Nov 5, 2018

[TV] The Punisher: Season 1 Review

The Netflix side of the Marvel Universe is a rather interesting one that has been slowing making efforts of fleshing out more of what we know to be the Marvel Knights - the heroes focused on street-level crime (mostly) in New York City. It makes for content that doesn't rely on heavy special effects and yet still loaded with very rich stories.

The Punisher was a sort of expected spin-off given his appearance in the second season of Daredevil as a sort of antagonist but later they had to work together in the end. Clearly reception to the character was strong enough to merit a series of his own despite his lack of involvement in the then-in-planning Defenders TV show.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this season as the Punisher hasn't exactly been the most fascinating Marvel character out there. He's definitely one of the comics I haven't read much of and thus I entered this series without a firm idea of which iteration of the character would appear here.

Synopsis: The Punisher is an action drama television series created by Steve Lightfoot for Netflix. The show has been confirmed for a second season, which is rather welcome news given the recent cancellations of Iron Fist and Luke Cage.

The series begins with Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) now working at a construction site just trying to get by. He is awoken every day at around 03:00am due to nightmares of what had happened to his family despite his efforts to hunt down and kill every member of the gang that had been responsible for their deaths. But still the nightmares come and he does his best to vent his trauma in his work.

His vigilante actions catch the attention of Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), a former NSA analyst believed dead but is now in hiding who has hacked into various surveillance cameras which he has been using to monitor Castle. He contacts Castle with information related to his unit's activities in Afghanistan. He's aware of his involvement with a special unit called Cerberus to eliminate high profile targets. And Micro is willing to help him hunt down the men behind their controversial orders to get revenge for both of them.

What I Liked: On the whole I feel like the writing for this season was pretty strong as they put a lot of work into depicting Frank Castle not as some kickass hero but more a very troubled and traumatized man. Between his experiences in the military and the murder of his family, there's a lot that weighs heavily on his mind and thus he is a haunted and tormented man on many levels. And this really came out well in the show, which totally worked.

The show's version of Micro was WORLDS better than his original comic book incarnation, who hadn't been much more than an excuse to say that they have a hacker in his corner. Here his story was so much more developed and his motivations a lot more nuanced, which made his partnership with Frank more of a necessary evil. He knew he was dealing with a dangerous individual but this still felt like the best course of action for him to deal with the people who had also ruined his life.

What Could Have Been Better: The use of Ben Barnes as Frank's former squadmate Billy Russo was a rather odd one that was portrayed as the classic "you all know I'm a bad guy" but to the degree that it was hard to believe that anyone would trust him given how he'd interact with people. That made him a little shallow as far as villains go but you can't with them all.

I also wasn't that impressed by the sub-plot focused on Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah), the Homeland Security agent who's also looking into the actions of Castles unit in Afghanistan. She felt more like a publicity piece put into the show as she represents ethnic minorities but working in a department as contentious as Homeland Security. It often felt like a lot of noise and I think the show would have survived even without it.

TL;DR: The Punisher is definitely the bloodier sibling of the other Netflix Marvel shows but it also has surprising depth and strong character writing. The Punisher's story is very personal and they're not exactly aiming to save the world or even the city but that's not a bad thing. And thus the show gets a good 3.5 times Frank gets beat up out of a possible 5.

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