What do we owe ourselves? And what do we owe those that we are loyal to? These are very deep questions, and the Punisher series likes to ask these questions. Season 1 of the show (which was really good) dared to ask how far a man would go to get revenge/justice for his family. Season 2 though asks how far would one go to try and live a good life, or a life of their choosing, and then fall back into old habits. As you’ll read in this Punisher Season 2 review, not everything works, but there are a lot of compelling threads in this second season.
For those who need a refresher, at the end of season one of The Punisher. Frank Castle killed just about everyone associated with the conspiracy surrounding his wife and kids murder. All except Billy Russo, who he scarred and injured, forcing him to live with the things that he has done. Due to his “help,” the CIA gave Frank a pass, exonerating him of all the deaths he caused. As season two picks up in “Roadhouse Blues” we see the aftershocks of those decisions.
Frank is living life on the road, going from town to town in order to try and find a new life for himself if that’s possible. And for a brief moment…and an intercourse scene…he seems to have found a chance for happiness again with a bartender named Beth. Especially after he meets her kid and things get very touching. I’m sure some people won’t be happy that this season doesn’t start with the “guns blazing” approach, but this is important to the theme of the season. Frank admitted in the final scene of last season that he was a soldier without a mission. He NEEDED to try and do something different in order to see if he could find peace without being at war.
Of course, we all knew this wouldn’t happen, and sure enough, he meets a young girl named Amy, a grifter/thief/con artist who finds herself in a deadly situation, and Frank is the only one who can help her. Part of the mystery of what Amy did to get the wrath of “The Pilgrim” is a compelling one, and it leads to yet another conspiracy, one that has some big impact even if Frank himself doesn’t realize it at the time.
Amy has a rocky start to her character, but then again, she’s a girl thrown into some circumstances that she honestly couldn’t have predicted, and in turn, is naturally terrified of Frank and what he can do. But as the season goes on, things evolve with her. She gets proactive and refuses to be the “damsel in distress” anymore, which I approve of that. Her bond with Frank (once they establish it) is very nice, and it was sad to see them separate at the end of the season.
Returning characters that get plenty of time to shine include the return of Dinah Madani, who is still haunted and tortured by what Russo did to her in season one. She’s desperate for Billy to die, and wants her own nightmares to stop. Then there’s Curtis, who’s still trying to do good in the world, but just like last season, is dragged into the battle between Billy and Frank, among others. Having these two have their own little paths throughout the season was great, and they get some good scenes to help flesh out their emotions. As I noted earlier, the questions of “What do we owe ourselves?” and “We do we owe those who we are loyal to?” are very prevalent in this season, and both Medani and Curtis ask those questions a lot in this season, and the answers are different for the two of them.
A big surprise for me though was the role of Detective Brett Mahoney in this season. Don’t get wrong, I’m happy to talk about him in this review, because I love Brett! He’s one of the true shining beacons of purity in the season. He believes in the law, fully, and it’s inspiring to see that. However, as he learns soon enough that there is a reason a guy like Frank Castle can be within the system while being outside of it. I truly enjoyed him in the season, and he got some great scenes with a lot of the cast.
Billy Russo was a very controversial figure going into this season. Because while fans were happy to see Jigsaw coming tot he fold…he didn’t look like Jigsaw. He had a few scars, yes, but nothing like his comic counterpart. They instead focused on mental scars, mainly memory loss, which actually helped his character in a big way. It led to some interesting choices, and the man behind the character was brilliant in how he handled the revelations that were thrown at him. Like when he found out it was Frank who caused him to have brain damage, and the reasoning for this was that he helped kill Frank’s family. The disgust that he showed for both Frank and himself was very compelling.
But believe me when I say this, that subtitle for my review was not a “tagline” or some clickbait to get you to read this review. I meant it. Jon Bernthal totally killed it (pun intended) as Frank Castle in this season, and he deserves an Emmy for it. Bernthal was able to play a man desperate for peace, but also a man who is willing to accept that he might just be what everyone says that he is The Punisher. In one episode he tells Madani, Curtis, and Amy to “just let me be who I’m meant to be.” It makes you wonder if he truly believes that, or if he’s just saying that to get over his own pain about the life he failed to have.
