[Some minor spoilers]
Most know that I’m a huge Punisher fan. He’s one of my favorite Marvel heroes and I’ve been reading the books off and on since I was quite young, but once Garth Ennis took over the character I made sure to read almost everything I could get my hands on. I was immensely excited when we heard that Frank would be entering Marvel’s Netflix universe, and his parts of Daredevil’s second season were truly fantastic—show-stealing. It was no surprise Castle would be given his own adventure, and the wait for this show was long but felt like an old friend returning home.
“Welcome back, Frank.”
I enjoyed the intro and title sequence with the spinning guns, black and white motif, and appropriate music. This was one I didn’t skip much when Netflix gave me the option. It also has a good opening episode that is subtle but feels like it embodies the character. The first taste proved they knew the character and wanted to bring him up to the potential we all know he has, but it has other less interesting characters to introduce as well. Everything centering on the Homeland Security portion of the plot was my least favorite part, and that continues throughout most of the series. I wanted to get to know Madani more and like her as a character because there was definitely something there, but that doesn’t happen until the end and could have had so much more to it. The story can drag at points, especially while setting up a lot of the ‘why’ and ‘how’ but people who enjoy the political side of these stories might not feel this way. I can understand why this won’t be gripping as many viewers as previous Marvel shows did, but it reads like an Ennis story that stays well-grounded and only disappoints in some small moments. This may also be the slowest paced series Netflix has done as well, but there are a few surprises and ample payoffs for invested viewers.
Now that I’ve said that though, let me try a deeper cut.
I love this show, but where it excels is by trying to give Frank Castle a little more heart, and a lot more motivation other than just his dead family. If Daredevil season two was the Punisher’s origin story, this was the personal side for all of that. There are so many scenes where Frank attempts to stay on the outside of everything, away from emotions and personal relationships, save for a few, but his pain is clear and he needs something. The group therapy portions show this really well, letting others talk, but we know that Frank is right there with them, and that is shown clearly at the end. A lot of his memories center on his wife, who seemingly kept him grounded, and how he was a father to two children that, got to see his stern and playful sides. Despite his best intentions, Castle was never a perfect father—helping to make his family feel less like glorified martyrs, not relying as much on their death—and here he must face that he may have been more responsible for their deaths than originally thought. This isn’t the Punisher with the crusade just yet, as he contemplates just laying low a few times, with everyone telling him to go have the proper life that he’s earned.
Micro is a fantastic character as well, played by someone (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) who pours out emotion and fits into Frank’s world almost purely through circumstance. He comes close to being a little too much at times, but the moments where he plays as the hero’s conscience and foil make up for that. The best relationship really is between Micro and Frank, watching them clash, dance around each other, almost become partners, then gently push away with newfound respect—that’s what dating in New York is like. That awkward conversation about Micro’s penis was strangely endearing, especially considering what Castle did with his wife. Micro’s family situation is weird and mirrors Punisher’s dead wife and kids. There is an almost touching scene where Frank has to show some tough love to a little shit with a knife and it says a lot about the character as a father as well as what is missing in his life, again making the loss of his loved ones seem more important. Lastly, I love the trust issues that switch, as the protagonist deals with betrayal from his brotherhood, as he finds a new family of sorts; so worried about not getting close to anyone, potentially experiencing more loss, but also not trusting of those who actually want to help, while almost giving into those who are actually out to hurt him. It’s just good character writing. All of this together makes Frank less of a one-sided character with a large arsenal, and his family more than just bodies in a refrigerator as lazy motivation.
There are other issues to unpack here, like the plot with the Senator dealing with gun control issues, something that makes the show feel like it is very up to date on current affairs, but ideas that Punisher comics have covered well in the past. The show is very bloody, probably the bloodiest for the Marvel series, as it should be. Punisher gets the shit beaten out of him more than John McClane. It, oddly, may be the sexiest series so far as well, but it is a troublesome reflection of that world where PTSD, toxic relationships, and desire for affections meet fantasy. It often feels wrong.
I liked it, and will be watching again, probably finding a few more things to nitpick, but the show gets a lot of the visuals right—as long as the lack of color doesn’t matter, but that too fits the tone—and much of the combat looks good, while fitting the tone and source material. Little things like the strategy different characters use, how the ending works with the creation of Jigsaw—Ben Barnes was fantastic—seeing the War Van, the arsenal on the wall, that sweet hideout, all fantastic for this fan and felt like it was made by other fans. I know that deals may prevent it, but I want more Punisher; in other people’s shows if need be, but I’m hoping Frank Castle gets a second season to shine and kill again.