For Matt Murdock, Daredevil is the reason he was put on this earth. A dark figure of justice that tips the scales when no one else can. But what is the meaning of that purpose when justice seems impossible to find?
After 2 seasons and a crossover miniseries, the third season of Netflix’s Daredevil is a collision course between the crushed, often overwhelmed forces of good and the growing forces of evil, embodied in a climactic clash between Daredevil and the returning Kingpin. This is the battle between corruption and justice, mercy and condemnation. But these battles draw us to a central question – why are we here on earth and what is the purpose of our lives?
If Daredevil Season 1 was the story of Matt Murdock not knowing what God’s purpose was for him and the righteous anger boiling inside him, then Season 3 is the natural extension of this question. Matt Murdock is no longer in search of purpose. No, far from it. He knows why he’s here. His great challenge is in understanding what that purpose means within a larger, seemingly permanently unfair world. This is the reckoning of purpose and reality.
After the highly compromised Daredevil Season 2 and the extremely disappointing Defenders (you didnt think I was actually gonna make a video on that, right?), Daredevil Season 3 isn’t just a return to the focus and style of Season 1, it’s an extrapolation of the themes that made that first season so special. The Hand, the split focus, the superhero stylings, they’re all stripped away here, just as everything is stripped away from Matt at the very beginning. And while DD Season 3 picks up straight from the end of The Defenders, with Matt caught in the blast of a collapsing building, really all you need to know is that he’s been mentally, emotionally, and physically broken from the final battle against Elektra and The Hand.
Now, seemingly physically unable to be the hero he needs to be, Matt searches for his purpose in life while Karen Page and Foggy Nelson believe him to be dead. All the while, Wilson Fisk works to get himself out of prison and gain more power than ever, manipulating the deadly and morally empty Agent Ben Poindexter and the good but desperate Agent Ray Nadeem into serving his greater schemes.
Season 3 showrunner Erik Oleson and the writers of the series draw a lot from Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s classic “Born Again,” but in unfamiliar ways. We can see different elements at play here, including Matt being physically broken apart and recovering at the church, Fisk systematically targeting Daredevil for a complete destruction of his enemy, someone dressing up as the hero to frame him for murder, and smaller moments like Matt being driven into the river in a taxi. But it’s more the larger tone of the season that works as a spiritual recreation of Miller and Mazzuchelli’s incredible story, so I really don’t think there’s much of a need to compare the two. This isn’t a true live action remake of “Born Again” and there was never a real intention of it being so. The show even takes some inspiration from Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada’s “Guardian Devil,” but thankfully inverts most of its plot points to tell a stronger, less cliche story. Still, Daredevil Season 3 becomes one of the best Daredevil stories of all time, partially thanks to its inspirations.
Part of the beauty of the superhero genre is the constant element of individuals looking for a place in the world, finding their calling, and having their importance in the world affirmed over and over again. But so much of this series is colliding the hope of the superhero genre with the ugliness of the real world.
So much of Daredevil Season 3 comes down to one enormous but simple question. Why am I here?
The story of Daredevil in the comics has always been the story of a man wrestling with his faith, only lived out through the bigger, brighter, wilder lens of a superhero. And although this struggle will come to the foreground or recede to the background depending on the writer, the strength of the Netflix show is that this is constantly the focus. At least, in seasons 1 and 3. You know, the good ones.
This is a reckoning. A reckoning of Fisk and Matt. Of Matt, Karen, and Foggy (no longer making me ask, “Oh, Foggy’s in this?” every time he shows up). Of faith and disillusionment. And of Matt’s better angels and inner demons, sometimes shown literally in visions of Fisk and his father, tormenting or supporting him. These are the closest that Daredevil comes to visions of God. They aren’t spiritual visitations, but instead are external depictions of internal struggles. After all, all faith is internalized in the end. Organized religion may provide guidance, but what we choose to do with our beliefs is a matter of subconscious struggles and conscious choices.
At first, Matt’s great struggle is the reconciliation of knowing that his purpose is to be Daredevil, but being so physically compromised that he can’t even beat a small group of thugs. His devastation at being unable to fulfill his purpose is so great, that Matt even e an unforgivable sin in the Catholic perspective.
