It’s the one expletive we haven’t heard on any of Marvel’s Netflix shows. As far as I can recall, it has never been uttered by a character, and was even muted from some of the rowdier needle drops that peppered the Luke Cage soundtrack.
But here is Charlie Cox, repeating it at considerable volume at Deborah Ann Woll. And in a church, no less! Of course, it’s not really Charlie Cox angry enough to drop repeated f-bombs on his co-star, but an even more beaten and bloodied Matt Murdock than we’re usually accustomed to. And Matt and Karen Page aren’t really in a church (or, more accurately, a church basement), but an incredible facsimile, built on a soundstage in a remote part of New York.
It’s not clear if any of the magic words will make it into the final version of this later episode of Daredevil Season 3. The brief exchange is run many times, sometimes with a fuck, sometimes without. And while Daredevil would never be mistaken for the least intense superhero around, even by his standards, it’s clear that things haven’t been easy for him or Karen recently.
Some of that probably comes from the whole being (almost) dead thing. That’s bound to put anyone in a lousy mood. After all, as far as Hell’s Kitchen is concerned, Daredevil died at the end of The Defenders. But viewers know that Matt Murdock lives on, sheltered in the same church he often turns to for spiritual and emotional support. The question was never if we would get another season of Daredevil, but rather, when.
The wait for answers is almost over. With a new showrunner (The Man in the High Castle’s Erik Oleson), new characters, including Joanne Whaley as the mysterious Sister Maggie, and the return of Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, Daredevil season 3 should take back Hell’s Kitchen in style. And with a new season comes a return to the show’s more grounded season one roots.
“I wanted to tell a thriller that is tonally between season one of this show and The Sopranos,” Erik Oleson says. “It is much darker and character driven, the action sequences are violent and explosive. It’s very much Daredevil and yet there are real stakes in all of these action sequences. There are emotional decisions being made, there are characters who die, there are fights that Matt loses.”
Oleson has drawn inspiration from Daredevil comics stories like Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada’s “Guardian Devil” and the classic “Born Again” by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, but don’t expect this season to adapt either of those tales. “It is not a predictable season,” Oleson says. “There are moments that resonated with me tonally that I used for inspiration in an original story. I am not using a direct translation from any of the comics, I think that that would have been a mistake. I wanted to give the audience what they wanted but not in the way that they expected.”
But the themes of the new season have a decidedly more real world basis.
“We have a design to the season that is framed around a central theme for me which is that our fears enslave us,” Oleson says. “Daredevil, being ‘the man without fear,’ was an interesting jumping off point. As I am observing the world around us right now, the country is very divided [and] the world has a lot of problems. I think that it’s everyone’s fears that manifest in ways that put us against one another. Villains who are able to capitalize on our fears are able to bring us down.”
Who might those villains be? Well, other than the aforementioned Wilson Fisk, Marvel is keeping quiet, but Oleson has some hints that will certainly intrigue fans.
“There’s another character on the show who is a very physical threat to Matt…who can match him blow to blow,” Oleson says. “We will hopefully see that character as a person with his own wants, needs, and desires. That way that they clash, it will illuminate aspects of Matt’s character and this other villain. I’m really interested in using action and all of these other elements to more deeply draw the characters.”
In other words, it all sounds pretty intense, and that scene in the church between Matt and Karen was likely only one culmination of that intensity. But you almost wouldn’t know it to talk to Charlie Cox, who is incredibly amiable and friendly with reporters, even well after midnight and the filming of repeated takes of an emotional scene. No longer wearing the tattered and improvised version of the black Daredevil costume, Cox emerges in comfortable grey sweats and a loose shirt that nevertheless doesn’t hide his impressive physique. His hands still bear the marks of the wraps that serve as gloves on the new suit, and were it not for his easy going demeanor, he could pass for a middleweight boxer, which is, of course, remarkably appropriate for Matt Murdock and his roots.
“The anger that you you think is directed at Karen at that moment isn’t,” Cox says when asked about the previous scene. “He has absolutely no right or reason to be angry with her at all, it’s all at himself. That moment is ‘I’m failing everyone and myself, I’m making terrible decisions over and over again, and it’s your fault because I don’t have anyone else to blame.’”
Getting into Daredevil’s head was a different kind of challenge this season. “I think that someone who begins to spend a lot of time alone and isolate themselves to the degree that Matt does this season, the beginning of madness creeps in, and that to me has been clearly written,” Cox says. “He begins to lose himself, and as an actor, it’s hard to play. It’s like drunk acting, it’s very easy to do an impression of it rather than to live it. I know that I go home and think ‘was that terrible, did that work’ and the scenes that I struggled the most with this year were the ones where there’s something off about him, where there’s something not right.”
And since Matt Murdock is one of the few superheroes whose faith is a defining feature, this leads to questions of faith. “Matt’s relationship with God and his faith have changed dramatically. I think he still believes in God, but he now believes in a punishing God, he sees God as quite cynical and almost vindictive,” Cox says. “Hopefully he’ll come back from that…and the other attitude that’s changed a bit is that Matt goes from believing that he’s Matt Murdock with this alter-ego of Daredevil to believing that he is Daredevil with a lie of Matt Murdock. There’s a very subtle shift, but mentally it does some interesting things. It makes him a little more reckless, which is quite fun, he’s less concerned with getting caught.”
The trauma Matt carries, not just from the end of The Defenders, but the previous two seasons of Daredevil, all inform the overall theme of this season, which is all about what each character fears. “In terms of the emotional arc, I think that the man without fear, Daredevil, is actually afraid of something…and that kind of psychologically informs his arc this season,” Oleson says. “It ties back to the fact that our fears enslave us. It makes us turn against other people sometimes, when we don’t realize that they are motivated by their own fear. That allows me to design a season where everyone who watches it hopefully feels like the world is not such a terrible place.”
Daredevil Season 3 arrives on Netflix on Oct. 19. We’ll have more from the cast and crew of the show in coming weeks.
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