Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Punisher: Season One review

    There's an argument the genre of superheroes is inherently fascist. It's a line which is frequently trotted out when someone wants to look smarter and put down popular culture. The argument basically depends on the idea that individuals taking the law into their own hands and vigilantism are inherently reactionary Far Right attitudes. This is a very American attitude which ignores the fact uprisings of workers in coal mining towns and with unions are a part of our history.

    Also, it weirdly believes authoritative groups like the police and government should be the only ones to wield violence that would get you laughed at in most Third World governments. Which, fine argument, but it's a weird argument from a revolutionary anti-fascist perspective given tyrannies usually move to take control of such. It's also an argument which falls apart immediately when you mention the X-men. However, the Punisher tends to get a bit more argument weight than most since he's based on the character of Mack Bolan and tends to advocate the death of all criminals with unlimited military force.

The Punisher is never in a good mood.
    Even the Punisher is a lot more nuanced character than people give him credit for, especially under Garth Ennis who interpreted the Punisher as the kind of guy who is a serial killer like Dexter but has great contempt for systemic evils of society. He's a monster but a monster who has a clear vision of society's evils from slavers to the Military Industrial Complex. However, no one has quite given him the kind of makeover which Netflix has.

    Daredevil's season 2 gave a lighter and softer interpretation of the Punisher which showed Frank Castle as manifestly NOT Garth Ennis' serial killer of criminals. He's a man who hates the criminals who murdered his family and kills them but is obviously neither mentally ill or who enjoys killing. Instead, it is a simple revenge tale about a man who was wronged by the system and went on his own way. The Punisher Season One takes the lighter and softer approach of that season and expands on it to make a surprisingly left-leaning anti-Establishment version of Frank Castle who arguably has more in common with the Nomad version of Captain America than he does than his comic book inspiration. This Frank Castle is actually capable of retiring from his war against crime and trying to live a normal life (albeit failing miserably because evil knows where Castle lives).

I found the idea of crusading Homeland Security agents funny.
    The first thing to note about this season is it doesn't really take place in the Marvel universe, cinematic or otherwise. While Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) shows up for several memorable scenes, the series removes any and all references to the other series. It's squarely a show about the long-term effects of the War on Terror and the aftermath on everyone from the government to the public to the soldiers who have returned from it. A war which, seventeen years later, is still going strong.

    Now if this is not the longest, most drawn out introduction to a review, please note it's a necessary one as I feel like The Punisher feels very much like a show for people who wanted the anti-24 (which admittedly is the Bourne Identity so let's say the OTHER anti-24). It's an anti-establishment thriller where the villains are the Military Industrial complex, Right Wing domestic terrorists, corrupt government officials, PMCs, and CIA black bag men instead of Frank Castle's usual foes. I don't mind this but I do think it's not the most absolutely necessary re-envisioning ever done. I mean, it's not like the Zeta cartel, Russian Mob, or ISIS are suddenly not awful people. But, still, is this a good series?

    Absolutely. This is easily the best of the Netflix series. I put it up over Jessica Jones, Daredevil's two seasons, and yes Luke Cage as well as Iron Fist. It's a fantastic character piece with the normally one-note Frank Castle showing a myriad range of emotions as he bonds with multiple characters. He's a man who is emotionally guarded but dead, not by a long shot. I especially liked his interaction with Micro's family.

Micro is a great foil for Frank.
    Supporting cast members Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah), Billy Russo (Ben Barnes), and Curtis Hoyle (Paul Schulze) do an amazing job playing off the various sides to Castle. I especially loved the Department of Homeland Security plot. Dinah is an Iranian immigrant couple's child determined to prove herself a patriotic American but ends up mirred in an investigation everyone wants to go away. She researches into the activities of Castle's old military unit under the erroneous belief justice is not a complicated ever shifting thing on the battlefield. She could easily have been the star of her own program and it helps Amber Rose Revah is a gorgeous woman.

    Strangely, my favorite storyline isn't any of the conspiracies, government corruption, abuse, and the lone crusading heroine against them (plus, you know, Frank Castle). It was actually the tale of Afghanistan veteran Lewis. Lewis comes back incomplete from the war and does his best to find an outlet for his anger from extremely well-played veteran's support therapist Curtis but gets drawn in by reactionary ideology by a fake veteran named O'Connor. His story spirals from there and it draws a fascinating parallel to Frank who explains, in no uncertain terms, as not only is he different from Lewis but Lewis is a disgrace to every other veteran who has suffered. 

I really like Dinah's character and hope she sticks around.
     While it would also be easy to say this is the Left Wing Punisher, I will say the liberals of America get plenty of shots as well. At one point, Karen Page is put up against a United States Senator who has decided the entirety of the recent violence as well as rampages are a result of insufficient gun control. Even for people who support it, it's a capitalization on tragedy for political points with nothing to actually say about the motives of the people engaged in the shooting spree. It's a blue collar Punisher more of the Bruce Springstein type than any sort of bleeding heart interpretation of the character.

    In conclusion, I really recommend this season for those who enjoy spy thrillers and Post-War on Terror fiction. Frank Castle doesn't do nearly enough Punishing and doesn't get to face many ordinary criminals to the point this almost feels like a Jack Reacher series over a Frank Castle one but I very much enjoyed it. Certainly, it gives them ample room to navigate the character that isn't always the case in the Punisher.



  1. Excellent, well thought out review.

  2. It is not left leaning Punisher. It is libertarian Punisher. You are right though that the writers did take jabs at both the left and right. The CIA surveillance state of course is a project of both of them.