The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen is back, and perhaps irreparably changed after his Defenders experience.
This is a mostly spoiler-free review for the Daredevil Season 3 premiere. For more on Daredevil, check out the trailer that was released at the NYCC panel, revealing a major new villain for the season.
Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock — the OG of the Marvel Netflix universe — returns for a third season as Daredevil, though in this premiere episode there appears to be very little left of the Man Without Fear who we’ve followed for three previous seasons (including his team-up outing with the Defenders). And that change in Matt, True Believers, looks to be a good thing for the show if this episode is any indication.
The premiere picks up right where The Defenders ended, or rather, even before it ended, as we see how Matt escaped his apparent doom during that show’s finale. Yes, a building fell on Daredevil, but no, he didn’t die. But we knew that already, because The Defenders revealed in its final moments that Matt was recuperating under the care of a group of nuns.
Right off the bat (billy club?), new showrunner Erik Oleson and his team bring a highly stylized visual and aural approach to things, establishing the trauma Matt has undergone after that big Defenders battle, and the damage that it has apparently done to him. As our hero lays in the dirt and rain, bloodied and helpless, the camera takes odd angles, the audio is muffled, the focus is off and jarring. Eventually the episode settles into a more standard style for the most part, but man, our boy is a mess.
Soon he winds up at the orphanage where he grew up after his father died, where the nuns in residence nurse him back to health best they can, and where he encounters Sister Maggie, played by Joanne Whalley. Maggie’s time at the orphanage goes back to when Matt was a boy there, so they have a shared history. And indeed, she takes great interest in helping him to recover from his wounds. Or trying to help at least.
The interplay between Whalley and Cox is one of the highlights of the episode, as Maggie apparently comes from the school of hard knocks and tough love. She wants to help Matt, and to coax him back to the faith he has seemingly lost after his recent experiences, but the nun is not exactly gentle about it, and some dark laughs result at times. Also, if that means having the still-injured Matt engage in a sparring match where he might get his butt kicked, then so be it. (Meanwhile, fans who are familiar with the comics may attach a significance to Maggie based on her counterpart on the printed page, but only time will tell how that connection plays out on the show.)
Without giving too much away here, suffice to say that Matt is altered physically as well as emotionally and spiritually as a result of his recent experiences, and it looks like it’ll be a long road before he can come back from that. “In front of this God,” he tells Maggie, “I’d rather die as the Devil than live as Matt Murdock.” Charlie Cox, as usual, thoroughly delivers as Matt, convincing us here of the character’s pain and distressed state.
Elsewhere in the episode, we catch up with Matt’s pals Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), who are grappling with what they think is the loss of their friend. Karen has an extended flashback, recalling the conversation that followed between her and Matt after she learned that he was Daredevil. The scene does much to remind us of the bond between the two, but other than that, Karen and Foggy don’t have a ton to do in this first episode.
Also back is Wilson Fisk himself, the Kingpin, played by the great Vincent D’Onofrio. The Season 1 villain is one of the best characters in the entire Marvel pantheon, so it’s great to have him back again as a major player this season. D’Onofrio has lost none of the intense, deep-voiced and well-articulated seriousness that made his Fisk so indelible, and he’s being set up here to be placed in a very interesting position in terms of the dynamics for Season 3. The wheels are just starting to spin on that front, but it’s safe to say that everything that was important to him at the end of Season 1 is even more so now, and it looks like he’s being forced into what must be an untenable situation for a man like Fisk, who holds himself in such high regard.
The episode slows a bit in its final stretch as it takes care of a bit of business involving the introduction of new character Ray Nadeem (Jay Ali), an FBI agent with some personal problems who is bound to wind up stuck in the middle of Daredevil and the Kingpin. This stuff feels perfunctory compared to the Matt and Fisk portions of the episode, but such is the way of episodic television at times.