Marvel’s legendary devil is back.
That’s right, Vincent D’Onofrio is once again playing Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. the elegant kingpin of Hell’s Kitchen and the single best thing about that first installment of Netflix’s Daredevil, about Marvel’s blind vigilante superhero.
Fine, fine: Daredevil, a.k.a. Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), is back too, recovering after the events of last year’s The Defenders and headlining the third season of Daredevil after what seems like a long break. (The second season premiered on Netflix way back in 2016.) Critics were allowed to screen the show’s first six episodes, and what I’ve seen is pretty good — thanks in large part to D’Onofrio.
This doesn’t mean that things can’t go south in the latter half of the season, but at the outset of season three, the show is sticking to what worked in its first season: a friendship we can believe in, a villain that steals the entire show, and a more street-level view of evil rather than some kind of world-ending weapon.
This season finds Murdock bouncing back following The Defenders’ climactic cave-in, which seemingly doomed him and his on-again, off-again, sociopath soul mate Elektra. Also on the mend is on Wilson Fisk, who, after season one, has found that he’s got so much more to offer this world than serving his consecutive and lengthy prison sentences for all the crimes he committed. In particular, Fisk wants revenge against everything and everyone who landed him in that prison in the first place.
Violence, death, manipulation — nothing is strictly business, it’s all personal for both Fisk and Murdock this season.
That in mind, here are five initial takeaways from Daredevil season 3:
1) Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk is Marvel’s best Netflix villain
The first season of Daredevil introduced us to the elegant monster that is D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk, a bellowing storm of violence and cruelty crackling underneath a surface of quiet sophistication, wealth, and refinement. Daredevil’s second season suffered without Fisk’s gravity, tilting out of control at times as it introduced world-ending mythology and nefarious ninjas. So it’s a relief to have him back for this new season, even if he is behind bars and doing his best to figure out how to get out — and, more importantly, how to get back at the people who put him there.
D’Onofrio commands every scene he’s in, even when we’re watching someone else watch him (part of this season’s plot involves Fisk being under FBI surveillance). D’Onofrio calibrates every detail of his performance, down to the most seemingly forgettable stuff, and somehow makes those things unforgettable.
One of my favorite things this season is watching D’Onofrio eat things: The utensils shrink in his gigantic paws, yet he holds each one gracefully and lightly, like a conductor at the symphony. You get the sense that it’s hard for Fisk to move in this gentle manner because he’s holding back a force that’s used to crushing skulls. And in this controlled gentleness, there’s sophistication — making the prison gruel seem like sous-vide steak.
There’s a storytelling gimmick early in the season in which Fisk appears as Murdock’s evil conscience, goading Murdock to kill him. It’s not particularly convincing, and the character comes off shouty and slapdash. I get that this is Murdock’s skewed view of Fisk as opposed to how we are really supposed to see him, but his filtered presence in these scenes makes it seem like the producers read the season one reviews and tried to figure out how to squeeze in more D’Onofrio — which is understandable, but not particularly beneficial to those scenes.
But when D’Onofrio is allowed to be Fisk, to really embody the cruelty and spirit of the villain, he taps into a strain of excited fear, like the tingle you feel after lightning flashes but thunder hasn’t yet struck. And lucky for us, and for this season, he invites us all to live in it.
2) Our heroes are on their own
Marvel’s Netflix universe has gotten super crowded. Since Daredevil kicked the whole thing off in 2015, there have been multiple seasons of Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist, and one season of The Punisher and the superhero team-up series The Defenders. And each of those solo shows comes with its own roster of supporting characters and villains.
However, from what I’ve seen of the season (and this could change), Daredevil seems uninterested in doing any giant crossovers, nor is it particularly concerned with fusing itself to those other shows. Daredevil is not like Iron Fist or Luke Cage, which both greatly benefit from guest stars from the other series. It’s fun to watch Cage and Danny Rand and their strikingly different personalities bounce off one another or see different characters’ interactions with Claire Temple — but Daredevil’s characters have plenty of chemistry already with each other.
Daredevil has a good core of protagonists in Matt, Foggy (Elden Henson), and Karen (Deborah Ann Woll), and their friendship is one of the more believable and human things in Marvel’s litany of shows. Adding in more characters, like what happened with Elektra, the Punisher, the Hand, and the Stick in season two, can work, but it can also, if done incorrectly, make the show feel rushed and congested.
The result this season is a tighter story about the trio’s friendship, or rather the toll Matt’s superheroism has taken on it. Being friends with Matt is emotionally tiring and physically draining — he isn’t ever honest with Foggy and Karen, nor is he particularly available when they need him to be. At one point they don’t even know if he’s alive, and the show plays around with that idea, that maybe just because you do good things or keep your loved ones safe doesn’t mean that they always see it, or that you see all the times you’ve let them down.
3) This season focuses on the helplessness of regular people of the Marvel universe
The ongoing refrain of the first season of Daredevil was that Fisk’s corruptive influence has woven its way into the economy, the government, and the police force. Murdock and his allies dispatched countless crooked cops and Fisk henchmen in that installment.
This time, the show wants to show how that corruption happens, and how Fisk’s superpower isn’t strength or being really rich, but rather how he’s able to take advantage of those cracks that let his influence seep in. What he’s found this season is FBI Agent Ray Nadeem (Jay Ali), an agent looking to move up in the bureau who can’t because of extenuating circumstances — the most debilitating being crippling debt that the agency sees as a corruption risk. Fisk obviously takes an interest in Nadeem, which he parlays into a greater advantage.
Some of the ways that Fisk gathers his intel and amasses his power requires a certain suspension of disbelief: Fisk benefits from writing that always makes him the smartest person in the room, often at the expense of everyone else, including extremely gullible FBI agents acting completely idiotic and forgetting that this is a man who makes El Chapo seem like the Barefoot Contessa.
Nevertheless, this season puts more emphasis on the regular people living in these superpowered times and caught in the crossfire between good and evil — and in the process makes some rather bleak points about how helpless regular folk would be in the face of it all.
4) Bullseye is an exciting villain
Bullseye, a major villain from the Daredevil comic books, becomes a major figure this season. Before you accuse me of spoilers, Marvel has been touting the marksman villain in its promos for Daredevil. But because I don’t want to give too much away, I’m just going to say that the origin story works because it’s told in a way that’s of interest to Fisk. It’s not so much about the character’s origin, but rather how Fisk figures out how to weasel his way into his head.
Oh, and it is very entertaining to watch Bullseye being really, really good at throwing things!
5) The hallway fight scene is in episode four
A season of Daredevil isn’t complete with one extended and beautifully choreographed fight sequence that happens in a hallway:
The one that appears in season three, episode four has a different feeling from the one above, from the first season, but it’s an equally good reminder that Daredevil still has some of the most innovative and thrilling fight choreography on television.
Daredevil’s full third season will be available on Netflix on October 19, 2018.