The Punisher season 2 is bloodier and bolder than the first season, but it’s also a lot more complicated. In season 1 there was a clear villain: the people who killed Frank’s (Jon Bernthal) family. This season the lines are blurred and it’s hard to separate Frank’s actions from those of the true bad guys.
This is what makes The Punisher such an interesting show. There is such a fine line between the things Frank does in the name of vengeance and the actions carried out by others, especially Billy Russo (Ben Barnes). Season 2 is the strongest when it compares the two men, examining their actions and motivations. They are separated by such a thin line; Frank fights for a cause, Billy fights only for himself, but is that enough?
Season 2 of The Punisher begins almost a year after the events of season 1. Frank is dealing with the consequences of his actions, particularly his decision to let Billy live. He wanted Billy to suffer
Ben Barnes is fantastic as Billy. He swings from chilling ruthlessness to emotionally vulnerability within the same scene. He lashes out but then cries over what he has lost. There are traces of Billy’s season 1 charisma, but they are hidden under layers of fear and confusion. There’s a feeling that Billy is ready to break at any moment. He’s haunted by a past he can’t remember and is desperate to get his memories back.
For his part, Frank is trying to figure out how to live with his battles behind him. So what does a soldier do when they are no wars left to fight? Create one of his own. Frank finds himself involved with a young girl named Amy (Giorgia Whigham), caught up in the mystery surrounding her and the people who want her dead.
The Punisher is at its best when it teams Frank up with someone more vulnerable (so he has someone to protect) and who has different morals than his own (to challenge him). These people give Frank a purpose and when he steps out of line they are the ones to pull him back from the edge. In season 1, this role was filled by Mirco (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). In season 2, it’s Amy. While she’s no saint, her constant challenging of Frank’s methods is refreshing.
The highlights of the season are Frank and Amy struggling to work through their traumas, learning how to work together and how to let the other in. Watching as this messed up human being learn how to be a father figure for an equally messed up kid is both touching and comical at times. I would watch an entire series of just Dad Frank trying his best to control his unruly teenage daughter.
Jon Bernthal is a hulking presence on screen, grunting with every punch and enacting so much face crunching violence that it’s sometimes hard to watch. However, the beauty of his performance as Frank is his ability to slip into quiet moments, the softness in his face when he calls Amy, “kid”, his self effacing laugh, his inability to talk to a pretty woman at a bar. These are the things that make Frank Castle human.
Giorgia Whigham holds her own as Amy, the street smart kid with a secret. She’s one of the few people who can talk to Frank and hold him accountable for his actions. While it would have been nice to learn more of Amy’s backstory, it’s touching to see the relationship her character develops with Frank over the season.
The one place where season 2 of The Punisher falters is with the villain. Billy Russo provides more than enough action to keep Frank and co. occupied, but the series adds John Pilgrim (Josh Stewart) to the mix as well. Stewart is menacing, but his scenes drag because his storyline is nowhere near as compelling as the
The Punisher season 2 is even more action-packed than the first, with an elevator fight that would make Captain America proud. Frank is brutal and merciless, but the show also allows for a few moments of levity and lightness. The cast is better than ever, with stand out performances from Amber Rose Revah as the hellbent Agent Madani and Jason R. Moore as Curtis aka the best character to exist in the Netflix/Marvel-verse.
While season 2 of The Punisher might be the first of Marvel’s Netflix shows to break the second season curse, it also fails to stick the landing. The final episode leaves something to be desired, seeming to want to revert back to the comic book Punisher imagery rather than the Frank we’ve come to know, the one with character growth and a system of people around him. We know Frank is good at killing, we’ve seen it time and time again. What’s more important is when Frank can be something more. But maybe that’s the point. Frank isn’t a hero. He’s the Punisher.
The Punisher season 2 premieres on Netflix on January 18th.