Netflix’s “Daredevil”shook things up in Season 2, adding two more Marvel icons — Frank Castle, aka The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) and Elektra (Elodie Yung) — and two new showrunners (Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez) for its second round of Hell’s Kitchen mayhem.
All four seem to be a perfect fit for the brooding, brutal superhero drama, which makes sense, given that Petrie and Ramirez were with the show in Season 1, when they served as co-executive producers, and Elektra and Punisher, while antiheroes in their own Marvel comics, have always been linked with Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and his crime-fighting alter-ego.
Below, Petrie and Ramirez reflect on taking the reins for the show’s sophomore outing, how they approached adapting a gun-toting vigilante in the midst of an ongoing debate about gun control and violence in America, and how the show ties into the wider Marvel universe.
As new showrunners, what were your goals for Season 2?
Doug Petrie: We call it our Christmas morning moment when we came in and were told that we would be running the show together. And then, as if that wasn’t good enough, they said, “Oh, and you’re getting Elektra and The Punisher.” Our first big goal was not to screw it up royally. I think as self-confessed nerds, we love the source material so much and we knew that we had very rich characters and we wanted to serve them properly, and we wanted to get everything in, in what all of a sudden seemed like a very short 13 episodes. So we had just a tremendous amount of story to cover in a very short amount of time.
I think what we wanted to do, speaking for Marco and myself, was to make the show that we really wanted to see. This felt, from the very beginning, very important to us and so we just honored that all along the way: what’s the best show we can possibly see based on these characters and the storylines that we’ve loved for so long?
What were some of your comic book inspirations?
Marco Ramirez: It’s impossible to talk Elektra and not talk about Frank Miller. We both are huge fans of all of his work, so that was always part of the conversation. With the Frank Castle stuff … Garth Ennis and the Jason Aaron stories have always been kind of wonderful to me. Then with Daredevil, who is always our number one on the call sheet on our show, it goes from everyone from Frank Miller to the Bendis run. It runs a whole gamut. It’s hard to pick just one, but the wonder of it all, as geeks ourselves, is that we can scan our own libraries and say “we can actually use this idea” or “wouldn’t this be great?” It’s huge.
Doug Petrie: I think what was really great about being in a position to do Season 2 is that, in addition to all these things, we had Charlie Cox. We had 13 episodes of watching this Matt Murdock and we really wanted to make sure we were telling the story of Matt, which is really hard to do when you’ve got Elektra and The Punisher trying to steal the show at every turn. We let those characters try, but we always bring it back to Matt, this tortured, Catholic, complicated, self-loathing, heroic, blue collar New York pro bono lawyer, who’s also blind, who also has a homicidal streak that he hasn’t worked out yet. That’s what we were serving first and foremost, in addition to all the great canon.
The show is also a little lighter, in terms of humor, this season. Why did you want to punch up the quippiness?
Marco Ramirez: Since we were including Elektra and Punisher in the mix this time around, specifically Punisher — his stories get so dark and so bloody and so murder-y. I mean, even within the darkness, there’s still tons of humor to be found, but we just wanted to make sure to never become that show that takes itself and its violence so intensely seriously. We want the audience to feel like Hell’s Kitchen is a place worth fighting for. It should feel like Hell’s Kitchen is a place where you really care about the people, even when they’re being tortured or victimized or brutalized in one way or the other. We really want you to root for them. There’s no better way to get the audience to root for the citizens of Hell’s Kitchen, including Matt and Foggy [Elden Henson] and Karen [Deborah Ann Woll] … than actually to make them lovely to be around, as they are. Also it’s a reaction to the actors we have. Writing scenes where Karen is wonderful is not very hard when Deborah Ann Woll is wonderful.
Doug Petrie: I think in addition to everything Marco is saying, which is all right on the money, one of the things that was a real joy for both of us would be that we’re both pretty dyed in the wool New Yorkers. Everybody knows that [in] New York, more than most places, wit is so highly valued. Wit is a currency in New York and being a smartass is a currency in New York. So it doesn’t matter if you’re Donald Trump or the cab driver, whoever gets the better zinger wins. So we like the idea that these are people who are fast on their feet and fast with their words. We took a page from the old Howard Hawks comedies — the wit and the barbs fly pretty fast and we wanted that in addition to the bullets and throwing stars.
The season offers two opposing forces for Matt, in terms of his relationships with Karen and Elekra; Karen wants to bring him into the light, and Elektra wants him to join her in the dark. How would you describe what Elektra symbolizes for Matt, versus Karen?
