Marvel's The Punisher: Season 1
As kids spending a quiet summer’s afternoon reading comic books, none of ever imagined some fifty years later the characters in those colorful pages would be worth billions of dollars. We certainly never thought the ongoing debate over the best comic book brand, Marvel versus DC would not only still be raging as we applied for Medicare but that a substantial portion of the ever-lucrative entertainment industry would be centered around that rivalry. As Marvel continues to dominate films and DC the traditional broadcast television networks, the streaming media venue continues to be a stronghold for team Marvel. Netflix has been the place to find the gritty, down to earth Marvel characters set in several Manhattan neighborhoods. Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), began as a character on Daredevil, not as a villain but a man with an immutable sense of honor and just. He held an understandable grunge against the criminals and cartels that slaughtered his wife and children. It was quiet unfortunate for these criminal, usually beyond the law, that Frank a honed a very special set of talents. He possessed a proclivity for survival, even against the most unfavorable odd, and Frank had a true penchant for killing his enemies. In the comics Frank began as a villain fought by Spider-man under his nom de guerre, The Punisher. His introduction to the Marvel/Netflix universe was as an anti-hero in the second season of Daredevil. His anxiously awaited solo outing on Netflix did not disappoint although some fans felt the violence was scaled back. For that contingent it should noted that there is a difference between a series rated TV-MA and a film not rated by the MPAA. Considering the venue, the portrayal of this psychologically damaged and emotionally broken character was intensely effective. It may have been a reintroduction of the character, but this series necessarily contained multiple elements normally attributed to an origin story.
Frank Castle is one of the most complicated characters in the Marvel universe. Is overall body count is astronomical but most of the dead were very bad people. At a point in his career, depicted within the context of this first season, Frank’s decision to try to omit the so called solider villains, and regular soldiers just trying to serve their country. They bore no responsibility for the orders given by corrupt superiors. Initially Frank’s self-appointed mandate was to kill everyone responsible for the murder oi his wife and two young children. Castle had done a lot of morally dubious things in service of his country, but the butchery of innocence was a line that was not subject to any consideration or justification. At first Castle believed his family was in the wrong place at the wrong time, caught in between a war between cranial factions. In this season he uncovers a deeper, darker and much more personal motivation for what happened.
After the events that transpired which brought Castle in contact with Daredevil, he thought he had eliminated the last of the criminals responsible for that tragic moment. He decided to lay low now that ‘The Punisher’ had been made into a media sensation. The only person Frank feels he can trust is Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), Former legal aide for the small firm of Nelson and Murdock, and currently an investigative reporter for the New York Bulletin. She was the only one that displayed true sympathy for him and does not require he hide his pain beneath the façade of the Punisher. Castle has taken a job in construction, considering his take is breaking down concert ways, destruction might be more appropriate. Long after his shift ends Frank continues to wield the sledgehammer, pulverizing the stone. This in addition to his lack of talking has isolated him from his coworkers except for one young man, Donny Chavez (Lucca De Oliveira) that tentatively tries to befriend him. When the other men pull a robbery, they demand Donny join them. The heist goes awry, a very bad thing since the job was to rob a high stakes poker game run by the Gnucci crime family. Donnie drops his wallet at the scene the others decide to remove that vulnerability by trapping Donnie and covering him in cement. The other men had the habit of tormenting Castle thinking he was mentally deficient not realizing they were poking a wild animal with a stick. When Castle intervenes to save Donnie, the other men had better have medical insurance or funeral plans. Frank reaches out to the only one that knows his identity, former Navy Seal, Curtis Hoyle (Jason R. Moore). Curtis runs a self-help program for veterans suffering from PTSD.
Castle had been a member of a Black Ops team in Afghanistan who was order to perform actions contrary to any accepted rules of engagement including the use of ‘enhanced integration techniques’. This was a significant contribution to Castle’s psychological damage but when a video surfaces it threatens the man in charge of the operation, William Rawlins (Paul Schulze), who currently holds the exceptionally powerful post of Director of covert operations at the CIA. Castle blinded one eye and humiliating him back in Afghanistan. A man such as Rawlins is not prone to forget but rather hatred simmers and grows over time. He is the actual antagonist although the person most actively search for castle is Homeland Security agent, Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah). An Iranian-American who returned to New York City where a literal game of high speed chicken has facing Castle. Knowing, but unable to prove, he is alive, she becomes determine to bring him in. when Castle remove Madani’s corrupt supervisor, Carson Wolf (C. Thomas Howell), she move up taking over his office and responsibilities.
Castle winds up with an unlikely and initially unwanted ally in former NSA analyst, David Lieberman (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), better known by his hacker alias, Micro. He faked his own death when he exposed a government conspiracy and lives in a bunker within a Faraday cage. He has a substantial number of cameras and microphones all over his former home to watch his wife, Sarah (Jaime Ray Newman), and their two children. Much to David’s chagrin, Frank is befriended by Sarah through an unusual set of circumstances. When David’s family begins to become too close to Frank it alters the tenuous dynamic between an unstoppable man of action an a man with the operational intelligence to make the goal feasible.
What some fans of the comic books and movie interpretations of the character may find off-putting is the foundation of the story and how it affects the development of the characters, this pertains not just to Frank Castle but to the supporting cast. The narrative requires time to peel away the numerous layers of the characters. In an action film to keep the running time acceptable, character background is restricted to sufficient exposition to launch the action. It has been a trademark of the Netflix series to explore deeper into the man behind the mask, hoodie or tattoo. With eight to ten hours at hand the writers can bring that special ingredient that made Marvel comic so wonderful fifty years ago, humanity. Their characters were always multi-dimensional people. This is a frank Castle for a viewer interested in the transformational journey more than the body count. Joseph Campbell is famous for his treatise on the hero’s journey. What is so well presented here is the anti-hero’s journey. It probes what could turn a loving family man with a strong sense of honor and patriotism into an unstoppable instrument of lethal revenge. With the other characters this is demonstrated to an appropriate degree. When Madani has sex, it is she seen getting dressed and leaving the man hoping to see her again. This behavior has been used as a male trope so frequently when it is demonstrated by a woman it cements her determination and focus to flourish in a male dominated profession on her terms. This is a much more interesting take on the Punisher than I had hoped and it is better this approach was taken.