There was no shortage of comic book riches at the disposal of Erik Oleson as he began his first-ever stint as a showrunner, on the third season of Daredevil.
During Oleson’s initial conversations about the plot of season three (which began streaming Friday on Netflix), Marvel television producer Jeph Loeb laid out all the Daredevil tales he could lean on for influence. Before Oleson was a who’s who of the Man Without Fear’s greatest comic stories, told by the likes of industry giants Brian Michael Bendis, Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada, not to mention the holy grail of Daredevil, Frank Miller’s Born Again storyline.
Even Loeb himself had something to offer, having written his classic collaboration with artist Tim Sale, Daredevil: Yellow, a look at one of the hero’s deepest romantic wounds.
Oleson knew his job was to piece together the comics that had come to define his hero and try to make something unforgettable, both for Daredevil newcomers and those who had read every comic book page.
“Fans of the comic books, they know what happened in the comic books and I don’t necessarily want them to predict on the show,” Oleson, a native of Clifton, Virginia, said. “We were all working very hard to make sure that it was an unpredictable turn of events and that comic fans would be able to get everything that they want, but not feel like they knew what was going to happen next.”
Oleson’s first major decision for season three was to begin it with no superhero suit.
“[Matt Murdock] is damaged, physically, spiritually, mentally after events in The Defenders, and he’s incapable of being the Daredevil that he was in season two with his ninja moves and wire stunts and all of that,” Oleson said. “I wanted to get back to the core idea of Matt as the boxer’s son and the [moments] where his fighting style was more brutal and kind of close in combat kind of stuff.”
There was also strategic production value to Daredevil not being ready to raise his horns in the New York night. Oleson knew that one of those big Daredevil comic book moments he could play with was when an impostor goes around in a Daredevil suit smearing the hero’s name. The false devil? Bullseye, perhaps Daredevil’s most formidable foe in the comics and a villain fans have been clamoring to see.
“That was another way that we could kind of really deliver for fans a moment that would blow their minds, but that they were not expecting,” Oleson said.
Wilson Bethel plays Bullseye, who starts out as FBI agent Benjamin Poindexter, a sharpshooter who falls under the influence of Daredevil big bad the Kingpin (who is under house arrest on the FBI’s watch). Bethel was thrilled that when Daredevil is first “seen” in season three, he’s the man under the mask, which announces the arrival of an anticipated foe.
“Any time you step into a superhero suit, it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up a little bit,” Bethel said. “Actually putting the [suit] on and then getting to square off against Daredevil in his own costume and get to see that scene, which we got to see for the first time at [New York] Comic Con, that was among the most exhilarating experiences of my career.”
In season three, the Daredevil suit proved just as valuable when it wasn’t around as when it was in front of the camera. That was never more evident than when Olsen and his production team plotted a jailhouse riot with lead actor Charlie Cox in the middle of it, but as Matt Murdock, not Daredevil, as his fighting abilities risked giving away his identity.
Oleson and episode director Alex Garcia Lopez wanted to film a single-shot, eleven-minute-long scene of Cox literally fighting for his life to escape the prison after the Kingpin orders a hit on Murdock.
The scene would require top notch performances from everyone, including the production crew, who had to position themselves to not get in the way of a scene that would have no cuts. Oleson asked for a television rarity from higher ups at Marvel and Netflix: He wanted to rehearse the scene fully for a day with no cameras. He was granted that request.
The result was a scene that should go down as Marvel and Netflix’s greatest “hallway fight,” a trope that has come to be expected in these superhero streaming shows.
“It was, as you can probably imagine, just terrific jolt of adrenaline to everybody in the cast and the crew that they were able to pull off this epic sequence early on in our production schedule,” Oleson said. “It set a bar... the morale of the crew continued to be insanely high all the way through the finale, in no small part because of what we managed to pull off with this sequence.”
Oleson’s only regret was that he was in LA writing while the scene was being filmed in New York.
Cox, who Oleson said did phenomenal work with his stunt-double to pull off the scene, recalls not being confident they’d be able to make it happen.
“It was unbelievable. It’s probably our greatest achievement,” Cox said. “I thought it was asking to much. It was such a cool achievement for all of us.”
Riding high on the filming of a scene that might come to define his season three tenure, Oleson says his overall goal of making his Daredevil a mix of season one and The Sopranos seemed within reach.
“I think... ,” Oleson said with a pause. “We may have just pulled it off.”
Don’t miss it
Daredevil season three is now streaming on Netflix.