I seriously believe that without Bernthal, Punisher wouldn’t be what it is. Which is clearly why Netflix gave him his own series after his debut in Daredevil season two. He’s the guy you can’t help but root for because you know that he’s right in many of the things that he does. And yet, the show isn’t afraid to break him down to his roots and show even more sides of him. In a pivotal episode, Frank’s rage over trying to kill Billy leads him to think that he killed three innocent women. He doesn’t know that he was set up, and it breaks him up on the inside. He’s devastated, and Bernthal plays that perfectly.
All of this being said, there are some major problems that I have to outline with this review. First and foremost…Dr. Krista Dumont. I seriously think she is the worst character in the Marvel/Netflix collaborations…and I’ve seen both seasons of Iron Fist. Oh yeah, she’s that bad. Her whole plot was to fall in love with Billy, help him get free, then help him kill Frank Castle so that they can get away and live happily ever after. Seriously, that’s it. They teased that she might be doing more, but she wasn’t! They were more focused on their intercourse scenes (and there were plenty…) than developing her character!
And for the record, thinking logically here, was she the ONLY psychiatrist that could’ve looked after Billy? You’d think Madoni or someone wouldn’t allow another woman near him (save for nurses and doctors) after how he manipulated Madoni. But instead, she’s allowed to work with him for months, and ignore everything that he has done in the past because she wants to “fix him.” Really? Oh, and the best part, she’s somehow able to go toe-to-toe with Madoni in the penultimate episode, get throughout of a three-story apartment…and live. Really?
Then there’s the “war on two fronts” that the season tried to make sense of. The first part of the season was about saving Amy from The Pilgrim. Then we focus on Billy Russo and his gang, then it’s back to Pilgrim who comes back into the fold after a bit, and then it’s everyone for themselves as everything just shakes loose. It’s not very consistent. In fact, Pilgrim was absent for several episodes in the middle, and it was very noticeable.
Speaking of Pilgrim, while they painted him as a great film to start, he falters in a key episode where after confronting his past, he breaks just about every sacred vow he made to God in the course of one night. Which is in direct contrast to the entire character’s arc which lead up to this point. Yes, you could argue that he was at his lowest, but he honestly wasn’t, that was coming later when his wife died. If he did it AFTER that, I would’ve bought it. But before? Not so much.
Which leads us to the Schultz’s, who are the “masterminds” behind everything involving Amy and The Pilgrim. They’re aiming to put their son in the White House, and the fact that he is gay led to him almost being blackmailed, and they couldn’t let that happen…period. Compelling? Yes, especially in the early parts of the season. But by the end, they come off as just plot points in the grander scheme of things and it’s just not satisfying when they die.
Jumping back to the positive, the fight scenes in this season were brutal in the best way possible. Daredevil season three stepped up their game in a big way, but Punisher season two elevated it even more. These fights were brutal and took place all over. Bars, gyms, hotels, trailer parks, just about any weapon you think you can use in a fight, it was pretty much used here. And it was great. That being said, if you’re a bit squeamish, you probably won’t be able to handle some of the violence. Or the language, LOTS of potty-mouthed language.
Now, let’s address the elephant in the room. Netflix has been canceling all of the Marvel collaborations, and that likely means this is the end of The Punisher, which means more than ever that the ending needed to be solid. Ironically, production of the season wrapped BEFORE the first cancelation (Iron Fist), but also as ironic, it ended pretty well. Frank killed Billy without a single word. Pilgrim got a redemptive ending, the Shultz’s died, Curtis and Madoni got closure, and Frank…well…Frank became The Punisher.
I saw one person say that this was an incredibly cheesy ending, and one that was “right out of an 80’s action movie.” And I can see their opinion from a certain point. But for Frank, his whole season was debating whether he was Frank, or he was The Punisher. Could he be both? Did he have to be only one? Finding out about the Shultz’s, Pilgrim, and Billy led Frank to realize that there are still lots of bad people out there, and the only way for people like Amy, Curtis, and more to get peace is to not have to deal with them at all. And who can take of people? The Punisher.
It was not a perfect season, but it did an admirable job picking up where the last one went out. If this truly is the end of the series, then we can rest easy knowing that The Punisher went out like we wanted. With a skull on his chest, guns in his hands, and taking out the bad guys.
The Punisher Season 2 may not have been everything fans were hoping for. But if you look beyond the misses, you’ll find something special. And Jon Bernthal alone will keep you attention.