Frank Castle returns in The Punisher season 2 with a whole mess of problems — both new and old. This review is spoiler-free.
Netflix’s latest show to take place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe had a tall order to fill. Between Daredevil season 2 and The Punisher season 1, we’ve already wrapped up Frank’s backstory. There may have been a few loose ends, but Punisher season 2 had to bring something new to the table that audiences still cared about.
And they had to do it right. Frank is a difficult man to love. He’s good deep down, we all know that, but he does some incredibly violent things in the name of justice. That doesn’t sit right with a lot of people, but it’s also hard to argue that Castle isn’t always in the wrong, either.
The Punisher season 2 seems to have succeeded on both fronts. Billy Russo returning as Jigsaw kept part of the story back where it all began, with the murders of Frank’s family. This is the focal point of Castle’s arc, and it is what continues to drive him even after all debts are settled.
But the line isn’t so cut and dry with Billy, and Frank is at war with himself. Russo is the only one left who had a connection to the murders of Frank’s wife and children, and yet he was Frank’s brother-in-arms, his family in the Marines. Frank must come to terms with who Billy was back then, who he became, and who he is now.
But Frank also has to ask those same questions of himself. Who was he back in the Marines? Who did he become after his family was murdered? Who does he want to be now that justice has been administered?
Much of season 1 is about asking this question, not just of Frank, but of everyone around him — Curtis, Agent Madani, Detective Mahoney, and even characters who don’t stick around for longer than an episode or two — and of the show’s audience. Is Frank too violent? Is he just violent enough? Who gets to decide where the line is drawn?
This question was addressed beautifully in the scene between Matt and Frank on the rooftop in Daredevil season 2, but where Frank’s convictions were stronger even than Murdock’s back then, it is obvious he is beginning to question them now. He’s a blunt instrument, often happy to be pushed and pulled by those around him if it gets the job done. But the job has been done, and Frank needs to know what’s next for him.
We see the line being drawn multiple times in The Punisher season 2, often at the not-so-gentle prodding of other characters. Frank may be hard-headed, but he never forgets the weight on his shoulders. He does not kill aimlessly and without reason. The very fact that he questions himself means he doesn’t take any of this lightly. That might not make him a hero, but it’s also what stops him from becoming a villain.
Frank loves with all of his heart, even if he has trouble showing that at times. I fell for the character in Daredevil season 2 because of his connection to Karen Page. It’s important to see Frank continue to love even after his family is gone. We have to believe there’s more to him than just The Punisher.
The Punisher season 2 brings us plenty of moments like this. They might, regrettably, not all focus around Karen, but they’re important nonetheless. In the beginning of the season, Frank steps in to protect a young girl from trained hit men and spends the rest of the episodes doing everything in his power to keep her alive.
I don’t always like how Frank treats those around him. He is far from a perfect character, and if he were real, I’d steer clear of him entirely. But he’s not, and it’s been satisfying to see him grow and be vulnerable again. It’s not an easy thing for anyone to do after everything has been taken from them, but I imagine it’s even harder for someone like Frank.
Luckily, not every single shot in Punisher season 2 is dark and covered in blood. While that’s still the majority of what you’ll get, those who were hoping to see Frank open up a little bit will be delighted that the writing team has injected some humor into the series. There’s plenty of doom and gloom, but there’s also a laugh here and there, too.
The action scenes are either less gratuitous than last season’s or I’ve become desensitized. There are still some cringe-worthy moments when it comes to the gore, but we seem to linger on them less.
Part of that might be because Frank is on his own less often than he was in season 1. Madani and Curtis can’t ever seem to leave him alone, and he doesn’t want to let the young girl in his care out of his sight. The Punisher season 2 is as much about Frank’s individual growth as it is about how important having a good support system can be.
And the characters on this show surely need that support system. Billy, Madani, the young girl, and Frank all have skeletons in their closet, and they’ve all got mental health issues they must deal with. Not all of them choose the right path, for themselves or the world at large, but that’s the point. We choose whether or not we put more good into the world than bad.
As with Punisher season 1, the show hits on some sensitive topics. Gun violence is an obvious target, but they also speak to religious zealots, and the alt-right movement in particular. Not everyone is going to like the picture this season paints, especially of certain characters, but it is relevant to our current political climate nonetheless.
The Punisher, like the man himself, is not always easy to love. Sometimes it makes me uncomfortable. Sometimes it goes too far. But there’s a lesson to be learned in those moments, too, and I hope Frank continues to grow as a person right alongside the series.