What Daredevil can teach us about good writing

Daredevil Netflix

Last weekend, I binge-watched Daredevil season two on Netflix. And I’ve got a LOT of thoughts, guys. So many feels.

As an aspiring novelist, I try to take a writing lesson from as many sources as I can. Obviously, if Daredevil could sucker me into watching 13 hours of television in three days, it’s got some pretty good writing (and acting, and action, and … all the things).

So here are five reasons why Daredevil season two is so damn good — and yes, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. You’ve been warned.

Good villains play off the hero

Let’s take a moment to acknowledge how bad-ass Jon Bernthal was as the Punisher. Now, I’ve never been a huge Punisher fan, but Bernthal blew me away — bang.

In this new season, Daredevil faces how his presence has escalated crime in the city. With one vigilante comes another. For each criminal he puts behind bars, more take his place. And locking a bad guy away doesn’t guarantee that he won’t be walking the streets again in a month.

Frank Castle (Punisher) wants the same thing as Daredevil: to rid New York City of scum. But his tactics are different: He uses guns, and he shoots to kill. Daredevil believes in preserving human life — in second chances, in the law. Castle is lawlessness.

Daredevil Punisher Frank Castle

The best villains reflect facets of the hero and take them to an extreme. There is darkness in Murdock — season one showed us that he worries about the devil inside of him, a rage that almost convinced him to kill Wilson Fisk — but Frank Castle is what he’d become if he played judge, jury, and executioner.

But Castle is also a likable character. One we can empathize with. Daredevil believes there’s good in him. Karen sees him for the father and husband he once was — a good soldier who lost everything — even after finding herself in his crosshairs. We like Frank because, even though he’s unhinged and a murderer, we know in his own messed up way he’s just trying to do good. Real villains are relatable.

Characters have lives outside of the protagonist

Season one showed Karen and Foggy hanging out a lot, drinking and talking in Josie’s bar. We saw a huge transformation in Karen that burdened her with shame and a secret, and Foggy had to reexamine his friendship with Matt when he learned who the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen was. But season two does an even better job of giving these characters autonomy.

In fact, Karen and Foggy spend more time on their own in season two than together with Matt. They take action apart from him. Foggy realizes he can hold his own in court — that he’s a damn good lawyer. And Karen discovers she has a knack for journalism.

Although they both get dragged into Matt’s drama, not everything in their lives revolves around him. And that’s what makes them authentic.

Daredevil Karen

Change happens (a lot)

Daredevil covers more in 13 episodes than most shows manage in a full season. With action comes change — hard and fast. Matt and Karen get together and break up. Fisk is the low man in prison and then seizes control. And the law firm of Nelson & Murdock is bursting with clients and then shutters completely.

So much happens in season two because it isn’t afraid to heap conflict on more conflict — and that means moving the story forward through tangible change. And that leads us to …

Failure makes the good guys stronger

The more permanent the change seems, the more devastating it feels. Season two leaves us with the closure of Nelson & Murdock — nobody saves the firm by the end of the 13 episodes, and Matt’s relationships with Karen and Foggy are broken apart. We don’t know if or when they’ll get back together.

Yet failure makes the good guys stronger. Our heroes lose Frank Castle’s trial just when it was looking good, and the blow hits them hard. But because of his solo performance, Foggy scores a job at a high-paying firm, and he learns that he can be an amazing lawyer without Matt by his side.

Even when Daredevil fails, he comes out tougher. Daredevil versus Nobu in season two is a very different battle than it was in season one. Our hero’s got better gear — better armor and weaponry — and more experience than he had before. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, he’s better equipped to deal with whatever threat arises next.

Matt Murdock

Cliffhangers keep the momentum going

An hour is a lot of time to spend watching one episode, but all a good show needs to do to keep you pressing play is to tuck a cliffhanger into the final few seconds.

Daredevil did this nearly every episode in season two — so well that I watched six episodes in a row before taking a break. Splitting the season into two arcs — one focused on Frank’s crusade, the other more on Elektra and the Hand — gave me a nice breather in between. But the momentum never slowed.

And let’s not forget about that finale. THAT FINALE. Can I have season three now? Please?

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