We joke that we’ve got the best version of Betty and Veronica ever offered to storytellers: you’ve got Elektra, who’s a different kind of temptation. In addition to Frank Castle showing up and saying “I kill, you don’t, why don’t you?” and Matt having to deal with that, Elektra is also well known in the canon as a killer. For Matt, it’s kind of this temptation of every kind of freedom that he denies himself. So it’s sexual freedom; it’s emotional freedom; it’s freedom from society; freedom from constraints; freedom from the 10 Commandments; freedom from all of those things.
He’s a guy who really is chomping at the bit. He really does want to be free of those things and he binds himself deliberately and then here comes Elektra saying “wouldn’t you be a lot happier and wouldn’t it just be better for everybody if you just let yourself be free?” That’s very hard for Matt to say no to right away.
SPOILER WARNING: The following addresses specific episodes of Season 2, proceed with caution if you haven’t finished watching.
I love that Episode 2 is basically a bottle episode for Matt and Frank, in that they’re just two guys on a rooftop, essentially just having a debate about morality. Both have some valid points, that some people may agree with and some may not. What can you say about the repercussions of that ideological conflict for Matt, going forward?
Marco Ramirez: Agree with or don’t agree with; I think that’s part of the fun for us in writing that episode. That stuff on the rooftop, it felt like you don’t necessarily have to pick a side. You’re just here listening to two really smart, very driven people argue methodology.
I think in terms of how that influence from the Punisher will affect Matt going forward toward the end of the season and the future was incredibly important to us. First and foremost, even beyond just being excited to use the Punisher and have him in our storyline, it was also really exciting because I felt like we can use him as a tool to sharpen Matt and get Matt into this other place, just in terms of where the Punisher helps us get Matt by the end of the season and what we can drag him through — we can watch Matt evolve and harden or soften by the end of the season, that was always really important to us.
He goes up against and alongside one of the most powerful men he will ever encounter in his life as a superhero. We hope as writers we took him to a place where he’s learned a hell of a lot about himself, about the world, about how things operate, about what he’s been naïve about, about spiritually where he is and what he really truly believes in. So it always points back to us getting Matt to places we find interesting.
Episode 3 features another truly astonishing fight sequence, which manages to be tonally different from last year’s one-take hallway fight, but also raises the game in terms of spectacle. How did you approach that?
Marco Ramirez: What felt important early on was not to try to do the scene and do a one shot fight scene. It felt like we had done that and the audience had seen that and clearly loved it. Because Netflix is what it is, whenever they want to see it, they can go right back to the end of the episode, scroll right to the end and watch it. So we just wanted to do something different. As you saw, the imagery of it all, with the red light and the chains and these bikers who we called The Dogs of Hell, it was just about doing our own other thing. Season 1 had this great hallway fight scene and we thought, what if we position this as this descent into hell fight scene? It almost feels like the most heavy metal moment in “Daredevil” history.
You know, another season we’ll do another thing. It’s not just about topping it. For me and I think for Doug as well it’s just about variety. It’s about what can we do now that’s fresh and different? It doesn’t have to be bigger. We might do a fight scene that’s even smaller but what can we do to give the audience something to talk about and chew on that they’ve never seen before?
Doug Petrie: It was certainly bigger, which we say without pride because we knew, as Marco was saying, we never want to repeat ourselves and we never want to say “the audience likes this, let’s give them that again.” It’s definitely designed as descent into hell and we thought it was the perfect time to have Matt Murdock… emotionally, the hallway fight in episode 102 which everyone loved so much is really a father/son story about Matt rescuing a child, a son, and returning him to his father in a way that he could never return to his own father. That’s a very clear emotional through-line. This was more about oppression and rage and what happens when you chain the devil up and then the devil has to go to hell to kind of reclaim his prize. We thought if we have Daredevil and we’ve got this guy in horns, let’s do it; let’s do a descent into hell and that’s our Hieronymus Bosch via “The Raid” moment. We can’t say enough great things about Phil Silvera and his team and the way they put together, choreographed and shot this. Yes, it was a very full day. When we wrote “interior stairwell giant fight scene,” they loved and hated us with equal passion. But they pulled it off beautifully and we’re very proud of them.
I appreciate that we’re spending more time in the courtroom in the back half of the season, when that aspect of Matt and Foggy’s life was much more incidental in Season 1. Why did it feel important to tackle that this year?
Marco Ramirez: It’s part of “Daredevil” mythology. Last season we didn’t get to do tons of it, rightfully so, because he had already become a lawyer. That season spent a lot of time watching him become a vigilante. Now that we already got him there, now that you have a suit, we have to watch you go to work in order for that to really feel like a drastic change. So we by design wanted to a little more legal stuff this season. In terms of the legal story, what we knew we didn’t want to do was a story about an elderly woman in a malpractice suit or something like that. We knew if we’re going to leave the streets and go into the courtroom, it better be for the trial of the century. So that’s kind of where we ended up and we’re so lucky to have Frank Castle involved in that story. I’m not sure, if we didn’t have the Punisher on trial, we would have gone into the courtroom as much as we did, but that just felt like the best story to tell and also to be able to involve Karen as much as possible and make her the Clarice Starling of the season and him Hannibal Lecter was something we wanted to do by design at the very beginning.
