Another rip your guts out season of comic vigilante “fun”.
After a stunning premiere season there was nowhere to go but down. And, unfortunately, that’s where Season Two of Netflix/Marvel series ‘The Punisher‘ goes, but only just a little. Still, this unflinchingly brutal take on anti-hero Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) stands as the most faithful and most heartfelt interpretation we’re ever likely to get.
This season was bittersweet viewing. Knowing that Netflix was purging this show (as all of their other Marvel properties) immediately after its airing made each shootout, back-alley brawl, and Punisher scream all the more painful catharsis.
Truthfully, by Season Two’s end I feel that The Punisher got his due. With much of ‘Daredevil’ Season Two devoted to Frank Castle and now two 13-episode seasons there’s not really much of Frank’s story left to tell. The Punisher, quite simply put, exists as nothing more complex than a street vigilante who mercilessly kills any/all bad guys he can. So once all his personal sh*t gets addressed–as it now has–whatever character defining moments were needed have come to pass. C’ est la vie.
Castle begins this season just looking for some peace. He’s made it as far as Backwater, Michigan when old habits reemerge. And quickly Frank Castle is returned to the stuff of killing in order to save someone. This time it’s a wayward teenager Amy (Giorgia Whigham) needing help as a mysterious cult has sent an army of assassins after her…and now, as her protector, Castle.
Early on we get a couple of memorable shootouts/fight scenes, including a killer bar room boogie and an ‘Assault on Precinct 13‘ styled police station siege. And then, after Frank’s thought dead nemesis back in New York City–Billy Russo (Ben Barnes)–escapes from his hospital bed, Homeland Security agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) commandeers Castle and escorts him and his new ward back to the city for a repeat showdown.
And here’s where things unravel. It isn’t enough for Castle and Amy to contend with a horde of assassins–led by preacher with a past John Pilgrim (Josh Stewart)–they now must fight a two front war with last year’s big-bad, Barnes now reborn as the scarred, amnesiac “Jigsaw“. And, interestingly, with two complete stories over only 13 episodes things still feel bloated with extraneous side-character melodrama and retread lessons not learned.
I love the father/daughter building between Castle and Amy. I love the attention this show gives returning military veterans and all the crap they must deal with. I love the quasi-partnerships further developed between Madani and Castle and between Castle and his ex-military buddy, the boundlessly optimistic Curtis (Jason R. Moore). I even
love like this season’s attempts to humanize the new hench-“monster” Pilgrim in giving him near Castle-level angst and layering. And, of course, the blood-drenched action is amazing. You won’t find this quality or comic-book brutality anywhere outside perhaps ‘Logan‘.
However, the rest is merely filler. Russo “all broken” is no longer the presence/threat he was last year and most of Madani’s personal sh*t also seems like just wheels spinning. Even Frank Castle starts to wear out his welcome, repeating the simple mistake of refusing anyone’s help when he needs it the most; resulting in continuous rinse and repeat do-overs until we finally get to the finale. And his wavering between conscientious anti-hero and outright psychopath murderer is jarring–sometimes within the same episode.
–Special nod to Deborah Ann Woll’s brief return as “Karen Page” (another long goodbye as her other show ‘Daredevil’ is also done). And to Alexa Davalos (‘The Man in the High Castle’) who provides a nice change of scenery for this season’s early episodes.
I went into Season Two of ‘The Punisher‘ expecting something dark and action-packed and hoping for a solid send off for this true-to-comic vigilante. And I left satisfied. Despite the uneven plotting (plodding), unnecessary bloat, and a looming sense of “seen it all before” it stands as a solid punctuation mark. We even get a nice little epilogue sequence to offer some resolution and a little hope for a future we’ll probably never get to see.