Jon Bernthal, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Ben Barnes, Amber Rose Revah
November 17, 2017
Summary for Moms:
After the events of Daredevil Season 2, Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) has finished cleaning up the criminal element involved in the death of his wife and children. His war seemingly complete, he hangs up the skull-emblazoned vest of “The Punisher” and goes to ground. However, new details surrounding his time in Afghanistan begin to emerge and, partnering up with David “Micro” Lieberman (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), he finds that the conspiracy to silence him and kill his family goes disturbingly high up in the U.S. Intelligence community. Meanwhile, Homeland Security Agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) stumbles upon the crumbs of the conspiracy, which leads her to Billy Russo (Ben Barnes), a fellow soldier in Castle’s unit who may be more involved than she realizes.
The Punisher, as a character, is not the kind of guy that would appeal to my mom. In his comics and earlier movie incarnations, Frank Castle is an unstoppable force of nature. He is a killing machine driven to mete out his own brand of ultraviolent vigilante justice against anyone who subverts the law.
My mom, on the other hand, abhors violence and killing in all its forms. She’s gone on record as not being fully onboard with the cartoonish superhero battles of the Marvel Movies where the blood is basically a garnish. And she oftentimes chastized me for watching movies that “have too much violence” and “fighting” in them. A character like Frank Castle is simply anathema to her sensibilities.
My mom absolutely loved The Punisher.
Hands down, 100% loved it. And I really liked it, too.
The Punisher is a hard character to get right. He is essentially a senseless killing machine. There is a method and motive to his madness but it’s typically buried beneath, well, more madness. He’s a character that a normal audience would have a hard time getting behind and empathizing as a main character. But, as a supporting character in Daredevil, he’s shown as a “haunted, but surprisingly relatable, family man who’s been through unspeakable horrors.” It’s an amazing portrayal that tones down the cartoonish bloodsplatter of earlier, comicbookier versions of the character and brings him to a place that is understandably brutal, but undoubtedly grounded and real.
That is probably why my mom enjoyed The Punisher so much. Unlike the Marvel Movies and the other Netflix shows, The Punisher swerves around comic book territory to deliver a realistic grounded story that would not be out of place in a typical conspiracy thriller. And my mom eats up those kinds of shows and movies. Realistic spy and espionage stuff is her jam. That and Grisham-esque legal fare.
The plot of The Punisher leaves a little to be desired. Despite his killing of Schoonover (Clancy Brown) in the arc afforded to him in Daredevil, Frank discovers that there is yet ANOTHER layer to the military conspiracy that ended in his family’s deaths. It’s a bit of an eye-roller and did confuse my mom at first but, once we push past it, the performances and character drama really elevate the show and leave the limited plot in the dust.
I’ve sung Jon Bernthal’s praises in the past and won’t repeat myself too much here. He’s just as brilliant as he was in Daredevil with a bonus: the added wrinkle of a man who is trying to escape this cycle of violence that he seems to be trapped in with little to no success. Bernthal’s performance in The Punisher shows us a man who is tired and wants to leave it all behind. My mom loved him and was interested in the character despite the violence and really enjoyed his “no nonsense attitude”.
While Bernthal delivers a great performance, I would be remiss not to mention the supporting cast. Ebon Moss-Bachrach does very well as Micro, a character that’s equal parts shady underground intelligence man, dedicated father, and tone-appropriate comic relief. My mom really enjoyed when Frank punched him out for giving him a tough time.
Amber Rose-Revah is also a welcome addition to the cast, although most of her plotlines and actions don’t seem to have enough weight to them until half-way through the series when she sheds Michael Nathanson’s character Sam Stein who seemed to be there to speak only in blatant expository dialogue.
While the series’ big bad is Paul Schulze’s over-the-top turn as Agent Orange: conspiracy mastermind and Mike Pence cosplaying as Blofeld, the real scene-stealer here is Ben Barnes’ Billy Russo: once Frank’s comrade-in-arms turned military contractor in cahoots with Agent Orange. My mom hated Billy Russo. As soon as it was revealed that he was part of the conspiracy, she rubbed it in my face that she called it. For the rest of the series, every time Russo was on screen, she said she “hated him” and that he was “an idiot.” Even after Frank repeatedly drags his face across broken glass, she was upset that he was still alive. She got a little scary. If he can elicit that kind of a reaction from my mother, Barnes’ performance was phenomenal and I’m intrigued as to where they’ll take the character.
The Punisher‘s greatest success is avoiding the obvious route of turning each episode into a bloodbath and beyond. In addition, this is complemented by the conspiracy element turning it into a very slow burn television show. The fights are brutal but they are few and far between, especially when considering that this is a show about The Punisher. Instead, the show opts to bring light to Frank’s struggles with the veteran experience.
Now my mom and I aren’t veterans so neither of us can speak from firsthand knowledge, but the post-war experiences and psychological struggles of veterans (while obviously not as hyper-charged as Frank Castle’s) are horrifyingly tragic. Adding focus to that critical angle in this series turns it into something meaningful, at least from our civilian points of view. Regardless, Frank is portrayed as a broken and damaged person whose acts of ‘heroism’ are not caused by his desire to be a hero. By holding back on the violence, Frank is still relatively sympathetic, and my mom said she “felt sorry for him and the things he had to go through”.
The show manages to hold itself back from a Punisher-style massacre for so long that when Frank finally dons the skull and goes on his final, brutal killing spree towards the end, we saw that Frank Castle is kind of a monster, but both my mother and I felt like his revenge was earned and cathartic. That’s a little uncomfortable to say, but it’s proof that the show clicked in all the right ways to make The Punisher a relatively relatable main character. And, fittingly, at the end, my mom and I were both happy to see him trying to get help.
Mom Rating (Out of Five):
- Another 6-star-er!
- The opening episode shows Frank growing out his hair. My mom maintained that “He doesn’t look good with the hair. I preferred him without the hair.”
- She hated Billy’s “stupid smile”. She really, really hated him, guys. She was even pissed at Madani for trusting him.
- She didn’t fully understand what was going on in the dominatrix scene. I didn’t explain it to her.
- Too many sex scenes for my taste, but since she really liked the whole show, so I’m not going to dock it a point because I’m not well-adjusted enough to view those with my mom.
- While everyone in the show calls him “Frank”, I’m a little tickled that my mom does too. Like she’s on a first name basis with the frickin’ Punisher.
- The show also opened a frank (PUNISHER INTENDED?) conversation about veterans’ affairs between me and my mom, so that was nice.
- As much as I like the show, I hope they don’t make 15 seasons of it. Otherwise I’ll have to re-think my blog post naming system.