The Man Without Fear is back, and better than ever.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
After a two-year wait, filled with bad-to-decent-to-great (thank you, Punisher)Netflix/Marvel shows, Daredevil is finally back for a third season. There was a slight sense of concern entering this season, coming after a string of disappointing efforts, including the awful Iron First, and a letdown in The Defenders.
From the start, the show re-establishes what made it the best Netflix original in the first place. Season three goes back to its roots – with Vincent D’Onofrio returning full-time as Wilson Fisk, and the personal stories of Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) receiving their due diligence. The show even goes back to Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) wearing the original Daredevil suit, abandoning the dark red attire from season two.
The first couple episodes take a step back compared to the adrenaline rush that was the beginning of season two. Murdock is shown in a dark place after the events of Defenders, Fisk is living his life behind bars, and Karen and Foggy continue with life after Matt’s presumed death. Without dragging, the show does an excellent job at setting up themes, conflicts, and characters for the new season. In two dialogue-centric episodes, the worry for a show is losing viewers’ interest, with a lack of action or moving pieces. Season three shines in its ability to keep viewers’ attention during scenes where Matt and new-for-season-three-character Sister Maggie (Joanne Whalley) talk through their morals and ideals for minutes at a time.
Outside of Matt, Wilson Fisk’s ever-going chess match takes focus; as he proves his value as an asset to the bureau, providing information on rival mob bosses, and (after getting shanked in prison) gets moved into FBI custody on house arrest.
The end of the episode two is where the show begins to pick up, with Fisk’s convoy from the prison to hotel being sabotaged by his rivals in crime. It is here where we are introduced to Benjamin Poindexter (Wilson Bethel) through an amazing shootout scene where the FBI agent takes out a plethora of mob members with pinpoint accuracy – the first of many incredible fight scenes sprawled throughout season three.
From there, the show keeps its foot on the gas pedal, without letting up. Fisk is successfully detained and in FBI custody, but tensions are at an all-time high after multiple agents were killed in the shootout with the Albanians.
Giving a chance for agent Ray Nadeem (Jay Ali) and Poindexter to shine, episodes three through five focus in on the FBI/Fisk dynamic, with Poindexter and Fisk’s interactions being some of the best in the series. The agents play mind games with Fisk, with Poindexter doing room checks at early hours, taking bites out of food before serving it to him, and making it a point to refer to him as “convict.” Nadeem seems like a stock character at first, with the first couple scenes showing that he needs money, giving him extra motivation to do his job; only the job he is doing at first interferes with Matt, Karen, and Foggy, making it seem like the agent is a nuisance, when (quickly) it becomes clear that he is just dedicated to being the best agent he can.
At this point, the show is really in stride. The rotating story of Fisk, Karen’s relentless search of evidence to publish against the crime boss, and Matt’s coming back into the light of the world is navigated perfectly. The show seems to be effortlessly flowing between the three main arcs, never providing too much information, but hinting at just enough to keep viewers intrigued.
There isn’t enough to say about Wilson Bethel’s performance as Poindexter, and how well his transformation to Bullseye is handled throughout episodes three to six. There’s a mix of excellent flashback scenes, showing why he needs the job with the FBI to keep structure in his life, and when the FBI uses him as a scapegoat (among other strings of bad luck in his life) for their blown transport of Fisk, you can see how quickly his world has fallen apart, and how Fisk uses that to manipulate him into becoming Bullseye.
The reveal of Poindexter in the fake Daredevil suit is one of the best moments throughout the show’s three year run. Right as Karen is getting an interview with Jasper Evans, the man who shanked Fisk in prison and can prove his plot to infiltrate the FBI – while also being able to clear Matt’s name of the false accusations Fisk has brought down on him, Poindexter crashes into the office at the New York Bulletin, brutally killing staff members, and, frankly, kicking the real Daredevil’s ass.
In the best fight scene of 2018 not in an Avengers movie, the battle of the two Daredevils is one for the ages. Starting out as a blow-for-blow fistfight, the fight is won when Poindexter starts distancing himself from Murdock, throwing anything he can find in the office; from staplers to pencils, and making them lethal against the real Daredevil. The camerawork throughout the fight is something for the eyes to feast upon. There are no quick cuts or instances if the dreaded shaky-cam, but instead wide frames, and extended takes. The camera continually pans around the room, using the office space to its advantage for angles and setting up unique frames. As the fight gets more close-quarters, the camera moves in on the two Daredevils – making the viewer feel every punch. When objects are being thrown, wide takes are utilized to show how the whole room is being tarnished by the fight. This is action done right.
