On the “Coherence” of Marvel’s The Punisher

Marvel's The Punisher: Lewis Wilson

This article on The Verge about how Marvel’s The Punisher on Netflix is a mess with how it tackles gun violence in America caught my eye. Since this blog is full of cobwebs and I recently got rejected by a client for my freelance work, I’ve written something here in response, partially to remind myself that I can still write. Also, I have been watching the show. I like it, and I think I’ve seen more of it than the author of that article.

I think it’s somewhat dumb when you criticize a comic book adaptation on what it says about current events. However, in this particular case, I’ll bite and write something in response. That article was published in response to the ongoing problem of gun violence in America—standard attempt at connecting a real-world issue with the recent premiere of a TV show. While I shouldn’t have much to say about this since I’m neither American nor live in America, I’ve been watching the ninth and tenth episode of the series as of this writing.

Those who have been binge-watching the show like I am would know that particular episode does have something to say about what’s been going on in America, but it’s not just a broad brush stroke covering gun violence. The Punisher isn’t just a show not meant to say anything about current socio-political issues—it was simply focused on a different but related topic. I think that article on The Verge somehow missed the point.

SPOILER WARNING: Major plot points of the show are mentioned here. You’ve been warned.

Marvel’s The Punisher Episode 9 and 10

The main counter to the general argument presented by that article on The Verge is the ninth and tenth episodes of the show, which mostly follow the rampage of the anguished military veteran Lewis Wilson. At a young age of 26, he had been discharged from the US Army without much of a Plan B, so he had such trouble with re-assimilating into civilian society after all he experienced in the battlefield that even sleeping in his own room gives him nightmares.

With no recourse, even when Curtis Hoyle tried his best to reach out to him and help, Lewis ends up resorting to something that would pass his time and channel his growing rage—domestic terrorism. This is a commentary on the disenfranchised being the main instigators of terrorism in America, even as the narrative continues to be focused on Islamic extremism overseas.

After having killed a fellow gun rights protester after finding out he lied about being a fellow veteran, he started doing the Unabomber routine by planting bombs in offices and public places, then leaving notes or voice messages to explain his half-coherent motivations. It’s an extreme expression of discontent and outrage at the systems in place, the society at large, and fate itself. Frank did roughly the same thing as the Punisher after his family was killed in front of him.

The difference between Frank and Lewis was the reason why the former was angry with the latter—Lewis resorted to bombs and the killing of innocents instead of taking up arms and bringing the fight to the bad guys in their own turf. Neither is right nor moral, but Frank may be right in telling Lewis that he chose the coward’s way.

With his later attacks thwarted by Frank, Lewis was backed into a corner and he ended up locking himself in the cold room of a kitchen.

The stuff Lewis was saying while reattaching the wire to the detonator that he would later press to blow himself up turns out to be from the last verse of Ruyard Kipling’s The Young British Soldier, all while Frank looked on. The last part is especially chilling—”Go, go, go like a soldier.” He utters those words as he was instantaneously rendered into chunks. It was a declaration of surrender before taking himself out in his own terms—like a soldier.

I do think Lewis’ subplot takes much away from the overall story, but it did provide a way to clarify Frank’s motivation for having been the Punisher. Lewis Wilson may have not been entirely necessary for the story, but he did serve as a mirror for Frank, like a reminder of what he could’ve been had his rage not been focused on a specific target.

In this timeline, Frank had wanted to leave that identity behind and start anew, no matter how impossible it was. The end of the show had him going through that process again, but taking the path of consoling with those like him instead of isolating himself like he did at the start of the series. Lewis’ fate may have played a factor in his decision to no longer run away and take upon Curtis’ offer of joining group counseling sessions for former veterans.

If there ever was something the show did wrong, it’s on how Lewis went from a discharged soldier with PTSD having nightmares to gun rights protestor to domestic terrorist. With it being a subplot, the gaps weren’t filled very well and his transition may be interpreted as him looking for a purpose or place to be. Unfortunately, he ended up plunging a knife into the gut of a fake veteran and the dominoes fell from there.

Marvel's The Punisher Episode 10

“Go, go, go like a soldier.”

Gun Violence, the Media, and America in General

DISCLAIMER: I’m not American. These comments are made mostly from observation and historical context. If you have more in-depth information on this, please feel free to tell me about it in the comments section below. (I’d ask you to be respectful, but this is the Internet. I’d like to be proven wrong though.)

What I didn’t like about that article above all else was how it was just a sweeping critique of The Punisher that didn’t take into account the events of the story itself. It was simply a general character analysis of the Punisher, which had been around since 1974.

If you’re a Punisher fan, you already know these things. It’s like the article was written for the more casual audience who isn’t really into comic books and never knew much of The Punisher franchise until recently. Those criticism against him had been said since the beginning, so that article was simply parroting what had been previously stated.

That Verge article kept harping on about how the series doesn’t say anything much against gun violence, but it actually did in a more focused and relevant way. It goes into some of the motivations behind what makes people want to start killing other people senselessly and not just how guns kill people. It’s like looking into why a person jumped off a building instead of harping on about how dangerous it is to have tall buildings for people to jump out of.

American mainstream media is weird due to how America itself has been structured, especially when it comes to guns and the military. It’s mostly about money and protecting interests. The American guns industry is an institution much like Big Pharma, so any sort of gun control may seem sensible to civilized folk, but wide-sweeping policies will never happen there.

Meanwhile, something more conspiratorial would be the absence of universal health care and the obviously broken student loans system that leaves young men and women with few options and even fewer opportunities after high school. Those who don’t have backing for a college education or the foundation of a life vocation may end up joining the military to secure an education and a future.

Love for country does come with it, but it’s not the only reason people would ever join the military. Lewis may have been one of those who joined as early as 18 and came out of it in his mid-20s with his real self still in a foreign land. This is far from uncommon, and it looks to be growing more and more serious these days.

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