TV Crimes and Punish(er)ment: Comic TV with Dan

Here, in 13 episodes, is everything Marvel Netflix did wrong for five years.

Tales of Two Villains

So, to reiterate, Frank protects a teen girl (Giorgia Whigham) from some highly-trained assailants, Frank decides to go after the people who were chasing the teen girl, basically kidnapping her in the process. Turns out the teen girl (who first introduces herself as Rachel, but turns out to be named Amy) is the last survivor of a group of teen runaway grifters and their adult mentor who’d taken some blackmail photographs of an up-and-coming senator. And so the senator’s old-money fundamentalist pseudo-Christian* parents (a fantastically creepy Corbin Bersen and Annette O’Toole, the latter in her third comic book project) send their chief enforcer, John Pilgrim (Josh Stewart), to recover the photos and kill everyone connected to them, to ensure nobody finds out their senator son is gay. Like you do.

How long it takes for us to learn any of that is an issue we’ll discuss later.

(*I don’t really recognize Evangelicals or murderous homophobes as actual Christians, just people who like to wave around the Bible to excuse their terrible behaviour.)

This is, again, a really solid start to the season. A good way to get Frank fighting a new group of enemies. Heck of a plotline. Problem is… it’s not the only one.

Marvel Netflix has… had, I suppose… a real problem with creating great villains and then getting bored of them partway through the season. Not all the time, no… Jessica Jones was, by and large, a one-villain-woman, and any villain you put next to Kingpin gets too overshadowed to steal the spotlight (that was recognition of Vincent D’Onofrio’s performance, not fat-shaming Wilson Fisk, thnaks very much). But it was way too often.

Most notorious, of course, is when Luke Cage scored a pre-Oscar-win Mahershala Ali as Luke’s nemesis Cottonmouth, then killed him off halfway through the season, only to replace him not with the equally compelling Black Mariah, but the train wreck that was Diamondback. Less infamous but not better… after four excellent episodes of Daredevil vs. the Punisher, suddenly Daredevil season two was all about Elektra and the Hand. Iron Fist somehow managed to go through four main villains in 13 episodes. Defenders got Sigourney Weaver as their main villain, and still traded her for someone else.

And every time, every time, they were trading down. The replacement villain was always worse. The only exception, the only time multiple villains worked, was Mariah (and Shades) vs. Bushmaster, Luke Cage season two, and even then it meant Luke became the least interesting and least necessary part of his own show, as he was reduced to playing bulletproof referee between rival gangs.

In Punisher’s latest outing, we encounter a new problem. While we open with Pilgrim and their crew hunting Rachel/Amy, who is now under the protection of Frank Castle, they also wanted to bring back last season’s final villain, Billy Russo.

When last we left Billy, after he was revealed to be part of the cabal behind the deaths of the Castle family, he went full-villain, betrayed and shot everyone close to him, and then got his face ground into several mirrors by Frank. This was meant to turn him into his comics-counterpart, Punisher nemesis Jigsaw, but… okay, one quickie bonus “Thing Marvel Netflix Did Wrong” sidebar…

Fear of Being “Comic Booky:” I hardly think I need to rehash this one a bunch. Quick recap, of the five lead characters, only one actually has a costume or secret identity; Matt Murdock spent more episodes in suits or black PJs than his Daredevil costume; in their biggest misstep, the Hand were changed from a ninja doomsday cult to a multi-ethnic international corporation of business types who also do crimes. In this case… first of all, he’s never called Jigsaw. Sure they make two references to jigsaw puzzles to wink at his comic-self’s name, but he’s just “Billy Russo” here, because code names are too “out there” for Marvel Netflix. Second, here’s what Jigsaw looked like in Punisher: War Zone, as played by Dominic West.

Image: Marvel

And here’s Billy Russo in Punisher season two.

Image: Netflix

Kind of… lazy and uninspired. Frank and Pilgrim both look worse than Billy by the season finale just from bruising. I’ve watched too many Arrowverse shows to be too hung up on comics-accuracy… they’re always changing names and races and sexualities and making B or C-list heroes into villains for some reason… so him being less horribly scarred than his comics counterpart isn’t my concern. But given how messed up his face was at the end of last season, and him needing to wear a mask during recovery, and the big deal they make over how scarred he is, it’s just… an underwhelming amount of scars.

Sidebar over.

Sure bringing Billy back gives the show an excuse to return to New York and keep Punisher’s army pal Curtis (Jason R. Moore) and Homeland Security agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Rivah) in the mix, but is it worth it? The issue in this season is that they’re trying to do both the Punisher vs. Pilgrim AND the Punisher Vs Jigsaw Billy stories, and they do not mix. At all. Pilgrim and Billy never meet, let alone team up. Every time Frank focuses on one of them, the other is put on pause. Or Billy’s plot indulges its worst tendencies while Frank is busy. It’s frustrating to have Pilgrim’s more interesting story constantly be left hanging so that Billy and his god-awful therapist (more on that in a minute) can have another nigh-identical empty conversation about whether Billy can find redemption in between his many murders.

Next Page: Why Billy’s plot drags this show down

Thing they did well: I am about to complain a great deal about Billy Russo’s arc and I stand by all of it, but while I found their non-Jigsaw take on Jigsaw had some flaws, Ben Barnes’ performance was not one of them. Billy-the-killer and Billy-the-trauma-victim never seemed like the same person, but he sold each individually, even if he couldn’t make it all mesh together. Dude has some game.

Author: danny_g

Danny G, your humble host and blogger, has been working in community theatre since 1996, travelling the globe on and off since 1980, and caring more about nerd stuff than he should since before he can remember. And now he shares all of that with you.

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