WARNING: This contains spoilers for Daredevil Season 2 from start to finish.
Daredevil Season 2 wasn’t quite a series of two halves. In truth it was a series of three quarters and then one quarter. It begins to stumble the moment The Punisher escapes from prison. Conventionally, it is at this point that the various story arcs should begin to come together and the mysteries should start to be unraveled in a way that reveals everyone’s enemy to be the same, so that in Episode 13 old enemies can band together to confront a bigger foe. But this is not what happens. Instead there begins a free fall of plots that start and never finish, a series long conspiracies that turn out to be nothing and the worst crime of all, a final alliance that is far to brief and too cliché for its own good.
For now I am going to assume that everything up until the end of Episode 10 (The Man in the Box) is brilliant, which much of it is, and so leave it unchanged. As such I will start Daredevil Season 2 – The Domrector’s Cut at Episode 11
So The Punisher has escaped from prison and everyone is convinced that he is behind the assassination of the District Attorney, the Medical Examiner who falsified the records of his families murders and an attempt on Karen Paige’s life. We, of course, know that this cannot be true but despite all the characters previous interactions with Frank Castle, only Karen Paige, believes that he is innocent*.
At this point the show, which has already began to stretch itself a little thin, goes off on even more tangents. The conspiracy regarding the the Castle family murder goes from being a gang war, to a failed sting operation that would have ended the DA’s career. The law went after a shadowy crime lord called The Blacksmith and innocent people died because of it. But then out of nowhere, in a final almost Kree level of forced evolution, it is revealed that The Blacksmith is actually Frank’s old war buddy; the one who attested to Castle’s honour in the court case; a man who seemingly became the largest importer of pure heroin because his fellow soldier needed a man to follow.
Now whether he spoke so highly of Frank out of guilt for the death the Castle family isn’t clear but what is obvious is how utterly unnecessary this side plot is. We need The Punisher to get out of prison to continue punishing but what the Domrector’s Cut would do would be this:
Replace The Blacksmith with Wilson Fisk’s lawyer who is continuing to run certain elements of the Kingpin’s criminal empire while his boss is behind bars. We know that the Fisk empire can’t have just disappeared and neither could all the illegal merchandise that he had before going to jail, especially as he was in charge of the distribution of Chinese heroin at the end of Season 1. In an attempt to offload as much of the narcotics as possible before the FBI or NYPD discover it, Fisk’s men on the outside rush a deal with the Kitchen Irish, the Cartel and the Dogs of War which goes south and ends with innocent blood being shed. Now at first this may seem a little unnatural and unconnected to Castle as a character and that is not necessarily a bad thing. The Punisher does not continue to be The Punisher to go after the people who killed his family, it does not need to personally involve him, his crusade is deeper than that. Instead, what it does is give deeper machinations to Wilson Fisk’s actions while in prison, setting him up to be even more confrontational when he makes his return. In his desire to protect Vanessa and strengthen his position in jail, Fisk has caused a gang war that birthed The Punisher and seriously compromised the DA (it also gives credence to The Blacksmith pulling out of the deal due to information about undercover police officers due to Fisk’s connections). He then uses the DA’s cover up attempts to have Castle remove his competitors in jail and then releases him to weaken them on the outside as well. Although Fisk could not have predicted The Punisher, Season 1 showed us that Fisk is notoriously unlucky in regards to the consequences of his actions but that he is a master of making the best of them. He says to Wesley “Problems are just solutions that haven’t presented themselves yet.” And that is exactly the approach that The Kingpin would take towards The Punisher. This would then lead to Frank realising that the man responsible for his family’s death was the one who let him out of jail, someone who is out of reach as long as Castle remains on the outside and would have given credence to Daredevil visiting Madam Gao as the drugs would once have been her product. It could even be Matt who helps the Punisher come to this realisation, cementing a bond of some kind between the two and helping Frank come to terms with having his chance to avenge his family but letting it go out of greed and ignorance.
