To promote the premiere of Daredevil Season 2 at Netflix on March 18th, the cast and showrunners were at the TCA Press Tour to preview what fans can expect from the characters next. With Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) having grown into the role of the vigilante Daredevil, the attention that he’s received has gained the attention of both the public and the police, inspiring other vigilantes to enact their own vengeance for injustice around the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, New York.
During a small roundtable interview, co-showrunners Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez talked about how Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), aka The Punisher, and Elektra (Elodie Yung) will affect Matt Murdock’s world, the structure of Season 2, making room for Foggy (Elden Henson) and Karen’s (Deborah Ann Woll) journey, when and how to plan reveals, Easter eggs, and whether you should and will feel sympathy for The Punisher.
DOUG PETRIE: We were given those two characters and we eagerly embraced it. We asked ourselves, how do we avoid antagonist glut and icon glut in one season? What made Season 1 so successful was the slow burn and the build of exploring Wilson Fisk and Matt Murdock completely. But, Jeph [Loeb] really helped us with that. He was intrigued with the question, what is it to be a hero? In Season 1, we built the hero, but now we have these new characters coming in and testing Matt Murdock. They’re saying, “Oh, okay, you’re going to put on this suit and beat people up that you feel deserve it. We do that, too, except there’s a difference. We kill them.” They don’t feel like it’s that big of a difference, but he does.
Is The Punisher the season-long antagonist, and is the moral divide between Matt Murdock and Frank Castle the main idea you’re exploring?
MARCO RAMIREZ: Because we knew, early on, that we had The Punisher and Elektra, we knew we didn’t want to repeat Season 1. It was Daredevil: Year One and Wilson Fisk: Year One. By the end of the season, he was a completely different person than he was at the beginning. We knew we had 13 episodes, so we wanted to find the coolest story we could do with these three characters and make the story feel really vibrant and alive in ways that are exciting to us. Most importantly, we wanted to make sure everything runs through Matt because it could easily become The Punisher story or the Elektra story that Matt cameos in, and not vice versa. So, we built it like a Matt story, in terms of what we wanted to put him through, where we wanted to get him, by the end of the season, and what we wanted to have him learn about himself, and we used an Elektra and Frank story throughout, to get him there. We’re really proud of that and we really think it works. We did also have the freedom of knowing we had 13 episodes to tell a story. It was never a Netflix mandate or a Marvel mandate, but we talked about when we watch shows in 13-episode stretches, how do we watch them? What is an exciting structure that we would like to think about here? Do we divide it right down the middle? Do we do a three-act structure? What do we do? So, we got to sit in the room and build this arc that we think is satisfying, on its own. If you were to sit and watch 13 episodes, you would absolutely feel a structure, much like in the comics. That’s what we did this season.
PETRIE: With Elektra and The Punisher, they’re both such powerful characters that they could hijack a story so easily. We would often come up with amazing stuff in the room, and everyone writes with great passion and dedication, but then we’d go, “Oh, where’s Matt Murdock?” They really can overpower your guy. We never peeled back and said, “Okay, let’s water that down to make room for Matt.” We were like, “Okay, let’s keep this if we love it, but completely turn it over and look at how this affects Matt and filter it through that prism.” I think we were pretty successful, overall. We’ll let the fans decide if we were. It was difficult to keep Matt front and center, but we were very, very mindful of it, 13 times.
At the same time you have to work to keep Matt Murdock front and center, you also have Foggy and Karen who have their own personal journeys. How difficult is it to juggle all of that?
RAMIREZ: It was damn near impossible, but we got some of the smartest writers we know and we got in a room. We love every one of the characters. We love writing for Karen and Foggy, as much as we love writing for Matt. They’re just magnetic, wonderful presences that you want to be around. We’re getting lots of questions about what The Punisher and Elektra do this season and how that affects Matt, and those are absolutely the right questions. But what the entrance of The Punisher and Elektra means to Karen and Foggy is also something we got to do this season, which is incredibly exciting. You’ll get to see how these people react to those sharks being in the water. We love Foggy and we love Karen so much. It all exists in the same lovely, messy place in Hell’s Kitchen, so of course, everyone is going to get shoved in there. The show is Matt’s story, but that doesn’t mean that every ship isn’t going to crash into the other one. That’s what’s great about it.
PETRIE: At the end of Season 1, we worked so hard to get these three characters, who we love so much, to be unified and together. And then, we knew we couldn’t keep them there, so we had to strain them in a credible way. We loved Matt, Foggy and Karen all together. They even make little jokes about Nelson, Murdock & Page. They’re a band who’s withstood Hell’s Kitchen and everything that’s gone on. There’s a scene in Episode 1, where we see them having fun, and we really were mindful of giving that because we knew we couldn’t let them stay there forever.
You’ve laid the groundwork for Karen Page to have a mysterious past. Will we get reveals, in that regard?
PETRIE: I’m not just being coy because I have to be, but it’s yes and no. We want to keep dangling that carrot, not because we’re big teases, but because the way we approached every story was, what does this character need now? I think Karen still has some mystery and some development. She’s come into her own in this season, in a way that builds upon Season 1. Where the voice of truth in New York goes is a free-floating idea that’s almost like a character that we had to honor.
Do you have conversations about just how long you can avoid Karen finding out what’s going on with Matt Murdock?
PETRIE: Oh, yeah, all the time.
