6 Thoughts on the Second Season of The Punisher
The second and probably last season of The Punisher arrived on Netflix this past weekend, and after binging the whole thing, I’m ready for the Netflix Defenders shows to end. It was a fine experiment, there’s some decent TV on the whole, but let’s move on.
TV Show Rating: 4/10 – Pretty Bad
I should preface this whole post with a warning to take my thoughts with a grain of salt. I’ve only ever been a moderate Punisher fan, but I hold Garth Ennis’ Punisher MAX comic as one of the greatest comic book runs of all time. I reread nearly all 10+ volumes at least once a year, I love it so much. So when it comes to reviewing anything new about the Punisher, I am hugely biased in one certain direction.
And for the second season in a row, The Punisher TV show on Netflix is nothing like Punisher MAX. The show is its own thing, and I can respect that. I’d like it even more if that own thing was good. But as we’ll discuss, I didn’t care for this season.
Join me after the jump for my thoughts on The Punisher season 2! Feel free to share your own review in the comments. And be aware of FULL SPOILERS for the entire show.
6. It’s so ponderous
By about episode two or three, when Billy Russo broke out of the hospital, I realized that we were in for an entire 13-episode season where everybody just circles around Billy Russo until the very end of the last episode. That’s at least 10 hours of everybody moaning about Billy Russo until he’s finally killed off and we can all move on with our lives. And sure enough, I was right! Season 2 of The Punisher is a long, dry, ponderous slog of characters talking about either Frank or Billy and doing nothing about either of them. The show acts like it’s setting up big moments, or that its conversations are deep and meaningful, but none of it is. There isn’t a truly exciting scene or moment or line of dialogue in the entire 13 episodes.
There are a couple of nice action scenes, I’ll admit. Some solid shootouts. And Frank Castle actually wears his skull outfit for one of them. But what do any of these action scenes accomplish? Frank kills a bunch of faceless goons and his real foe gets away to survive until the finale.
The show unsuccessfully tried to balance two disparate storylines. First you had Billy Russo, who was insufferable this season, but more on him later. His storyline basically amounted to the Punisher and his pals staying one step behind him for the entire season. Then you had the storyline with Amy and John Pilgrim, which languished in the background for long stretches while everybody talked about Billy Russo. Who gives a crap that John Pilgrim goes through some insane drug-fueled freakout for several episodes? How does that inform his character or his storyline? How does that add anything to Frank eventually fighting him? Especially when that whole storyline is settled by the senator son just coming clean to the police, which he could have done at any time had anyone involved just told him what was going on. And the cathartic killer climax involves two mastermind characters we’ve barely spent any time with.
I will grant that the show is competently made. And there are some solid moments, like the assault on the small-town police station early in the season. But taken as a whole, season 2 just plain sucks. There isn’t a single memorable thing about this season. It’ll soon fade from memory and we’ll never recall if it existed at all.
5. It’s still not the Punisher
The Punisher TV show still wasn’t about the actual comic book Punisher — at least not until the very end of the final episode, but more on that later. In my review of the first season, I also complained that the show wasn’t really about The Punisher, and I had hopes that they would treat the first season as an origin story and then move on. They didn’t. Season 2 was, once again, about Frank Castle making it personal as he killed some bad guys, specifically the same bad guy from season 1.
The Punisher kills criminal indiscriminately because they are criminals. The Punisher is not a revenge story. The Punisher is not a superhero. But season 2 features both of those storylines. The Billy Russo stuff is, again, just a revenge story, held over from season 1. And the storyline with Amy and John Pilgrim is about the Punisher heroically stepping up to held a young woman in need.
He didn’t even wear the skull outfit in the final episode.
Two seasons of a well-made Punisher television show and he doesn’t actually do any punishing until the last minute of the last episode of what is probably the last season.
That whole epilogue felt really tacked-on, as if the showrunners knew they were likely to get cancelled and wanted to put in some classic Punisher stuff before it was too late. And I suppose that’s fine. But then you’ve got to stop and think about it for a second. The reviewer for the AVClub pointed this out: the Punisher spares the murderous, monstrous John Pilgrim simply because he had children (much like the Punisher did with that Russian gangster mid-season), but he doesn’t hesitate to mow down two large groups of POC youth at the gang summit, where both gangs were lured for the prospect of a ceasefire. So none of those gang members had families? We don’t even know what they were guilty of, other than being in street gangs, and the Punisher destroys them. We know what John Pilgrim is guilty of, but he gets to live.
The real Punisher would have killed them all, including the Russian, and possibly even Turk. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t spend two entire seasons creating a nuanced, merciful Frank Castle and then give us a tiny little epilogue stinger where he kills whoever.
4. The villains sucked again!
Here me out: Billy Russo is the worst villain in the entire MCU. Worse than even Malekith.
