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Marvel’s The Punisher is constantly surprising. It’s surprising that it’s so surprising. An unexpected spin-off from season two of Marvel’s Daredevil, its potential seemed limited: an ex-marine is a bit hacked off that his wife and children are killed by gangsters, so tools himself up to the nines with all the guns and ammo he can get his hands on to punish those responsible. And in an age of the alt-right and mass shootings, an angry white man shooting up the neighbourhood because he thinks it’s gone to the dogs doesn’t really have great optics.
Yet, season one of Marvel’s The Punisher was one of TMINE’s Top N shows of 2018, a musing on men’s role in society, class, the brotherhood of soldiering and the nature of war. It saw ‘The Punisher’ aka Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) facing up to former best friend Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) in New York to deal with moral infractions by the CIA, the alt-right and corporate greed, all while slowly realising that maybe he can no longer fit into a family thanks to the violence he’s seen – and meted out.
More surprisingly still, there was actually very little ‘punishing’. Indeed, I pointed out that “Frank Castle hardly feels like ‘The Punisher’ at all.”
Season two isn’t that different in that regard. Indeed, contrary to Netflix’s standard “first season as a pilot” rule, I’d say here, it’s “two seasons as a pilot”, with Frank only becoming The Punisher in the season’s – and perhaps the series’ – final scene. Up to that point, what we have is a curious retread of the first season, but with perspectives switched.
Season two opens with everyone in very different places from where they started season one. Russo is laid up in a coma in hospital, his face now a mangled ‘jigsaw’ thanks to Frank’s work in season one. Department of Homeland Security special agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) may now be in charge of New York’s DHS operations, but she’s obsessed with Russo, visiting him every day in hospital, convinced he’s faking his coma and, when he wakes up, his apparent amnesia about what he did in the first season.
Meanwhile, Frank’s in a good place, travelling the US. Unfortunately, one day he goes to the wrong bar and ends up having to save Giorgia Whigham’s Amy Bendix from a group of highly trained killers. Soon, fundamentalist Christian ‘John Pilgrim’ (Shooter‘s Josh Stewart) is on his tail trying to kill both him and Bendix.
You can bet, of course, that those two plot threads are going to intertwine, but their resolution? Maybe not what you’d expect from The Punisher.