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Daredevil – .380 (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

One of the strongest things that the second season of Daredevil has going for it is the three-act structure.

Pacing and structure can be concerns for Netflix television shows. After all, the distributor works on a completely different model than most television broadcasters. Instead of releasing a series on a week-to-week basis across a period of several months, Netflix releases all of a season at the exact same moment. As such, the focus and goals of a Netflix series are different from that a series developed through more traditional means. Netflix shows are consciously designed to be “binged” rather than to be digested in hour-long chunks.

He's the devil, that one.

He’s the devil, that one.

In some ways, this has seen the erosion of the episode as a functional unit of storytelling. If an episode of a regular television drama simply does not work, then the audience is left with a bad taste in their mouth for a week. If an episode of a Netflix drama does not work, the next episode is right there. In fact, Netflix makes it even easier by automatically moving the viewer to the next episode, meaning it takes more effort not to watch the next episode than it does to just keep going. With that in mind, an individual episode not working is not a deal-breaker.

In some respects, it is disappointing that Netflix has yet to truly embrace the potential of the streaming model. Storytelling that would be unthinkable in a weekly model are easier to work around when it comes to binging. In terms of playing with narrative formating, Aziz Anasari’s Master of None is probably the most ambitious of the “Netflix original” shows; the series bounces between its arc-based storytelling and more standalone pieces. In most cases, Netflix shows only really exploit the potential of the model when it comes to serialising their story.

Frank interrogates The Usual Suspects.

Frank interrogates The Usual Suspects.

That said, there is still some division between how streaming affects the plotting of comedies as compared to dramas. Comedies like The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Bojack Horseman seem to adopt a more conservative episodic approach to their episode-to-episode plotting; given that The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was moved to Netflix rather late in its production cycle, this makes in a certain amount of sense. Nevertheless, it would appear that the streaming model tends to lean towards a “single story told over [number] hours” approach to drama.

This is not inherently a good thing. One of the bigger issues with streaming dramas remains the attachment to classic television formal conventions, whether it is a set runtime or a predetermined number of episode. Not every story needs to be thirteen episodes, especially not on a streaming service. There is a question as to whether shows like Mad Dogs and Jessica Jones might have been better served with a shorter order. There is also a sense that the demand of telling a single story over a set number of hours leads to stalling and repeating.

Just a regular guy, talkin' about love and punishing.

Just a regular guy, talkin’ about love and punishing.

While a fantastically ambitious show in terms of storytelling and themes, Jessica Jones had an unfortunate habit of running around in circles in order to reach that thirteen-episode count. Early episodes like AKA Crush Syndrome and AKA It’s Called Whiskey wasted a lot of time on how to knock Kilgrave out. Kilgrave himself was introduced twice in both AKA Crush Syndrome and AKA It’s Called Whiskey. Kilgrave was captured and escaped no less than three times over the season, in AKA The Sandwich Saved Me, AKA Sin Bin and AKA 1,000 Cuts.

In many ways, Daredevil is a conventional piece of television drama. Part of that is down to structuring. Daredevil has a stronger sense of episodic storytelling than many contemporary streaming dramas. Within the second seasons, episodes like Guilty as Sin and Seven Minutes in Heaven are held together by internal themes like the idea of perpetual war as it links the season’s two plots and whether various characters are trapped within prisons of their own makings. Care is taken to ensure that something is accomplished between the start and end of a given episode.

Guy talk.

Guy talk.

More than that, the second season takes the idea further and very clearly structures itself into conventional three-act design. The first act introduces Frank Castle and pit him against Matt Murdock, running from Bang to Penny and Dime. The second act introduces Elektra and focuses on Frank Castle’s trial and incarceration, running from Kinbaku to Seven Minutes in Heaven. The third act completes Frank’s origin story while pitting Matt and Elektra against the hand, from The Man in the Box to A Cold Day in Hell’s Kitchen. The structure is very clear.

Unfortunately, .380 marks the point at which that structure begins to fall apart.

There's going to be hell to pay...

