Marvel’s The Punisher hits Netflix this Friday, which is probably too soon for you to begin your holiday break. But if you’re preparing to binge regardless, we have a handy primer that will clue you in on what Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) has been up to since blazing a trail in Hell’s Kitchen in Daredevil season two.
Introduced in Marvel’s Daredevil as a one-man army trying to execute everyone in New York’s organized crime network, Frank Castle wanted revenge for the death of his family, but the “why” didn’t really matter to Daredevil, who didn’t like the idea of another vigilante roaming the streets. The diametrical opposites clashed a few times before Castle was imprisoned, but it wasn’t long before The Punisher was in the wind again. Once he found out his former commanding officer, Ray Schoonover (Clancy Brown), was behind the murder of his family, Frank made himself judge, jury, and executioner. The iconic skull made its first appearance as The Punisher wrapped his arc on Daredevil.
This is all relatively close to The Punisher’s origin in the comics, with the main constant being that his family gets killed, usually by mobsters, and that prompts him to go on a brutal quest for vengeance. How Castle and his quest are portrayed varies from book to book, though, with some depicting him as a righteous hero and others as an unhinged psychopath. But Bernthal and showrunner Steve Lightfoot, while certainly taking inspiration from this mythos, have gone a different route, crafting a character who’s more ambiguous antihero than unrelenting killing machine. This spin-off finds The Punisher trying but failing to put his vigilantism behind him, and running into new and old acquaintances while still mired in grief. Lightfoot keeps the violence in check in what is a thoughtful examination of the psychological effects of brutality. The show has institutions in its sights, not just low-level thugs. But there’s still plenty of hand-to-hand combat, though, and new conspiracies to explore.
Agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah): Madani is a Homeland Security agent whose own goals happen to intersect with The Punisher’s, causing them to butt heads as they try to dismantle the same conspiracy in different ways. She’s an original creation for the show, whom Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb has described as a “different way of going from the typical cop who was chasing Frank.” And she’s every bit as calculating and stubborn as her suspect.
Micro/David Lieberman (Ebon Moss-Bachrach): A former NSA employee who faked his death so he could covertly expose government secrets, David Lieberman now keeps an eye on his family from afar, which is how he ends up in The Punisher’s sights. (Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. viewers may recognize him as a source who once worked with Chloe Bennet’s character.) But over time, he and Frank establish a partnership that provides some of the series’ lighter moments.
Curtis Hoyle (Jason R. Moore): Curtis is one of Frank Castle’s friends from the military and one of the few people who knows he’s still alive. An insurance salesman by day and counselor by night, he worries about all veterans, but especially Frank, whose full military career begins to come to light in this first season.
Billy Russo (Ben Barnes): Frank’s best friend from his Special Forces days, Billy is held up as a prime example of how to reenter society after multiple tours of duty. Now the CEO of private military company Anvil, he’s also very handsome, and it would be a shame if his face got all scarred up.
Agent Sam Stein (Michael Nathanson): Like Madani, this Homeland Security agent is a character original to the show. Although he doubts some of her theories, Stein also has a history of digging into matters that others would like him to ignore. His weariness lends some levity to the proceedings, but he’s just as devoted to the job as his new boss.
Sarah Lieberman (Jaime Ray Newman): As Micro’s purported widow, Sarah ends up getting roped into the same conspiracy that The Punisher is trying to destroy. The equivalent of her character in the comics eventually leaves Micro because of his work with The Punisher. But will she be more forgiving on the small screen?
Rawlins (Paul Schulze): Rawlins is a high-ranking member of the CIA who ran some covert operations in Afghanistan and crossed paths with a pre-Punisher Frank Castle. We’ll find out just how (un)happy he’ll be to learn his old colleague is still alive.
Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll): A former employee of the now-defunct Nelson And Murdock law firm, Page is now a reporter for the New York Bulletin with a particular focus on costumed vigilantes like Daredevil and The Punisher. She tries to be Frank’s conscience, though she’s had little success to date. But she’s also one of his few connections to the world outside of his grief, so we could see her break through to him.
Turk Barrett (Rob Morgan): Probably the most recognizable small-time crook in all of Manhattan, Turk has had the misfortune of bumping into Daredevil and Luke Cage on multiple occasions. Will his misdeeds put him in The Punisher’s sights, or will Turk have cleaned up before they meet?
The Punisher was introduced in Daredevil season two, but beyond a few appearances from Karen Page and Turk Barrett, The Punisher mostly steers clear of the Defenders and their respective territories. There are a few requisite Easter eggs for the eagle-eyed, but it’s also clear that Lightfoot et al. want to carve out their own corner in this increasingly interconnected world.
Unfortunately, Claire Temple is sitting this one out. We’ve had months to cope with this news, but that doesn’t make the absence of this cagey and kind nurse sting any less.
The complete first season of The Punisher will be available November 17 on Netflix. Reviews by Caroline Siede will run every day at 11 a.m. Eastern.