Daredevil is the foundation of Marvel’s line-up of Netflix series, so it’s extremely disheartening to see how far season 2 has gone of the rails. After finishing “A Cold Day In Hell’s Kitchen,” I’m genuinely nervous for the future of this street-level pocket of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially because Daredevil’s showrunners Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez are also in charge of The Defenders, the series that crosses over all these solo heroes. This season has established that The Hand is not a compelling villain for an extended narrative, but it’s beginning to look like The Hand is being set up as the Big Bad for The Defenders, meaning more bland ninja action with no pathos if the writers don’t make some big adjustments.
The majority of this episode involves Daredevil and Elektra taking on The Hand, but first Matt has to convince Elektra that she’s stronger than The Hand’s mystical Black Sky nonsense. I appreciate that the writers start to unpack what’s going on with The Hand during Matt and Elektra’s rooftop conversation, but the treatment of Elektra’s character continues to disappoint. She’s like a child in this scene, and it’s unfortunate that the confidence and strength we saw in her earlier appearances has been drained so she can be another damsel in distress for Matt to save.
Elektra’s distress is emotional, but she still needs to be rescued and talked down from the ledge she’s literally standing on. Once Matt accomplishes this they decide to take on The Hand despite Stick’s protestations, and they have to move fast because The Hand has kidnapped everyone Daredevil ever saved in hopes of drawing him and Elektra out of hiding. (Karen is one of those hostages, serving as the other damsel in distress for Matt to save this episode.) Elektra wants to leave these people to die—a small price to pay for keeping the Black Sky away from The Hand—but of course Matt won’t let that happen, so he charges into action armed with his swanky new multi-purpose billy club.
Like last season’s finale, the action sequences in “A Cold Day In Hell’s Kitchen” pale in comparison to other fights this season, and the big showdown between Daredevil, Elektra, and The Hand is a messy ordeal that relies on having a huge number of combatants fighting at once. With the rooftop as one big, empty battleground, Daredevil and Elektra take down wave after wave of ninja, with The Punisher eventually appearing to offer some support with his sniper rifle. The action is filmed with a lot of long shots from director Peter Hoar that spotlight the high number of fighters and how much choreography they all have, but it diminishes the visceral impact. There’s a lot happening on screen, but the filming doesn’t put the viewer deep enough in the action so it’s a lot of showy movement without the destructive force of sequences like Daredevil’s hallway/stairwell fight or Punisher’s prison massacre.
This showdown ends with the season’s most infuriating moment when Nobu stabs and kills Elektra, and while I fully expected Elektra to be killed off on this series (it’s sadly an inescapable part of her story), I didn’t expect it to happen so soon and so anticlimactically. After doing major damage to Elektra’s character last episode, the show tries to build her back up a bit in the finale and rushes to strengthen her bond with Matt by having him proclaim his love for her and his readiness to stay by her side no matter what, a cheap move to restore the emotional foundation of this relationship so that Elektra’s death has some meaning. Petrie and Ramirez writers are trying, but they can’t fully repair what the last episode so thoroughly broke. Elektra’s death is a hollow moment, and while the end of the episode makes it clear that she is being set up for a resurrection, I’m not optimistic about what that resurrection will entail. Her character already suffered greatly because of the Black Sky addition to her origin, and the mystical crap will likely become even more prominent once Elektra emerges from the sarcophagus.
While Karen as an investigator at the start of the season worked, Karen’s arc as a reporter has not, and it ends with Karen writing a truly horrible piece of journalism that the show tries to sell off as poignant and insightful. Ellison tells her to give up on reporting facts that have already been covered elsewhere in the media, and instead write something new and different that only she can write. Karen fails miserably at her assignment, and she turns out some of the most trite, schmaltzy bullshit that has ever been spouted on this show. This show has always had a problem with dialogue that goes overboard with the thematic content, and Karen’s piece is a prime example.
“What is it, to be a hero?” Karen asks in her opening line. “Look in the mirror, and you’ll know.” The piece begins with the well-worn idea that every person is a hero because every person has survived their own individual pain and suffering, and then it shifts to become about how the city chose each person and they’re heroic because they’re New Yorkers. There is nothing new or different here, and her language is so broad and overblown that I can’t imagine an actual news outlet letting this piece get further than a first round of edits. It’s especially unnerving that the article suggests vigilantism is a citizen’s duty, and much of the language about heroism is attached to images of Frank Castle in his old home one last time before he blows it up.
Now that The Punisher has completed his bloody mission of the vengeance, the show is done with casting him as a villain. He joins the final battle against The Hand from a distance, and during the montage accompanying Karen’s piece, Frank is the spotlighted when Karen says these lines: “A hero is not a god or an idea. A hero lives here, on the street, among us, with us. Always here but rarely recognized.” This is when the message of this season starts to get irresponsible, and framing The Punisher as this series big heroic figure encourages his behavior, which is still murder even if he’s killing gang members and drug kingpins.
I can understand why the show takes this approach given Marvel Studios has announced that there’s a The Punisher spin-off series in the works, but pairing Frank with this part of the article further diminishes an already lousy piece of writing. Frank’s story isn’t inspirational, it’s tragic and terrifying, and it’s strange that the show equates that with the experience of being a New Yorker. I don’t think the writers intended for Karen’s speech to end on such a cynical note, but that’s what happens when it closes on the image of Frank walking away from his burning home with a skull spray-painted on his chest.
After falling hard this season, is it possible for Daredevil to pull itself back up for its third season? I believe so, and while the downward slope of this season made these last episodes a chore, it does set the stage for this show to adapt “Born Again,” a story that is one of the darkest in Daredevil’s history, but also one that is rooted in a much more captivating conflict than Daredevil vs. The Hand. The show’s writers are already committed to making Matt Murdock’s life hell, so they should just go all the way and destroy everything Matt has built for himself. I don’t see this show moving in a lighter direction anytime soon, so if its going to embrace the darkness, it can at least embrace a dark story that has some real emotion behind it.
- Elektra’s new costume is pretty slick and a definite upgrade from her skimpy comic-book look and what Jennifer Garner wore in Daredevil and Elektra. It’s still annoying that she’s the only combatant that shows skin, especially when she takes damage at those exposed parts. Just cover your shoulders, Ellie!
- Carrie-Ann Moss’s Jeri Hogarth has a cameo in this episode to offer Foggy a job at her law firm, which just makes me think about how much better Jessica Jones was than this season of Daredevil. True story: I immediately watched my favorite episode of Jessica Jones (“A.K.A. WWJD”) after finishing my first viewing of Daredevil season 2 to wash the taste out of my mouth.
- Is Karen’s voiceover her entire article? She definitely didn’t hit Ellison’s 2000 word count.
- Matt tells Karen he’s Daredevil at the end of this episode, and I like to think that she slaps him hard across the face and walks away after the cut. I’m sure that’s not what happens, but it’s what Matt deserves.
- “The Black Sky is bullshit.” You are correct, Matthew.