Following cancellations throughout 2018, there are two Netflix/Marvel shows from the Defenders universe still standing: The Punisher and Jessica Jones. These also happen to be the two shows with upcoming seasons still outstanding, with Punisher Season 2 dropping on January 18.
Clearly, Netflix is waiting to actually release these final seasons before cancelling them too, judging by the fact that Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Daredevil were all canned after their seasons aired last year. If I’m wrong, great! These shows haven’t exactly been consistent in quality, but overall I’ve enjoyed becoming immersed in the world of Netflix’s Defenders. On the other hand, if I’m right–well, at least for now we can enjoy the carnage that is The Punisher Season 2.
The Punisher Season 2 is very much more of the same, as far as Frank Castle’s bloody hijinks go. Season 1, which released in 2017, left Frank in the wind, having maimed but not murdered his rival Billy Russo, and been cut loose by the powers that be. When we catch up with the Punisher in Season 2, he’s sort of just drifting, staying in motels and hanging out in bars. It’s very un-Punisher like; he even meets a nice lady, although predictably, that doesn’t last long. You see, the Punisher’s gotta Punish. It’s what he does.
Frank’s little fantasy drifter life as Pete Castiglione doesn’t last long, as trouble quickly finds him in the form of damsel-in-distress Amy (Giorgia Whigham), a young girl being hunted by a small army of douchebags. The story of why plays out over the course of the season, and it proves to be somewhat relevant to the times in which we live, though probably not too relevant that it will ruffle any particular feathers.
Needless to say, Frank tangles himself up in the whole mess through a misguided but lovable desire to protect the innocent by executing as many of the guilty as possible. He faces off this season with two main villains: John Pilgrim (the very creepy Josh Stewart), a religious fundamentalist who paradoxically loves murder almost as much as Frank does, and the escaped Billy Russo, whose face isn’t nearly as disfigured as everyone makes it out to be, which is a shame, because that would have been cool. Like last season, Homeland Security Agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) and Castle’s former squadmate Curtis Hoyle (Jason R. Moore) play prominent roles, and some other characters from the all-but-dead Defenders universe even crop up, which was clearly planned before the whole thing got cancelled.
On what could be its last time around the Netflix merry-go-round, Punisher Season 2 presents a mess of morals, motivations, and messages. Its portrayal of veterans as mainly degenerate dickheads looking for any excuse to do violent crimes remains problematic. Billy has selective amnesia, and remembers being best friends with Frank, but not why Frank now wants to kill him, which is just boring and never really pays off in the way you want it to. Frank, meanwhile, is still undoubtedly a psychopath, but the show seems hesitant to call a spade by its name, and Madani spends half the season trying to convince other characters (Royce Johnson’s no-BS Detective Sergeant Mahoney, and Floriana Lima’s imitation Harley Quinn, Dr. Krista Dumont) that he’s really a good guy deep down. That may be the case, but it’s easy to see the other side of it too.
That’s really what makes The Punisher fun to watch: Castle is a deceptively complex character. Even though he’s on the right side of these various conflicts, you kind of want someone to check Frank Castle’s unstoppable macho killing spree. And yet, that would mean stopping Jon Bernthal too, which would be a shame, because he remains an absolute joy to watch. He’s the manliest man on the planet; his endless grunting and hollering causes lesser beings to crumple in fear (also, he punches them really hard). Castle takes more bullets, slashes, and various hard knocks than any real human could possibly withstand, but the show never stretches disbelief too far, because Bernthal really seems that tough. The whole thing wouldn’t work without him.
The Punisher Season 2 rests comfortably in that middle ground Netflix’s Marvel superhero shows have too often occupied: It’s pretty good, not mindblowing like the best of them, and nowhere near the dizzying lows they’ve hit over the years. It’s entertaining more often than not, and mostly well made. If they’d all been like this and public opinion hadn’t turned against the Defenders, maybe the whole thing would have played out differently. Maybe it still will–who knows! For now, stream The Punisher Season 2 on Netflix next Friday, January 18, and enjoy the carnage while you can.