There’s never any confirmation or disapproval of the idea of God or an afterlife in Daredevil, we’re simply focused on the beliefs of its characters and how these shape their every action and relationship. And as Matt struggles to recover and understand his purpose with the help of Father Lantam and Sister Maggie (who he eventually learn y yjyjh’s is his mother, who abandoned him as a baby), Matt comes to believe that his purpose is to stop Wilson Fisk.
Ephesians 6:11-13 says, “11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual vd c c c cvc dc xforces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
Stripped of his purpose, his costume, his life, Matt travels in search of meaning. All the while, he wraps himself in vestiges of his beliefs. It’s no mistake that his new mask is a repurposed nun’s habit. Everywhere, Matt’s Catholicism informs his actions, and everywhere we see the Bible both fuel his questions and provide answers to his doubts.
This is the battle between Matt living out his purpose and the fears that hold him back.
If you’ve grown up in religion, then you know that the faith of your childhood and the faith of your adulthood aren’t the same thing. Some people lose their faith as they grow up. Some grow stronger in it. But in any case, they’re not the same. For Matt, the devoted beliefs of his childhood, believing that his heightened senses helped him hear prayers to answer them, and his struggles as an adult feel incompatible.
The Bible is filled with stories of men and women who question the reality of God and God’s desires for their lives, but it’s also meant to assuage the doubts of believers.
Colossians 1:16 says “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”
Jeremiah 29:11 says “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Proverbs 16:4 says “The LORD works out everything to its proper end— even the wicked for a day of disaster.”
Romans 8:28 says “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
But The Bible never promises its readers a full understanding of God’s plan. The Book of Job sees one of God’s most loyal followers tested, losing everything he has in a wager between God and The Devil. In the end, when Job remains loyal, God visits him. But when Job questions why this has happened, God doesn’t answer in human terms. Instead, he asserts himself as above Job’s understanding. According to the bible, all we can do is submit ourselves to a greater understanding than ours.
So what does the empowerment of pure evil, lived out through Wilson Fisk, mean within that greater plan?
Fisk’s deal with the FBI and move out of prison feels like the coming of something terrible, but what this story shows us is that what everyone fears has already been in motion for a long long time. And Matt realizes this in episode 4’s virtuoso single take escape from the prison as his trip to find out the truth behind an attack on Fisk quickly turns into a fight for survival. As the odds pile up against Matt and his chances at survival grow slim, we realize that the prison meant to cage Fisk has been completely taken over by him, showing his control even from a position that seems powerless. Matt’s escape from the prison is an escape from hell, the inferno slowly engulfing what he thought was a place where the law had rule.
One by one, the corruptibility of both institutions and people is exposed as Fisk gains control over every system that was designed to take away his power. It’s insidious. And compared to Matt’s staunch beliefs, it calls into question if the purpose he’s been called to live out is actually worthwhile. If there is a God and they desire righteousness and justice to be lived out in the world, then why can someone like Fisk subvert the very idea of justice?
What is a superhero in a world that can’t be saved?
It’s this idea of living out God’s purpose through violence that adds a depth of moral complexity that’s often lacking in superhero media. The idea of the superhero is meant to inspire and provide a sense of clarity to a chaotic real world. But what is a hero that can’t bring about justice? Eventually, Matt decides that murdering Fisk is the only way to prevent further evil, but what does this mean for the purpose he believe God has for him? Can justice, mercy, and forgiveness all coexist within a broken world? And how can violence serve a righteous purpose?
And here comes the violence montage.
The world of Daredevil is a violent world. Almost every character here is the perpetrator or victim of some type of violence. Why they choose to inflict or respond to that violence says multitudes about their beliefs, their purpose, and their path through the world.
Karen is forced to reconcile with her traumatic past where she both caused and suffered terrible violence. Foggy has to face his fears and live out a heroic path that stands in public opposition to The Kingpin. These two search for their purpose, but are ultimately justified through their faith in a greater good being possible in this world. Not everyone is so lucky.
Agent Nadeem’s story is the story of a good man, a normal man, who has the smallest bit of greed, the smallest bit of desperation, that leads him into the web of The Kingpin. And then fear and complacency do the rest, pushing him further and further into danger and manipulation until his conscience and the love of his family force him to try to stop this evil. For being a character invented purely for this season, Jay Ali’s Rahul Nadeem is a brilliant, tragic character whose death is inevitable but also the only way to stop Fisk.
