Tony gets punished.
By the end of this episode, Daredevil Season 2 has been running just two hours. It’s important to remember that, because in terms of the difference in tone and texture between the two seasons, the shift is almost impossible to overestimate. There was an intellectualism to the conflict in that first season, Fisk and Murdock going head to head for the soul of Hell’s Kitchen. Season 2, just two hours in, is heavier, meatier and altogether more brutal and action-based than that. It’s about different approaches to the same mission of cleaning up the streets. Since the rise of the Daredevil, there have been several ‘Devil worshippers,’ people determined to make their own kind of vigilante difference, inspired by the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. Only the Daredevil himself has been cheered like a hero despite his extra-legal ways.
Now there’s the man they call the Punisher: a one-man army with – at the moment – a targeting precision that has the cops divided, some believing he’s making their job easier, and others wondering when a genuine innocent will get caught in the crossfire.
There’s much more swagger about Season 2 so far, its presentation of the Punisher in some ways the polar opposite of Season 1’s presentation of Fisk. No-one mentioned Fisk by name in the early episodes, aware that bloody retribution would follow such an action. His effect was arm’s reach and his personality, when we discovered it, dualistic, the philosophical aesthete, the lover of beauty and simplicity, believing his murders were necessary to affect a beautiful change for the people of Hell’s Kitchen. With the Punisher, he’s earned his name quickly, and he walks openly into public areas like a precisely-aimed apocalypse. His philosophy is simpler and more brutal too – he appears to see the bodies of ‘bad’ people as proof positive of the good effect he’s having. In a way, where Fisk believed he was a man apart, a unique creature able to act as an agent of change to bring about his own vision, the Punisher has the philosophy of an everyman, his notions of good and evil those of a trooper in a war, but one with a very pure sense of purpose and the skills of a super-soldier. We see that ‘everyman’ morality clearly in this episode – when buying the important equipment he knows he’ll need to stay not only ahead of the law, but ahead of its duplicity, he is walking out of the hardware-cum-weapons store when the sleazeball behind the counter offers him the body of a young girl for his pleasure. A very young girl. The Punisher stops. Flips the sign to Closed.
That doesn’t end well.
But where his morality may be relatively ordinary – and don’t doubt that it is, given the number of people who have that visceral ‘hang ’em and flog ’em’ reaction to crime and criminals, the Punisher is clearly no fool. He stays ahead of police procedure, and is already winning many of the city’s law enforcers to his way of thinking. And in this second episode, he proves that whereas Fisk’s power was subject to legal redress from the likes of the FBI, even the Feds can’t take him down: a complex sting operation to take him down is instigated here, and – well, you caught the bit where the Punisher’s not Fisk, right?
Meanwhile, Matt Murdock is in deep trouble – found sprawled and shaking on a rooftop, he and Foggy go through another round of ‘Seriously, ditch the Devil,’ with Foggy, as ever, saving his ass and making everything right in his world. But the side-effects of Matt’s episode 1 tussle with the Punisher are beginning to catch up with him, and his senses are screaming, to the point where he goes temporarily deaf and starts bleeding out of his nose.
Just in case we’re unclear on this, any day that includes going temporarily deaf and bleeding out of…well, anywhere, really…is not a good day. Going almost immediately back to your life as a nightcrawling, super-sensing crimefighter when you’re temporarily deaf and disorientated as well as permanently blind? Bad.
The most interesting thing about the results of the Daredevil-Punisher episode 1 rumble though is what Murdock is told by Melvin, the guy responsible for making (and now repairing) the Daredevil suit. Murdock assumes he got incredibly lucky, surviving what was clearly intended to be a fatal shot. Melvin is unconvinced. ‘Maybe it was just a warning shot,’ he ponders while examining the break-pattern in the suit. That’s an idea with profound consequences. We have no real idea where the Punisher stands on the Daredevil; their run-ins so far have been down to Murdock knowing what the Punisher does, and determining to stop it. Certainly, the Punisher hasn’t come looking for the Daredevil, except inasmuch as his mass slaughters are a kind of calling card, and possibly a search for approval or a one-finger salute. But if the Punisher let Murdock live when he could have killed him, it makes the whole philosophical dynamic between them more complex and fascinating. While it’s clear that if the Punisher takes a dislike to you, you more than likely die, if he thinks you’re on the same side, if he even thinks you’re actually the same, what does that do to your morality of sin and retribution?
That’s a side of the new guy in town that’s enough to rattle more than Murdock. Karen voices the idea in this episode that there’s something in the city that makes good people want to strap on a mask and go in search of personal justice, but she also feels the punch of guilt. Despite having acted in self-defence, she took a life in Season 1. And even though she’s not especially religious herself, she voices the fear that if the Punisher has come to shortcut the endless potential for chicanery and incompetence in the legal system, then ‘maybe we deserve it.’ The iconography is appealing. If the Daredevil is a kind of devil for Heaven, his motto could well be ‘Be sure your sins will find you out.’ The Punisher, on the other hand is a devil of swift retribution, the embodiment of lynch-mob ‘obvious’ justice – ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ The Daredevil, with his policy of never killing people, already goes beyond the scope of what the law can allow, and what the law can prove – in a way, that’s the point of him, hunting down the sins that can’t be brought to legal light. But to someone either (depending where you stand) cynical or realistic, bringing criminals to State-run justice, with its loopholes and logics and codes and delays, each of which can be greased or darned in a place like Hell’s Kitchen by the application of money or pressure, you could easily argue that the Punisher brings a faster, more effective justice. That makes him interesting in the same way Fisk was. He’s the antithesis, the opposite, the contrary view of what the Daredevil stands for – but proving him objectively wrong is harder than it seems.
While the meat of the episode is Punisher-related, there are other delights to chew over too. A plan to take Nelson and Murdock’s witness, ‘Grotto,’ into witness protection allows Foggy to come through forcefully again – In some respects, this episode should get its own unique credits sequence, showing Foggy Nelson’s long-haired face and the legend ‘Badassador’ – but the initiative is stolen from them by the DA, Samantha Reyes, who has other, almost necessarily more complex plans for him. By the end of the episode, the Daredevil and the Punisher are trading lumps again, this time in full view of police offers who’ve been ordered to take their shot on the more violent of the two. But when the cops attempt to finally break them up, they’re both missing – presumed together. If the end of episode 1 delivered a killer cliff-hanger in terms of the ‘Holy crap!’ reaction, episode 2’s ending is such that if you watch it, and don’t immediately stream the living bejesus out of episode 3, you’ll be wanting to hang up your geek credentials on the way out, because damn! The prospect of what follows is exciting in geek terms, sure, but it’s even more exciting in human being, philosophical terms - a screen full of these two trying to win the argument of which way is best – the path of blind justice, or the path of punishment.
If the philosophical sub-text of Season 1 was how best to improve your world, and how to square what must be done with a clean conscience, the sub-text of Season 2 is shaping up to take us into all those uncomfortable areas that normal superheroes spend their lives glossing over – the morally messy lines of vigilantism, self-control and effectiveness as a deterrent in a world where crime is necessary for many, and easy for some.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk