Marvel’s Daredevil series for Netflix has arguably been the most consistent show to come out of the two studios’ collaboration on a street-level superhero universe.
The first season of Daredevil debuted to critical acclaim and paved the way for the shows that followed, and the second season raised the bar by pairing positive reviews with the introduction of a new character — The Punisher — that successfully launched a spinoff series focused on the gun-toting vigilante.
While other Marvel-Netflix shows have varied widely in quality from one season to the next, Daredevil has delivered two seasons of reliably compelling television — and it’s primed to make it three in a row, judging by the first six, impressive episodes of the new season.
Season 3 of Daredevil brings back series star Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, the blind attorney who fights crime at night as the show’s titular, costumed hero. Left to an uncertain fate after the events of the crossover miniseries The Defenders, Murdock faces a choice between rebuilding his life as he once knew it or abandoning his civilian alter ego and fully committing himself to life as “The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.”
Complicating Daredevil’s rebirth — both physically and metaphorically — is the return of crime lord Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), as well as a pair of FBI agents: One desperately in search of a promotion, and the other hiding powerful abilities and a dark past.
In many ways, the third season of Daredevil is a belated origin story of sorts. Heavily inspired by writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli’s Born Again story arc from the Daredevil comic-book series, the season effectively breaks down Matt Murdock’s character and that of his costumed identity in order to get to the fundamental reason why he runs around at night taking almost as much punishment as he delivers to criminals.
Earlier seasons provided the back story of how he gained his extrasensory abilities, formidable martial arts skills, and even his “Daredevil” nickname, but the third season offers the deepest dive so far into the psychology of someone who would do what Murdock does, and the personal history that might lead someone on that path. Cox handles this fresh direction for the character with all of the skill he’s shown in previous seasons, and masterfully walks the line between annoying, woe-is-me angst and the genuine, internalized anguish that can shape a person’s worldview in dark ways.
The season’s willingness to take that deep dive into Murdock’s psyche means that the impressive fight sequences that have been a hallmark of the series take a back seat to character development and narrative stage-setting early on. Fans expecting Daredevil to (literally) leap back into action could find the slow burn of the first few episodes a bit frustrating, but that development pays off in a big way as the pace picks up significantly after the first three shows.
In fact, one of the pleasant surprises of the season’s first six episodes is how high they raise the already-high bar for the series’ fight sequences.
Prior to the third season, the most memorable action scenes in Daredevil were a gritty, seemingly single-take hallway fight in the first season and Punisher’s brutally violent prison brawl in the show’s second season — two sequences that stood out in seasons filled with excellently choreographed action. Season 3 doesn’t waste much time in upping the ante, though, and features one of the series’ most exhausting, epic, and expertly crafted fight scenes within the first six episodes, and quickly follows up with another brilliantly shot sequence that serves as a new character’s grand debut.
The aforementioned character development that drives the first six episodes of the third season isn’t devoted solely to Murdock, though.
Also back for season 3 are series regulars Deborah Ann Woll as intrepid journalist Karen Page, and Elden Henson as Murdock’s former law partner and friend, Franklin “Foggy” Nelson. Newcomers in the third season include Hart of Dixie actor Wilson Bethel as FBI agent Benjamin “Dex” Poindexter and The Fosters actor Jay Ali as FBI agent Rahul “Ray” Nadeem.
Woll and Henson’s characters receive some additional attention in the new season, but it’s D’Onofrio’s crime lord and Bethel’s FBI agent that propel the story along when it’s not focused on Murdock’s internal (and occasionally external) battles.
Although the first six episodes don’t meet the same standard for development of D’Onofrio’s character as did the first season of Daredevil, there are more than enough scenes to remind us why Fisk is one of the most compelling villains in Marvel’s live-action universe. D’Onofrio’s calculated and frighteningly cold delivery of dialogue, along with the subtle menace he brings to the character, are on full display in the first half of season 3 and elevate the threat level for the series’ protagonists to new heights.
The careful pacing of development for Bethel’s character is another highlight of the season’s first few episodes, and it’s a shame that previews of the season have effectively spoiled the big reveal of the familiar character he evolves into as events in the season unfold.
Fortunately, the background the season provides for Bethel’s troubled FBI agent is fascinating stuff, adding a layer to the character that feels deeper than any origin he’s given in Marvel Comics lore (and certainly not the 2003 movie he appeared in). The relationship between his character and Fisk, in particular, is nurtured in a surprisingly authentic, gradual way that plays to both characters’ strengths and flaws.
Six episodes in, it’s too early to say that the third story arc of Daredevil is the show’s best season so far, but it doesn’t take heightened senses to get that impression. Boasting some of the most compelling drama of the series, along with the most impressive action sequences and character moments, season 3 of Daredevil packs a lot into the first half of Matt Murdock’s return to the streets of Hell’s Kitchen. If it can maintain that momentum through the final seven episodes, season 3 could very well be one of the defining chapters of Daredevil’s live-action history.
Season 3 of Daredevil premieres October 19 on Netflix.