If there was ever a man to feel bad for, above all else that man is Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) — The Punisher. After attempting to live a peaceful life at the end of the first season, Castle is dragged back into the world of violence as John Pilgrim (Josh Stewart) hunts down freelance worker Amy (Giorgia Whigham). Castle helps Amy escape Pilgrim and his followers only to be brought back to New York City because Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) escaped the hospital. The new season explores Castle’s moral code, continues Russo’s intriguing story with his now-broken psyche and tackles a political scandal in classic ultra-violent Punisher style.
Although Frank starts off peacefully in the show — even appearing to be close to settling down with a potential new family — he clearly waits for an excuse to become violent. Castle shows no mercy when rescuing Amy from Pilgrim’s followers in a bar restroom, tossing some attackers through a stall’s walls and smashing another’s head through the sink. As the season progresses, Castle continues his violent streak into gray areas beyond blindly murdering criminals, including kidnapping and torturing. While it’s entertaining to watch Castle in a fight, it’s nothing new from season one and may even be slightly toned down.
After escaping the bar with Amy, Castle continues to act aggressively toward all including his friends Curtis Hoyle (Jason R. Moore) and Department of Homeland Security agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah). The people surrounding Castle act as a voice of reason, as he often plans how to hunt down and murder Russo and Pilgrim without considering any potential consequences like being too slow to save hostages or not endangering civilians. Along with questioning how far Castle is willing to go to stop the two menaces, they choose to use violence as a last resort to show Castle that there are other ways of dealing with criminals.
Pilgrim has clear emotional motivations as his sense of duty to his family and religion drives his actions. He’s hired by others in his town to eradicate photos taken by Amy proving a senator is homosexual and attempts to find her through torture and murder. Pilgrim becomes upset when Castle rescues Amy and must now return to New York City to deal with this, viewing the city as a dirty hellhole full of temptation and sinners.
Even with his violent nature, Pilgrim is easy to feel bad for. His family is convinced by their church that Pilgrim is doing the right thing by covering up the photos rather than tending to his terminally ill wife. Pilgrim’s mission quickly becomes a cautious tale of how religion can be used to manipulate others into committing evil deeds. The only problem with Pilgrim’s story is the inability to notice his absence. For the first three and last few episodes he’s a major threat, but he’s completely forgettable in the middle when he’s hardly shown.
Russo’s return is interesting as he’s a much different character this time around. Rather than manipulating and using others, he remembers his actions from the first season in small, broken pieces, including only seeing the Punisher’s skull on his outfit — but not Castle’s face — before having his face smashed into glass. Krista Dumont (Floriana Lima) attempts to help him recover his memories, giving a unique perspective. Upon escaping the hospital, Russo is scared, angry and confused, causing him to believe he must somehow return to his successful past by charming the right people into following him. He continuously visits Dumont where an illogical and seemingly random romance springs up between them.
“The Punisher” juggles extreme violence with its morality while also having two antagonists that can provoke empathy at points due to their brokenness. Along the way, Castle’s journey to truly become The Punisher is witnessed as he begins to distance himself from others and leans more toward violence to solve any problems. With a solid season all around, despite its awkward romance and Pilgrim’s ability to easily be forgotten, it makes it that harder to acknowledge the inevitable cancelling of the series that’s soon to follow the fate of the other Marvel Netflix shows.
Contact Caleb Barbachem at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.