The Punisher Season 2 Review
The Netflix landscape has changed drastically since Punisher’s debut in the second season of Daredevil. While The Punisher and Jessica Jones were in production for their second and third seasons respectively, Disney moved forward with their plans of launching a streaming service which likely led to the cancellation of the Netflix properties. Netflix made several leadership changes and set large in-house production goals for the coming years. So it’s safe to assume that this is the last time we’ll see Frank Castle on Netflix.
Frank uses his free pass from DHS to start a new life in the middle of nowhere. The show introduces a love interest in the form of a bartender named Juliana played by Alexa Davalos. Frank quickly works his way into her heart and makes friends with her son. However his peace is short lived when Amy (Giorgia Whigham) attempts to lose a group of assassins in Juliana’s bar. Frank quickly assesses the situation which leads to a lot of people dying in dramatic fashion. In the first episode you’re also introduced to the enigmatic John Pilgrim played by Josh Stewart. Pilgrim’s faction has strong political ties that should be the driving force of the entire season. Even though the show dances around the character’s ties to Neo Nazis and religious fundamentalist; it still draws you in. There’s even an angle that’s barely explored with a politician that’s in the closet about his sexuality which is the main reason that Amy is on the run. These are the best parts of the season and they take a backseat to a half baked, undeserved, pseudo redemption angle for Billy Russo (Ben Barnes).
Last season we learned that it was Billy who killed Frank’s family and set him on his path. Frank paid him back by beating him half to death and cutting up his face. Most would say he got off pretty easy considering he betrayed and murdered the closest thing he had to a family. So why would you spend the majority of a season on something that was already worked out in the previous season? Instead of fleshing out the more interesting and timely far right wing political angle, the show decides reestablish the fact that Billy is trash and isn’t worthy of forgiveness. Outside of the great action scenes, you’ll spend most of the New York arc wondering “Why are we here?”
Steve Lightfoot returns as the series showrunner. Lightfoot is excellent at breaking down the psychology of characters. The best example of this is his work as a writer and producer on NBC’s Hannibal. But similar to Hannibal’s third and final season, the series seems to bit a lost early on and never seems to truly find it’s footing. This is the only season of the Netflix Marvel shows that does not start in New York, and they should have stayed away from New York. One of the great things about Punisher comics is that they can take you from Middle America to Moscow. Other issues are Lightfoot’s interpretation of Jigsaw. For one he doesn’t look like Jigsaw at all. Lexi Alexander’s Punisher: War Zone actually gave us the best live action version of the character. Secondly it feels like Lightfoot is trying to do what we saw in Hannibal without the actual groundwork that makes those kind of arcs interesting. In Hannibal they attempt to humanize a monster who seems to still have some kind of code. Because the audience knows Billy has no code or humanity, the writers attempt to reset him with this flimsy amnesia/PTSD angle. All it does is eat up time from the more interesting parts of the season.
When it comes to live action adaptations of comics, you assume liberties will be taken when it comes to realism. Even when showrunners and producers stress how grounded they want something to be, you allow them some leeway because it’s still a fantasy setting. However there are some real head scratchers that could have been handled by a sentence of dialog or 5 seconds of footage. Like characters magically finding who they’re looking for towards the end of the show because they’re rushing to wrap up plot strings. Then there’s the bit about Billy escaping police custody but no one thinks to put out an APB. For someone who is on the run from several law enforcement agencies, Billy is public a lot. I’m talking walking around in broad daylight on a daily basis.
Overall, it’s worth a watch if you really need your Marvel fix. The weak narrative is made tolerable by the excellent cast and great action. What the second season of The Punisher does best is make you appreciate Daredevil and Luke Cage.
2.5 out of 5 Stars
Punisher Season 2 drops on Netflix on Friday, January 18, 2019.