In Season 3, Daredevil Is Finally Great Again

When Netflix took its first slice of the rich comic-book-adaptation pie back in 2015, it scored a palpable hit among genre fans with Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock a.k.a. the Man Without Fear a.k.a. the Daredevil. The streamer nabbed an even bigger victory with its second attempt, Jessica Jones, which proved a hit not only with fans, but also with critics who might otherwise turn up their noses at superhero stories. Sadly, these Netflix shows have been in a decline ever since. The back half of Luke Cages first season was messy. Last summers crossover event, The Defenders, should have landed with an Infinity War–esque smash but, instead, managed barely a whimper. Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and Luke Cage all dropped in quality in their second seasons and Iron Fist, unpopular from the start, was recently canceled by Netflix.

But good news, Daredevil fans, the third season—which drops in its entirety this week—is genuinely good again thanks in no small part to the return of Vincent DOnofrio as the devilishly menacing Kingpin. If youre daunted by all the Marvel Netflix content you might have missed since Daredevil Seasons 1 or 2, we have you covered. Whenever a franchise gets too crossover heavy it risks alienating viewers. Some Daredevil fans dont want to be required to watch all of these other Defenders shows in order to be able to dive right back into the action of Hells Kitchen—though of course thats exactly what Netflix is hoping youll do. The good news? There isnt that much to catch up on. While Matts friends have dropped by other shows for little cameos, most of the players are in a similar place to where we left them in Season 1. (That might be part of the larger problem, actually.) But for a quick refresher on what you might have missed, heres what Matt, Karen, Foggy, Wilson, et al. have been doing for the past three years.

What Matt Murdocks Been Up To: Most superhero stories are, at their core, about balancing two worlds. This has been the case all along for Matt Murdock who is a compassionate, kind lawyer by day and a rough and tumble vigilante at night. Hes the angel of the courts and the devil of Hells Kitchen. In last years crossover event, The Defenders, Matt was dead-set on giving up his crime-fighting life and reconciled with the two figures from his day job that matter most: Foggy Nelson and Karen Page. But that was before his ex Elektra came back from the grave a little more evil than he left her and a massive fight involving the whole Defenders crew including Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist ended with a building dropping on the dysfunctional couple.

Though he was presumed dead, the last seconds of the The Defenders showed Matt waking up in a convent as someone called out to fetch Sister Maggie. (More on her and the Born Again–comic story line at the bottom of this post.) The Season 3 trailers show Matt now vowing to go full Daredevil, leaving his lawyerly life behind him as he tries to recover from, you know, having a building dropped on him. When Season 3 opens hes been presumed dead for months. Matt may need to focus all his energy on that vigilante lifestyle because his biggest (literally) enemy is back and fighting mad.

What the Kingpin Has Been Up To: One of the reasons the Netflix-Marvel series have gone downhill in quality is that the larger TV franchise suffers from a villain problem. Daredevil Season 1 came out swinging with the introduction of Vincent DOnofrio as Wilson Fisk a.k.a. the Kingpin. Jessica Jones Season 1 delivered another chilling threat in David Tennants Purple Man and, for half a season, Mahershala Alis Cottonmouth felt like a worthy foe in Luke Cage. Since then, no one has been able to effectively menace these street-level heroes—not even Sigourney Weaver. So the once-incarcerated Kingpin back at the center of the action makes all the difference in Daredevil Season 3. Thanks to a cameo appearance in Season 2, we know that Kingpin has taken control of the prison power structure (would we suspect any less of him?) and that he still carries a torch for his Season 1 love Vanessa Marianna (Ayelet Zurer) who, thanks to Fisk, is on the run from the law.

Matt briefly poked the bear in Season 2 by threatening Fisk while demanding some inside intel on how Frank Castle a.k.a. The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) escaped from prison. Murdock got his head slammed into a table for his trouble while Fisk vowed revenge on both Matt and Foggy. The Kingpin is never one to forget a vow.

What Foggy Nelson Has Been Up To: All you really need to know about Matts sweet-faced best friend is that Foggy has moved on from his pro-bono days to become a legal power player hooking up professionally with Jessica Jones attorney Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) and romantically with fellow upscale lawyer Marci Stahl (Amy Rutberg). This not only takes Foggy out of a potential love triangle with Karen and Matt, but also means hes rubbed shoulders with other New York movers and shakers including would-be District Attorney Blake Tower (Stephen Rider) during cameo appearances in the second seasons of both Jessica Jones and Luke Cage.

What Karen Page Has Been Up To: Karens most significant non-Matt developments have involved her strange connection to Frank Castle, and her new career as a journalist for the New York Bulletin. Its also important to remember the various skeletons in Karens closet including her younger brothers mysterious death and the man she killed in Daredevil Season 1. The Castle angle gave Karen a reason to appear as a supporting character in The Punisher Season 1 while her journalism career gives her an excuse to poke her nose into mysteries cropping up around town including the potential aftermath of the climactic event in The Defenders where, I repeat, a building literally fell down on top of Matt and Elektra. Speaking of Matts favorite ex, despite Elektras hold on Matt, Karen still seems to carry something of a torch for her ex-boss. He doesnt seem to be totally immune to Karens charms either.

What Elektra Natchios Has Been Up To: Did I mention a building fell down on top of her? If you missed her arrival in Season 2, all you need to know is that Elektra is a dangerous, violence-addicted rich girl who has proven irresistible to Matt. Shes sometimes a hero and sometimes a villain but after she died at the end of the second season she was brought back to life as someone very bad indeed . . . until Matt got to her . . . and then that building came crashing down. But dont be fooled for a second. Elektras supernatural resurrection is similar to others weve seen in the franchise and those characters proved unkillable by any method other than decapitation. So unless that building fell directly on top on Elektras head, I doubt weve seen the last of her.

Some extra comic-book info below including Daredevils new take on the long-awaited villain Bullseye. Consider this your spoiler warning.

Comic-Book Extra Credit

Who is Bullseye a.k.a. Benjamin Poindexter? Comic-book fans and lovers of bad movies alike may remember Colin Farrells infamous take on the cant-miss assassin in the 2003 film. Farrell played him as a hulking, unhinged bully with a literal bullseye emblazoned on his forehead. That version of the villain may be why Jason Statham was rumored to be circling the role for some time around Daredevil Season 2. But cast all visions of Stathams and Farrells aside because Daredevil Season 3 has gone in a very different direction for this much anticipated foe.

In contrast to the Kingpins bulk we have Hart of Dixie star Wilson Bethel who is no ones idea of a spine-crushing villain. This is genius casting on the part of the Netflix series. The wiry Bethel is known for his irresistible charisma and easy charm which Daredevil Season 3 brilliantly warps and weaponizes much the way Jessica Jones Season 1 did with the equally lovable Tennant. This more cerebral take makes this Bullseye infinitely more interesting that just a lesser repeat of Fisks angry brute force.

Who Is Sister Maggie? Daredevil scores another casting win with Willow star Joanne Whalley as Sister Maggie. Comic-book readers will know immediately that Maggie is not only a nun, shes also Matts mother. But he doesnt know that. The slow reveal of the mother that abandoned him could create potential for rich drama in the back half of the season if the Netflix series follows the Born Again comic plot with Kingpin determined to ruin Matts life on every level. Whalleys trademark no-nonsense delivery is the perfect flavor for a woman who will likely start out as a pillar of strength for Matt but may crumble before seasons end.

Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Joanna RobinsonJoanna Robinson is a Hollywood writer covering TV and film for VanityFair.com.

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