Punisher Season 1: Review
After Daredevil Season 2, I haven’t binge-watched a series like I did, for Punisher. Maybe because it is interconnected and after the soaring highs and the nerve-wracking tension meted out for Daredevil, I knew this was not to be missed out.
So we switch back to Jon Bernthal once again. Jesus, this man. What a fine understated actor. We have see the animal grunts, the unflinching blows, the crackling guns and the exploding bombs, the gushing blood and the bruised broken purplish skin. But in a series completed headlined by him, Jon shows that he can swing either extremes. To be the tender caring lover or the sensitive dad or the faithful friend. He can emote through the whole spectrum of roles and this time, he carries the series masterfully through – punching, gasping, kicking and coughin blood yes as we would expect him to, but the quieter, contemplative avatar, we love more.
Punisher, after having gunned down all the biker gangs and armed convicts in Hell’s Kitchen that had anything to do with the slaughter of his family, is now trying to disappear: Having faked his own death, Frank Castle is now working as a construction worker, keeping a low profile with a new name, Pete Castiglione. Going at the walls with unrestrained fury and anguish with a sledgehammer with a massive case of PTSD. But of course, the gun-toting skull branded decimator cannot be kept away from death and bloodshed. A man haunted by the twin memories of his deceased family as well as wrongs done, in the name of war – much earlier in the dens of Kandahar in Afghanistan, Frank finds no peace in this version of a life. But a mysterious tip-off call from a stranger who only calls himself “micro” brings that much needed focus back into Frank’s life. And this time, the focus is not the biker gangs but the CIA/FBI and the whole United States government itself.
Then there is Billy Russo (played to perfection by Ben Barnes) – ex-marine and Frank’s best buddy from the war days, trying to make his living selling security detail to politicians in need. The series writers take their time, fleshing out Billy’s character but he makes a fascinating addition to the bloody circus and leaves his mark on the series.
Outside this drama that gets played out, there is the story of young Lewis, a war veteran who feels abandoned and insulted by his country – Daniel Weber gives a standout performance as the ex-soldier in need of a goal in life, hurt and confused and angry at the system that has bailed on him.
All the storylines clash and explode towards the combustible second half of this series that starts out really slow. The writers take their time, setting up the characters – it is almost an origin story for Punisher as we switch back and forth to his time as the dutiful soldier in Afghanistan. We witness the hurts piling on and building out, the reason for Frank’s angry outlook on life in general.
So coming back to Jon: It’s a herculean task on this grizzly man’s strapping shoulders this time. Going solo and single-handedly headlining this series is no mean task but he pulls it off. Speaking at an octave that would put the masked batman (Christian Bale/Christopher Nolan version) to shame, Jon’s portrayal continues on with the vengeful brute hell bent on breaking everything in his path but there are softer moments within, when the vulnerability comes to the fore and Jon portrays these scenes solidly well. I am a fan of this guy.
But the secondary characters bring out the whole series well enough – Be it Ben Barnes’ portrayal of another war-veteran Billy Russo, who’s turned his soldier trade into a money-minting machine or micro, the NSA Analyst ‘micro’ played Ebon Moss-Bachrach who’s camaraderie with Frank is definitely the highlight of the series. Their bonhomie is rough and patchy but they finally come through and it is a treat to watch this partnership build up. The story does not tread softly across the topics of violence or gun control. Very topical with the rise of violent incidents around the world. But there are digs at generalizing our ‘enemy’ broadly and not racially typecasting them into brown men from a particular religion or region. These are white men with a sinister purpose who are happy to arm twist the policies to their vested interests. But while yes – the character and the series is still about the mind-numbing head-smashing violence, this is an incisive look what violence means to us and there is a clear purpose for using the same. Folks with a weak stomach who may get turned off by the burgeoning amount of blood and gore towards the intense last few episodes please keep this in mind.
There are twists and mean surprises along the way and so this series is more than just the revenge drama of a ruthless antihero. Definitely a compelling addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a series refreshingly unburdened by its lack of adherence to any formula or larger series tie-ins.