To say that The Defenders left Matt Murdock, already one of the more morose heroes in the Marvel pantheon, in a difficult place would be an understatement. Presumed dead by the Marvel Universe, and certainly close to it after being trapped under the rubble of a collapsing building, nobody knew quite where or how we’d see the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen again, let alone where Daredevil season 3 would start.
But with Matt Murdock’s rebirth also comes a new showrunner for Daredevil season 3 in Erik Oleson (The Man in the High Castle). Oleson and his writers room had the privilege of “resurrecting” Matt Murdock, and building the hero back from the ground up. He spoke to journalists at NYCC about the challenges of taking on a series three seasons in, how the villains evolved, and more.
“One of the things I very much wanted to do was to tell an emotionally honest story.” Oleson says. “My approach to storytelling is very much to tell stories from the inside…to take the audience into the shoes of the character and then experience the story as opposed to watch it from the outside. That was something that Charlie Cox and I, and Jeff Loeb and I and everybody got very excited about at the beginning of the season was to pick up the events of the past season and of The Defenders and then be honest about where the story would go from there. We kick off the season with Matt Murdock emotionally, physically, and spiritually smashed. We start him off in that very low point before it moves on to greener pastures.”
As a result, Matt is neither physically or emotionally all that healthy. And losing everything is a perfect opportunity to explain what keeps Daredevil awake at night.
“The guiding principle of the season was…you can only be free when you confront your fears because your fears are what enslave you,” he says. “It took us a while to kind of land on that. But that became the guiding principle for all of the storylines. Every character on the show this season is dealing with a fear of something. That includes the so-called Man Without Fear, who actually does have something that he’s afraid of even if he’s not fully conscious of that. That fuels a lot of his behavior.”
The exploration of fear certainly isn’t limited to Matt Murdock. “Wilson Fisk is afraid of something, too,” Oleson says. “I believe that the villains of the world also act out of fear, even if they’re a narcissistic, would-be tyrant who uses people’s fears to turn them against one another and gain power. So that is something that I try to weave into the narrative.”
Oleson says the idea of making Daredevil season 3 a villain heavy affair was on the table immediately. “When I walked in the door, Marvel had a number of ideas of what they thought season three might contain,” he says. “Certainly the return of Fisk was a major piece of the puzzle that they were very eager to use. Similarly, they gave me the option of introducing this major villain from the Daredevil pantheon.” (Fans long suspected this villain was Bullseye, and recent trailers finally revealed that Wilson Bethel’s mysterious Agent Poindexter is indeed the legendary Daredevil villain).
Oleson is quick to note that these were just suggestions by Marvel, which he then used to build the show. “I went away to my writing cave and I came back with the pitch for how I was going to structure the season and they got extremely excited about that, and that’s the show basically that you guys are all going to watch. I came up with kind of the structure and the bones of it all and then had a very talented team of writers helping me flesh it out and Marvel was my partner every step of the way.”
Oleson’s father, Peter C. Oleson, worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency, and is the editor of AFIO’s Guide to the Study of Intelligence (alongside former CIA Director Robert Gates). As a result, Oleson spent a lot of time learning about the “Dark Arts” of intelligence, and brought that knowledge to this season’s take on Wilson Fisk.
“I wanted to treat Fisk like a Spymaster [and] an operational thinker,” he says. “Tthat’s actually a term out of the intelligence community and I grew up around that world. My father worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency and I know a lot about real-life trade craft and intelligence techniques. I wanted to give Fisk that skillset so that when he came back he wasn’t just the criminal Kingpin, he was somebody who was an expert at manipulation and at crafting the conditions for certain things to happen around him without leaving his fingerprints on anything. In the IC they call it the Dark Arts. I employ the Dark Arts a lot with Fisk.”
To balance Fisk’s more cerebral machinations, “There needed to be a physical threat to Matt,” he says. “We’ve seen physical confrontations between Fisk and Daredevil in the past and we wanted it to be something else. There was this opportunity to bring in this other major villain. I was extremely excited about it but I gravitated towards an origin story for that villain.” That villain, as has been revealed in recent trailers for the series, is none other than Bullseye.
Oleson is the third showrunner in three seasons to take a crack at Daredevil, which presented challenges of its own, but he wants to come back for more. “I wanted to look at season three kind of like it was my run at the comic. Kind of like the way Frank Miller had his or Brian Bendis had his or Kevin Smith had his,” he says. “I wanted to honor what came before and all of that is true and it has happened in the past of the show… [Marvel] were incredibly supportive of the way that I approached storytelling and the way that we ended up doing it. Hopefully they’ll let me do it again.”
We’ll have much more from Erik Oleson over the next week. Daredevil season 3 arrives on Netflix on October 19.
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