The Punisher season 3

The return of Marvel’s The Punisher comes at a precarious time for Marvel shows on Netflix. Along with Luke Cage and Iron Fist, Daredevil was recently cancelled after its third season, leading many to wonder why Netflix is dropping them. It still remains unknown if these shows will continue on Disney+, but the Jon Bernthal-led series The Punisher is back with a second season on Netflix right now.

Showrunner Steve Lightfoot spoke with /Film by phone about the new season earlier this week, and we talked about those cancellations, Frank Castle’s character arc, the show’s take on Jigsaw, what a third season might be about, and more.

Very light spoilers ahead.

Season one began with Frank banking a hammer to exhaustion. Does season two begin with giving him hope for a little bit of peace?

Yeah, the idea is a year has gone by. He’s had some peace for that year in a way. I sort of wanted to separate him from the events of season one and he’s had time to reflect on that and come out the other side of it. For me, I thought the show can’t be about a guy grieving his wife forever. Neither can it be about “Oh, there was someone else who had something to do with my wife I forgot about.” He’ll never be at peace with that, but we have to sort of have him internalize that and then move him somewhere.

Does that start Frank at a different place when the violence comes back into his life?

I think so. Obviously season one was very much a revenge story, whereas this one he has to actively choose whether to get involved and I think, in a way, the arc for me in season two was about Frank learning. He has to stop kidding himself that he’s a guy who would ever not get involved. He’s always going to get involved, and if that’s the case, maybe he needs to sort of just accept that and drop the mantle of The Punisher.

Does that challenge the notion of The Punisher, who in theory only goes after people who’ve already done something? Frank is actually a guy who will try to prevent them from doing something bad.

That’s an interesting thought. Obviously the people he meets in episode one of the show have already done something because they’ve already killed all his friends. So I think they’ve already done something, but I think we will mix that up. Once the show gets underway, he’s aware that these people have already done bad things. It’s interesting between him being a reactive character and a proactive character. I think as the show progresses, he becomes more proactive. The idea always was at the end of season two, with that final image, he has now fully adopted the mantle. Certainly season three we would see him going after people because of things they have already done.

I’m thinking of the girl – he’s still trying to protect her before they kill her.

Yeah, I think that’s right because what’s interesting about the character – this is why he’s a tricky character to write – you know, a lot of what he does is morally dubious and morally gray. I think you have to find reason to allow the audience to root for him. Protecting a young girl gives us that. What changes Frank season to season is who we put around him and who it is we see that he’s rooting for. It’s much more dramatically and emotionally satisfying, I think, to see someone fighting for a person rather than just an idea. So for me, I always find there’s an emotional arc to the show. It’s Frank is fighting for something. Even season one was obviously about revenge but it was also about giving Micro his family back. “I’m going to give my friend something I can never have.” With Amy, it’s about yes, he’s fighting to finish all these guys off because they’re coming after him, but I also think it’s about, “I’m going to give this kid a second chance that I can’t have.”

John Pilgrim is such a great character. Why did you want to invent him versus drawing on the roster of comic book characters?

You know, he is based on a character in the comics. There’s a character called The Mennonite who is a former criminal who gave it all up to go and live this very quiet life. Then he’s dragged back out from the countryside to go back to New York and try and kill Frank. He was very much based on that character. The other influence for me was I always loved Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter. I just loved the idea of someone who had a little of that vibe. Those were the two primary influences for the character and in being this kind of mythic guy who, in many ways, is a mirror of Frank. There’s an element of they send Frank after Frank, which I really enjoy.

Is Amy a completely original character?

There is a character in the comic books called Amy Bendix and she’s sort of riffed off from that character.

Your Jigsaw refers more to his memory than his face. What was the decision to focus on that aspect of Jigsaw?

Well, I think character psychology is dramatically, especially across 13 hours, more interesting than the makeup. I mean, you see it once and you’ve got it. What we’re trying to do with the show is obviously the action and the stories are very heightened, but in terms of the characters, we try and keep them emotionally truthful and pretty grounded. So he has a scar for every injury he got at the end of season one. We took a fairly real approach to, “If he was given good medical care, based on those injuries, what would he look like?” That was the driving force of it. I was always much more interested in the fact that his mind had become fractured and who did that make him? Dramatically and for the actors, there’s just so much more to play with it.

How much had you planned in advance for Jigsaw when you wrote the season one finale?

Just as we’d finished it, I didn’t know how we would tell the story. We broke the story in the writers room, but season one set him up to be Jigsaw. We always knew season two would be about the repercussions of Frank leaving him alive. Once we got in the room, I started season two very much, my initial thing was I really liked the idea of Frank and this girl on the road. We had to get them back to New York to cross paths with Billy. Then everything grew out from there.

You’re really good at finding these extra violent accents in action scenes. Do you look for those in locations like the gym, or do you build the action around those bursts of violence?

It starts in the scripts. We find ways to generate the action scenes. Obviously it’s an action show. My big thing is that they should just always be different. It shouldn’t just be like the same gun battle in a different location every week. We look for a what if. “Hey, what if they did this?” So that’s always the philosophy. We write those and then we turn the script over to the stunt team and the production guys who start working out the coolest way to do it. They will come back and say, “Hey, what about this?” or “What about that?” Then we have this amazing stunt team who just really ran with the choreography and did amazing work.

Were there any things you pulled back on in season two?

Not really, no. When you shoot a show, you shoot a lot of versions, a lot of angles so you have options once you get into editing the show. In the end, we obviously edited for what we felt was the best version of what we’ve done.

You mentioned what season three could be when Frank takes on the mantle of The Punisher. Netflix has been cleaning house on Marvel shows, so do you still have reasonable hope you’ll get a season three?

I can’t speak to any of the other shows and that stuff. I love the show and I feel like it’s like whenever you have a show on any network: the show goes out and then you wait to hear if you get renewed. That wasn’t any different in season one. In terms of the bigger stuff, I don’t know anything about that, so I’m just hoping the show does well when it goes out and we all get the call to go again.

But you don’t have any extra fears that it’s more precarious this year?

I mean, look. They’ve been canceling Marvel shows. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t know that that’s happened, but I don’t know enough about it to say one way or the other. I just think it’s like any show when you put a show out. Networks have the right to cancel shows or pick them up again and they’ll make that call.

I hope we’re talking again for season three.

That’s great. Yeah, let’s hope we do it again next year.

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The Punisher season 2 is streaming on Netflix now.

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