How To Lose An Audience: The Punisher

*This article contains spoilers

For the past few weeks, I’ve been revisiting the other Marvel series. The ones that were released on Netflix before Disneyplus was even a thing. With the Lokie series finished, I wanted to take a look at Marvel’s pre-Disney series. I went back and rewatched The Punisher. The first season, as far as series go, is pretty flawless.

All of the characters connect. There’s a satisfying ending. Nothing feels like it could be cut. It’s all interwoven really well. In fact, if it had just gotten one season, I think most fans would have been pretty happy.

Season 2, though? I remember watching the first episode when it originally was released and tuning out. And then when I continued to watch realized I never even completed it after that. And it’s because the show doesn’t really know what it is anymore.

Season 2 finds Frank “starting fresh”, having been given a new identity by Agent Dinah Madani from season 1. The series tries first to make Frank into a potential family man again for about five seconds with a cute bartender and her kid with his old life rearing its ugly head and then into a vigilante single Dad on a revenge quest to help out a teenage girl whose got herself into a spot of trouble.

The problem the series has is that instead of fleshing out old characters by actually paying attention to them, including Frank, it brings in a bunch of new ones including a senator and a creepy church family that are supposed to pose as another threat.

The trouble is, aside from the teenage girl that brings trouble to Frank, Amy Bendix, they don’t have any connection to Castle or his world. Yet we spend time learning about the Reverends back story and he gets these whole scenes that have nothing to do with the main people in the series.

And while there is nothing wrong with this these particular characters did nothing to enhance the storyline. In fact, when watching, I could tune out their parts and focus on what Castle and the others were doing and not be lost when it went back to them.

What’s more, I’m not even scared for Frank during any of this. He pretty much shoots or punches his way out of anything and the “connections” he has built with Amy is flimsy at best because you are more concerned by what happens if she stays WITH Castle and really just want her to find somewhere safe that doesn’t involve people with guns.

It felt like the writers room was simply trying to create filler epiosdes. The real big bad of the season anyway was Billy Russo. Castles former friend turned traitor. It would have been enough to focus on their backstory, and Castle ultimately taking Russo down. But it was like the writers had a quota to fill or something so they put in all of this other unnesscary junk.

I suspect it probably didn’t help that the show appeared during a time when gun control discussions were at an all time high and haven’t showed any discussion of stopping anytime soon. I don’t know if that led to a desire to make the shows second season unwatchable.

“Shoot ’em all” type heroes like Castle had largely gone out of fashion. People wanted their heroes to be a little more concious of the destruction they caused. Whatever the case, there were a lot of missed opprotunities with the second season.

When it comes to the type of writing I do, it’s not novel writing. It’s serial. I keep in mind shows like The Punisher. Yes, shock value is important to keep the readers coming back. But emotional value is just as important.

Shock value might get you a few seasons. Emotional value is going to get you the coveted six seasons and a movie, as it were.

Shows like The Punisher provide value in the moment. Because at the end, Frank gets away with his revenge but what does that do for Frank? What does that do with the audience? If everyone is dead, there’s no reason for people to keep on coming back. You know how it ends. Violent and bloody and you won’t find anything new there. Especially if the shock is over.

Don’t just go for the shock ending because its easy. Get emotional. You never know what you’ll find or who will find you for it. Because here is the thing: while The Punisher is a trip to watch, I think its a one way ride. There’s no pull to watch it again.

And that is what you want to give your audience. Something they want to keep coming back to. If series/serial fiction continues to be the trend it cannot be all glory and gore. Your audience isn’t going to get anything from it. And while I’m not saying there isn’t a place for those stories, when someone invests their time into your art, shouldn’t you be giving them something else also? And that’s where the emotional part comes in.

Because what is art if not making people feel things? Emotional payoff is half the fun of a story anyway. The thrill of seeing a character get what they want because they actually went on a journey the audience feels tethered to not just shocked by.

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