Frank Castle, also known as The Punisher, gets back to basics in season two with a small town tale. No Daredevil (RED!), no super-powered motifs, just Frank and a militia..at first.
We’re unfettered by baggage as Frank meets a mysterious girl on the run (Giorgia Whigham) and the show kind of regresses from there. The second season has at least one “whoa” act of brutality in the first episode (it’s what this incarnation of the character does best) and for a moment I’m thinking “yes, this is what the Netflix Marvel shows need, a reductive take with the same high-energy feel.” Then Billy Russo (Jigsaw) enters the picture and slows the production to a grinding halt, which you pretty much knew was coming based on the end of the first season. Then it starts repeating first season beats, many of which are lows. Then…yeah this is a typical Netflix Marvel show going in circles as it tries to stretch itself over 13 episodes.
Trying to juggle two major storylines at once just doesn’t pan out. On one hand you have the father-daughter connection journey as Frank tries to fight off a religious organization, an act spearheaded by the deadly John Pilgrim, which is kind of based off of the character Mennonite from the comics (equipped with modern commentary that’s completely squandered). Almost immediately the tone completely swaps as we’re meant to sort of feel for Billy Russo — the man who was involved in the killing of Frank’s family and total scumbag — as he struggles to regain his memory. The thing is, both villains meander around throughout 13 episodes and there’s very little to justify why they’re there. Even with the relatively safe reset button pressed early on (and we’re back in New York City, the setting of nearly every Netflix Marvel show!), there’s no effort to make anything concise.
Is it too much to ask to just focus on one conflict? The last season of Daredevil did it to an extent (welcoming Bullseye into the fold as an underling of Kingpin, streamlining both storylines) and it paid off in spades. There’s several moments throughout the second season of Punisher where I completely forgot that either villain was in the picture, which as you can imagine is a massive problem. They lack presence.
Then there’s the way that most of the situations are handled: almost exclusively through Frank. Punisher season two has myriad opportunities to dispense justice for its supporting cast (including Amber Rose Revah’s welcome return as agent Dinah Madani) and instead it passes the buck to Frank. I get it, the show is “The Punisher” after all, but there are other characters involved too, to the point where there are entire episodes where Frank doesn’t show up for roughly half of their runtime.
Of course there are explosive moments where Jon Berthnal gets to showcase his talents and scenes that do a great job of explaining why people would care about the character. Deborah Ann Woll is fantastic as Karen Page in her short stint and companion Giorgia Whigham has plenty of chemistry with the cast. But those effective sections are few and far between, as we’re more often than not forced to watch a series of motifs where the wet blanket antagonists are moping around. Josh Stewart as John ends up doing his best Ryan Gosling impression in one emotional bit (pouty face and Brooklyn voice and all) and Ben Barnes just has nothing to do with all his smugness. We already know that it’s possible for this universe to give us villains with depth, making it all the more disappointing.
We don’t even really get a chance to chew any of the scenery (we’ve seen it all before, and much of the show takes place in bottle episode-like locations like warehouses and a trailer) or enjoy the classic talked-about long take action scene. Unlike many other Netflix pre-releases we were given access to all 13 episodes. It didn’t necessarily help.
If this Netflix Marvel universe goes completely under and the second season of The Punisher is one of the last shows on offer, all I have to say is “what a waste.” Jon Bernthal is perfect for the role and has the chops to play the character in a feature film (so could Charlie Cox with Daredevil for that matter and basically every other Netflix lead outside of Finn Jones) in a market proven by Deadpool. If this is his last chance to be Punisher, someone messed up.