After running through Matt; Poindexter enters the office where Karen, Foggy, and Evans are hunkered down, and kills Evans, leaving no witness of Fisk’s wrongdoings left.
Hell’s Kitchen goes into a craze, now under the impression that their Daredevil is a murderer, and siding with Fisk. Manipulation is a heavy theme throughout the season, and overcoming the false image becomes a challenge for Matt to overcome – by having to work undercover for the rest of the season.
After the fallout, agent Nadeem begins to suspect Fisk had more to do with the murder of Jasper Evans than what meets the eye. Teaming up with Murdock, the two search Poindexter’s apartment in a tension-filled episode eight, eventually figuring out that Dex is the fake daredevil. All the while, Karen confronts Fisk out of her anger for the Bulletin attacks, while Foggy (who has taken a backseat for most of the season) begins to pull away in his campaign to be District Attorney, hoping to attack Fisk on a political front. After a wonderful speech by Foggy about how Fisk is not turning in targets, but eliminating his competition; he realizes what Karen is doing, and the show (masterfully) cuts back to one of the most tension-filled moments in the season.
Karen begins to interview Fisk for a story, and each bit of dialogue is bone-chilling, the camera works wonders with shots of the two facing one another for the first time. It’s crazy to think that two characters who have been linked closely throughout the three seasons have not come face-to-face until now, and when they do, much is revealed about the past that Fisk didn’t know about Karen. Karen sends chills up viewers’ spines with the conviction in her voice, telling Fisk that she killed his best friend – rewarding a plot thread that was set up back in season one. Fisk tries to keep his cool as Karen avoids all boundaries in the conversation; bringing up the Fisk’s late mother, and him murdering his father as a child. Fisk reveals he knows about Matt’s secret life as Daredevil, and the two can barely hold back their hatred for one another as they trade bits of information. Right as Fisk is about to snap, the FBI intervenes with a tip from Foggy, saving Karen’s life in the process.
The season has plenty to unpack by the end of episode eight, but keeps pushing the envelope with its last five episodes.
Matt’s struggle to find faith worsens when he finds out that the nun that has been helping him for so much, Sister Maggie, is also his mother. Confronting Father Lantom (Peter McRobbie), Matt goes into somewhat of a fit of rage, further questioning God.
Agent Nadeem, who has turned into a favorite character by now, goes to his peers to officially report his findings on agent Poindexter and Fisk, and how the ‘Kingpin’ has turned the FBI into his private task force unwillingly. Before the report is over, agent Hattley (Kate Udall) shoots the commanding agent, and on the recording, shouts for Nadeem to,‘put the gun down!’ Holding the recording as leverage over Ray, Hattley’s reveal that Fisk is in control of the FBI already is sudden, and gives extra context to every interaction in any FBI/Fisk scene in the beginning of the show.
Poindexter is reinstated to the agency, and is let loose as a wild dog, with no supervision. Because of the recording, Nadeem is used as an agent alongside Poindexter to carry out many tasks in Fisk’s interest – including assisting in the capturing of mob bosses around the city, so Fisk can either tax them for their goods, or kill them and become the main supplier of the criminal underworld – a Kingpin.
The scenes with the FBI and Fisk remain stellar, as it’s noticeable that no agent, outside of Poindexter, enjoys the situation they’re in, yet Fisk is using the agents’ families as leverage, forcing them to engage in whatever he needs them for.
Episode ten is the only episode that lets off on the rapid pacing. For the first two-thirds of the episode, Karen’s backstory is explored. For someone who had such a strong arc in the main timeline, the flashback sequence feels out of place. It doesn’t make present-day Karen grow as a character; all it reveals is her history of drug addiction, leading to the accidental killing of her brother, and her moving to New York.
