Thanksgiving may be over, but I’ll forever be thankful for all the Kastle scenes in season 1 of The Punisher.
If you’re anything like me, the most surprising thing about the second season of Daredevil was the storyline and connection between Frank Castle and Karen Page.
I went into Daredevil season 2 hoping to see some more fantastic action scenes and conflicted superhero-ing; I came out of Daredevil season 2 having completely sold my soul to Frank and Karen — or Kastle, as fans refer to them — and desperately hoping that we’d get to see more of this surprisingly evocative and interesting dynamic.
Though Karen Page was initially not slated to appear in The Punisher, showrunner Steve Lightfoot — who is my new favorite person — specifically asked to have her included in the show because of her obvious chemistry and connection with Frank Castle.
Initially I thought this simply meant that Karen would have a one-off cameo in the series, similar to the way Claire Temple shows up in every Marvel Netflix show — a quick nod to the fact that all these storylines take place in the same universe.
Even when The Punisher sent Jon Bernthal and Deborah Ann Woll out together to promote the show and began to release Kastle related clips to tease the fans, I still kept my expectations low in terms of Karen’s role in the storyline.
However, it was somewhere around the time that the official Punisher twitter created what seemed to be an honest-to-God Kastle fanvid that I really began to let myself get excited about her inclusion in the storyline.
And damn, did The Punisher deliver.
Rather than a one-off wink and nod to the audience, Karen was able to play a part in Frank’s life and the overall storyline — one that spoke to their shared connection, their shared history and their individual traumas.
Amidst the brutality and anguish of Frank’s mission, we were able to likewise witness a tenderness in his interactions with Karen, a softness that he reveals to few others in either this series or in Daredevil.
Of course I would’ve been thrilled had Karen had an even larger part to play, but that we got what we did is astounding given the fact that she was initially not meant to be included at all.
And while I could go on and on about each of their interactions in the season, both large and small, here are four reasons why their storyline was more than I ever thought I’d get and why I’m clamoring to have Karen included as a season regular once The Punisher season 2 comes around.
They can be completely honest with one another
One of the most difficult things about having a vigilante in your life is the simple fact that it makes honesty and candidness a near impossibility. Many superhero stories — from Spiderman to Superman — show the struggle inherent in having to hide away such a big part of your life from the people around you. In fact, we saw firsthand the way in which dishonesty and living a double life ruined Matt’s relationships in Daredevil.
What makes Karen and Frank’s storyline so interesting is the fact that neither character is blind to who Frank is and what he does. As Karen says in the second season of Daredevil — she may not like what Frank does, but he’s always honest with her.
The Punisher likewise builds on this foundation of honesty and trustworthiness by having Karen be the one person that Frank trusts to get him information on David “Micro” Lieberman — a man he fully admits to initially being scared of. In turn, Karen continues to occupy the space of someone who understands Frank but also isn’t scared to push back against him.
Even as her heart breaks at the loneliness she sees within him and even though she tells those around her that Frank Castle’s story is a tragedy, she also constantly pushes for him to revise his worldview, calling him out with a clarity that is born out of complete trust and their deep connection with one another.
There’s a softness to their interactions that deepens Frank’s characterization
The Punisher is far and away the bloodiest and most brutal out of any of Marvel’s current properties, both on the big and small screen.
People get shot, punched, bruised, maimed, sliced and stabbed with regularity over the course of the 13 episodes, with the final episode culminating in a brutal showdown between Billy and Frank that I mostly had to fastforward through.
Frank himself constantly stalks and paces like an animal on the prowl, a near permanent scowl on his face and a voice that sounds like he eats bits of metal and glass for breakfast while also smoking 10 cigarettes at a time.
We do get glimpses of another, less brutal Frank — in his interactions with the Lieberman family, with David as the show goes on, in his flashbacks with Billy.
But it is in his interactions with Karen that we see a softness that fully rounds out Frank’s character, one that’s only possible because of the foundation of trust and deep emotional connection between these two characters.
With Karen, Frank’s trademark growl dissolves, his movements become less guarded. For a man who spends much of the season holding himself back from others, he accepts Karen’s affection toward him easily — a hug that he leans into, an admission of care that catches him off guard — and even initiates a soft kiss on his own. He lets himself smile and joke and flirt in a way that doesn’t come as easily with other characters.
If his interactions with the Lieberman family were meant to show us the father that he had once been, then his interactions with Karen are a glimpse at the man he might once again be — if he would just let himself.
Watching their storyline play out was like watching living fanfic
It was at this very moment in the show that I literally had to pause the episode because I just kept on repeating “oh my God” out loud to myself as I clutched my heart in pure shipping agony.
The Punisher is violent, ruthless and bloody. Given the history and nature of the character, I expected that.
What I did not expect was to get an incredibly well-written, emotional, angsty slow burn romance that featured so many of my favorite fic tropes (unfortunately, there was no fake dating or ‘forced to share a bed’ — but I remain optimistic for season 2).
The second episode featured Frank giving Karen flowers, a swaying hug in the middle of her apartment and the softest, most emotional exchange of “okay” I have ever witnessed on my screen.
The fifth episode had some light flirting over Frank pulling Madani out of a burning car (look, I never said they were the world’s most normal pairing), then an incredibly affecting scene where Karen breaks down over the loneliness she sees within Frank, the fact that more than anything she wants there to be an after for him.
Frank responds to this admission by telling Karen he — more than anything — needs to make sure that he keeps her safe, ending in a tentative, gentle kiss to the cheek that made me more emotional than a cheek kiss has ever made anyone.
The ninth episode gave us Frank completely malfunctioning and melting down at the briefest thought of anything happening to Karen and likewise gifted us with the direct comparison between Sarah, David’s wife, and Karen.
This of course led to the 10th episode, which not only gave us the line from the above GIF — ripped, I think, directly from all my favorite fanfics/my dreams — but also gave us Frank jumping in front of a hail of bullets, getting shot in the head, dislocating his arm and going toe-to-toe with a bomber with nothing but his words and sheer desire to keep Karen safe.
That elevator scene was pure poetic cinema and I’ll never be over it
Episode 10 is a largely self-contained episode that culminates in a scene so profoundly and quietly emotional that it almost feels like it belongs in a different television show — and perhaps a different television universe entirely.
After the tumult and noise of the episode — the gunshots and the bomb, the cries of anger and pleas of help — we finally get these two characters alone in a quiet, still moment.
There’s nothing but the sound of Karen softly calling Frank’s name as she reaches out to touch him, the ring of the emergency tone fading out until we hear nothing except the sound of their breathing as they take a moment to just be with one another.
There is shrapnel protruding from Frank’s arm, blood covering the whole half side of his face, but once he lifts his eyes to meet Karen’s and the two look at each other with a potent mixture of longing and angst and just pure, unmitigated emotion, it becomes one of the most evocative single moments of this entire season.
There’s a moment — a slight, passing one — where it looks like either character might give in to a kiss (and given what Deborah Ann Woll has said about there being certain takes where they went further with the romantic concept, I feel like there must be at least one take where it happened).
But perhaps they both realize that now is not the moment for it, that right now neither can be what the other one needs. So instead, they rest their forehead against one another and allow themselves a moment of rest, a moment to just hold one another before they have to say goodbye.
It’s an incredibly powerful, beautiful moment in the show, one that speaks to the fantastic talents of Jon Bernthal and Deborah Ann Woll, the chemistry between them and the compelling connection between their characters.
It’s also an amazing final scene between Frank and Karen, one that I never imagined we’d ever get on this show and something that will tide me over until The Punisher season 2 (hopefully) announces Karen as a series regular.