Frank and Karen’s dynamic was one of the most fascinating aspects of the season for me; why do they have such a strong connection?
Doug Petrie: Karen has always had a darkness within her. We have such a great weapon in Deborah Ann Woll; after Season 1, we wanted to go even further into her story. We were always wondering, how much of her backstory can we tease out? Because in Season 1 she has this very intriguing line, “Do you think this is the first time I shot a man?” So that opens up a whole bunch of possibilities. Then the idea of putting her together with Frank Castle, who has no compunction about shooting people, and Karen can look into his eyes and recognize a part of herself and that he can do the same and that their mutual fascination isn’t sexual, it isn’t romantic, but it’s very deep and very intimate. When you have those two great actors looking at each other and saying, “what are you made of and what can you tell me about myself and you?” We were very pleased with how compelling what they brought to the table was.
Creators always praise the collaborative process of working with Netflix and how few restrictions there are in terms of content versus shows on broadcast or basic cable, so I was curious whether you got any pushback from them in regards to the gun violence this season, such as the hospital shooting, given how many public shootings we’ve witnessed in the past few months?
Marco Ramirez: I think very early on, even before the shooting in the hospital that happened later, we were already breaking new stories and unfortunately there had already been a whole rash of these awful, violent incidents. So it was something that Doug and I were really aware of. We brought it up very early on and during every Punisher conversation, “we need to be sensitive. This is a hot issue. We can lean into it and make it complicated and interesting, or we can completely ignore it.” We tried to lean into it and make it as complicated and interesting and grounded in character as often as possible.
I think the reason Netflix has a reputation for being a really good partner is because they are. The only thing they’ve really ever been concerned about is, “just make sure the episodes end in a way that you want to watch the next one.” We’re like, “yeah, that’s kind of exactly what we were going to do anyway, so awesome.” But we made sure to be very aware. There’s some talk in the episodes of PTSD, and we just wanted to make it very clear at the outset, Frank Castle is a man unhinged and who has his hands on guns and weapons and is taking out a very specific portion of the population and who wants something very specific and just make it as specific to Frank as possible.
Will the images resonate in some way, a man walking around with a shotgun? Unfortunately, that’s something we can’t avoid, but we were aware at every point. I think we should give credit to John Bernthal as well because he’s very aware of always making sure to tell Frank Castle’s story. He did everything he could to make every choice as specific as possible. He asked questions that were so specific that even Doug and I had no answers. Even Marvel [said] “I think we should answer that.” It was very tricky and we walked on a tightrope and eggshells and all that but at the end of the day we were telling a story of one very specific character who existed in comics for many, many years.
Doug Petrie: We wanted to be as thoughtful and responsible as possible, while telling the story of a very complicated, very violent man. I like to think that we succeeded. We certainly gave it as much thought [as possible] and spent plenty of time in the room: What’s our responsibility as storytellers? Our number one responsibility is to telling the story of Frank Castle, while being very aware of the world we live in.
Now that “Jessica Jones” has debuted and these shows are starting to intertwine thanks to characters like Rosario Dawson’s Claire, how are you navigating fitting in to the wider Marvel universe? Are there certain beats you were told to hit, or people to include, or was it more organic?
Marco Ramirez: I think it’s pretty organic. What’s lovely is that it’s never really felt inorganic and forced upon us in any way. It feels like we’ll have a story and there will be a cop in it or a random criminal in it and someone from Marvel will say “this might be an opportunity to use so and so from this episode of ‘Jessica.'” So we break the story first. We think in story, we don’t think in Easter eggs. We come up with a good story and if there’s somebody already cast who’s great, who already exists in the world of the Marvel’s Hell’s Kitchen world and Harlem now coming with Luke [Cage], great. All the better. It’s a great opportunity. Much like they did on “The Wire” to have the upper and lower echelons of society interacting, you might recognize a face from six episodes ago. That’s all really interesting to us. So if it happens to be convenient, why not use an actor who already exists in the world of the shows? What we hope to not have to do ever is do it just for the sake of making a crossing of paths. We hope that the story itself can stand alone, whether or not it’s the crossing of paths. If we can cross paths and they could all feel interwoven, that’s the hat trick.
“Daredevil” Seasons 1 and 2 are now streaming on Netflix.