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

Mixed Messages

So I’ve discussed how The Punisher really wants to dig into the morality of Frank’s actions as the Punisher. About half the Billy story is devoted to hollow, bad faith arguments about whether or not Frank and Billy are really that different, and a few minutes in episode two or three asked the much more valid question “Was Frank dragged into Amy’s mess, or was he glad for an excuse to be in a fight again?”

(Is there any way the Pilgrim plot didn’t outperform Billy? I can’t think of one.)

There are two major problems with this.

First… they want to interrogate Frank’s actions, but they also go out of their way to keep him out of actual ethical dilemmas. Frank didn’t get a hostage killed by interrupting Billy’s first big robbery, Billy executed one of his co-conspirators who they pretended was a hostage. Frank didn’t kill three innocent women by firing blindly through a wall, Billy pre-murdered three women and left them there, because when the police find notorious murderer Frank Castle standing over corpses who asks questions or does forensics? Even though tricking him into actually doing the murders seems just as easy. Hell, that one was dismissed so fast that by the finale, Frank’s blind-firing through walls again.

Even the ethics of his determination to kill Billy end up kind of beyond reproach, because Billy is a killing machine, and while he claims to be uniting vets into a crime syndicate out of brotherhood, he happily lets Frank massacre them to set up his little dead-hooker-trick.

And the second, larger problem? They clearly want us to think said massacre is awesome. They’re trying to analyse the morality of Frank’s violence while absolutely 100% glamourizing the everlovin’ heck out of it. Frank fights a lot of people and leaves most of them dead or maimed, and it’s always presented in a way that shows they expect us to root for him.

And yes, this is a trend. Examples!

  • Daredevil spends its latter two seasons constantly wringing its hands over the morality of killing, but the end of season two has Matt not caring even a little who his allies kill on his behalf.
  • Likewise Iron Fist in his first season. Danny Rand might not kill, but he sure does stand there and let other people kill his enemies for him. Oliver “Green Arrow” Queen isn’t perfect, but he does his own dirty work, thank you.
  • Jessica Jones is all torn up over having snapped Kilgrave’s neck, but are we the audience actually supposed to feel bad about that? Because I suspect not.
  • This franchise loves to debate the morality of killing, more than any other comic book franchise (save for maybe the always excellent The Tick), yet has killed off most of its main villains: Cottonmouth, Mariah, Harold Meachum, Elektra, basically all of the Hand, Wilson Fisk’s entire Crime Syndicate of International Stereotypes, Rawlins, Russo, the Schultzes, Kilgrave, Alyssa Jones, and Bushmaster probably isn’t going to live very long. They preach against killing but also don’t think the villains should live. Pick a goddamn side, Marvel TV.
  • The only exception is Iron Fist season two of all things, because when they questioned whether Danny Rand should really possess the Iron Fist they weren’t kidding around, and eventually settled on “Actually, probably not.”

In short (yeah, yeah, too late), when it comes to moral debates, Marvel Netflix does love trying to have its cake and eat it too. “Enjoy these scenes of Punisher kicking ass while we pretend to question whether he’s right to kick all that ass.”

Next Page: All characters are not created equal

Thing they did well: …I may have run out. Um. Think think think… okay, here’s one. In episode nine, Amy manages to become weirdly self-aware, throwing shade at some of the show’s failings. First, she side-comments on the extra slow and gloomy previous episode: “The Punisher pity party is no one’s idea of a fun Friday night.” Then she makes a comment that, intentionally or not, reflects on how she’s been sidelined while the previous episodes focussed on Billy: “So I can’t have a thing? Waiting here is my thing?” These might not have been intentional, because if the episode nine writers saw how they’d been gacking things up in the last couple of episodes, surely they had time to fix them before filming them, but I’d like to believe they were.

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