The Punisher returns with a vengeance



The Punisher, played by Jon Bernthal, uses his skills as a former Marine to kill those responsible for his family’s death. Thanks to Bernthal’s performance, this series is one of the best superhero shows available today.

Ian Fertig, Staff Writer

In the incredible first season of “The Punisher,” the story of the one-man firing squad who metes out his own deadly version of justice continues. The only question viewers should ask themselves before watching is if they have the stomach for this show’s spectacular amount of violence.

‘The Punisher’ stands triumphantly on its own, telling the haunting story of Frank Castle’s continuing war against his enemies.”

— Staff Writer Ian Fertig

Starring Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle (The Punisher), this series was an epic success. After the character was introduced in “Daredevil” in March 2016, viewers loved him so much that Netflix called for a standalone series for The Punisher that April. This series exists in the ever-growing Defenders universe, but is only closely tied to the events in “Daredevil,” allowing viewers to watch it without binging four other shows. “The Punisher” stands triumphantly on its own, telling the haunting story of Frank Castle’s continuing war against his enemies.

For those who missed Frank Castle’s introduction in “Daredevil: Season Two,” here’s your quick recap:

Frank Castle was a decorated, skilled combat veteran, having served in Iraq and Afghanistan. When he returned home to his wife, daughter, and son, Castle took his family to Central Park for a homecoming celebratory picnic. While enjoying a carousel ride, they were all caught in a three-way gang shootout that resulted in the deaths of Frank’s entire family. Frank survived, vowing to seek retribution through whatever means necessary. Frank violently eliminated the gangs responsible for his family’s death. The man who set up the deal was revealed to be Colonel Ray Schoonover, who served with Frank Castle overseas. At the end of season two of “Daredevil,” Frank killed Schoonover, destroyed his own home, and escaped alive, still wanted by the NYPD for thirty-seven charges of murder.

Created by Steve Lightfoot, “The Punisher” begins with the apparent end of Frank’s war. Once the last members of the Irish gang, the Cartel, and the Dogs of Hell are eliminated, Frank destroys his vigilante outfit and takes on the name Pete Castiglione, living peacefully in New York. However, Frank is soon pulled back into the world of violence and death that he reigned in during the events of “Daredevil: Season Two.” This time, his enemies will be far more dangerous, and he won’t fight them alone.

Throughout “The Punisher,” Frank’s inner demons claw their way to the surface as he mourns his family. The very first scene of the show depicts Castle and his daughter playing guitar together. They’re smiling one moment, then the scene jumps to Frank playing alone, some time after her death. In that first minute, viewers can see and in some small way feel Frank’s heartbreak. The dark lighting of the present day compared to a bright, sunlit room in the past only heightens the effect here.

Emotional flashbacks and dreams like this one appear throughout the show, each one as soul-shattering as the last. Jon Bernthal conveys the tragedy of losing a wife and two children on a profound level. Don’t be surprised if “the Punisher” makes you cry, because Frank Castle’s life is easily one of the most emotional stories told on television.

As can be expected with an independent series, “The Punisher” features many new characters. Ebon Moss-Bachrach plays Micro, a former NSA analyst who becomes Frank’s “Guy In The Chair.” Micro’s wife Sarah Lieberman, is portrayed by Jaime Ray Newman. Amber Rose Revah plays Homeland Security Agent Dinah Madani, whose personal desire for justice is only topped by Frank’s. Michael Nathanson plays Sam Stein, Dinah’s partner.

While these new characters may not seem as important as Frank Castle in the early episodes of the season, they quickly become just as entertaining. Even Sam, who seems no more or less than the comic relief, has a pivotal role to play in the story.

Jon Bernthal and Ebon Moss-Bachrach are a fantastic pair to see interact on screen. At first, the partnership of Micro and Frank is driven solely by necessity as their personalities clash. While Frank is quiet, stoic, and aggressive, Micro is the complete opposite: talkative, harmless, and emotional. Neither character particular likes the other, but they have both suffered and share a common enemy. As their partnership becomes a friendship, their banter provides levity to an otherwise very dark and gritty show. Homeland Security Agents Madani and Stein show a similar arc during the series, where Madani’s seriousness is balanced by Stein’s comical nature.

Since Frank’s time in the Marines is a significant focus of the show, some of his fellow soldiers appear with major roles to play. Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) and Curtis Hoyle (Jason R. Moore) have both created lives for themselves after ending their military careers. Billy has started his own company, and Curtis has learned to help others while dealing with the loss of his own leg. Curtis’ character is an important addition to the show, as he is the peaceful version of Frank. Where Frank deals with his personal losses by killing, Curtis chooses to heal. The morally responsible alternative to each of Frank’s violent choices is embodied by Curtis.

Curtis also hosts meetings for veterans who are having trouble returning to civilian life. Some interesting commentary on service, gratitude, and post traumatic stress can be found during these moments of the show. Lewis Walcott, a young veteran, struggles finding his purpose after fighting overseas, and his character arc becomes one of the more fascinating developments of the back half of the season.

The subjects of violence, death, PTSD, and how soldiers are impacted by war are all prominent in “The Punisher.” The show handles each delicate subject respectfully without dialing back to keep things more viewer-friendly. The blunt method that the show displays violence and these topics feels more respectful than making light of them. So although this show is incredibly, ruthlessly violent, it wouldn’t feel right to tell the story that it tells without including the harsh details.

The villain is the villain, and that’s all there is to it. ”

— Staff Writer Ian Fertig

The primary villain featured in this show ultimately becomes one of the coolest, cruelest, and baddest that has ever been seen in Marvel or anywhere else. The mysterious CIA Agent played by Paul Schulze is vastly more entertaining than some of the villains Marvel Netflix has given viewers in the past (such as Bakuto in “Iron Fist” or Alexandra in “The Defenders”).

His background and personal motivations aren’t thoroughly explored, but that’s because he’s a static character. In the end, there’s nothing wrong with that. The villain is the villain, and that’s all there is to it. If the show wanted viewers to question if the villain was his own form of hero, then it would. The first season of “Daredevil” has done this already. “The Punisher” as a show focuses more on the morality of murder as a form of justice.

The thought-provoking questions presented by “The Punisher” do not end there, however. How far can a good man be pushed before he becomes something else? Is Frank deserving of punishment for murdering criminals? Is death what violent criminals deserve? Are we doing enough to help our veterans once they return home? These questions give the show an unexpected level of depth.

In comparison to the other five Marvel Netflix shows, “The Punisher” may be the best. Unlike “Iron Fist,” there is actual depth to the characters.  There is certainly more momentum throughout the season than in “Luke Cage,” and the villains aren’t remotely as ridiculous as those we saw in “The Defenders.” Unlike “Daredevil: Season Two,” the show does not suffer from an identity crisis. Season two of “Daredevil” was a tug-of-war for viewer’s attention, where The Punisher storyline was on one side and Elektra was on the other. Similar to “Jessica Jones,” this show features an emotionally destroyed lead character who is pursuing the man responsible for his/her pain. “The Punisher” is really only better than “Jessica Jones” if viewers enjoy more realism. Jessica Jones has super strength while Frank Castle has an arsenal of guns. It’s all about preference.

Perhaps the best and most violent superhero show to date, “The Punisher” is engaging, thought-provoking, and entertaining. Thanks to the performance of Jon Bernthal, the choices made by the directors, and the interesting storyline, this show is a must-watch for fans and critics of the superhero genre alike.