daredevil: Season 3 the best season yet.
The series set a pretty high bar for superhero TV from the beginning. For season three, the series has new showrunner, Erik Oleson (Arrow, The Man in the High Castle) – who has, in turn, added several new faces to the writers’ room including Haven creators Jim Dunn and Sam Ernst (how good are they? Haven crumpled into disjointed gibberish after they left, and the final season was virtually unwatchable).
DD:S3 opens with Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox, Boardwalk Empire) having somehow survived having a skyscraper fall on him, lying on a cot in the basement of the church/orphanage where he was raised.
Under the care of Sister Maggie (Joanne Whalley, The White Princess), he pushes his recovery so that he can get back to the streets of Hell’s Kitchen – but he is a radically changed Matt Murdock who is suffering a crisis of faith.
He is bitter and determined to shove Matt Murdock to the side – along with all Matt’s friends and interests. Which means distancing himself from his former law partner, Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay 1 & 2) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll, True Blood).
Meanwhile, FBI Special Agent Rahul ‘Ray’ Nadeem (Jay Ali) has persuaded his boss, Special Agent in Charge Tammy Hattley (Kate Udall), to help him get Wilson ‘Kingpin’ Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio, Men in Black, Law & Order: Criminal Intent) moved to a secure location following an attempt on his life in regular prison.
It’s interesting that while Murdock is manipulating his life in a way that excludes his friends and even his real identity so that he can exclusively be Daredevil, Fisk is manipulating Nadeem and the FBI to return to the life to which he had previously been accustomed.
Of course, the convoy moving Fisk is attacked – everyone in said convoy, except for Fisk and Nadeem, are killed – and they are saved by an anonymous figure in an FBI vest who takes down the attackers with one fatal shot per.
Their savior is FBI Special Agent Benjamin ‘Call me Dex’ Poindexter. (If Netflix hadn’t produced a featurette called Introducing Bullseye, we might never have known, for sure, who was – comics readers excepted).
While Murdock is going through his crisis of faith – and declaring the concept of a loving God to be nothing more than a grim joke) – Dex also has identity issues. He’s a borderline personality who has kept himself on the side of the angels through a combination of order, career and cassettes of his childhood session with a genuinely effective therapist.
Almost until the end of the season, the only one of the Murdock/Kingpin/Dex triangle with absolutely no doubt about who he is, is Fisk – though even he has one issue; an issue that keeps him from letting his one true love, Vanessa Marianna (Ayelet Zurer, Angels & Demons, Man of Steel) see him in his ‘business’ mode.
Fisk’s main goal this season is to undermine Daredevil/Murdock through public humiliation and then, when he’s at his lowest point, kill him. (Gotta love a guy who sets goals and pursues them with everything he’s got. It’s personal!
His secondary goal is to remove the competition in New York’s underworld and slide into their place as the one stop shop for protection – a move aided by his ability to manipulate key members of the local police and FBI both into positions where they have to do what he says.
How does he plan to humiliate Daredevil/Murdock?
Put Poindexter in a replica Daredevil suit and have kill a key hostage against him. And kill people in the process.
Oleson hasn’t forgotten about Karen and Foggy, either. Each has problems of their own – Karen’s a call back to her killing James Wesley in season one; Foggy’s though Fisk’s manipulation of his family as they struggle to keep their mom and pop butcher shop open.
Marvel’s Daredevil: Season 3 is leaner than previous seasons – even the episode exploring Karen’s past and how it led her to where she is now, is not mere filler. It let’s see why she’s been the person we’ve known for three seasons – and how that impacts Matt and Foggy.
It also sets up her arc for the rest of the series.
Couple points: Matt goes back to his improvised disguise from season one and, even when he could don his spiffy crime-busting suit, chooses not to do because he isn’t that guy anymore; for the third straight season there’s a one-shot hall brawl – though in this one, he’s fighting as Murdock and the 11-and-a-half minute brawl is not limited to one hallway.
In almost every way, Marvel’s Daredevil: Season 3 is better than the first two seasons – its depth of characterization; its action; the goals of its heroes and villains; its accurate treatment of both how a borderline personality might cope with their condition and how that coping might be undone.
There are far fewer beauty shots this season, as well – and more shots that are close enough to take us away from the symbols they might create – so that every shot is as much about character as it is about anything else; even (or maybe especially) in the action sequences.
Final Grade: A+