Hello, and welcome to my look at the back half of the first Marvel-Netflix spinoff, The Punisher, which continues the story of the Jon Bernthal-played title character who was introduced in Season 2 of Daredevil. In this penultimate installment of my feature, we'll examine Episode 8: “Cold Steel”; Episode 9: “Front Towards Enemy”; and Episode 10: “Virtue of the Vicious.” I'll use my perspective and knowledge as both a longtime Marvel Comics fan and journalist to examine what worked for me and what did not in these episodes, discuss another Marvel Comic and potential spinoff these episodes elicited, and talk about what I hope happens in the final three episodes of the season.
So let's begin, and if you have to cut a wire, make sure it's the white one!
We've arrived in that most problematic of areas for Netflix's 13-episode Marvel shows: the back half. They always manage to start pretty strong and then stumble in the back half before finishing strong. (Or they twist their ankle coming out of the starting block and painfully limp along the entire way—I'm looking at you Iron Fist Season 1! You know what you did!) And sadly, after seven pretty solid episodes, The Punisher made its first real narrative misstep. It wasn't completely terrible, though. In fact, there were quite a few things I liked about Episodes 8-10, and some of the things that came about because of what they did wrong were also enjoyable.
So let's tackle the biggest problem first: the Lewis Wilson story in Episodes 9-10. The show takes an awkward and clunky turn when the Punisher diverts his attention from the military conspiracy that murdered his family to go after Lewis. This is partly because of the Netflix model that gives you all 13 episodes at once. You're expecting a more serial narrative, and suddenly you're given the threat of Lewis, which feels more like a standalone story or threat-of-the-week episode that you'd see on network television or cable. The result slows down the momentum that the previous episodes had built.
Another issue I had with Episodes 9-10 is that in making Lewis a separate threat for Frank, they kind of ruined the tragic nature of the character. He became a rightwing, murderous zealot. All the empathy built up for him and his suffering went out the window when he started threatening Karen over the articles she wrote. Also, introducing Senator Stan Ori as a target for Lewis just didn't work. He was basically a throwaway character spouting nonsense rhetoric. His scenes were a waste of time.
Having Russo dupe Lewis into going after Frank would have been a much better and more organic fit for his storyline. Lewis's demise would have been more powerful and poignant if it came because he was tricked into hunting Frank, who would then be forced to kill a PTSD-suffering soldier that Russo had exploited.
Still, there were some things I liked about what they did with the Lewis episodes. We got a lot more of Curtis (Jason R. Moore), which is always a good thing. We got the return of Detective Brett Mahoney (Royce Johnson) from Daredevil and Jessica Jones. It was fun to see him bounce off all the different characters in Episode 10. The Rashomon-style out-of-chronological-order narrative approach to Episode 10 was also pretty fun. Although, my favorite aspect of Episodes 9-10 was Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) getting to be awesome.
From 2004-2006, writer Brian Michael Bendis and a number of artistic collaborators worked on a Marvel Comics series called The Pulse. The Pulse was about Daily Bugle reporters tackling stories on how superheroes and villains impacted crime in New York. One of the characters in that series was the comic version of Jessica Jones (it was really good; if you missed it, it's available in one complete graphic novel collection), but the other main character was veteran reporter Ben Urich. Sadly, Vondie Curtis-Hall's version of Ben Urich died in Season 1 of Daredevil, but Karen has sort of become the MCU's replacement for him.
So while watching Karen do all sorts of exciting stuff in Episodes 8-10, I couldn't help but think that I'd love to see a Netflix adaptation of Pulse starring Woll and guest starring characters from all over the Netflix corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You could have her pursue all sorts of different stories, which would offer a perfect opportunity to tell some smaller, almost standalone-style tales.
The regular Punisher cast also got moments to shine in these episodes. I thought Jon Bernthal was especially great in the scenes where he was reacting to Karen being threatened on the radio. The way he almost begged and pleaded for Micro to use the computer to find Lewis was chilling. You could really feel Frank unraveling with worry over losing someone else he cared about.
Ben Barnes also continued to shine as a completely awful scumbag. You got to understand his Billy Russo a bit more, but he was also allowed to be two-faced, ruthless, and sociopathic. I utterly hated him in that scene where he comforted the shell-shocked Madani by wiping away the blood of her partner Sam Stein, whom he had murdered earlier.
It was cathartic to watch both Madani and Frank finally stumble onto the fact that Russo is a monster. I'm now primed and ready to see the Punisher throw him through a window, and I can't wait to see what Barnes does with his character after he becomes the heavily scarred Jigsaw. I'm also hoping Madani gets to kick some ass and get some payback as well.
Seeing Jigsaw and the return of the Punisher's signature skull are the two things I'm looking forward to the most in the final block of episodes. I'm off to watch them and see how it all turns out! So join me back here next Wednesday for a look at how everything wraps up and what it might mean for future Netflix Marvel shows.
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