The Punisher Punishes His Enemies and Rewards Audiences

I have a theory. I feel the consensus among most critics is that violent television shows are unsophisticated or lowly even if they’re done well. Why do I feel that way? I recently looked up the Rotten Tomatoes score of Netflix’s The Punisher and was instantly deflated. Currently, it holds a 61 percent—which is still considered “fresh,” mind you, but still far too low. Most may look at this show and think that it’s just a guy on a revenge rampage, deducting points every time blood is shown in more than two scenes in a single episode. But the Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) solo series is an entertaining show that actually speaks to many topics and on many levels.

Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle, better known as the Punisher. Jessica Miglio/Netflix

The Punisher is violent. No denying it. It borders on, or crosses fully into, the equivalent of rated-R material. If vengeance and bloody deaths are your thing for television entertainment, then this show will work for you. With that said, it is also so much more than that. For one, I truly feel that the show is able to show the troubles of post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers in a nonstigmatizing way. Yes, it shows PTSD symptoms in their extreme, but the creators do it in a very realistic way that isn’t insulting to soldiers afflicted with this disorder. Another thing is that, though they make it clear that war has its consequences on its soldiers, they remain politically neutral. It isn’t a right-versus-left thing—it’s simply “Hey, war is hell, and you can suffer mentally after it.” It’s respectful and a way to not come as preachy. I have a lot of military friends, and I feel this is a show that they could enjoy.

Amber Rose Revah as DHS agent Dinah Madani. Nicole Rivelli/Netflix

Second, I feel it is a disservice that this show hasn’t received more praise for the strong female role of Dinah Madani, portrayed by Amber Rose Revah. Let me put it this way: there’s nothing to dislike about this character. I’ll start with the obvious—she is beyond gorgeous! It’d be a lie to say anything else. Next, she is a strong and intelligent woman; she’s a high-ranking agent in the Department of Homeland Security and often shows her brilliance in her ability to plan and be tactical. It would be dishonest to claim that she doesn’t have her moment as the proverbial betrayed woman, but that is minor and merely a means to define a different character in the show. Then there is the idea of a strong, prominent female character who isn’t white; Madani is Iranian, and how many positive Middle Eastern characters do we see in mainstream media? Madani is also a great example of women persevering through adversity, and I don’t just mean in regards to race. More than once she is underestimated or thought to be lesser of because of her looks or her gender in a government job perceived to be mainly male populated, and she always shows how strong she truly is. I feel that this is a character everyone can not only like but also root for.

The Punisher also does well at representing nerds through the character of David Lieberman (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), also known as Micro, who shows  that the nerd can be a hero without superpowers or even military skills. Where Frank Castle is the brawn, Micro is the brain. Where Castle is avenging his family, Micro is protecting his own family, and his sacrifice must be commended. Also, in the end, win or lose, Castle could not get where he does without Micro. It is a different take on hero and sidekick, and I feel it works.

So, folks, yes—The Punisher is violent. But it has a lot more to offer: respect for mental struggles, a truly strong female role, a great sidekick, and, most of all, great entertainment. If you haven’t watched it, you’re missing out.

The Punisher is currently streaming on Netflix and has just been renewed for a second season.

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