Be aware there are spoilers for the Netflix Marvel shows through Daredevil Season 3.
Ever since Netflix kicked off their Marvel universe with Daredevil back in 2015, fans have been hoping for more crossovers than the powers that be have been willing to give. With the promise of the super-powered team up in The Defenders down the road, fans hoped that one of the other heroes might make an appearance and kick off this new street-level Marvel universe with a bang. No such luck. Daredevil was a standout start to the universe, sure, but Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) didn’t even don the Daredevil suit until the season was almost over. The point was clear. The Netflix Marvel universe was going to take its time.
And take its time it did, slowly introducing new heroes and villains across New York City (which I remind you, is not very large geographically), who almost never engage with each other. Sure, a character might be introduced to the universe through another series, as Luke Cage was introduced in Jessica Jones Season 1 and Frank Castle was introduced in Daredevil Season 2, but once they move on to their own programming, it’s hasta la vista, we’ll always have Paris. Fans who were hoping to see hide or hair of Jessica Jones in Luke Cage had another thing coming. Heroes for Hire and Daughters of the Dragon fans have fared a bit better (though as Allison previously pointed out, Iron Fist could have learned a thing or two from the DC TV universe) — well, at least until Luke Cage and Iron Fist were cancelled.
Likewise, the supporting characters and non-heroes of the Netflix Marvel-verse have had a chance to move around from show to show. Carrie-Anne Moss‘s Jeri Hogarth has appeared in Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Iron Fist and The Defenders, but most of the time she’s just there. Rarely does she matter to the story. Rosario Dawson‘s Claire Temple (the true hero of the MCU) has been oft-referred to as the Coulson of the Netflix shows, appearing in at least one episode of each solo show and the big Defenders team-up. In one of the most significant, story-driven crossovers to date, Karen Page played a key role in The Punisher as Frank’s friend, confidante, and well…. more. It’s hard to put into words, but there was forehead touching and swaying in an elevator. The key point is that The Punisher further deepened the pair’s relationship to the point that Castle referred to her as his family. “I will come for you,” he promised when Karen was in danger, and that didn’t sound like a one time offer.
So, and pardon my language here, but where the fuck was Frank Castle in Daredevil Season 3? Karen — one of the only people he considers family left in the world — was nearly killed twice in during the season. Both assassination attempts were extremely public and immediately reported on en masse. The Bulletin was attacked for goodness sake, by an ex-soldier no less, and we’re supposed to believe that Frank just … did nothing. Or he was incapable of doing anything, or he didn’t know. None of which sound like the Frank Castle we’ve met before.
Sure, Daredevil may not be about him, but it still undermines his character that he makes no effort to reach out for Karen — something that could definitely still be retconned or explained away in The Punisher Season 2 — but it also undermines their established relationship that we never even see her consider reaching out to him for help. Granted, Karen is stubborn, but after the attack on the Bulletin, when she’s rejected by her father, it’s clear that she’s looking for a connection, and considering how things were when we left them in The Punisher, it makes no sense that Frank Castle never comes up but as a throwaway line to make Matt feel better. There’s a nice moment of casual crossover in the finale episode when Matt makes a reference to Jessica Jones, but it works because Matt and Jessica had a fairly casual relationship. Karen and Frank are anything but.
This isn’t the first time the Netflix Marvel-verse has undermined its own relationships either. For another instance, look no further than the aforementioned Miss Claire Temple, who developed quite an intimate relationship with Matt in Season 1 and 2 of Daredevil and who simply can’t be fazed by his safety or general presence in The Defenders. And I get it, she’s with Luke then, but there’s still room to acknowledge the relationships that came before. All it would take is a quick hug, a handshake, hell, even one of Dawson’s A+ lovingly scolding glares — anything to show the audience enough respect to acknowledge our investment in the relationship previous seasons built.
By the same token, the Frank Castle problem is an easy fix. Let’s give the benefit of the doubt and say that this wasn’t addressed because Bernthal’s shooting schedule didn’t work, but even without the actor, a lot could be easily cleared up with a phone call, even some text messages explaining why he isn’t there. Heck just have a shot of Karen emailing Frank to stay out of it. I’d buy it, Frank respects her enough to listen (well, maybe … their shared stubbornness is a wonder). But the version of the story we were given explains nothing and diminishes the characters and relationships we were asked to invest in for two previous seasons. And isn’t Frank Castle’s whole thing going after the people that hurt his family? It’s just not realistic or believable and it does nothing but harm the storytelling credibility of the shared Netflix ‘verse. Similarly, how are we supposed to invest in Karen’s healing relationship with Matt when there’s till the (admittedly terrible) idea of what she shares with Frank on the table?
Which is a damn shame, because in a lot of other ways Daredevil Season 3 is one of the best seasons of the Netflix MCU yet. Strong villains, incredible performances, and rich drama between the characters (not to mention lots of knowing nods to some of the best Daredevil source material there is) make for an action-packed season that never lets up. Frank Castle’s absence doesn’t ruin the season, not even close, but it’s a burden an otherwise well-told story shouldn’t have to bear, and one that could have been easily remedied.