Daredevil’s second season has been short on fun, and while an argument could be made that superhero narratives don’t need to be fun to be effective, they’re certainly not as entertaining when they’re joyless. Elektra brings this missing element to the series in “Regrets Only,” and while there’s still some stiffness in Elodie Yung’s performance, her character becomes more engaging by being one of the only people enjoying herself in the story.
The opening sequence of this episode establishes this tonal shift by following Yakuza thugs as they speed down the street on their motorcycles, backed by the exhilarating beat of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Date With The Night.” It kicks off the story with dynamic energy, and that’s carried through the entire opening as the Yakuza shoot their way into Elektra’s apartment and swiftly get the crap beaten out of them by the owner and her guest in the devil costume. Elodie Yung has an extensive background in karate, and she blossoms when she’s in action, conveying the grace and strength of Elektra solely through her body. The choreography and camera work get a bit muddy during the fight, but the power of Elektra shines through brightly, intensifying the mystique surrounding the character and making her an especially formidable antagonist for Matt.
Elektra’s most endearing moment thus far is the single word she asks Matt after their fight: “Hungry?” Her facial expression reveals the excitement and delight Elektra has taken from the action, as well as how easily she’s able to shift out of this violent mode as if nothing of much importance just occurred. Matt is clearly rattled by the attack, but Elektra acts like this is just another day on the job, which introduces questions about just how Elektra got to this point in her life.
The proceeding scene in the diner accentuates the differences between Elektra and Matt, and while she’s celebrating their victory over the Yakuza, Matt is more concerned about what the return of the Yakuza means for Hell’s Kitchen. Elektra is aggressively flirty, and while Matt acts like he has no interest in rekindling their past romance, the season has already established that he has trouble resisting a good thrill. Matt is intrigued when Elektra asks for his help in taking out the Yakuza “hard and fast,” and he agrees to help her as long as she pretends to have some sort of respect for human life. She has a rule of her own, “No sex,” but given how deeply connected sex and violence are for these two, chances are their team-up will reignite some of the heat that died 10 years ago.
Elektra and Matt’s black-tie heist continues to bring more of that missing fun, and while Sneha Koorse’s script hits very typical heist beats—pour wine on the target and knock him out in the bathroom, pretend to be drunk lovers when caught by security guards—it’s still a refreshing change of pace that offers a more elegant take on the superhero elements of the series. The best moment of the heist comes when Matt and Elektra are confronted by security guards in a conference room, setting off a fight that is filmed from the outside of the room, showing the action solely in silhouette. It’s a clever way of applying the elegance of the setting to the action, and director Andy Goddard gives the fight a stylish refinement by presenting it as one sustained shadow play.
Matt has been a shitty friend and coworker this season, and he gets even worse in “Regrets Only” when he forces Foggy to take on Frank Castle as a client before ditching him and Karen to go rob the Yakuza with Elektra. Foggy wants no part in this case, but Matt and Karen needle him until he gives in, although initially they’re only planning on helping Frank negotiate a plea deal with D.A. Reyes. That plan falls apart when Karen pulls Frank’s buried memories back to the surface, reminding him of the events that led to his family’s deaths and giving him a new mission of vengeance against Reyes.
Karen wants to uncover the conspiracy behind why the D.A.’s office wants Frank dead, which is a totally reasonable agenda, but the show fails to provide a convincing argument for why Karen excuses Frank’s deadly criminal actions. And he’s a criminal, no doubt about it. Frank has 37 murder charges and 98 lesser charges, and no matter what happened to his family, that doesn’t excuse all the laws he’s broken. I can understand why Matt sides with Frank given he’s breaking plenty of laws with his own crusade of vigilante justice, but Matt’s claims regarding the noble intentions of Frank carry less weight when he spends other parts of the episode concerned with Elektra’s disregard for killing other people. Elektra kills criminals, too, but she hasn’t given Matt’s a speech about any dead family members yet so his view of her is much harsher than his view of Frank.
But why is Karen so attached to Frank? The show wants to excuse Frank’s behavior by having him repeat that Karen was never in any danger when he shot up the hospital and that he only hurts people who deserve it, but Frank has no idea how many people he’s truly hurt. There are all the friends and relatives of his dead victims, but what about all the people in the hospital that had to live through the terror of Frank shooting up the place? The writers could have explored the psychological aftershocks of gun violence through Karen’s story, but instead they make her the shooter’s number one advocate because she discovers his past and the conspiracy that is trying to keep Frank’s true story hidden.
As a legal professional, it makes sense that Karen is driven by a desire to see those responsible for the death of Frank’s family be punished by the law, but that doesn’t explain why Karen no longer considers Frank a criminal despite all evidence to the contrary. (When Reyes wants to put Frank in the general prison population, Karen protests because Frank would be surrounded by criminals. That’s because he is also one, Karen.) There are so many complicated emotions the show could delve into with Karen, but instead the story takes a simpler route by having Karen quickly form a personal bond with Frank, much like the way she quickly formed a personal bond with Grotto, who Frank killed.
I can get behind the show depicting Frank as an antagonist with different layers, but I can’t get behind the show diminishing the negative impact of his actions simply because of the trauma of his past. Having a tragic backstory does not give someone the authority to step outside the law, even if that tragedy occurs because the law has failed them in some way. Live-action superhero narratives this year are fixated on the idea of where superheroes fit within modern legal and political boundaries, but there’s an important distinction to be made regarding operating outside of set regulations to save the world from an alien invasion versus operating outside of set regulations to murder people in cold blood because they personally hurt you.
The early episodes with Frank were so effective at depicting him as a terrifying figure that it becomes impossible to excuse his actions, and delving deeper into his story reinforces that every person has their own pain that makes them more human. The Punisher’s victims don’t have the luxury of explaining what drove them to their lifestyle, but each one of them has a story too, and Frank Castle gave himself the authority to end those stories. The script wants the audience to sympathize with him by creating the D.A. conspiracy, but by having Reyes as the big, cartoonish villain in Frank’s story, the show is painting the law as something corrupt that shouldn’t be followed, which isn’t the best narrative choice when the main character is a lawyer. “Regrets Only” ends with Foggy telling Matt that they just became involved in the trial of the century, and with the law meaning so little on this show, The People Vs. Frank Castle is guaranteed to be a fiasco.
- Congratulations on your promotion, Detective Mahoney. Now he’ll have even more information to feed to Nelson & Murdock.
- Of the three primary antagonists we’ve seen this season, D.A. Reyes is easily the most broadly drawn, and her shallowness only becomes more evident as the writers flesh out Punisher and Elektra. Why is it so hard for them to make Reyes feel like a real person?
- Matt’s preferred music is ’90s Top 40 and Foggy went to theater camp as a youth. All the dirty secrets come out this week.
- “One more thing, and this is the dealbreaker: you have to give me back that pie.”
- Roth: “I believe in protecting women.” Karen: (Sarcastic) “Thanks. From all of us.”
- “Who said I was Yakuza?” Ruh-roh.