The second problem for me in the final episodes of Daredevil was the emergence of The Hand. There were some scenes in which they were truly terrifying opponents, such as Episode 11’s opening battle in the hospital but for the most part they were aimless and forgiving villains. Just what were they trying to do? Get the Black Sky? It wasn’t until the second to last episode they even knew it was Elektra. And just what were they digging that huge hole for? To dig up the ancient sarcophagus for which they where draining all the blood? It had Japanese inscriptions on it which means they would have had to have been the ones to put it there in the first place. “Master Nobu, you realise that if we bury this forty stories under Manhatten island we will have to go through a whole sordid, illegal property scheme in order to dig it back up?” Perhaps these are puzzle pieces which will combine in Season 3 but that is a lot of literal empty space where plot should be. The writers seemed to be held back by a certain degree of trepidation on whether or not to embrace the mysticism of The Hand and that is something that the Domrector’s Cut would change.
Firstly, I would change their heartbeats. One of the most interesting things about The Hand ninjas is that Daredevil can’t track their movements due to their ability to lower their heartbeats. What would truly set them apart is if they have no heartbeats at all; Matt can’t hear them because they’re essentially dead. If we were to be told that The Hand killed and then resurrected its members in a style similar to their comics counterpart, it would not only give Matt another reason to distrust Stick’s stories of magic but it would also allow him to work with Frank Castle in Act Three (Something I will mention later). By turning The Hand into the ‘undead’ for lack of a better word, we would understand Nobu’s ability to withstand an inhuman amount of damage and also have greater cause for concern when we see Elektra undergo the indoctrinating resurrection process at the end of the series. On the point of Nobu, I would replace him as the primary villain with someone more powerful. It is made clear in Season 1 that he is not the leader of The Hand, only their representative in New York and as such his failure would likely lead to his execution as punishment, something we could have seen on screen by a more dangerous foe. Nobu was certainly one of the most intimidating enemies Daredevil faced in Season 1 but in the end, Matt defeated him, just as he did multiple times during Season 2. This in fact would have been the perfect time to introduce Bullseye as the field leader of The Hands military activities in New York, while Hirochi, the businessman Elektra meets with on multiple occasions would have been in overall control. By using Bullseye we show a character on The Hand’s side who (mirroring Daredevil) is not in the war for the mystical element, but instead is just there for the joy of killing. It also would have added more to the death of Elektra, set up a future rival for Matt to battle against, giving him an antagonist who can match his physical prowess and added that final stage to the Daredevil/Punisher debate on whether vengeance can be the same as justice. Finally I would give The Hand a clear objective and have them coming after Elektra from the start. When she arrives in Matt’s apartment with the charm and cool head, it is all a mirage because Stick abandoned her as a child and she is being pursued by The Hand for reasons unknown (which is ultimately revealed to be her identity as the Black Sky). She seeks refuge in the one place she knows is actually safe; Matt’s home. From there they begin their counterattack and discover more about just what is down that hole (one can only assume it is some kind of connection to The Beast, the demon which ultimately controls The Hand).
And so having now changed almost every element of the last three episodes we come to my final major edit; the climactic battle atop the warehouse. If ever there was a dull location for a battle between a number of ninja ‘too many to count’ who actually number around twelve and two superheroes it would be on top of a warehouse. The hostages being the people that Daredevil saved was an interesting touch but ultimately fruitless as his ‘suicidal’ attempt to save them was achieved with remarkable ease. And then there is the appearance of The Punisher in a heartbreakingly cliché moment in which he is too late to save Elektra from the knife but just in time to help Matt and make a ‘See you around, Red’ quip that made me want to rip my heart out with a spoon. Not to mention that in the promotional material, The Punisher was shown wielding a mini-gun; the same mini-gun that was highlighted multiple times in Episode 12 while Frank’s trigger finger twitched subconsciously (which was a beautiful touch). But rather than coming in in a blaze of glory, against foes that should be far out of his league, with a mini-gun no less, The Punisher sits with a sniper rifle on the next building and head shots a couple of ninjas, before making a quip and showing the whole world the skull on his vest for a solid ten seconds. Not in the Domrector’s Cut!
