Lauren and I don’t get to watch too much TV. That’s partly because we watch a lot of movies and partly because we started Brooklyn Nine-Nine and then it was immediately canceled and then immediately picked back up by NBC—our frail hearts couldn’t take the strain of television politics.
That said, one show or series we’ve been relatively faithful in watching is Daredevil and the Netflix Marvel universe. We watched the first seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, loved them, and saw both of their second seasons as well as Luke Cage and Defenders, and liked them all fine. Overall, the universe had felt like a success, especially Daredevil’s saga.
But you may have heard this last week that the stragglers were cut. Luke Cage and Iron Fist are out. This may be welcome news to those of us who want to retain the critical purity of the Netflix Marvel universe and cut the fat, but it also warrants the question: why does Daredevil get to stay? Everyone knows Disney is trying to repossess all of their properties for their own streaming service, so it would make sense for them to push for all of the series to be canceled. If this is not the reason behind the cancelations, why cut any of them? Luke Cage and Iron Fist were doing better than some of the other trash Netflix releases. What removes shows like Daredevil or Jessica Jones from the chopping block? What makes them special?
I wanna look at this question, specifically for Daredevil. Jessica Jones is great—and deserves its own analysis—but even it saw a significant drop in its second season. Daredevil, while its second season did not maintain the artistic weight of its predecessor, still remained excellent. And though I have only just started the third season, it is clear that the series is still pushing forward, making great television. What is it about this show that has made it different from the rest?
One answer may be the darkness of the series. Netflix has capitalized on this for many of its shows. Before, viewers had limited options—HBO, the occasional AMC series—if they wanted something less rom-com and more adult. Daredevil is a perfect example of this. While the world gorges itself on lighthearted superhero movies, Netflix offered up Daredevil, a darker take the genre. It wasn’t like DC’s solution, creating dark and posturing movies aimed at high school sophomores. Rather it treats its subject with dignity and maintains a level of optimism. Still, I’m not sure this is what makes Daredevil special.
It could be the series’s craftsmanship, particularly regarding its action set-pieces. I’ve shared on here before the hallway fight from the first season which is almost matched by the much bloodier conflict between the Punisher and the prison inmates in the second season. And while these are exhilarating—not just in their own right but also as rare gems in television—I’m still not sure this is what makes Daredevil special.
Something somewhat unique to Daredevil, something we don’t find in other good shows like Jessica Jones or even something like Game of Thrones, is the thematic circling of Catholic guilt. This is a theme we see explored in other masterworks like Raging Bull (and really anything by Scorsese). It gives the series depth of character and relates it to a very real phenomenon in Christian America. Though, like the previous two examples, I don’t think this is what makes Daredevil special.
I think if we really look at Daredevil, we’ll find that what makes it great is what makes most any excellent show excel—and that’s characters. While Matt Murdock is a fantastic character study, charming but filled to the brim with brooding angst and the Catholic guilt already mentioned, the show is built on the scaffolding of its antagonists and supporting characters. Daredevil includes no dull side characters, they are all either round or dynamic or both. Karen is the clearest example of this in her escalation from victim to vigilante journalist. The villains (particularly Fisk as played by Vincent D’Onofrio) are even better.
This is the mastery of Daredevil. By building up its supporting characters, and not just its protagonist, it ensures that there are no dead spots in any episode’s runtime. It also ensures that each relationship dynamic in the series is rich and filled with potential. That is the recipe for any good television.
I’m excited to finish this third season, and I hope there are more—not just seasons of Daredevil, but shows of its caliber (not that I would be able to watch them).