Quick Draw Vigilante
Main Cast: Jon Bernthal, Ebon Moss-Bacharatt, Ben Barnes
Created by: Steve Lightfoot
Micro: “You and me, we want the same thing. So work with me.”
Punisher: “One condition. I’m gonna kill them all.”
Micro: “…Yeah, I can live with that.” – – “Kandahar” (Season 1, Episode 3)
Striding out of Daredevil Season 2 comes Jon Bernthal as The Punisher. He wowed fans with a gritty, but understandable portrayal of the divisive anti-hero. Unfortunately, Daredevil was too preoccupied with magic ninjas to focus on this revenge tale. Can The Punisher pull through or is he about to have a major malfunction, Gomer Pyle style? Let’s find out.
Punisher: [talking on a pay phone] “You got the wrong guy.”
Micro: “Yeah, I don’t think so. Unless I’m not talking to Frank Castle? You know, let’s not waste time. You’re Frank Castle, right? Frank Castle, the dead man?”
Punisher: “Makes two of us now.”
Micro: “You’re more right than you know. You’re not the only ghost in this town, Frank.” – “Two Dead Men” (Season 1, Episode 2)
Frank Castle became The Punisher to kill the criminals who killed his family. After killing them all, he finds himself purposeless and waiting to die. Frank is quickly drawn into a conspiracy caper by the revelation that his family was killed on purpose. His work unfinished, The Punisher gets back to doing what he does best. And by that, I mean killing people. Killing lots of people.
Punisher is contacted by a hacker named Micro, real name David Lieberman (Moss-Bacharatt). David found evidence of an atrocity the U.S. Army covered up and was forced to fake his own death to keep his family safe. Micro starts out using Frank for his own ends, but becomes an ally over time.
Pursuing both Micro and The Punisher is DHS agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah). One of her allies in the DHS was murdered by members of the conspiracy that Micro discovered. She spends most of the season pursuing the main duo, but ultimately allows them to do what she can’t.
Frank occasionally goes to a veteran support group led by Curtis Hoyle (Jason R. Moore), an old comrade who lost a leg saving him. The group also includes Lewis Wilson (Daniel Webber), an ex-soldier struggling to readjust to civilian life, and O’Connor (Delaney Williams), a phony vet combing the worst stereotypes of the NRA and Alt-Right. We’ll get back to them.
Agent Orange: [torturing Frank] “You’re a dead man. Your heart just doesn’t know it yet.”
Punisher: “You were wrong. [breaks free and stabs Orange] I’m a reminder. [starts pounding his face in] DIE! [screams and shoves both thumbs into Orange’s eyes.]”
Russo: [watching nearby] “God damn, I love watching you work, Frankie.” – “Home” (Season 1, Episode 12)
The Netflix MCU is no stranger to gore and beatdowns. We’ve seen Kingpin crush people’s skulls. Crooks breaking their hands trying to punch Luke Cage. Entire armies of Hand soldiers getting cut down by Daredevil and Elektra. But none of them holds a candle to Punisher.
The Punisher rarely gets his hands on guns, and relies on fists, knives, and random objects. Beating up fools at a construction site? Time to find a home for that sledgehammer. Helping a fellow soldier fight assassins in the woods? Show them the meaning of guerrilla warfare. It’s like watching Jack Bauer crossed with Jason Voorhees.
No lie, there were moments where the carnage actually made me cringe. The bit with the thumbs in the quote was one. The second is one of the cruelest moments in the MCU. Punisher decides to let a villain survive. But first, he smashes the villains face into a mirror and slowly drags his face down the broken glass. All while the dude screams in agony. Eugh.
Cloak and Dagger
Henderson: “Schoonover said get the bullet. I’m getting the bullet.”
Frank: “Looks to me like we’re hiding evidence. You good with that?”
Henderson: “No one’s asking for our opinions. Not while we’re here.” – “Kandahar” (Season 1, Episode 3)
The driving force of The Punisher involves Cerberus Squad, a black-ops unit Frank Castle was part of that was assigned to disrupt terrorism in Afghanistan by any means necessary. Cerberus was based on the real world Phoenix Program the U.S. fielded in Vietnam. Attacking enemy bases, assassinations, disrupting drug operations, etc.
Over time, Cerberus Squad became the personal attack dogs of William Rawlins (Paul Schulze) and Col. Schoonover (Clancy Brown). They take over for a drug cartel that the team slaughters. Their crimes get so bad that the NSA sends an undercover agent to investigate them.
Rawlins interrogates that agent as he would any random terrorist. Once he has all the intel he wants, Rawlins orders Frank to shoot the agent, and he complies. This is what Micro uses to blackmail Frank into working with him to hunt down Cerberus.
Having a blast
Frank: “There’s nothing in this world I hate as much as a goddamn bomb. Goddamn cowards. They think they’re gonna scare people into making them do what they want. They’re wrong. It just pisses people off, you know, brings them together, makes them stronger. New York doesn’t forget. Whoever this is, they’re in for a world of shit.” – “Front Toward Enemy” (Season 1, Episode 9)
The major sub-plot of The Punisher involves ex-soldier Lewis Wilson. He loses it over the course of the show, from digging a foxhole in his backyard to nearly killing his father after mistaking him for an intruder. He starts to empathize with O’Connor’s radical agenda and fear of the government taking guns away. Lewis snaps after learning O’Connor was a phony vet.
He decides the best way to effect change is to become a domestic terrorist. He builds several bombs and starts hiding them in crowded places. He sends his manifesto to Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll in Daredevil) who he has become obsessed with.
The domestic terrorism plot is okay, but adds little to the show. It is mostly used to set up dialogue about domestic terrorism and gun control. At least we get a decent Rashomon-style episode out of it.
The Punisher is the Netflix MCU’s darkest show. There are no magic ninjas, psychotic psychics, or costumed crime fighters. Just a guy, a lot of disposable mooks, and buckets of gore. There’s also a good conspiracy plot and a mediocre terrorism story.
Here’s hoping Netflix doesn’t pull the plug once Season 2 is out, but they probably will.
Jared Bounacos has written for Movie Rewind since 2017.