“The Punisher” thoughts, Season One, Episode Thirteen: “Memento Mori”

There’s really only one thing I want to talk about where the season finale of The Punisher is concerned:

“You know, long as I was at war, y’know, I never thought about, uh, what would happen next, what I was gonna do when it was over. But I guess that’s it, y’know. I think that might be the hardest part: the silence. The silence when the gunfire ends. How do…how do you live in that? I guess…I guess that’s what you’re trying to figure out, huh? It’s what you guys are doing. You’re working on it. I respect that. I just…Um, if you’re gonna look at yourself, really look in the mirror, you gotta…yeah, you gotta admit who you are. But not just to yourself — you gotta admit it to everybody else. First time, as long as I can remember, I don’t have a war to fight. And I guess if I’m gonna be honest, I just…I’m scared.”

These remarkable words end the onscreen saga of Marvel’s most brutal antihero, a cold-blooded killer of Bad Guys whose logo has become literally emblematic of men, many of whom have been trained and authorized by the state to pursue a career in fully sanctioned bad-guy killing at home or abroad. They cut that whole dark myth off at the knees. More than that, they stand as a rebuke to the whole superhero genre, which as inspiring and uplifting as it can be nevertheless boils down to the idea that extrajudicial violence can put the world to rights. Here’s a superhero who wields that violence more effectively and remorselessly than any other — indeed, his proficiency in that violence is his sole superpower. And the message his show wants to leave us with about him? The note it chooses to end on? He kills because he’s scared not to.

I really can’t say enough about how stunning the final words of “Memento Mori,” The Punisher’s Season One finale, were to me when they slipped out of Frank’s mouth just before that last cut to black. There’s not a single live-action superhero adaptation I can think of that comes anywhere near that level of self-critique, or has anything approaching its courage to question the very wish-fulfillment elements its audience has come to see.

[…]

But that’s the story of The Punisher’s Netflix incarnation: A series that’s much better than it needed to be, could have been, and quite possibly even should have been when you consider the character’s pop culture profile. Its thoughtful approach to potentially fascistic subject matter, its suite of quietly powerful performances, its undercurrent of sexual and romantic tension, and its willingness to hold its protagonist’s feet of clay to the fire make it one of the best superhero adaptations of all time.

I reviewed the season finale of The Punisher for Decider. What a pleasant surprise this show turned out to be.

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