This is a spoiler-free review of all 13 episodes of the second season of Marvel’s The Punisher.
What makes a man into a monster? This was the focal point of the first season of Marvel’s The Punisher series on Netflix. A man that had become so broken, he became something else entirely, Frank Castle is by far the MCU’s darkest character. He lives by the philosophy of no half-measures; by putting criminals into the ground instead of dealing in second chances.
While the first season delved into what lead to Frank becoming The Punisher, the highly anticipated second season revolves around the philosophy of the character (similar to his time in Daredevil season 2). Punisher season 2 breaks down who Frank Castle is at his core, utilizing themes such as: family, failure and self-identity. Each of these archetypal themes encompassed and further highlight Marvel’s most violent vigilante.
Through the 13 episodes, the viewer will truly understand what makes Frank tick and, while it is not the smoothest journey, the second season of The Punisher proves to be yet another successful outing for Marvel and Netflix, featuring brutal action, amazing performances and superb visuals.
Season 2 of The Punisher follows Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) as he has once again decided to leave his alter-ego behind and travel the United States. However, when Frank intervenes in a deal gone bad and saves a teenage girl from being murdered, Frank returns to New York with her in an attempt to put an end to everything. At the same time, Castle’s former brother-in-arms Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) slowly begins to heal from the traumatic brain injury Frank inflicted on him and it’s only a matter of time before Billy starts to put the pieces of the puzzle back together.
While the first season of Punisher had one major storyline that dealt with the revelation that Castle’s former friend, Billy Russo, was involved in the death of Castle’s family season 2 is split between two, equally big narratives. This is arguably the season’s biggest fault unfortunately. Both narratives, the return of Billy Russo and Castle and Amy (the teenager he rescues) being hunted by a religious fanatic, are big enough to warrant their own seasons. I hate to reference the recent cancellations of other Marvel/Netflix shows here, but it would seem that the production crew tried to shoehorn in two major storylines before a supposed ax comes for them as well.
Frank’s relationship with Amy and their story with the religious group is a mixed bag. It never becomes as fleshed out as one would hope for. Mainly, this shortcoming is due to the season’s attempt to balance the threat of Billy Russo, but the father/daughter dynamic that Frank and Amy share is incredibly enticing.
The series treads along the same water as Logan and The Last of Us in the sense that both characters need each other more than they know. Amy is Frank’s second chance at being a father, where he is guiding her through life, protecting her from threats and helping her grow up in a lonely world. At the same time, Amy acts as a voice of reason for Frank, a conscience that tries to show him some restraint. Frank has a fairly black and white view on the world, arguing a “no half-measure” mentality.
The mixed bag stems from the season’s “main” villain, John Pilgrim, played by John Stewart. While his performance as the violent man driven by faith is terrific, his character is not fleshed out beyond a surface level. There is so much happening with John, whether it be his former criminal life haunting him, his devotion to god, his family life; all things that warrant a full season to fully develop a character but unfortunately, the series never dives deep enough.
Pilgrim’s story and Russo’s return never intertwine, only being connected by a common adversary in Frank Castle. The season itself feels very reminiscent of Daredevil season 2, in which two intriguing storylines are combined for one 13 episode season, only connected by Matt Murdock. Both sequel seasons feel disjointed with one story becoming more intriguing and better developed than the other.
Billy Russo trying to piece together what happened to him and his battles with Castle ranks among the best material Marvel/Netflix have ever put out. The bad blood between these two feels so real and heartbreaking as you watch Billy descend into becoming a more visceral character while Castle struggles with the notion that he is not a monster like his former friend. The second half of the season especially is a stellar watch as Castle fully embraces his role as The Punisher and fights his way through several of Billy’s goons to try to put him down.
This is where the season truly shines. The season deconstructs what it means for Frank to be The Punisher and whether or not there is a line that can be crossed. Frank is constantly at odds with his allies, as they watch him complete his mission by kidnaping, torturing, and brutally killing various victims. There is always a moment where someone questions whether Frank is becoming more and more like Billy with regards to his methods. One scene is particular featuring Frank Castle and a deed he committed is so brutal and raw that you almost break down alongside him.
Jon Bernthal is once again spectacular as The Punisher, bringing so much ferocity and charisma to the role and the back half of season 2 truly exemplifies why Bernthal was the perfect casting choice for this role. Ben Barnes shines as the broken Billy Russo. Barnes, with a thicker New York accent, is able to channel the emotionally unstable mindset and vulnerability of Billy and produce an unhinged, borderline terrifying villain that always leaves you on the edge of your seat.
Amber Rose Revah is back as special agent Madani and her role is by far the most interesting. Since suffering a terrible tragedy at the hands of Russo, Madani is “self-medicating,” resorting to drinking and promiscuous behavior to cope with her injuries. Madani herself fights with the notion of crossing one too many lines in her attempts to catch Russo and Revah is superb in the supporting role.
The biggest surprises of season two come from Jason R. Moore’s Curtis Hoyle and Giorgia Whigham’s Amy, Frank’s allies this season. In an expanded role, Moore’s Curtis is the antithesis of Frank, knowing when to stop during a fight and always looking for more cleaner/legal methods of solving problems. Amy is the perfect foil for Frank as she is the epitome of what it means to be a teenager in the modern age. Wide-eyed, but skeptical, about everything with a low-attention span. Amy learns a lot from Frank and Whigham is fantastic in the role, especially in the more intense scenes where Frank is at his scariest.
Bolstered by amazing action sequences, fantastic performances, and Tyler Bates’ riveting musical score, The Punisher season 2 is a flawed but strong second (or technically third) outing for Marvel’s vicious vigilante. While it struggles to balance its two major stories, Punisher still delivers a superb deconstruction of its main character, dissecting what it means to be The Punisher. It acts more like a physiological thriller than a superhero drama as we watch Frank discover who he was always meant to be. Considering the recent cancellations of its sister shows, The Punisher may be a bittersweet watch, and if this is the final time we see Bernthal’s Punisher on Netflix, he will go out on a – mostly – high note.
Rating – 7.8/10
The Punisher season 2 begins streaming on Netflix on January 18, 2018.