TV Review: The Punisher Season Two!
Despite being on borrowed time, the Netflix/Marvel Studios train has kept chugging along. After the cancellation of Daredevil, it’s all but assured that Frank Castle is next on the chopping block, but he’s not going down without a fight, and if there’s two things to take away from The Punisher‘s second season, it’s this: Frank Castle knows how to fight, and Jon Bernthal can hold together a bunch of disparate storylines and keep you still intrigued, even if the end result isn’t quite up to par with what he deserves.
Picking up a few months after the end of the first season, The Punisher’s sophomore outing finds Frank Castle assuming a new identity as “Peter” in rural Michigan. He’s set aside his life of violence, preferring to spend his time at the bar, winding down with “one beer at a time”. But like everything in Frank Castle’s life, violence has a way of finding him, and after coming across a young transient girl (Giorgia Whigham) who runs afoul of some very dangerous men, Frank finds himself on a journey that takes him back to New York City, and in the crosshairs of Billy Russo, the man who killed his family and is now permanently scarred physically and mentally by his last run in with The Punisher.
Let’s get this out of the way first: this season is a bit of a mess. When it was first announced that this season would feature not only Jigsaw (who was set up at the end of last season), and a new villain that’s part of a religious cult, I assumed that this season would follow a similar format of Daredevil‘s second season, with a few episodes devoted to one storyline, and the remainder focusing on the other. However, the show-runners behind this season try to cram both storylines together, and it doesn’t really work all that well. John Pilgrim (Josh Stewart) starts off as a pretty interesting villain who could challenge America’s views on religion (much like how The Punisher is a statement on America’s view on guns), but once Frank makes his was back to New York, Pilgrim is largely an afterthought, only appearing a handful of times. Billy Russo fares better, mainly because Ben Barnes does a good job portraying him, even if the character should really look a lot more gross after the injuries he sustained last season.
Speaking of Russo, the decision to have Jigsaw’s scars be mental as well as physical makes sense, but the way the character looks makes it seem less like it was a decision made by the show-runners before they started filming, and more like one made when actor Ben Barnes decided he didn’t want to be covered in make up. That being said, Barnes actually makes Russo a little sympathetic at first, as the trauma from his facial scars and fight with Frank Castle have left him with short term memory loss. However, once he remembers what happened to him (and why it happened), Russo quickly goes back on the hunt for Castle, with the help of his psychiatrist turned lover, Dr. Dumont (Floriana Lima).
One of the frustrating aspects of this season actually centers around Dr. Dumont. The fact that this seasoned professional is not only attracted to her patient, but is willing to upend her life to be with him and his criminal empire is pretty absurd, and just seemed like the writers taking the cheapest (and laziest) way out. There’s no real explanation for why a doctor who’s seen hundreds of patients would be willing to change out her life for Russo, and it’s easily the weakest parts of the season.
While there’s some definite narrative flaws with The Punisher‘s second season, Jon Bernthal remains consistent throughout. I’ve been a fan of his since the first season of The Walking Dead, and now in his third time out playing Frank Castle, it’s safe to say he’s the best live-action take on the character ever. His casting as the character will go down as one of the best in the entire superhero genre. Bernthal is able to find the small nuggets of humanity that still exist within Frank Castle, and those are showcased really effectively in his scenes with Amy, the teenage girl he rescues from John Pilgrim’s crew, and with Karen Page (Deborah Ann-Wol) in her obligatory cameo episode. However, he also doesn’t shy away from the fact that at his core, Frank Castle is good at one thing: killing, and when he gets into rage mode, you better clear out, cause it’s going to get BLOODY.
More so than the first season, Punisher features some absurdly violent action sequences. Numerous times I winced and audibly gasped at what I was seeing with my own eyes, and I have a pretty high tolerance for gore. The action sequences are well choreographed and pretty inventive, the highlight being Frank taking on a bunch of giant Russians in a gym in the fifth episode. Trust me, uou’ll never look at gym equipment quite the same way again.
There’s a high likelihood that this will be the final season for The Punisher, and I’d love to say that it would serve like a good send off like Daredevil‘s third season was. Unfortunately that’s not quite the case here, as the series flip-flops antagonists’ importance almost on an episode by episode basis. And yet, there are plenty of fantastic moments throughout the season. In contrast to the binge-culture that Netflix has created and cultivated, this season may have benefitted from not being released all at once, where character motivations and plot changes are more noticeable than when you have a week to take it all in. But as it stands right now, The Punisher’s sophomore season set up a lot of interesting ideas, but doesn’t have the time to really dive into them. Yet it’s kept afloat thanks to some solid performances from Ben Barnes and Jon Bernthal, and by showcasing this controversial character in a way that’s not only intelligent, but makes you rethink the character as well.