There’s going to be hell to pay…

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Daredevil – Seven Minutes in Heaven (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

The relationship between the first and second seasons of Daredevil is quite complicated.

There is an obvious reason for this. The show’s production team changed between the first and second season, with the role of executive producer shifting from Steven DeKnight to Marco Ramirez and Doug Petrie. As a result, there is a clear change in emphasis and storytelling style; much like there was a shift from the two episodes overseen by Drew Goddard at the start of the first season to the later episodes overseen by DeKnight. Different producers bring a different perspective to their material. It is only natural.

"None of you seem to understand. I'm not locked in here with you... you're locked in here with me!"

“None of you seem to understand. I’m not locked in here with you… you’re locked in here with me!”

So there are major differences in the content and themes of the first and second season. Recurring elements that had been important to DeKnight are shuffled in the background to afford attention to aspects that intrigue Petrie and Ramirez. Matt’s Catholicism is less important than it was; Matt’s career as a lawyer is more central than it had been. Even the structural emphasis of the season shifts. DeKnight put Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk on a collision course. Petrie and Ramirez prefer to have their characters running in parallel.

That said, there are moments when the first season bubbles through. There are strange thematic links that pop up from time to time, but are truncated or brushed aside. More striking, however, is how closely Ramirez and Petrie hew to the structural elements of the first season. In many ways, this is not surprising. One of the most consistently intriguing aspects of the second season is the energy that it expends on structure rather than plot or character. That is particularly true with Seven Minutes in Heaven.

A Punishing schedule...

Orange is the new dead.

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Daredevil – Semper Fidelis (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

There is probably no greater single missed opportunity during the second season of Daredevil than the trial of Frank Castle.

The show does not necessarily do a great job with Elektra, but that character was always going to be deeply problematic owing to her comic book origin. Ironically, the changes that the show makes to her arc do little to alleviate the issues with the character, just shunting them around a little. The Hand are also ill-served by the second season as a whole, but it is hard to imagine how the Hand might have made a credible and organic season-long threat in the first place. Even Frank Miller made a point to tie them into his larger character/thematic arcs.

This visual is more compelling than anything actually tied to the trial of Frank Castle.

This visual is more compelling than anything actually tied to the trial of Frank Castle.

In contrast, the trial of Frank Castle is a legitimately good idea. In fact, it is a brilliant idea. On paper, the idea of “the trial of Frank Castle” is one of the smartest concepts applied to the character in recent memory. The season has struggled with the challenges posed by Frank Castle, opting to smooth the rough edges off the character by having him walk through a familiar “avenging father” arc three times over the course of the year. Building a trial arc around Frank Castle goes a long way towards mitigating that; it is a story about Frank that doesn’t need to soften him.

More than that, it is an arc that seems designed to shore up some of the season’s weaknesses. The second season of Daredevil suffers from a lack of generality, a feeling that Matt and his cast exist in the tapestry of a larger New York; not the version of New York seen in The Avengers, but a real place inhabited by real people somewhat disconnected from undead ninjas and blind devil vigilantes. By providing a public spectacle, the trial of Frank Castle provides the opportunity for Daredevil to anchor itself back in a living and breathing New York.

The hole in things...

The hole in things…

It also ties neatly into Matt Murdock’s secret identity as a defence attorney, in a manner that is more interesting and engaging than simply offering a half-assed impression of Law & Order. By its nature, “the trial of Frank Castle” is a plot that is only really possible in the shared fictional space of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, it is a concept that is a more intriguing application of the shared universe than “… gee, I hope Iron Man shows up.” It plays with some of the genre’s core ideas in a way that is fairly novel and ripe for commentary and metaphor.

It is a shame that the show messes up this plot point so spectacularly.

Trial be there.

“Absolutely, one hundred percent, not guilty.”

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Daredevil – Regrets Only (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

And, just like that, the season’s middle act runs into trouble.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the second season of Daredevil is how carefully and meticulously the season is structured. Producers Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez have adopted a very clear three-act structure to the season, and great care has been taken to treat the year as a thirteen-episode origin story for the Punisher. Even within that, there is conscious mirroring and reversals that rely on the show reflecting its own continuity back at itself. For example, Frank addressing a defeated Daredevil in New York’s Finest is reflected in both Penny and Dime and .380.

