Thank God ‘The Punisher’ isn’t About ‘Punishing’

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I recently finished watching Marvel’s: The Punisher, the Netflix TV series starring Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle, and boy did it surprise me. I’ve had my fill of Netflix Marvel shows less because of their quantity and more because of their quality as of late. Daredevil‘s second season disappointed me, and Iron Fist and The Defenders were met with critical failure. Still, if there was one good thing about Daredevil‘s second season, it was Bernthal’s Punisher, and seeing a show revolving around that character had its appeal for that alone. Make no mistake though, I did not have high expectations for a number of reasons.

The Punisher as a character has always seemed like a pathetic power fantasy to me. An angry military vet who shoots and kills criminals and “thugs” who he feels “deserve” it. Basically a gun toting fever dream for gun nuts who think having a gun is the same thing as being an arbiter of justice. This might makes right ideology expressed by a lunatic always worked best for villains, so the idea of the Punisher being any kind of hero has never sat right with me. The show however, accomplishes the impossible task of making me care about Frank Castle, and root for him. It does this by getting all the “punishing” out of the way in an opening montage, and by focusing on interpersonal connections rather than the rot of the criminal underworld. In fact, it has a more searing indictment of the US government and military than it does about anything relating to street gangs, which is very welcome.

At its heart, Punisher is a show about family, friends, and connections. Frank goes to a dark place not just because of the trauma of war and losing his family, but from an unwillingness to accept help or reach out to someone. Even before the death of his wife and kids, he was degenerating as a father and a husband, scaring his kids and engaging in borderline abusive behaviour. That was a brave wrinkle the writers added to Frank’s backstory, and really helps in pushing forward the main themes of the story. Another way they do that is with his relationship with the main villain of the season, who is one of the MCU’s only good villains (seriously, you can count them all on one hand), not only because of how charismatic the actor portraying them was, but because of how well they contrasted with Frank as a character and what he was missing as a person (and perhaps what he also had all along).

Punisher was far more emotional and cerebral than it needed to be, and I’m so grateful for it. It interrogated Frank as a man, it had fantastic side characters, it had firm and consistent messaging, it didn’t feel like a drag even at a hefty thirteen episodes, and it was never completely gave in to the character’s worst impulses. I loved it almost as much as I was surprised by it.

Quote of the Day:

“God damn Frankie, I love to watch you work.”

– Billy Russo, The Punisher.

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