RAMIREZ: One of the most fundamental issues with any comic book adaptation, especially when you make it gritty, is how you justify the fact that when you take those glasses, you are Superman. With Peter Parker, it’s a little easier because he’s wearing a mask. Is that difficult? Yeah, it’s really hard to do. That said though, this season, we were surprised by what we revealed and what we didn’t reveal. There was the stuff we thought we were going to do this season, and then suddenly, these characters started telling us, “No, it’s actually time for the audience to find this out about me and not this.” Or we’d put two people in a scene together that we didn’t expect and it would feel organically right for something different to happen. Something that you might think Marvel or Netflix or us would wait three seasons to do, might happen this season because it feels absolutely right for it to happen right now. That was really exciting. We walked into the season thinking, “This is who these characters are and this is what we’re doing,” and then they started to talk back. Foggy, Karen, Frank and Elektra said, “No, this is what’s happening,” so we let them lead with Matt being the throughline, always. That was exciting this season.
We know all of the Marvel characters are part of a bigger universe. How do you decide where and how you want to work in the references to that?
PETRIE: One of the things we learned from Season 1 is that the fans are so hyper-attuned to any Easter egg, at all, that any little bit goes a long way. We definitely don’t want to be overt. You won’t see anyone waving to the sky and going, “Bye, Iron Man!” We can’t afford his vapor trail. That’s another reason you won’t be seeing those guys on our show. We also want to keep it in Hell’s Kitchen. The example that we used a lot is that the air conditioner doesn’t work at Nelson and Murdock. That’s really what we’re interested in. New York is a city that has a larger than life presence. There are celebrities that live there. There are baseball stars that live there. They walk the streets. They’re everywhere. If you see Derek Jeter walking down the street, that’s great, but then you turn the corner and you get into an argument with the guy who overcharged you for a pretzel. We want our guys to be real New Yorkers.
RAMIREZ: What made Season 1 work, and we did it this season as well, is that we built the story organically the way the story wanted to be. If along the way, there was an opportunity for an Easter egg, great. And everyone is tuned to it. Sometimes it comes from the staff writers, sometimes it comes from an assistant, sometimes it comes from a Netflix executive, and then we feel the connective tissue happen. We never come in with Easter eggs, and Marvel and Netflix are great about that. Fans like that it always feels organic. It never feels like, “Oh, they’re leading to this super obvious connective tissue,” or “Now they’re in the garage of Stark Enterprises for no reason.” Our characters are so interesting, we don’t have to exist in that shadow, in order for them to be interesting. Those little Easter eggs that come along the way are fun, but there have been times when we had the opportunity and we thought, “No, we shouldn’t do it. This is too distraction. It’s not the right time for that.”
Will we leave this season with some sense of sympathy and understanding of Frank Castle’s actions? Is that your ultimate goal with the character?
PETRIE: Sympathy for the devil, in this case, is absolutely essential, but we can also guarantee that’s not the only thing you’ll be feeling. We’re very much looking forward to and are terrified by what we hope will come, which is a variety of responses to this guy. He’s more than one flavor, and he’s definitely more than one layer. We go deeper into what drives him, what his moral code is, what his contradictions are, what his methods are, and how people react to them, particularly Matt. But then, you’ve got Foggy going, “I do not like this man.” If you make the argument, “I don’t like this man, I don’t like his methods, and I don’t agree with what he does,” and nothing justified what he does, you can make that argument. You can make a very solid argument, but it would be an argument. We do get into that in particular episodes where we have the voices of New York saying, “He’s good,” or “He’s bad.” There’s precedence in real New York lore, with Son of Sam, Bernard Goetz and the fictional Travis Bickle. It’s this idea of New York pushing someone to the point where they’re going to take justice into their own hands and you don’t love what they’re doing, but you have more than one feeling about it. Will you have sympathy for him? We hope so. Will you feel just sympathy? We hope not.
This is the fourth live-action version of The Punisher. Does that familiarity with the character help you?
RAMIREZ: Yeah. Because he’s being introduced on Matt’s show, it just made sense for us to introduce him even beyond the consciousness. I don’t think my mother knows who Frank Castle is. She might recognize the skull on a t-shirt from a comic book I had as a kid. It was more about how affected Matt is and finding the right time in Frank’s life to have him affect Matt. Because the audience is familiar with Matt now, hopefully by having seen the first season, they’ll feel like they’re on Team Matt. So, it’s more about how does this storm that’s coming to Hell’s Kitchen affect their guy, the guy they love, for better or worse. They might fall in love with the storm, for all we know. We hope they do, in some ways. But, it never felt like we could skip all of that because the world knows who The Punisher is. We didn’t take that for granted. You can’t assume the whole world will know who that is. We just introduced him as organically as we could to Hell’s Kitchen.
PETRIE: In that first episode where we’re so mysterious with him, if you know the character of Frank Castle, you’re just going to go fanboy bananas because we really tease it out. And if you’ve never seen him before and are unfamiliar with the canon, it’s still a pretty satisfying episode because something really powerful that is against what Matt stands for is now inexorably entering Matt’s backyard.
RAMIREZ: And it was always important to us, even if you know the character, you’ve never seen him like this. That was the big thing we wanted. There are four movies, eight hours and four actors. We’ve seen this guy. We think we know who he is, but even we learned that he’s so much more. That was exciting to us.
PETRIE: What’s great is that, in the interplay between Jon [Bernthal] and Charlie [Cox], Jon really owns this guy. We hope to make people forget what they’ve seen before, whether they’ve loved it or not.
Daredevil Season 2 premieres on Netflix on March 18th.