James Hunt

Dec 1, 2017

The Punisher proves itself the best-written of all the Marvel/Netflix team-ups in its finale, Memento Mori. Spoilers…

The standalone Marvel-Netflix Punisher show has finally dropped, and once again we’re doing daily write ups of every episode, highlighting the influences, in-jokes, reference points and Easter eggs we spotted, as well as a few thoughts on the show itself.

As usual feel free to discuss whether you’re watching along or you’ve seen it all, but please don’t spoil future episodes for anyone in the comments.

This review contains spoilers.

Let’s hand it to the Punisher team, because they did what no series has done so far: they stuck the landing. Unlike Daredevil S1, which was pretty good all the way through and only faltered slightly in the climactic episodes, The Punisher got everyone where they were going, on-theme, without anyone dressing up in a stupid costume and with a plot that actually made sense. Again, I STILL can’t say I loved it like I loved Daredevil, or even some of the fan-pleasing moments in the other shows – but I cannot deny that it’s the best written of the lot.

So it turns out the reason Curtis didn’t get his moment with Lewis was because he was being saved for Russo. Makes sense. I loved the easy relationship between those two characters, both knowing why they were together and not making a fuss about it, but also the reveal that Curtis’ calm movements were all designed to give Frank an opening with his sniper rifle – something Russo realised just in time. The great thing about that scene is that it puts Russo and Frank on equal strategic footing.

It’s a shame, really, that the final showdown couldn’t have been a little more cerebral. There were some nice touches – Frank’s PTSD triggered by associating the carousel music with trauma, for example – but having two nameless kids at stake and watching Medani take a bullet in the head three seconds after showing up seemed like unnecessary window dressing. At the very least, if you’re doing that story, do it with Micro’s family at stake. I almost wonder if that’s what happened in an earlier draft. It certainly seemed like a ridiculously late time to be showing us Russo acting as “Uncle Billy” to Frank’s family, though this kind of last-minute past/present juxtaposition was a problem in Luke Cage as well. The idea is good but it’s just the wrong time to try and make us care.

Of course, any shakiness during the final sequence is made up for by Billy’s fate which is, as Frank promised, worse than death. He never gets the name Jigsaw, but maybe in season 2 (er, if he wakes up). Meanwhile, Micro, the Liebermans and Frank get a happy ending and even Madani gets the satisfaction of out-manoeuvring her superiors. I really enjoyed seeing her gain their respect for sticking to her guns.

It was also really cool to see Frank addressing his mental health problems. After all, the big theme of this series has been how PTSD screws you up, and now he’s ended his war on both a practical and moral victory, seeing him admit it’s time to get help was a perfect way to move forward. Sure, they could undo it later on – a second series would undoubtedly have to give him a new reason to kill that wasn’t so personal – but for now, it’s an ending I’m happy with.

So that was The Punisher! A likely contender for the best Marvel/Netflix show and one you can say is good with very few qualifications. There are things I would have liked more of, like some characters digging deep into Frank’s morality, or some more of his trademark room-clearing action scenes – but then Daredevil S2 gave us a lot of that, so I can’t hate that this is a more nuanced and rounded version of the character. To cap it all off, Frank’s final monologue in the episode which ended with him admitting “I’m scared” to a room full of former soldiers was genuinely powerful stuff.

Admittedly, I don’t know much about Steve Lightfoot, the Punisher showrunner (apparently he wrote on Hannibal?) but I’d love to see him take on one of the higher-profile Netflix-Marvel characters next. He nailed this one.

Read James’ review of the previous episode, Home, here.