The Punisher: Season One Review
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Marvel's The Punisher, or Frank Castle to give him his real name, has been around for a long time. First appearing in The Amazing Spider-Man #127 in February 1974, the character soon became the fan favourite anti-hero we all love today. Frank Castle and his alter ego were one of the characters that Marvel head honcho Stan Lee did not have a hand in creating, instead being developed by Gerry Conway, John Romita, Sr and Ross Andru. Alongside the aforementioned Spider-Man, it took a good long while for the character to appear on the small or big screen.
The Punisher first appeared on the silver screen in the form of Dolph Lundgren's interpretation in 1989, which by all accounts is utterly forgettable; this was followed by 2004's Thomas Jane affair and 2009's sequel starring Ray Stevenson. Ultimately all three films couldn't quite get the character of Punisher down correctly, with the wooden Lundgren to the overly violent Stevenson interpretation. With the release of Daredevil Season two on streaming service Netflix we got our first look at Jon Bernthal (Shane in The Walking Dead) as the latest version of Frank Castle. Coming out of that particular season, fans and critics were clamouring for more as this interpretation and demanded Netflix give him a series all of his own. Enter Season One.
Unlike Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones and the other Marvel Cinematic Universe characters, The Punisher is a man with no superpowers, no extra sight, no invincibility, no super strength; he simply uses his talents as a former soldier to assess a situation well, use his fists first and ask questions later. His anger is a gift. This immediately gives the character its edge and the sheer lack of aggressive spontaneity gives the season its backbone.
We find The Punisher at the season opening avenging the death of his family. He is a broken, violent man, who wants to right the world knowing his actions, regardless how successful they might be, will not bring his family back. He only wants to fight the good fight. A shadowy figure watches his every move on security cameras, while a Homeland Security agent, Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Rivah, The Bible) tries to figure out who killed her former partner, while he was undercover in a heroin sting.
The shadowy figure watching Castle's every move is Micro, or David Lieberman (Ebon Moss-Bacharach, Girls) a former NSA analyst, who after faking his own death, eventually - but begrudgingly - helps Castle in his mission's. The character of Micro was mentioned both in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Daredevil before casting was underway. Last to join the core cast is Ben Barnes (Westworld) playing Billy Russo or to give his comic alter -ego, Jigsaw (spoilers), a former colleague of Castle's who runs a private military organisation.
The TV arena of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has it's on interconnectivity; Rosario Dawson has been a key anchor across the Netflix series' so far. Here we have Deborah Ann Woll's character Karen (from Daredevil) becoming a confidant and love interest for Frank. The limited scenes they have together are a joy and the underlying chemistry between the actors fills the small screen with the requisite tension and love the characters clearly feel for each other but cannot fully express.
Being former pals its easy to see that Billy and Frank are going to butt heads and they do throughout the series, Frank in his one man army headspace (helped by tech whizz Micro) and Russo's tech stronghold and its military might. This is where the meat of the Season One story lies alongside Micro's desire to see his family again. Each character moves his chess pieces strategically and the writing across the series gives each character enough space to be fully fleshed out, giving each the space to fully develop their character. It especially helps with The Punisher purely because, in film form and a finite run time, the character never had much time for down time. Here we get that. Look at the earlier scenes between Micro and Frank, with the latter tied to a chair as Frank goes full circle of his emotions. Going from irritated, stressed, anxious, annoyed violent and back to caring all in the space of one 'bottle' episode.
Talking about Frank's emotions, the character of a former war veteran and his past is a delicate one to write. Not all, but a lot of servicemen and women, come home from war with PTSD. Most series with characters like this don't give the time for this to be fully explored. Here we see the character of The Punisher ride the roller coaster of emotions. Scenes play out at a half way house where grown men talk about their thoughts and feelings. Its a social taboo (men do actually cry, and is absolutely fine and necessary, shock horror) not seen on the small screen a lot and these scenes elevate the season and not just the episode that they are included in.
Overall, the season as a whole is a triumph. Whereas other series may rely on all out action and violence, here it is used sparingly and only to move the narrative forward at a pace. Jon Bernthal as The Punisher is a revelation; an actor born to play such a role, who you can see is passionate about the character and all the ideals he stands for. After being introduced in a poor season (Daredevil Season Two was terrible apart from his introduction let's be honest) the character of Frank Castle aka The Punisher has finally found his proper place on the small screen.