Hello everyone, welcome. Today I am going to talk about the Punisher Netflix series that was released in the UK on the 17th November. It was a series that I have been looking forward to since the Defenders, nay since Daredevil Season 2, and I nearly binged the entire thing Friday. Nearly binged because it was my Dad’s 70th Birthday and that understandably took priority over TV, and I was (and still am) sick as a dog. One of my gaming buddies, who currently has the nickname “Patient Zero”, gave me the worst cold I have ever had. One week in and it still feels like the Hulk is crushing my windpipe. Fortunately, if I don’t talk this mitigates the pain and I don’t need to talk to write a review.
Ok, if you are unfamiliar with the Punisher or the Netflix story, here is the brief intro. The Punisher is a Marvel Comics Anti-Hero, special forces trained man named Frank Castle who loses his entire family to Organised Crime or a Conspiracy, depending on the story variation. Frank, understandably is enraged by this and puts his particular set of Liam Neeson Eclipsing skills to good use hunting down and exterminating those responsible. There was a movie in 2004 with Tom Jane as the Punisher that tells this story, and tells it well (in my opinion). Upon completing his mission, Castle rejects the identity Frank Castle; Frank Castle Died with his family leaving only the Punisher, who declares all out war on crime.
In the Netflix-Verse, the Punisher is played by Jon Bernthal (of the Walking Dead) and made his first appearance in season 2 of Daredevil as the antagonist of the first Arc. In this story, his family is slaughtered when a number of gangs show up to a drug deal in the park that goes wrong. Shooting happens, and the Castle family are nearly wiped out. Frank Survives and the initial plot of Season 2 of Daredevil is his sytematic targetting of these criminal gangs.
That is the story so far.
The Punisher – The Plot
As you might expect, Frank’s rampage against the Juarez Cartel, the Dogs of Hell MC and the Kitchen Irish is more or less concluded in Daredevil. There are a few stragglers attended to early on in episode 1 of this new series, but for the most part all loose ends appear tied up. The main story moves on about 6 months later. Frank has a fake identity and is simply coasting through life trying to be left alone by the world. He has fought and won his war, only to come home to a world he doesn’t recognise anymore. A world without his family. Hiding his identity by allowing everyone to believe he died in the events of Daredevil, and by allowing copious growth of facial hair, Frank drifts through life posing as Pete – a simple builder who spends his entire day breaking bricks. You also learn that he has at least one friend from his military days who knows he is alive, and offers advice and counsel from time to time. Neither of which he is ready for. Of course, this cannot last. One of the other builders, someone also on the outside who has tried to befriend Frank gets in over his head with something bad, which Frank cannot allow to happen. So with typical ruthless efficiency, Frank solves the problem and moves on in a similar fashion to Bill Bixby moving on at the end of every episode of the Incredible HUlk TV show. However, This is not simply random violence thrown in to spice up a story driven episode. Frank’s antics put him on the Radar of former NSA Analyst/Hacker and Wannabe Whistleblower, Micro, who wants to recruit Frank to help expose an illegal operation run by the US Military and CIA in Kandahar.
The Plot of the entire series revolves around the fact that the death of Frank’s family had a lot more to it than was previously assumed, all of which related to Frank’s time in Kandahar. Initially distrustful and antagonistic towards Micro, Frank and the Analyst must find common ground to better fight their opponents, in this case a CIA Spook that Frank’s unit simply called “Agent Orange” and the soldiers from the unit that were willing collaborators with drug traficking and murder of civilians.
The Punisher – What it is not
I daresay there are going to be some people disappointed with this series because we don’t get 13 episodes of the Punisher in Skull armour laying waste to Bad Guys. What we get is the logical and reasonable story of Frank Castle. A soldier who came home from war, who gained a new mission through tragedy who then completed that mission. As far as Frank was concerned, his family was avenged. And some of the comic fans at this point might ask, “Why isn’t he declaring war on crime?”
And you then have to answer with a question. “Why should he?”
Soldiers go to war and do things in the name of protecting their country, or at the very least their family, and then they hope to come home. They hope to rejoin that family, and be a part of that society they fought to protect. When a soldier signs up out of a sense of duty, I defy any person alive to contradict me when I say that they would just as soon not have to fight a war. And if they have to, when they come home they are not going to choose to fight another just because they can. This logic has been applied to Frank Castle, and I liked it. When I roleplayed in the Marvel Heroic RPG, one question the GM constantly asked us – why does your character pull on the tights? Why do they choose to be a hero?
Frank has accomplished his mission, and has no need to carry on fighting. No particular wish to carry on fighting. And it is for this reason that we don’t get 13 episodes of the Punisher. That is not to say Frank shys away from violence, he does not. There is no reluctance in him when he learns the greater truth behind the murder of his family. He is operational once again, but it is very mission focused. He is not simply chasing down criminals as he still has no motivation to do so. I liked that. They were doing a proper buildup to a character, which is needed if you want to treat him as more than simply a murdering Sociopath.
