Marvel’s Daredevil is shaking things up in season 2 with a faster pace, more romance, and some morally complex storytelling that introduces the controversial gun-toting super-antihero The Punisher.
When the Netflix series changed showrunners after season 1, we’ll admit to being a tad concerned. The first season was TV’s first superhero show targeted exclusively to grown-ups and writer-producer Steve S. DeKnight pushed Marvel’s envelope with brutal violence and bold storytelling risks.
So will Daredevil morph into Marvel’s Agents of Hell’s Kitchen for season 2?
Not at all. After visiting the New York set earlier this month and watching the first two episodes of the upcoming season, we can report showrunners Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez retain what fans loved about the first year while also flooring the narrative accelerator. Remember how the first season waited until the end of the third episode to give fans a glimpse of Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio, who isn’t expected to appear this season)? The delay worked as the show focused on introducing its heroes and building up Kingpin’s sinister reputation. By contrast, season 2 opens with an action scene and very quickly introduces Frank Castle a.k.a. The Punisher (The Walking Dead‘s Jon Bernthal). This also works. “The advantage of any sequel is you can dive right in,” Petrie says. “We hit the ground running and then we ran as fast as we f—ing could.”
As comic fans know, Castle is an ex-Special Forces soldier with a tragic past who becomes a New York vigilante. He has the same clean-up-the-streets mission as Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), except he uses guns instead of beatdowns and quite simply murders every criminal he can find. Whether he’s a hero or a villain is left open to interpretation (and has long been argued both ways by fans online), but the first couple episodes will have many viewers supporting his techniques.
The Punisher is considered a divisive character because Marvel and D.C. superheroes, as a general rule, avoid ever using guns. Notable exceptions include Captain America when he was fighting in WWII and a few others like Hellboy and Deadpool. But Castle is like a walking NRA ad who hunts down and executes everyday street criminals and gang members, not just supervillains and their henchmen. Expect the show to compare him to Murdock as viewers are pressed to analyze the difference between the two.
“Viewers watching the show will be rooting for this guy with a gun but we’re also going to force people — the way we force Matt — to second-guess themselves,” Petrie says. “Taking lethal justice into your own hands in America in 2015 is tricky s–t. We have not shied away from the rich complicated reality of Now. If you’ve got a gun and you’re not the police you’re going to incite strong feelings. We’re stirring the pot and we’re aware of the headlines where we live and we’re trying to get people to think.”
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Ramirez adds the team talked a lot about Taxi Driver‘s famous malcontent Travis Bickle when shaping their version of the character. “He has a different moral code,” he says. “Matt is a devout Catholic — and you rarely see a character who’s a devotee anything on TV. Frank has Hammurabi’s Code. It’s like letting a great white shark into the water.”
Bernthal conveys an unstoppable menace for The Punisher and sports a relatively anonymous non-flashy costume at the outset of the season (photo above) that allows him more freedom of movement around New York than Daredevil. Watching him stalk his prey, you’re reminded a bit of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the first Terminator. The actor says he felt plenty of pressure to get this character right. “People have been coming up to me on the streets of New York saying, ‘Do not mess this up,’ ” says Bernthal, who for months walked alone to the Daredevil set across the Brooklyn Bridge to help get into Castle’s isolated and joyless headspace. “This character has resonated with law enforcement and military. He’s brought the war home with him in the worst possible way. And the best thing about him is that if he offends you, he just doesn’t care.”
Daredevil season 2 will have more sex as well. While the first season was relatively chaste, season 2 will get steamier as Matt gets closer to Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) and then his old college girlfriend resurfaces. You know, Elektra (Élodie Yung), which introduces another antihero into the mix, one that’s very different from the Jennifer Garner big-screen version.
“Matt’s a deeply moral complicated guy and she’s just the best bad girlfriend you can possibly have,” Petrie says. “She does everything wrong and attractive, she’s his id, the wild side. Matt is always taming his wild side. Elektra just lets it out. He’s both repulsed and deeply drawn to that.”
However, the show will be less dark than the first season in one respect — literally. Season 1 had rooms that were sometimes so dimly lit that fans were squinting at their TVs, whereas there’s more clarity this time around. “It will still be dark, but we’ve added more layers,” Petrie says.
UPDATE: First Elektra photo is now online.
Daredevil returns sometime in 2016. For more scoop from the upcoming season, pick up Entertainment Weekly’s First Look issue, on newsstands now — or available for purchase here — and keep an eye out for more reveals this week on EW.com.