Fight or Flight
Trouble the Water
One Bad Day
My Brother’s Keeper
The Dark Hearts of Men
Brutal, bloody and unnecessarily bloated, The Punisher’s second season is an enjoyable but ultimately flawed chapter in the ongoing saga of Frank Castle and his alter-ego The Punisher. Despite a promising start, The Punisher devolves into the same pattern that plagued the first season, with a re-emergence of Frank’s internal struggle and two separate villains to contend with. While the action is still as violent as you’d expect, the CG and gore effects are questionable at times. Still, there’s a consistent narrative at work here and despite a really bloated middle portion, The Punisher comes out swinging with as violent an end as you would expect for The Punisher.
The story begins 5 years after the events of the first season. Frank, now known by his alias Pete, is on the road travelling from place to place whilst trying to settle back into a normal life after going through hell. Unfortunately, things aren’t so simple and a chance encounter with runaway Amy pulls our anti-hero right back into the thick of the action he was trying so hard to avoid. A particularly brutal fist fight in the bar results in a chain of events beginning that sees Frank going up against a religious zealot known as Pilgrim. With the girl in tow and a few action-orientated episodes out the way, the battle spills over to New York where Frank is reunited with his companions from last season including special agent Madani. It’s at this point where the story grinds to a snail’s pace before picking back up toward the end of the season.
Along with Frank’s war with The Pilgrim and those who hired him to track down Beth, we’re reintroduced to Billy Russo who’s held up in hospital, amnesia stricken and struggling with nightmares following his run-in with The Punisher. After a particularly toxic relationship forms between him and his psychiatrist, Russo (now going by the alias Jigsaw) goes back on the hunt as Frank finds himself fighting a battle on two fronts. Despite some promise early on, The Punisher never quite capitalizes on these stacked odds, with Russo and The Priest’s storylines remaining separate for most of the season. Even during the finale, Frank battles both individually and despite a satisfying ending to both storylines, I can’t quite help but feel the plot may have held more danger if they combined the two.
Still, when it comes to action and cinematography, Marvel Netflix shows have a way of surpassing their own expectations and some of the action here is breathtaking. The aforementioned bar brawl is very well shot as are some of the fist fights that occur, including one with a Russian gang inside a gym and another in a car scrapyard late on. These moments are unfortunately few and far between and it’s a problem that hounded the first season too. I’ve said it time and again that The Punisher is not the sort of show that needs 13 episodes of character building and empathizing with a conflicted protagonist. This season, just like the first, should have been reduced down to a tightly written, action-packed 6 episode mini-series. Across 13 episodes, the series loses its edge and you find yourself waiting for the next big action piece to begin, especially given some of the characters written into the show.
Jon Bernthal is the glue that holds everything together though and his acting is outstanding. Much like the first season and most of the other TV shows he’s featured in, he’s easily the star both in terms of screen time and presence. While his well-worn troubled past continues to haunt much of his character, it’s easy to look past some of the flaws with this, especially one particularly questionable moment midway through the season involving a crime boss. It’s this acting that helps drive the series forward but unfortunately teenager Amy and Madani continue to hinder the pacing throughout. The psychiatrist and Jigsaw are endearing though and seeing the way their arcs play out keep the moments without Frank engrossing and engaging.
Speaking of Jigsaw, when it comes to characters I can accept a lot of physical and aesthetic changes are going to happen when adapting from the source material. Unfortunately, Jigsaw’s lack of scars across his face compared to his twisted, genuinely disfigured appearance in the comics is something that really undermines his character. A lot of his motivation this season is around how ugly and hideous he’s become but if I’m honest, he actually looks more attractive with a couple of scars across the cheek and a perfectly intact beard on display. This is something that really makes it difficult to understand Russo’s drive and ultimately makes this storyline, and its eventual ending, a little underwhelming.
Still, despite this The Punisher is still an enjoyable show. While it’s not quite as tightly woven as the first season and still suffers from the same bloat that made the first feel overlong, there’s enough here to make for an enthralling watch, especially if you’ve watched other Marvel shows and know what to expect from this formula by now. Jon Bernthal holds everything together around the breathtaking fight scenes but if you came for more action and less filler, you may well leave disappointed.