The Punisher – Some Interesting Intellectual points (And maybe just one or two political ones – skip over if not your idea of good reading)
I should probably say at the start of this paragraph I am from the UK, support anti-gun laws as a means to cut down gun related crime and do believe that the ease by which many in other countries can lay hands on a firearm is a major contributing factor to gun related injury and death. Don’t try and argue me on this point. I won’t change my point of view. I will try and keep my next points as balanced as possible, as I am aware I won’t change yours either. I have no desire to get into an ultimately pointless argument about gun control. Neither one of us is going to change our minds, so let us avoid the fight.
So, with that disclaimer you might assume I disapprove of things like the Punisher sensationalizing guns and so on. And the answer is, no I don’t because they deal with subject sensibly and well. This series did not make guns look sensational at all. It made them look brutal and horrific. One of the guest stars, Karen Page from Daredevil, makes an appearance in several episodes. It is established back in Daredevil that she carries a firearm in her purse because she has been targeted several times. Again, you might assume I would disapprove of this as this proves to be an important plot point in one of the episodes. But again, I actually approved of the way it was handled. This character, Karen Page, who has had to deal with Hand Ninja Zombies and Kingpin Enforcers is still concerned for safety. So she carries a weapon. I can understand that. When things go bad, because of course they do, she wisely goes for cover, instead of dropping to a firing crouch and emptying a clip. There seems to be a fair amount of gun rhetoric that conveys that idea that if you hold a weapon, regardless of stress, you are fully capable of its use in your own defence. I never subscribed to that idea, I believe it is nonsense. A panicking human does not suddenly become a marine if you put a gun in their hand. They are still a scared person, and scared people are not necessarily sharpshooters. That all being said, Karen Page’s concealed weapon proved critical to her survival at a key point. So, I approved because the weapon was used sensibly, both as a plot device and by the character.
There is one other thing, related to firearms, that I found really interesting. I have read the text of the Second Amendment to the American Constitution a few times. It is a bit longer than the text most often quoted.
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
That is a quote from a Wikki article, which cites the Bill of Rights. I studied this text a bit when I was at university, for my dissertation equivalent. I wrote about the Graphic Novel Watchmen. Through studying the Comedian, I came to the conclusion that vigilantes of graphic novels do in fact constitute militias. And by the text of the amendment, the Punisher is actually a living example of what that Amendment could be interpreted as meaning. I am aware there are debates in institutions of higher learning over the meaning of the text. I choose to read the text as written and see the Punisher as an embodiment of it. Well trained, Well armed and protecting the public from harm, including harm committed by government (See Agent Orange). And, the series handles this really well by adding in a foil for him, another soldier who decides to champion his rights through force of arms. The disparity between the two makes interesting fodder for political discourse, and also helps to remind the viewer that Frank is human, is trying to do the right thing and that there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed.
My Thoughts on the Series
Apologies, my last paragraph got a bit heavier than I intended. It probably wasn’t as”Balanced” as I might have wanted but I have decided to leave my main points as is as I don’t think they are unreasonable, and they are my thoughts.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Punisher TV Series. I thought the story was realistic, the pacing was good and the acting was great. Jon Bernthal does a cracking job as Frank Castle, in one scene trying to fit in with an adopted family, in the next male bonding with Micro, and in the one after that laying waste to whatever bad guys get in his way. The relationship development between Micro and Frank was brilliant. It felt like it grew naturally rather than being an enforced sidekick. And, Micro was competent – not just moral support.
We also had strong support from Amber Rose Revah playing DHS Agent Dinah Madani, Jaime Ray Newman playing Sarah Lieberman (Micro’s Wife), Ebon Moss-Bachrach playing Micro himself, and Ben Barnes playing Billy Russo – who should become very familiar to Punisher fans as the story evolves.
We also had cameos from the other Netflix shows, notably Deborah Ann Wohl as Karen Page, but also the brilliant Rob Morgan reprising his role as the hapless gunrunner Turk Barret, who has been busted by every Netflix hero so far (I believe). Notablye absent was Rosario Dawson, who has appeared in all previous Netflix shows as Claire Temple/Night Nurse. I wasn’t disappointed at the lack of Claire Temple in the series, simply surprised as she seems to be a Netflix favourite character. It was fun to see Turk again, but then his scenes usually are fun.
Honestly, I would have liked a few more episodes with the Skull vest on and Punisher style judgement meted out, but the story as it was made sense and I was happy. And the ending was just beautiful.
Do you need to have watched the other Netflix Shows to enjoy? Hard one to say. Probably not, though if you want completeness then Daredevil Season 2 is necessary. Whether you go watch DD2 now or not, the Punisher definitely gets my recommendation.