Frank Castle’s second Netflix outing proves itself to be an incredibly frustrating watch. Unfortunately, Punisher Season 2 follows previous Marvel Netflix ventures and falls prey to the infamous Second Season slump, fans have come to associate with Marvel-Netflix. Whilst each of the Marvel Netflix series’s second seasons have found themselves falling prey to a variety of different storytelling flaws, one overarching fault has been Marvel-Netflix’s inability to pace their shows accordingly and provide enough story content to legitimately justify a 13 episode season order. The Punisher’s follow-up season is no exception. Out of all the sophomore season’s, Punisher season 2 may be the worst offender. Due to the rampant pacing and storytelling issues exemplified within the first couple of episodes, Punisher season 2 delivers an incredibly convoluted and at times torturous story.
A number of these issues can be attributed to a variety of unnecessary departures from Season 1’s formula. Surprisingly, the shows choice in villains distinguishes itself as the biggest perpetrator of Punisher Season 2’s most glaring faults. The show’s decision to include two primary antagonists, as opposed to one central villain bares the brunt of the responsibility for season 2’s sharp qualitative decline. Simply put, the Punisher season 2 doesn’t possess sophisticated enough writing to effectively balance two principal adversaries. The shows clumsy attempts to do so, results in two overwhelmingly unfocused and meandering story arcs, which befoul’s two otherwise compelling concepts. The writers decision to feature two unconnected primary villains essentially splits the series’s focus in half and puts the show in a precarious position, where two half-baked storylines are forced to continually vie dominance. Neither of which emerge victorious.
Both of the antagonists story arcs suffer from a reductive approach to the storytelling, culminating in two disparate and underdeveloped plot-lines. The problem here, is that the writers present the audience with a stripped down version of the two central conflicts, in an attempt to cram two seasons worth of story into 13 episodes. However in doing so, the writers pillage so much of each conflicts potential story content, that they leave both conflicts (and their subsequent characters) bereft of all the complexity characteristic of the series first season.
The Punisher Season 2’s muddied vision also results in an inability/failure to adequately justify a number of the creative changes which the writers have put into effect for its second season. Narrative choices, such as the writers decision to remove the shows focus from former series regulars in favour of promotion new characters/inflating minor characters roles, all fail to the receive the care and attention necessary to make them as engaging as the first season. This problem mannifests itself particularly in the decision to replace the character of Micro with newcommer Amy Bendix. Throughout the entirety of the Punishers debut season, the character of Micro is used as a counterbalance to Frank Castles more abrasive and violent tendencies, over the course of the first season Micro becomes a vehicle through which the writers are able to humanise the Punisher. Micro’s departure from the series, leaves a gaping narrative void, which the writers attempt to fill using the character of Amy Bendix. The results of which are rather mixed.
On the one hand, the writers succeed as, the characters involvement allows the writers to facilitate a number of moving exchanges, through which the audiences is reminded of Frank Castles humanity. However, due to the seasons haphazard focus, the relationship between two never truly develops past a conceptual level. They never really connect in a way which justifies the emotional payoff that the writers strive for and the surrogate daughter relationship doesn’t really evolve past the surface level. Whilst the character of Amy Bendix remains annoying at her best and downright disengaging at her worst, for much of the season. This mostly occurs due to the series failure to provide character with enough time/attention to become truly developed and win the audience over, in a similar manner to Micro. The show even goes as far as to have the character (and the associated conflict) disappear from the series’s narrative several episodes at time, a decision which further stifles the audience ability to warm to the character. All of which results in an inability to connect with the character on an emotional level to the same degree as I did Micro, which ultimately undercuts the writers scarce attempts to develop the relationship between Frank and Amy, as I just didn’t care enough about the character to become invited in their relationship.
Although the Punisher Season 2 is plagued by a number of glaring faults, the show isn’t entirely bad. Jon Bernthal remains the series biggest and most effect tool in its arsenal. Jon Bernthal embodies the character in such a way, that it becomes near impossible to for audiences to separate the actor from role. He is very much the definitive live-action portrayal of the character. Not only is adept at executing the characters more pronounced performance, but he also able to infuse the role with a constant subtle disquiet and uneasiness, which effectively communicates the characters continual internal struggle. A skill, which inundates the character with the perpetual gravitas necessary to keep the character grounded and engaging to audience. Similarly, Jason R. Moore’s expanded role as Curtis Hoyle, recapture’s enough of the preceding season’s emotional complexity to prevent the series from completely descending into mindless violence territory, as this season so often threatens do. Punisher season 2 also excels when it stops spinning its wheels and allows elements such as the ongoing conflict/rivalry between Dina Madani, Billy Russo and Frank Castle to take centre stage.
The series is at its best when it stops serving these characters filler material, pointless side quests and other narrative detours. During the moments where this reestablished conflict isn’t bogged down by this bloated seasons attempts to juggle two central conflicts, Punisher season 2 transforms into an entirely different show. The moment the show firmly places its attention on Billy Russo’s ascendence, the show becomes permeated with new life. Billy Russo essentially operates, as the shot adrenaline needed, to restore the series narrative drive, sense of urgency and rectifies the shows problems with pacing.
Overall score: 6/10