I would have the twenty hostages being taken but change The Hand’s motive. Rather than as some inane trap set to lure Matt and Elektra to a warehouse and then not even have the best warrior with the hostages when they make their attempt to rescue them, I would have the victims spread to twenty separate locations, each one with a ninja’s blade to their neck as an ultimatum to Daredevil: turn over the Black Sky or lose everything you have achieved in the last few years. Knowing that it is not possible to rescue all those people while also knowing that he cannot give up Elektra (even if the Black Sky is not a real mystical being), Matt turns to the one person who knows how to hit multiple targets with military efficiency; The Punisher. Upon knowing that Karen has been taken, a woman who managed to reach him through all the pain and suffering, Frank would agree to help on the condition that Daredevil not hold him back; if he needs to put a ninja down for good, he is going to. Matt would agree to this, because after all, The Hand are undead and so lethal force is justified to save someone who is actually breathing. Together (and with no mini-guns yet) the three would track and smash every last hostage, breaking them out and taking down ninjas in record time and with incredible lethality Except of course, there is still one left, Karen Paige. Karen, who is Matt’s main love interest, who is the one person able to get through to Frank, who is Elektra’s rival for Matt’s heart, is being held by Hirochi and Bullseye in the building with the giant hole in it. Knowing that The Hand’s forces are spread throughout the building and that their enemies need Elektra at the bottom of the pit, the group plan to start at the top and work their way down. Not being as agile as his comrades, Frank (much to his embarrassment) decides to take out any enemies on the exterior of the building. Daredevil hopes that he will detect Karen as they work their way down the floors, only he does not. After clearing the building, the pair reach the hole only to be massively outnumbered as new foes arrive from the darkness below. Just as it seems that the pair will be overwhelmed Frank steps in with the mini-gun and shoots the ninjas back into the pit as fast as they can come out, turning the tide of the battle. Daredevil explains to Elektra that she needs to stay at the top; that it is obvious now Karen is at the bottom of the pit and that if the Black Sky gets down there then there is no telling what will happen. Elektra is not convinced when Matt says he is already risking one of the women he loves and that he can’t risk another too, and they repeat the same dialogue as the actual Episode 13 before they stepped out onto the roof. To avoid wasting more time, Frank knocks Elektra unconscious with the butt of his gun, stating that he has wired the whole building to blow and the pair leave her in relative safety. As they descend, while there is still light, they realise the pit is connected to the layers of abandoned tunnels The Hand were using before and that this sits at the centre of them all, something that cannot be mere coincidence. They also note a large increase in ritualistic markings the furher that they descend. The bottom of the pit is a complete void, Matt can’t detect anything and even when The Punisher lights a flare it illuminates next to nothing. Frank leads them to a faint light in the distance; a distance with The Shining-esq qualities as reality around them seems to extend and compress. At the end, (in an environment that takes its cues from the first season of True Detective**) having her blood drained is Karen and Hirochi who is preparing the sarcophagus/transformation chamber. Hirochi remarks that he is disappointed that Elektra is not there with them, but it is no matter, she will be joining them shortly. We cut back to Elektra who regains consciousness with a blade above her head. There stands Bullseye who jibes that while it would have been easier to kill her unconscious, it will be much more fun hearing her scream. Back at the bottom of the pit, Daredevil demands answers of Hirochi who only goes to say that Karen’s sacrifice is the last piece they needed for their ritual and that of course they know he is Matt Murdock (after all, that teenage ninja followed Matt back to his house) so thank goodness he was so public about his love for Karen***. Punisher decides, that as both these heroes are Catholic, that they don’t buy any of the magic nonsense and attempts to free Karen, causing a large number of ninjas to emerge from the shadows. At the top of the pit Elektra fights for her life against Bullseye but ultimately she has been hounded for too long, taken too much damage over the night and just runs out of stamina, allowing the assassin to deliver the mortal blow with her own blades before kicking her body down into the pit. It becomes clear that the magic of the area that they are standing in bends the fabric of reality and the myriad of bullets that Frank (and one grenade launched from his assault rifle) fired at the ninjas fly for only a few meters and hang floating in the air as the world around them extends and compresses. Daredevil and Punisher try to fight back but ultimately are subdued by forces that understand the way their surroundings seem to flow in waves (like the ocean) in the way our heroes do not. Elektra’s body doesn’t slam into the floor, but instead hangs just above the ground, as the bullets did, allowing Hirochi and The Hand to warp the space around her and collect her dying body without ever having to touch it. They put her into the sarcophagus as her and Matt say their last words. She dies as the lid closes and The Hand prepare to pour the blood of the sacrifices onto the Black Sky. The ninjas begin having to step out of the way as Frank’s bullets come close to them and then retract more quickly; the pace of the disturbance increasing with every second that Elektra is in the sarcophagus; as if there is a heart beat around them growing faster. Just as all seems lost, Frank turns to Matt and says:
“You know what, Red? I take it back. You have seen some shit.”
