A preface to this write-up: I’m a Punisher fan.
Thoughts (Spoiler Free)
“Frank is resigned to die because he’s not sure he deserves to live." -Micro
I loved the series. I came into it a bit worried that it would be 13 episodes of The Punisher running around and gunning people down. But, it was more of a study into the character of Frank Castle than of The Punisher killing people.
I do think that Netflix needs to stop mandating that all shows have seasons that are 13 episodes long. At 13 episodes, this season felt a bit long. There is a story about a soldier suffering from PTSD that could have been completely removed from the season without hindering the main story – this could have removed some 4-5 episodes from the season and tightened up the pacing of the show.
There’s no mistaking this point, because of the nature of the character of The Punisher: This show is violent, gruesome and gory. If you are squeamish, this is not a show for you.
Jon Bernthal is The Punisher and Frank Castle. The two are different even though they are embodied in the same character. Brenthal seamlessly brings the rage and anger of The Punisher together with the soft and quiet of Frank Castle.
The score by Tyler Bates (John Wick) is excellent. The theme for The Punisher himself is memorable.
There are two vigilantes that I am a fan of, Batman and Punisher. Other than being vigilantes, the two diverge greatly. It is this dichotomy that I find most interesting between these two characters.
Batman is a detective that avoids taking life, he does his own investigations and fights crime. He knows that taking criminals off the streets and letting them go through the criminal justice system means that there’s a good chase that the criminals will end up on the street again.
The Punisher on the other hand is a hammer and uses brute force to fight crime and exact punishment. The Punisher is unflinching in his fight and has no regrets taking the lives of criminals or those that he has deemed criminals.
While Batman has depth, The Punisher has always been black and white and straight-forward. The Netflix series The Punisher takes the character and adds nuance to him, which for some is not great and for others is welcomed. I fall into the latter crowd.
I came into the series after being introduced to Jon Bernthal’s Punisher in Daredevil season 2. In Daredevil, Frank Castle/The Punisher was more straight-forward, he was the bringer of death to those that had done wrong to him and his family. What creator Steve Lightfoot has done with the series though is add to the character and explore Frank Castle more and let The Punisher hang out in the background. It is a fascinating look into Frank Castle’s psyche and adds much to the character that hasn’t been shown on screen.
Thomas Jane’s Frank Castle from the 2004 film The Punisher has always been my favorite. Jane was able to bring some semblance of humanity to the character that neither Ray Stevenson (2008’s Punisher: War Zone) nor Dolph Lundgren (1989’s bizarre film The Punisher) could. Jon Bernthal, after this season of The Punisher, has officially knocked Thomas Jane from being the best Frank Castle/Punisher. While Jane’s Castle was an angry drunk, Bernthal’s Castle is a man who’s been hollowed by the loss of his family and continues to deal with their ghosts.
Spoilers From Here On Out
The season opens with Castle finishing up business from the second season of Daredevil and killing off the rest of the people involved in his family’s death. He then broods (and broods and broods) while knocking down brick walls – a bit cliched, but it works.
It isn’t until he is contacted by Micro (the fantastic Ebon Moss-Bachrach) that he is pulled out of “retirement”. The series then falls into its main storyline of Frank and Micro (his real name is David) tracking down those in the last operation that Frank was involved with in order to punish them. Part of this storyline also involves a DHS Agent Madani (Amber Rose Revah) who is also tracking down what has happened back then.
There is a story about a soldier suffering from PTSD (Daniel Webber) which for most of the season seems disconnected from the main story and even when the writers connect it up, it doesn’t mesh well. It is a good story by itself about a soldier dealing with reintegrating back into society after his tours of duty. But, it does slow down the main storyline and causes the main storyline to come to a screeching halt for two episodes near the end.
“Oh yea, that’s really subtle. [They’ll] never see you coming." -Micro
I liked the dynamic between The Punisher and Micro in the series. The casting of Berntal and Moss-Bachrach are perfect and they have great chemistry onscreen.
I loved how The Punisher is a blunt instrument of destruction while Micro is a scalpel. Both need each other equally and compliment each other. Castle couldn’t function without Lieberman (aka Micro) because Lieberman brings computer smarts, drones and thought to the mission. Lieberman couldn’t function without Castle as Castle brings the punishment.
While I like how they added nuance to Castle, the ending where Castle lets Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) live was stretching it. It did allow Castle to create his archenemy, Jigsaw.
The cinematography throughout the series is excellent. There is a consistent and very well implemented use of the one point perspective throughout the series.
I expected action from the series and it was there. The action was not as well-done as I thought it could have been. A good thing was that it was not as chaotic as Michael Bay action. A bad thing is that the action was not as creative and dynamic as the action in John Wick (the original). The action in The Punisher was pedestrian at best.
Frank Castle can take a beating and keep on going. He is a tank. And while most of the series is well-grounded in reality, the quickness of Castle’s recoveries from gunshots and brutal beatings is a bit unrealistic.
The bits in the series with the Lieberman family were a bit of a drag. Though, Jaime Ray Newman and Ripley Sobo both delivery some great performances as David’s wife Sarah and daughter. The Lieberman son was just annoying. They only seemed to be there as minor characters that were waiting for their plot point to arrive (ie. being kidnapped).
The same can be said about Madani’s mother and father. They show up and say things but are never really fleshed out. They too are there waiting for their plot point to arrive (ie. help heal Castle).
A more substantial supporting character was Curtis (Jason R. Moore) who plays Castle’s one friend who is keeping the secret of Castle being still alive. Curtis is a character that is the opposite of Castle, he has worked hard to reintegrate himself into society. He has put his past behind him and moved ahead. And most importantly he is actively working to help other veterans to also move their lives ahead.
Paul Schulze is chewing scenery as the major baddie in the show. And C. Thomas Howell turns in a decent performance as the one character who by name has to be a bad guy: Carson Wolf.