Who punishes the Punisher?

Who punishes the Punisher?

There is great attention to detail, very careful craftsmanship. The actual plotting of the arcs on an episode-by-episode basis might not be particularly robust, but there is a definite and very precise plan laid out. However, all this delicate craftsmanship belies the fact that this structuring is built around a story with several beats missing or repeated. The second season of Daredevil is laid out like a three-act superhero story, but with the biggest issue being the nature of the story itself. There are missing structural elements that leave the formula feeling hollow.

The second season of Daredevil might consciously aspire to be a televisual version of The Dark Knight, but it actually lands somewhere closer to The Wolverine. And not just because it is a superhero love story that pits its protagonist against an assortment of ninjas.

The name's Murdock. Matt Murdock.

The name’s Murdock. Matt Murdock.

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Daredevil – New York’s Finest (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

The stock comparison for the first season of Daredevil was Batman Begins. There were certainly plenty of reasons. The yellow-ish colour scheme. The non-linear superhero origin story focusing on a protagonist who subsumes his anger into something greater. The erosion of the existing organised crime framework, replaced by something altogether weirder. The ninjas who plot to smuggle a potentially dangerous (and pseudo-mystical) weapon into the heart of the city through th docklands. It was a good comparison, and it served Daredevil well.

As such, it makes sense that the second season of the show would desperately want to be The Dark Knight.

That'll make a nice logo...

That’ll make a nice logo…

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Punisher MAX by Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon (Review/Retrospective)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

“This was the only way Frank’s story was ever gonna end,” Fury remarks in the closing issue of Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon’s Punisher MAX run. Picking up the threads from Garth Ennis’ celebrated run, Aaron decides to offer a definitive account of the end of Frank Castle’s one-man war on crime. It’s interesting that this is a story that had never really been told before. Even Ennis’ The End was set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future to write an allegorical conclusion to Frank Castle’s campaign of terror.

Aaron might not have as firm a grip on Castle as Ennis, but he has a pretty compelling hook. More than that, though, Aaron’s irreverent and playful style suits the book quite well. Aaron has a tendency to write cartoonish and larger-than-life characters in his mainstream superhero work, and Punisher MAX is decidedly cartoonish and larger-than-life. That’s part of the appeal. In many ways – and not just in his choice of artistic collaborator – Aaron’s Punisher MAX feels rather like Garth Ennis’ Marvel Knights: Punisher run written with the sex, violence and brutality of his Punisher MAX work.

It’s a potent cocktail.

Very armed and very dangerous...

Very armed and very dangerous…

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Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto (and Carmine Di Giandomenico’s) Punisher – War Zone (Review)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

Despite the continuity of character, plot and creator, it’s striking how distinct Punisher: War Zone feels from the sixteen-issue solo series leading into it. After Marvel cancelled Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto’s Punisher series, the company green-lit a five-issue miniseries to allow the duo to wrap up the various plot threads and themes that ran through their earlier work. It is nice to see the pair given a chance to bring closure to their story, to tidy away loose ends on their take on Frank Castle.

At the same time, Punisher: War Zone feels very much like its own thing. The plot is powered by the arrest of Rachel Cole-Alves, Frank Castle’s accomplice who accidentally murdered a police officer during a botched raid. At the end of the series, the New York City Police Department had taken Cole into custody while Castle escaped into the night. In a way, the story could just has effectively ended there – the Punisher disappearing back into the woodwork, the characters all squared away.

While Punisher: War Zone does resolve the Cole-Alves subplot, it feels like it is primarily an accuse to pit Frank Castle against the Avengers. It’s a rather demented comic book idea – allowing a guy with lots of guns to face off against “Earth’s mightiest heroes” – but it plays into the larger themes of Rucka’s run about what tolerance of Castle says about the people who share this world with him.

Seeing red...

Seeing red…

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