“Not now, Frank.”
“No, no, respect where it’s due. Your war is way more messed up than mine.”
“Come on, Red. You learned nothin’? What was the first thing I said to you?”
He nods towards the gun taped to his ankle with which he shot Daredevil in Episode 1, as well as the way that the hanging bullets are floating towards them and then away as the waves of this twisted reality flow. With The Hand distracted, Matt reaches the pistol, pulls it out and says “Bang,” before firing a single shot at the grenade, as it is close to them, but moving back towards their enemies. The bullet makes it just far enough and the pair hit the deck as it explodes, sending ninjas flying. In the confusion, Daredevil grabs Karen and shouts “Do it!” prompting Frank to set off the explosives that bring the building down on top of them. Everyone scrambles, Bullseye escaping the fastest, but the heroes manage to fight their way to a tunnel entrance, leaving the undead masses to be buried alive and Elektra dead in the sarcophagus.
The later ending could have stayed the same: Karen writes about how there are things in Hells Kitchen that will never be understood but that we are all heroes for standing up to it, Matt reveals to her that he is Daredevil and Elektra’s corpse is still in the sarcophagus, ultimately in possession of The Hand. But with these changes I feel the Domrector’s Cut gets a more personal story for all the characters involved and also a more mystical Hand that is left with the same cards as they are dealt in the original ending, just needing another deep hole. It sets up a (surviving) physical villain who Daredevil will now despise as much as he does Wilson Fisk and so when the two inevitably work together, Matt will be facing his greatest cerebral enemy and and toughest opponent at the same time.
*It is this belief, and the actions she takes to prove that Frank was not behind those crimes, that prove that it is Karen, and not Daredevil, Punisher or Elektra, who is the protagonist of the show. Daredevil/Matt Murdock does not develop as a character other than upgrading his equipment and alienating his friends and which is exactly the same arc as the other two. It is only Karen, and to a certain extent Foggy, who over the course of the season realises she doesn’t need to rely on her friends to be strong anymore and it able to put her increasingly tainted past behind her. She is also the character to which all of the truly harrowing moments happen. She is kidnapped on multiple occasions, shot at on multiple occasions, taken hostage and yet comes through stronger for it. The show should be called Karen Paige, Foggy Nelson and Daredevil.
**One of the mistakes they made with The Hand was showcasing them as being entirely Japanese. While this makes sense as they are essentially a ninja clan, by giving the sense of a more ancient, primordial evil, in the same way as True Detective, we would begin to fear what was to come if they succeed, rather than just fearing for the lives of the characters.
*** This also ties in the ongoing nature of Daredevil and The Punisher’s relationship regarding Matt’s identity. As Frank was awoken in the hospital by Matt’s voice (which he would have recognised as being Daredevil’s considering the amount of time they had previously spent together), discussed with Karen her love for Matt and said that he just doesn’t care who Daredevil is under the mask, we would get a scene where all these things correlate and line up.