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The Punisher is not the show that was promised

Enjoying the TV series will largely depend on what exactly your expectations are.

That line, at that particular point, was a perfect summation of the viewer's exact frustration with a show that held so much promise.

For a little bit of context, a Punisher series was only ordered after Bernthal's enjoyably violent appearance in the second season of Daredevil where he largely stole the show in a season that could have been a terrible bore without him.

If, like me, you were expecting a rampaging Castle going on a killing spree in a succession of endless blood-soaked violence, The Punisher's initial timid approach might disappoint you.

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For a significant portion of the series, it's a broody, near funless conspiracy thriller about shadowy government agents and their dirty little secrets.

Viewers already familiar with this particular Frank Castle know that he's killed all of his known enemies - every mobster, gangster and biker he blamed for the death of his wife and children - in Daredevil bar only a few that he quickly gets rid of in the opening scenes of this one.

This immediately creates a problem for the show on how to progress from there while keeping Castle revenge-obsessed and trigger-happy enough to entertain.

An opportunity presents itself when Castle is forced back into his old ways and attracts the attention of Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), a former NSA analyst who reveals to him that there are enemies yet unpunished.

While Castle's fixation with serving his brand of justice undoubtedly takes centre stage as the connecting story arc of the season, a good chunk of it is also dedicated to deconstructing the allure of his vigilantism.

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The Punisher series was always going to be troublesome to make appealing because the mass murder fantasy that fuels most of Castle's killings has been a problem in modern America.

The show's protagonist is a typical white male lone wolf with automatic weapons who has taken it upon himself to be a self-styled executioner, dishing out the justice he believes he's owed but the 'system' will fail to provide.

To disrupt the neat moral resolutions of Frank Castle and avoid the full glorification of the culture that he represents, The Punisher series introduces a new character to challenge the viewer's erotic endorsement of Castle's vigilante justice.

This is done through Lewis Wilson (Daniel Webber), a young and broken war veteran suffering from PTSD who feels discarded by the system and believes it's trying to take away the little things he has left.

Despite starting out as a sympathetic character with whose woes the viewer can empathise, much like with Castle, Lewis' arc crosses over the sort of line that makes you reexamine your love for the show's protagonist himself.

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A very important element that made Castle such a formidable presence in Daredevil was his view of justice which stood at opposites with that of Matt Murdock. There was a perfect balance of moral stakes between both characters that challenged the viewer to see the merits of both sides.

While Lewis' story arc does not compare to this, it does it's best to serve as a notable indictment of the viewers' adoration for Castle just because he kills the 'right' people who deserve to die.

With Lewis' character as a disgruntled war veteran, just like Castle, the show explores the complicated ethics of vigilantism, just not well enough.

To its credit, the show proves to be so much more than just seductive gun pornography, instead offering an incisive commentary into the costs of war on the society.

With a terribly melancholic feel to it, hemmed by conscious storytelling, The Punisher runs as a social and political commentary on corruption and abuse of power.

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With rage and automatic weapons (and speedy healing) being his only 'superpowers', Castle is forced to don the Punisher garb again to make sure no one responsible for his family's death is left unpunished.

To humanise him as more than just an unstable raging lunatic, The Punisher does a lot of deep diving to soften up his personality in a compelling manner.

In the same vein, most of the supporting characters are incredibly written in intricate details that provide satisfying narratives that touch on important social and political problems.

While Lewis is positioned to colour the viewer's love for Castle's murderous style, he doesn't exactly fare best as his foil on the show.

That role belongs to Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah), a Department of Homeland Security agent who has a stronger link to Castle's past and, thus, has better stakes in his story.

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She has almost as much the same motivation as Frank does to eliminate the villains of the season with the only notable difference between them being the approach they want to employ to achieve that goal.

Just like Micro and the returning Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), Madani serves as a tether to the last vestige of humanity left in Castle and they all have a profound effect on his actions throughout the season, even if the viewer is not completely satisfied with the result.

While The Punisher has always been marketed off the back of Bernthal's Daredevil appearance as a graphically violent show, the series experiences a lot of lulls and dips in tone and action that makes it appear inconsistent at crucial points.

This could be blamed on the movie's attempt to denounce vigilantism in the form of Lewis' story arc while tacitly endorsing it for Castle.

However,  as much as the show tries to restrain itself from bloodshed for most of its run, when it has to devolve into that kind of chaos, it really commits to it.

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The graphic violence in the movie's action scenes are a fan service in titillating the viewers and giving them what most of them tuned in for. Heads roll, bones break, eyes get gouged in repeatedly cynical scenes of brutal savagery.

Narratively stretching the story to accommodate the Netflix 13-episode model also didn't help much as it called for a lot of unnecessary padding, and Castle's adversaries could have been better written.

However, the show does not suffer from a lack of acting prowess as a lot of the characters, led by Bernthal, deliver laudable performances they should be proud of.

With an uncompromising exploration of grief and trauma, The Punisher softens up a haunted Castle and while this offers a whole new dynamic, it's also responsible for some of the most frustrating things about the season as it's slowed down a lot to gather pace for the final act.

While everyone linked to the death of Castle's family has been punished now, he is still a terribly tragic character who's too traumatized to stop killing, and you can bet he's going to be back during the series' second season doing just that; hopefully this time, with better results.

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