Billy Russo sucked in the first season, and he sucks even more in the second season. Why didn’t they go full Jigsaw? At least that would have given him a unique look and maybe a more psychotic personality. Instead, he’s just a wounded pretty boy who everybody spends the entire season moaning about, including Billy himself. It’s just an endless pity party that adds nothing to Billy’s character from season 1, and adds nothing to Frank’s journey. Heck, Frank seems largely over the whole thing. He doesn’t seem all that angry or out for revenge anymore. Billy is just a mistake he needs to clean up. If he’d just killed Billy at the end of season 1, we’d all be spared.
Instead, Billy gets a couple of facial scars and amnesia, and we’re supposed to care. He manipulates another couple veterans into a strike force, but then he’s wishy-washy about whether he even wants to stick with the group. God, he’s just terrible.
And then he’s got that stupid psychiatrist sidekick, a terrible bundle of uninteresting cliches.
So the gorgeous, mildly tortured psychiatrist falls for the wounded pretty boy patient? Jeez louise. And then she spends all season calmly accepting his anger and abuse, all just so she can turn crazy at the very, very end. She was so bland I can’t even remember her name, and I’m pretty sure she was in every episode.
Both Russo and the psychiatrist needed to go full super-villain. Russo had a perfectly fine Jigsaw origin story in the first season. Why would you deny him the chance to go full crazy super-villain? Why just give him a few random scars? Why not let him go full scarred face? Why not have that strike force of angry veterans be a real legit problem for the city, instead of just a bunch of drugged up frat boys? All the pieces were there for a really villainous puzzle. Russo breaks out of jail with a really scarred and hideous face, taking on the name “Jigsaw” to go against the “Punisher”. He recruits a bunch of vets to be his criminal strike force, preying upon those vets and keeping the veteran angle going. And then he’s got his own Harley Quinn to help him out along the way. It could have been good!
John Pilgrim was also a waste.
He starts out as the cliched extremely calm villain who sends wave after wave of grunts to their deaths. He knows everything there is to know about our heroes at every turn. And he can hold his own in a fight against Frank. That’s all pretty cliche as well. The religion angle isn’t particularly new or interesting either. Especially since it sends him into some creepy shame spiral, like every creepy religious cliche out there. So much more could have been done to make this guy a really menacing challenge.
But mostly, I just don’t like the Billy Russo character.
3. They dropped the veteran angle
One of the best parts of the first season was how it focused on veterans returning to civilian life, Frank Castle among them. His pal, Curtis Hoyle, ran a support group for veterans, and it was a magic factor in the show. But all of that is gone for season 2. We get some veterans in the season, the guys who sign up for Billy Russo’s strike team, but that’s about it. The Punisher show didn’t really do anything with the veteran angle in season 2, and that was a bummer. It’s a powerful, important angle to tackle with the Punisher character. His being a veteran and being chewed up and spit out by both war and his country are important to the character, and they’re a theme that not many TV shows deal with. It’s something unique and very personal that The Punisher could have focused on, but they didn’t, at least not as much as in the first season.
2. I have no complaints about Jon Bernthal
Jon Bernthal is a fine Punisher. I’d like to see him in a show that’s actually about the Punisher, but he’s fine in the TV show we got. He’s a bit angrier than I like my Punisher, but again, that’s just my bias speaking. Bernthal is solid in the role, is awesome in the action scenes and should go on to play the character elsewhere down the line. He’s good.
1. Let them die
I am ready to let the Netflix Defenders TV shows go. I’ve enjoyed a lot about the shows — with Daredevil being my favorite — but on the whole, I’m ready for them to come to a complete end. I don’t think any of them are Must Watch television, heralded for all time as great TV shows. They’re all mostly forgettable, mildly enjoyable television that just happens to star characters from some of my favorite comics. On the whole, I just don’t think these shows have been great. They’ve been fine, occasionally even good. But I’m not going to cry myself to sleep that we won’t be getting new seasons, especially not of this version of The Punisher. Maybe in season 3 they’d have him actually be the comic book Punisher, and it would be good. But they had two seasons to make that happen and they couldn’t do it.
So let them die! Let’s be done with it and move on! Word is that Marvel is preparing a ton of new live action superhero shows for the Disney+ streaming service, shows produced by the actual Marvel Studios movie teams. Some of the rumored shows include a Scarlet Witch and Vision suburban family show, like the excellent comic. Or a Hawkeye show that stars both Clint Barton and Kate Bishop. Hecks yes!
There are even rumors that there will be a Lady Sif show that features Beta Ray Bill. I would take a Sif and Bill show over any of these Netflix Defenders shows in a heartbeat.
The old must die to make way for the new. It’s time. They had a good enough run.