Fisk’s main objective for his newly-acquired death squad is to find and kill Karen as revenge for the murder of his former accomplice. Dex once again dons the red Daredevil suit, and attacks the church in which Karen is staying in – the same one Matt had been recovering in. Poindexter is unsuccessful in his quest to kill Karen, as Father Lantom steps in front of steps in front of the fake Daredevil’s billy club just in time to save Karen, but dies from being impaled by it himself. With his dying words, Father Lantom asks Matt for forgiveness for keeping his mother’s identity a secret for so long.
Daredevil vs. fake Daredevil round two then begins in the church, and is just as entertaining as round one – with the environment being equally utilized, and the camerawork yet again being stunning. Karen and Matt are able to fend off Bullseye, but he escapes in time to go back to being agent Poindexter outside, with Matt and Karen trapped inside the church.
The episode is incredibly similar to episode five in season one, where Matt is also trapped in a building. Instead of the corrupt police force, this time, it’s Fisk’s FBI waiting outside for (yet again) public enemy number one: Daredevil.
Fisk officially becomes a free man, and his love Vanessa (Ayelet Zurer) can finally return to him. In the whirlwind of ground for the FBI to cover, along with the police interfering, Poindexter loses tail on Karen and Matt in the church, and the final fight against Fisk begins.
Foggy, Matt, and Karen agree to give a political attack on Fisk one shot – with agent Nadeem giving a testimony to a grand jury about all of Fisk’s wrongdoings while under FBI supervision. Nadeem and Matt fight through waves of resistance on their way to the courthouse, with Fisk throwing his last-ditch effort to stop the testimony from happening.
It finally appears our protagonists have beat Fisk, but before the celebration begins, a juror reads out addresses of the other jurors, showing that once again Fisk has infiltrated the court system. The show does an incredible job at showing just how untouchable the Kingpin of crime has become, and it really starts to feel like Fisk is invincible.
Nadeem goes to his house for his final moments, knowing that he will be hunted by Fisk’s men, and gets a final personal moment with Dex before the rogue agent murders him. Nadeem laces in slights at Fisk, and how he is using Dex, planting a seed for the final episode.
In the grand finale, Matt is on an absolute manhunt for Fisk, abandoning the approach of the law that Foggy has begged him for the entire season. The finale has a veryDark Knight feeling to it, as the world crumbles around our protagonist, he has no goal but to stop the man that’s the core of the problem.
Matt swings Fisk’s ace-in-the-hole in Dex, leading him to discover that Fisk has murdered Poindexter’s lifelong love, Julie, and plans to get married to Vanessa that night, setting himself back up as a charming face in Hell’s Kitchen.
With Poindexter gone rogue (in a different way this time), the episode turns into a showdown between him, Matt, and Kingpin in a fight for the ages. Poindexter crashes the wedding in the red Daredevil suit, as the New York Bulletin gets its final revenge on Fisk for his attacks, leaking a video of Nadeem giving a dying declaration on the events taking place in the FBI.
The fight moves into the penthouse where Fisk has been staying for a majority of the season, and gives the newsroom fight a run for its money, with items being throw left and right by Poindexter, Kingpin using brute strength, and Matt being trapped in the middle of his moral conflicts; all of the themes from the season tie together beautifully in a fight that is just as pleasing to the eye.
Poindexter exits the fight early as Fisk slams him against a wall, breaking his back; setting up for a beat down by Murdock, finally winning his fight against the character that has been haunting him for three seasons. In a scene for the ages, Charlie Cox gives a truly moving statement to Fisk, screaming at his adversary that he’s finally beat him the right way. Despite wanting to kill Fisk so badly, Matt knows he can’t, because it’s not the right thing to do. His battle with faith is complete.
The season rounds up with Karen, Matt, and Foggy at peace, restarting their law firm together again. Matt gives forgiveness to his mother, Fisk is locked up in prison, and Poindexter gets his spine fixed, setting up Bullseye for season four…
BEST PERFORMANCE: Wilson Bethel’s gritty take on Benjamin Poindexter
BEST EPISODE: Episode 6: The Devil You Know
BEST SCENE: Karen and Fisk’s first face-to-face meeting. The dialogue is excellently written and kicks the season into the third act wonderfully.
VERDICT: Season three is the most tightly-knit season yet. The two-year break was used well to create the best plotline in the three seasons. Charlie Cox & Vincent D’Onofrio continue to ace their respective roles, and new additions to the show are welcomed through excellent performances as well. The action doesn’t skip a beat, and season four can’t come soon enough.