A superhero story is only as good as its villain. Actually, pretty much any genre work based on conflict with a “villain” is subject to this same dependency. The X-Men didn’t take off as a concept for 15 years or so, until writer Chris Claremont and artists Dave Cockrum and John Byrne beefed up Magneto as their archnemesis and transformed leading lady Jean Grey, aka “Marvel Girl,” into the godlike Dark Phoenix. Once Lost cycled through its initial season of nonstop mystery and frustrated viewers with its Schrodinger’s Hatch, the introduction of Benjamin Linus midway through the second season sustained the show for years to come. And if you wanna get highfalutin about it, where would the great religious works — or the great religions themselves — be without Satan? Paradise Maintained just doesn’t have that same ring to it, you know?
In general, this principle has served Daredevil very well. Its first season was marked by an all-time-great character-meets-performer act of villain creation in the person of Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk; its climax was driven by putting these two completely incompatible yet equally compelling figures together in an alley and having them pound on each other until one of them stopped moving and the other was left standing. Season Two flipped the script by using DD’s fellow vigilantes as villains, with the Punisher, Elektra, and Stick’s unrepentant lethality driving Matt Murdock apart from his friends, his firm, and his entire normal life as he battled either to stop or save them.
But with Frank Castle cut free from the storyline that bound him to Murdock, Nelson, and Page and both Elektra and Stick firmly in pocket, these threats are neutralized, dramatically speaking. That left Daredevil to battle the faceless horde known as the Hand and its leader, the physically powerful but emotionally inert Nobu, for the season’s grand finale. And that made “A Cold Day in Hell’s Kitchen,” the Season Two finale, a chilly farewell.
I was left a little flat by the final episode of Daredevil Season Two, which I reviewed for Decider. That said, it’s still the best live-action superhero adaptation in nearly three decades.