Comic books have always been political, so it's no surprise when comic book movies and TV shows are too. But showrunners like Erik Oleson, who helms Netflix's Daredevil Season 3, don't always have so clear a vision for the message they want to send as Oleson expressed during interviews at New York Comic-Con recently.
"Another one of my goals is not to just tell a story that's mindless entertainment and has lots of 'gee whiz' stuff," Oleson said. "I wanted the show to become part of the conversation about the world we're living in today--to make it relevant."
The last we saw of Matt Murdock--AKA Daredevil (Charlie Cox)--was in The Defenders, when a skyscraper collapsed on him and Elektra. The show eventually revealed that Murdock was still alive, though understandably, he's in bad shape when Daredevil Season 3 picks up his story--read our Season 3 review here.
"I wanted to kick off the season with Matt having an honest emotional reaction to [what happened in The Defenders]," Oleson said. "He's damaged physically, he's damaged emotionally, and he's damaged spiritually. He's very angry at God for what he thought should have happened, and all of the sacrifices he has made have been for naught, and he's been punished for that instead."
Matt's situation will only worsen when fan favorite villain Wilson Fisk, AKA the Kingpin (Vincent D'Onofrio), manipulates his way out of prison and the two face off once again. And it sounds like that's where the show will really start to get political.
"Daredevil is the man without fear, and yet we're all living in a world where our fears are both driving the way that we behave and the way that we vote, and our fears are also being preyed upon by villains who are using our fears to pit us against one another on their quest to rise to power," Oleson said.
"I wanted this season to be prescriptive of how we can defeat the rise of narcissistic tyrants who use our fears against us," he continued. A big part of that involves Karen Page's (Deborah Ann Woll) role as a journalist.
"Karen Page is a representative of the power of the free press that should be left to do what it does best, instead of attacked incessantly--and sometimes physically," Oleson said. "It is [a very topical season]. I wanted it to be. I was pissed off."
Oleson said his father worked for organizations like the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA while he was growing up, and from an early age he's been familiar with "the techniques of psychological warfare."
"Let me just say that I would love for people to stop and think--just think. Whatever you're thinking about, recognize that when you are being targeted with manipulations, there's an agenda behind that, and a villain out in the world who is manipulating you to feel a certain way, to act a certain way, to vote a certain way, to behave a certain way, and has his or her own motives for doing so," he said. "And it's very easy to just go through life on autopilot and not realize that, but as somebody who grew up kind of learning the techniques of psychological warfare, it is very alarming to me to see it being used inside our own country against our own people on a daily basis."
Oleson described the guiding principle--the core theme--that guided his writer's room during production: "You can only be free if you confront your fears, because your fears are what enslave you." That idea will guide the arcs of every character in the show this season, from Matt to Karen to Foggy--and presumably even to Fisk himself.
"The man without fear is not without fear," he said. "Every single true human being on this planet is afraid of something. And the people who understand what you are afraid of, and can use that against you, can rise in power, can manipulate you to their own ends. But also, you can hold yourself back from your true nature and your own best self if you act out of fear. You are listening to the devil on your shoulder, not the angel on your shoulder."
Oleson said he was a huge fan of the message Jessica Jones showrunner Melissa Rosenberg was able to get across with that show's first season, and he was eager to leave his own mark on the Netflix Marvel universe of shows.
"I figured if Marvel was going to give me their flagship show, I was going to use it to say something meaningful," he explained.
Daredevil Season 3 hits Netflix October 19.