One word was posted to the writers' room wall throughout Marvel's Daredevil Season 3's production: fear. Fear that you're losing the fight against your own demons. Fear that you will fail those you love most. Fear that your city, your country, your world is being corrupted by a merciless, hate-fueled, power-hungry entity.
How do you overcome that fear?
"The controlling idea of the season was revolved around fear and the idea was that we can only be free when we confront our fears because our fears are what enslave us," showrunner Erik Oleson told SYFY WIRE in the wake of Daredevil Season 3's premiere. "So every character is dealing with a fear this season, which they may or may not be conscious of but is fueling their behaviors."
**This story contains spoilers for Marvel's Daredevil Season 3.**
The most obvious forms of fear come from the series' namesake, Matt Murdock's Daredevil, played by Charlie Cox. After getting a building dropped on him (literally) at the end of Marvel's The Defenders, Matt is left drowning in self-doubt at the beginning of Season 3, clinging to the shreds of his belief. And just as he begins to pull himself from the trenches (or, maybe more fittingly, back into the trenches) an old specter of that fear regroups for its most vicious attack yet.
Wilson Fisk, played by Vincent D'Onofrio, turns the world on its ear to exact revenge on the Devil of Hell's Kitchen. The Kingpin introduces new players to the game — most notably Ben Poindexter (Wilson Bethel), aka Bullseye — and sets out to take control of New York City and run a smear campaign against Daredevil. There's talk of indictments; of political corruption; of the power of free speech; of when and if people should be taking the law into their own hands, especially when someone else is making and breaking the rules to their own advantage.
That so much of Daredevil Season 3 echoes our own world right now is not a coincidence. Fear, Oleson says, is something that is all too relevant in our lives right now.
"There are villains in the real world who are using fear to divide us against one another, to bring out our worst selves, to bring out, literally, the darker aspects of humanity by using fear in a quest for power," he says. "Those are the Marvel villains that have been written about forever. Those are also the villains that Shakespeare wrote about.
"It's amazing to me that there seems to be this curse — that we're not learning from history. We're repeating it. And when I was given the flagship Marvel [Netflix] show that was going to be seen worldwide by tens of millions of people, if not millions-plus… I wanted to say something universal about humanity and the way that we should face down people who are using fear to divide us so that we be our best selves."
But Oleson wasn't just looking to point out the flaws in our own world and then leave viewers hanging. For him, "the hidden structure for Season 3 was about the prescription for how to defeat people who use fear to defeat us." Three solutions are presented, which Oleson calls "positive and Marvel-friendly ideas which speak to the world that we're all experiencing at the moment."
These solutions are the power of a free press, the power of the law, and the power of collective action.
Each of Season 3's heroes — as Daredevil is far from the only hero here — undergoes their own journey using one or more of these solutions.
The season's most under-appreciated hero, Oleson says, is "everyman" Ray Nadeem (Jay Ali). Oleson says he was most interested in exploring a character who gets caught up in the world of superheroes and "narcissistic personality types" like Wilson Fisk. As Matt, Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), and Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) embody the three solutions — action, free press, and law, respectively — Ray struggles to grasp at even one of those solutions as he finds himself falling deeper and deeper into Fisk's plot.
His fear drives some of the season's most emotional, relevant storylines, fleshing out a character who could have been a mere plot device if not given careful consideration from day one.
"I'm not a believer [in] sidekicks," Oleson says. "I think everybody is the hero of their own story."
Ultimately, it's Ray's death that drives the season's final confrontations. Matt dons his Daredevil mantle once again to hunt down Fisk; and Ray's final act of defiance — the taped confession that his grieving wife manages to hand off to Karen — provides for the journalistic and legal consequences of Fisk's actions.
"Fear... was the common thread that you really only understand when you look at the whole tapestry of the season," Oleson says. "We even kind of winked to that in Matt's final scene with [Sister] Maggie, that you couldn't see the pattern as God does of the tapestry, you only see the threads on the other side." But the audience gets to experience every point of view this season, he says, providing for a full view of the tapestry. If you can figure out the pattern, you can figure out how the world should look.
Just like the tapestry, it's only when the threads — or, in this case, the three solutions — come together that the heroes can work past the fear and hate that's overtaken their lives and their world and take Fisk down once and for all.
Marvel's Daredevil Season 3 is now available on Netflix.