TV Review: “The Punisher” Season 1 – Better Than The Films

Written by Danielle Sing December 15, 2017

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Netflix has been strangely elusive with its latest Marvel series. The first trailer for The Punisher doesn’t even include a release date. But now that it’s out there, we can enjoy it in all its blood and gore. Though less of a bloodbath and more horror/thriller, The Punisher explores themes of conspiracy and military action with astounding realism. While we don’t need his backstory -covered in Daredevil‘s second season-, Frank Castle’s retribution lacks the necessary emotional closure.

Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), aka “The Punisher”, disguises himself as Pete Castiglione, an introverted construction worker. But after some fellow construction workers try to kill a younger coworker after a robbery gone wrong, Castle protects the younger coworker by killing the men who now seek to hurt him and his family. Unknown to Castle, he is caught on camera doing so and is quickly found by David Lieberman (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), aka “Micro”, a former NSA analyst who was ‘killed’ by the government when he discovered some illegal activity committed by Castle’s former unit Kandahar. The two team up to get revenge on the men who tried to kill them, while Homeland Security Agent, Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah), is also seeking out the killer of her partner when they were stationed in Afghanistan.

“Gentlemen, I am the only authority you will need. I point. You shoot.”

As seen in the trailer, released in late September, there’s no premiere date. Fan speculations anticipated a sudden release, possibly during New York Comic Con (October 5 – 8). Then Las Vegas happened, and Netflix canned its Punisher panel. To release a show like Punisher so close to the largest mass shooting in the US is, at the very least, controversial. But Netflix, no stranger to scandal, released it in November. The Punisher touches on issues like gun control legislation and military PTSD. While it may be ill-timing, the show does its best with the serious issues that it embodies.

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The Punisher fits more as a thriller horror in how it depicts government and the military. The series touches on the realities of PTSD, gun violence, and homegrown terrorism, but it doesn’t shy away from conspiracy theory either. The theme of the show is paranoia. Castle may be out for revenge, but he -and everyone else- is paranoid. Case and point, Lewis Wilson (Daniel Webber), a young veteran with PTSD, makes his own bombs, fearing the government will take his guns. Liebermann fakes his death and installs cameras in his family’s home to ensure their safety. Castle can’t even trust Liebermann or Madani, who really just want to help. The Punisher takes this conflict in earnest. The slow burn, the build-up, and tension, a need to survive. Even the character development instills uneasiness. Paranoia’s hard to tap into, but The Punisher gets it with great effect.

“Now the only person you’re punishing is yourself.”

The series revolves around three murder mysteries: Who killed Madani’s partner, who killed Liebermann, and who killed Castle’s family. While it all ends up being the same people, only the first two get any emotional closure. Madani gets to interview her partner’s killer and Liebermann returns to his family. As for Castle, his mission shifts focus. From discovering who killed his family to what his ‘death’ was used to cover up, which perfectly streamlines into Madani and Liebermann’s storylines. While we get a short verbal confirmation in the last episode about who killed Castle’s family and why, there’s no clear emotional closure for Castle. He gets more closure about the illegality of his Marine service than that. It was just unsatisfactory to simply have verbal confirmation to end Castle’s main mission instead of a full explanation followed by a Punisher-style bloodbath (though we do get plenty of those throughout the series). The storyline’s been building up over two seasons in two series, and it was ended so nonchalantly. Those shows in Castle walks away from Liebermann family as they prepare for a meal with him and his mission to avenge his own family is not yet complete. That being said, it was good they did not retell Castle’s backstory about his family being murdered as we had already seen it in the second season of Daredevil.

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Overall, if you’re a Marvel fan who’s been waiting for a serviceable Punisher, this is for you. Its tone of paranoia leads to the thriller/horror feel of the series. While the audience gets its fair share of bloodbaths, there’s no satisfaction in unveiling the why and how of things. Maybe it’ll be resolved in the second season. Still, it sucks for audiences to be strung along for several series for just one storyline.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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