This article contains spoilers for Marvel's The Punisher series from Netflix.
I don't think I officially binge-watched Marvel's The Punisher. I made it through two episodes when it first debuted at midnight before going to bed. Got another one in while working yesterday… and then watched ten episodes straight. It was close, but a stunted start deducts points. That's not to say I didn't want to binge watch. The first episode intrigued me, but left me a little worried that it was going to be a typical revenge flick-style story. All those fears were gone by the end of episode three. At the moment I still think Marvel's Daredevil is the best of the set with Punisher being a close second… but Daredevil is my favorite Marvel character so that might bias me a little.
This is an intense, character driving story that is very well acted and directed. It's not without flaws, but those flaws are surprisingly few. The story starts with a Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) who has completed his mission to the best of his knowledge. He killed Major Schoonover (Clancy Brown) back in Daredevil and now was just cleaning up the stragglers who were involved in his family's murder. With them all gone. He is a man in pain with no love nor outlet for his anger. He gets pulled in to help a co-worker that puts him on the radar of David "Micro" Leiberman (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) who is the one who left the disc for him in Daredevil. Micro is an ex-NSA analyst to came across a video that showed an illegal CIA operation in Kandahar that was torturing and killing terrorist targets and trafficking in drugs to pay for the ops. This was a mission that Castle was part of along with his best friend, Billy Russo (Ben Barnes). And though Schoonover ran the op, there was a CIA agent named Rawlins (Paul Schulze) that was ultimately responsible. These were the people ultimately responsible for killing Castle's family. Micro shows that to Frank and gives him a purpose again.
Bernthal is once again spot on as Castle. He doesn't glorify the character or even try to make him heroic, his choices are based on what he believes is right and you feel the pain he is going through. Moss-Bachrach hits all the right notes as the neurotic computer hacker who lets his family believe he's dead yet watches them constantly. Barnes plays Russo as so nice and geuine, if you didn't know who his character is in the comics you'd never be able to see what was coming. And if you do know, you are just waiting for it to happen. Schulze's portrayal of Rawlins is pretty straight forward corrupt government official until we get near the end of the run and then there is something seriously wrong with the guy.
There are two basic subplots going on. One that fits nicely into the narrative that features DHS agents Madani (Amber Rose Revah) and Stein (Michael Nathanson) trying to find out what happened to Madani's ex-partner in Kandahar. This ends up being part of the overall story and Revah plays a very interesting character. Stein is funny and likable while he's around. The other story felt shoehorned in to help stretch the series to 13-episodes and to give Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) a reason to show up again after she appeared in episode 2. The story includes an ex-vet named Lewis (Daniel Webber) who is having a real difficult time adjusting to coming home from the war. I think the story of the struggles of soldier returning home was important to the story, but how extreme this character went felt like it was an unnecessary sidestep to the overall story.
It's The Punisher, so you expect the series to be violent and while they didn't make it PG-13, it didn't seem to be trying to be extra violent either. That said, the last two episodes are brutal and at times hard to watch. Also, Frank's technique for ignoring torture is a bit jarring and I'm not quite sure how I feel about that yet. The ending with Barnes was expected, but still incredibly intense and sets him up to be even more vicious of a villain when he returns.
One of the strange things for me wast the actions of Madani at the end and the fact that her father, who we don't see in 12 episodes, is suddenly there and is a doctor just when needed. Doctor ex machina maybe?
What may be the strength of the whole series was one of the things that worried me the most going into it. The relationship between Frank and Micro. I couldn't imagine comedic moments working in a series like this and I was having a hard time seeing a character like Micro working without some comedy aspects. But instead of making the characters funny, they made the characters differences funny. And as the episodes progress, the friendship between the two became stronger until they were brothers in the same way a pair of Marines become brothers when serving together. There's even a moment where Micro gets Frank to laugh… and it's such a genuine laugh that it doesn't seem out of place. If anything, it feels exactly how you'd want Frank and Micro to get along.
Marvel's The Punisher is the best parts of the comics and the movies combined into a near perfect television season.