After the events of Season 1, former Marine turned vigilante Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), also known as The Punisher, has been keeping to himself and living a quiet life on the road. When he finds himself a witness to the attempted murder of a teenaged girl (Giorgia Whigham), stepping in sends him down a path that puts a target directly on him, forcing him to uncover the dangerous mystery that she’s caught up in while also facing an old enemy, in Billy Russo (Ben Barnes), that could destroy him.
During this phone interview to promote Season 2 of the Netflix series The Punisher, Collider got the opportunity to chat 1-on-1 with showrunner Steve Lightfoot about how Season 2 evolved, what they wanted to do more and less of, how taking Frank Castle on the road and outside of New York City changed things up, taking inspiration from The Professional, keeping Billy Russo as real as possible, the importance of Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), his hopes for the future of the TV series, whether he already has a plan for Season 3, and what it means to him to be a part of the legacy of Stan Lee. Be aware that there are major spoilers discussed.
Collider: Looking back on the first season, when do you feel that the show was at its best and how do you feel Season 2 built on that?
STEVE LIGHTFOOT: I feel like the show is at its best when the power of the work is deep and truthful. Obviously, these shows are comic book adaptations, and the action is heightened, and the stories we tell are action thriller stories, but the idea, from when I first spoke to Marvel and Netflix – and I think all of the shows did this – was for the character work to be grounded and real. I certainly feel like, for me, the show works best when the emotional stuff feels real, in and amongst all of the genre, and that was something that we were keen to carry on. For me, Season 1 was very much a revenge story, but it was also about watching a man deal with grief, and admit his own culpability in his family’s death. And so, Season 2 was about finding a new emotional journey for Frank because we didn’t want to tell a story where he was just grieving his wife again, and maybe there was some guy who had something to do with it, that we didn’t know about before. It was about finding a new journey for him. Season 1 was about very specifically coming to terms with what had happened to his family. And then, from there, I always liked the idea that Season 2 had a story that was much more about him realizing his nature is what it is, and that he was always meant to be The Punisher, and he was going to adopt that mentality, even when the story wasn’t purely personal.
Was there anything that you were able to do in Season 2, that you couldn’t have done in Season 1?
LIGHTFOOT: I don’t think so. We had a great time with Season 1. Marvel and Netflix were incredibly supportive of everything we were doing. What we wanted to do was the show that we made. I don’t think there was anything that we felt we lost out on. There were things, going into Season 2, that I was keen to do more or less of. You always want to better yourself, in terms of the action and the choreography and the set pieces, so having set a bar for ourselves, in Season 1, we certainly wanted to top that. It’s always going to be a relatively dark show, but I was also keen that there was some more humor and a little more of that action genre fun, in this season. It wasn’t about two men, grieving their wives. It was a bigger story for Frank, and I thought we could just make the show a little more fun than Season 1 was.
What made you decide to kick off the season by taking Frank Castle on the road and outside of New York City, and what do you think that allowed you to do with the storytelling that you couldn’t have done otherwise?
LIGHTFOOT: Obviously, we make the show in New York, and Billy Russo was there, so we were always going back. But one of the good things about Frank, as a character, is that he’s not tied to New York, in the way Daredevil is or Jessica Jones is, which are quintessentially New York stories. