13 episodes. 13 damn episodes. The obsession with this arbitrary number has certainly proved unlucky for the Netflix corner of the MCU. Even those who sat through 26 episodes of Harlem’s Hero and the mercifully shorter 23 episodes of a posh white brat not doing nearly enough fist-ing greeted their cancellation with a mild shrug and went about their day. There were no Brooklyn Nine-Nine-esque protests or petitions; these were shows destined to fade to obscurity, whose only major accomplishments will likely be the dubious distinction of providing the hardest questions in future Marvel trivia nights. Whilst Daredevil’s excellent first season allowed us to glimpse at a small-screen, R-rated addition to the interconnected cinematic universe we all know and love that positively brimmed with potential, just a few years later the grind of these tediously plotted, agonisingly slowly-paced shows has turned many away. Even the wrongfully acclaimed King of Marvel TV (long live Queen Jessica) has fallen victim to the curse of 13, with its second season containing about six episodes worth of interesting television and its third – whilst an improvement – still feels at least three episodes too long. While there’s much to admire in Daredevil Season 3, comparisons to The Dark Knight and Infinity War feel like unearned superlatives, for reasons that go beyond its excessively lengthy nature.
Vincent D’Onofrio’s turn as the Kingpin has long been the highlight of this show and his return to the heart of the action this year is a welcome one. Nonetheless, it’s hard to shake the feeling we might have been given too much of a good thing. Fisk’s convoluted and ridiculous convenient plan suggests he might have inherited Heimdall’s all-seeing omniscience with his reliance on almost magical twists making Doctor Stephen Strange – not Matt Murdock – his natural enemy. Furthermore, his motivation to be reunited with Vanessa rings hollow, as she is a character neither he nor the audience have spent nearly enough time with. Even the potentially topical theme of a rich white man manipulating the law is barely explored here, as the writers coast on the goodwill earned by his far more nuanced portrayal in the superior Season One. That is not to say the white-suited villain does not have his moments, for his thinly-contained rage keeps your eyes gripped to the screen every time he appears, but rather that they are fewer and less impactful than before, a significant factor in the overall decline in quality and entertainment value of Daredevil.
“one cannot help watching the final epic showdown of the season with jaw agape as plot, themes and action collide in a scene for the ages”
Thank God then for our hero Matt Murdock whose struggles with his Catholic faith, lack of vision and enduring a lifetime’s worth of losses make the series watchable even in its more ponderous moments, as we root for him to grow both as a hero and a person. Even if the to-ing and fro-ing on the morality of killing Fisk quickly wears thin, Charlie Cox’s subtle portrayal of pain keeps this discussion grounded in a character study we can invest in – while the show takes the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen in a direction that feels both familiar and fresh. Greater still is Wilson Bethel’s portrayal of Special Agent Poindexter (a.k.a. Bullseye) who provides almost every highlight of the season. Everything from the tremendous flashback sequence in episode four, which grounds the character in subtlety and sympathy, to his breath-taking action scenes where his unfaltering aim and unique ricocheting ability, make him a formidable and memorable foe. The action this season is big-budget movie quality, with one eleven minute one-take hallway masterpiece rightfully being singled out for particular praise, whilst the added focus on Matt’s heightened senses in combat situations represent Daredevil at its absolute best. While the road to get there is undeniably rocky, one cannot help watching the final epic showdown of the season with jaw agape as plot, themes and action collide in a scene for the ages, leading to a deeply satisfying conclusion that makes all of what went before completely worth it.
Daredevil Season 3 is a curious beast. For every predictably dull Foggy and Karen moment (including a momentum-killing episode dedicated to the latter) there is the surprising success of a character like Agent Nadeem or Sister Maggie who each add something to the series and its core characters. It is a season with 8-to-10 episodes of truly thrilling content packaged within the frustrating fluff of a studio-mandated thirteen-episode run-time, a devil with far too much detail. Until someone has the guts to tell the Man with No Fear’s story a little more concisely, Daredevil will remain agonisingly on the cusp of true greatness.