1 Peter 5:8-9 says “8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
But is there such a thing as the devil? A one true embodiment of evil? To place the cause of sin and destruction on one single figure can be an excuse for our own actions. And while Fisk acts as the devil of Daredevil, each person has to take responsibility for their own actions here.
For all its darkness, Daredevil Season 3 has a fairly positive outlook on the possibility of humanity, but it’s counterbalanced by the reality of evil. Most of the people we meet here aren’t necessarily evil, they’re just struggling with their own nature in the light of what life has handed them. Not even Poindexter, our nascent Bullseye, is necessarily evil, just lacking in a moral compass that is taken advantage of. Really, it’s only Fisk who embodies pure evil that corrupts so much around him. Here, Fisk has moved past his seaon 1 arc of accepting the evil within him and has fully become the total embodiment of crime – the devil corrupting the hearts of men all around him. Imprisoned in his home and rarely ever leaving it for the entirety of the season, Fisk is like Satan in Dante’s Inferno – trapped in ice in the deepest circle of hell, but still able to imbue the living world with his evil at a distance.
Compared to Fisk’s Satan, Dex is the fallen angel. Maybe he was never a saint, but his corruption by The Kingpin turns someone that could have served a greater good into an agent of evil. Fisk stealing the Daredevil costume and having Dex wear it to kill isn’t just a way of having the hero framed, it’s a way to have Matt physically fight the purpose that he believed God had for him. Eventually, Dex goes from being the man who saved Nadeem’s life to being the one that takes it.
But it’s Matt who struggles most of all, because he is so keenly aware of who he is and what he’s capable of, but he isn’t sure of what it all means anymore.
The scariest idea of season 3 isn’t a killer or a mob boss, it’s the understanding of how delicate the balance of good and evil is. Of just how little it takes to destroy a life or take over a system. Daredevil’s struggle isn’t necessarily to beat evil but to just push back the scales for another day. Even near the very end, when it seems like Fisk can finally be beaten, The Kingpin has grown too powerful for even the courts.
There is no place to hide and no weapon to wield that hasn’t been corrupted and controlled by The Kingpin. Fisk may have his human side, like the love of Vanessa that pushes him to control everything in the name of her own good, but he’s the living embodiment of how human justice will always have its limitations in its imitation of God’s justice. But when we come together, something like it can be found.
You see, this show is called Daredevil, and Matt’s journey is the centerpiece, but he’s just one part of the larger whole. Fisk’s corruption and control spreads like a web throughout New York, infecting every system, so it can only be stopped by another coalition of the courts, the press, the police, and one incredible, wonderful, inspirational hero. But it’s only through commitment, sacrifice, love, and pain on the behalf of so many people that Fisk is able to be beaten. That the devil is able to be driven back. That the scales can be tilted the other way.
And maybe that’s what our purpose is in life. To be a small part of a much bigger vision. Call it God’s plan. Call it the greater good. Call it whatever you want, but no single person can tip the scales of an unjust world on their own, even if they know what they’re called to do.
“God’s plan is like a beautiful tapestry,” says Murdock in episode 13, “and the tragedy of being human is that we only see it from the back. With all the ragged threads and the muddy colors. We only get a hint at the true beauty that would be revealed if we could see it from the other side, as God does.”
We’re all gonna lose people. Some of us might have already had to say goodbye to people that we love. How these lives and their ends fit into the tapestry may never be revealed to us, but to live with our losses will always take some type of faith. In a god, in humanity, in ourselves, something that makes it worth it.
After everything. After 3 seasons of pain, of triumph, of the search for meaning and the struggle to keep the faith, there is justice in the world. Matt, Karen, and Foggy can know that all the anger, all the struggle, all the suffering, can be worth it. That the scales can be tipped back and some sort of peace is possible. At least for now.
Daredevil Season 3 is the long journey through hell and finally, beautifully up into the light. Whether or not you believe in an afterlife, heaven and hell can be found right here, right now in the world around us. And salvation can be of the soul, of the world, or our purpose.
I can’t tell you what the greater purpose of every single person’s life is, but I know that life has value.
The scales cannot stay balanced by themselves. The world isn’t fair. No matter what you believe, it just isn’t, not naturally at least.
Maybe our purpose in life is to extend ourselves just a little bit more for the people around us. To reach out. To remember what’s right and not hold ourselves back from embracing it. And, like Daredevil, to truly be someone without fear.