Photo: David Lee (Netflix)

Daredevil’s third season ends with a chill bro named Matt Murdock who’s super laid back about everything. How did Matt become so calm and well-adjusted? I have absolutely no idea! Nothing within this season nor within this episode explains the chipper, relaxed guy Matt has become by the end of this finale. And while, yes, I cried when Foggy wrote “Nelson, Murdock & Page” on a napkin, the fact that this episode effectively plays upon my deep affection for these characters doesn’t make up for the fact that this finale feels like the conclusion to an entirely different season of TV than the one I just watched.

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A bad finale doesn’t always undo a whole season, but in this case, “A New Napkin” kind of does. So much of Daredevil’s third season was spent introducing intriguing ideas and themes and parallels, but without a strong conclusion to weave them all together, they’re just kind of left hanging there. I knew this finale was in trouble when it dedicated several minutes of screentime to a video of Ray Nadeem recapping the season—right down to repeating a bit of information his wife had literally just explained in the previous scene. The details of Nadeem’s “dying declaration” may be a revelation to Daredevil’s characters, but they’re not new to us. That this episode spends so much time on Nadeem’s “silver bullet” speech (including supplementing it with unnecessary flashbacks) was an early sign that this episode had no idea what it wanted to say.

There’s also the fact that a fairly big plotline within this episode hinges on a fridged female character whose dead body is literally found in a refrigerator. The “women in refrigerators” trope (which you can read more about here) is one of the most frequently critiqued, problematic clichés of action storytelling. That Erik Oleson so blatantly uses it here either means he has a very twisted sense of humor or he’s entirely out of touch with any kind of introspection about the superhero genre. I’m not sure which is worse.

Even more so than those smaller issues, however, my bigger problem is that I genuinely couldn’t describe the season-long arcs Matt and Fisk have gone through over these past 13 episodes. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you what Matt’s plan is in this episode and when it changes (if it changes). He starts the episode as a vengeful figure who’s willing to torture Felix Manning in order to find a way to ambush Fisk on his wedding day. (Surprise! Vanessa and Fisk are getting married!) He manipulates Dex into turning on Fisk, which actually seems like the perfect way for Matt to kill the Kingpin without having to go back on his “no killing policy.” Except that clearly wasn’t Matt’s plan because he follows Dex into Fisk’s wedding reception and actively stops him from killing Fisk. So I guess he was just using Dex as a sort of battering ram to get into Fisk’s penthouse? Which then only results in making Matt’s mission even harder because he has to stop Dex from killing Fisk while simultaneously trying to kill Fisk himself. It’s a clumsy way for the episode to get to the preordained endpoint of a Matt-Dex-Fisk three-way fight.

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It doesn’t help that the climactic penthouse battle in “A New Napkin” is maybe the worst action setpiece of the entire season, if not the entire Daredevil series. It looks more like a stagey wrestling match than the slick, high-stakes action I’ve come to expect from this series. The lighting is unflatteringly bright and flat, which makes Dex’s Daredevil outfit look like a cheap Halloween costume. Plus every piece of furniture or wall that gets smashed is obviously made of cheap plywood. Director Sam Miller doesn’t seem to have a handle on how to stage or film the fight, and the choreography itself is actively confusing. At one point Fisk tells Vanessa he’ll “meet her downstairs” and then gestures for her to go up a set of stairs. And then she just winds up standing there for the rest of the scene.

Unfortunately, the fight choreography is really the only thing I have to go on to try to parse the bizarre arcs Fisk and Matt go through in this climax. Though he seems to be winning their fight, Fisk suddenly gives up and tries to provoke Matt into killing him, which I think is out of some kind of attempt to save Vanessa, who he can see standing on the stairs behind Matt? Or maybe it’s meant to tie into Fisk’s opening speech about not feeling good enough for Vanessa? Whatever’s going on there, I needed it to be far less subtextual. Especially because it’s the thing that transforms Matt’s motivation in a major way.

As I’ve made clear in these reviews, I really don’t care about the question of whether or not Matt should kill, but given how central it is to this finale, I should have a much better idea of why he decides not to. Matt yells his heart out about not letting Fisk destroy him, but would he have reached that point if Fisk hadn’t given up in the middle of the fight? It’s supposed to be a big hero moment for Matt, but it plays more like a random impulse rather than the culmination of an internal struggle we’ve actually seen him grapple with. The closest we get to understanding Matt’s moral philosophy is Foggy explaining that Matt has a “Catholic thing” where he believes everyone is worthy of redemption, so if he kills someone he’s no longer worthy of redemption. Okay!

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Clearly Matt goes through something transformative in that penthouse because after he’s done cutting a deal to send Fisk to prison, he’s suddenly that chill bro I mentioned before. In fact, Matt’s not even upset that the last thing he ever said to Father Lanton was “shame on you.” He shrugs the whole thing off with a “God works in mystery ways” monologue, which is also when he effortlessly smooths things over with Maggie too. Having Matt end the season in less of a despondent funk than he started it makes sense, but, again, this episode doesn’t feel like a culmination of Matt’s slow-burning arc so much as it feels like the character suddenly flips a switch and becomes a whole new person.

I kind of hate to come down so negatively on the finale of a season I thought had so much promise at the beginning. But the things I cared about most this season—namely Maggie and Matt’s relationship, and Matt’s friendship with Foggy and Karen—were largely sidelined in this episode so that Matt could once again become a solo vigilante. Given the recent bout of Marvel Netflix TV show cancellations, I’m not sure what the future holds for Daredevil. This episode leaves everyone in a place that feels appropriate for a series finale, but teases the full-on creation of Bullseye in case the show does wind up coming back for a fourth season. Daredevil’s highs are high enough that I’d be happy to see the show return for another round. But for now, I can’t say I’m too sad to bid this season farewell.


Stray observations

  • There’s no Turk Barrett in this season. I demand a refund.
  • We needed at least a dozen more scenes of Matt palling around with Foggy’s extended family because that’s truly the only thing I want from this show.
  • Matt takes on Daredevil’s famous “man without fear” nickname as a tribute to Father Lantom.
  • I thought the season would end by revealing that Elektra had also survived the Midland Circle incident, but I guess she’s really dead?
  • Matt gets in a cute dig at Jessica Jones while praising Karen’s investigative skills.
  • I’ll have to admit, I was pretty impressed with Fisk’s smooth moves during his first dance with Vanessa. Maybe he can organize a prison musical like Hugh Grant in Paddington 2.
  • Thanks for following along with these binge-reviews! I’ll be curious to see how I feel about the season after I have a little more distance from it (and after I have a little more sleep). You can let me know what you thought of the season over on Twitter!

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