Well, technically, Pete Castalioni is back. At least for a little while.
A little under 18 months ago, the first season of Netflix’s The Punisher hit the streaming service with an almighty bang. The ultra-violent anti-hero made his debut in Daredevil’s divisive second season; and giving him his own 13-hour story was a bold move that ultimately paid off.
At its core, The Punisher was a story about veterans, focusing on a handful of different characters, Frank included, and how they struggled in the real world post-military service. It wore its politics and its heart on its bloody sleeve as Castle carved his way through the waves of bad guys thrown at him. Now it’s time for a new story and Netflix have a high benchmark to hit.
Having gotten his pardon, more or less, in the final episode of the previous season, we meet Frank hanging out at a bar in Michigan. Having a beer or two, chilling out with the music and chatting up the lovely lady behind the bar, only getting into it with one drunken fool. He doesn’t even need to break a sweat, let alone go full Punisher. But trouble, whether he wants it nor not, is never far away and a sign of all the bad things to come appears in the form of a young girl with a backpack and a maniacal bad guy not far behind her.
Twenty-four hours later, Frank finds himself hip-deep in a bar of bad guys trying to find said girl. Ever chivalrous, Frank takes on the responsibility of keeping her alive and leaves a bar full of bad guys dead in the process. Hitting the road with the girl in the passenger seat, things aren’t looking as good for Frank as they did in the opening minutes.
Bringing back a character like Frank is a tough ask. After such a high-octane first season, the bar is set high and returning to it leaves things open for disappointment. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here. We get a glimpse of the good guy we love as he defends the honour of the bar tender being harassed by the drunk douchebag who picks a fight with Frank. It’s a quick look at the character we want back while not turning the episode up to eleven and taking the series to a height it can’t keep up with for another twelve episodes.
The girl with her backpack acts as introduction to John Pilgrim. A sinister figure who marks his territory quickly in this season with a quiet, calculated and cold murder. A death the exact opposite to anything Frank Castle has ever treated us to makes this man stand out instantly. The episode falls into two very distinct parts from here.
READ MORE: The Punisher’s best moments pre-season 2
First, happy-go-lucky Frank. The Castle we saw a lot with Micro’s family in the first season makes a welcome return here. Star Jon Bernthal has an ability to switch from being The Punisher to being the dad that Frank misses being at the drop of a hat. It’s always a convincing face change and leave bystanders grinning from ear to ear as he flips to being able to bring himself to the level of the kids he’s dealing with. This episode’s time spent being dad, if only for a few minutes, to the barmaid’s son is one of those perfect moments that a show like The Punisher needs to balance the violence out and stop it becoming straight up gun-porn.
That being said, the final act of this opening episode goes the way we expect (and want) it to go as Frank defends the unknown girl from a truck load of gun-toting nut bags intent on killing her. The Punisher is a joy to behold in these moments, as it always is. As the floor of the bar gets progressively more covered in blood and bodies, you can’t help but want to cheer. An all-too-brief knife fight in the girls’ toilets between Frank and a couple of of absolute bad ass women- and there are a few of those here, female spec ops seem to be the order of the day this season and I like it. While it doesn’t hit the heights of the insane and claustrophobic stairway battles in Daredevil, it does get the adrenaline up.
Closing out the episode with Frank hitting the road in his trusty battle bus and a brief glimpse at Billy Russo’s (Ben Barnes) Jigsaw mask as he’s tormented by the returning Agent Madani (Amber Rose Revah) has viewers reaching for the remote to start the next episode as quickly as they possibly can. It is a perfectly written, perfectly paced and perfectly performed 50 minutes.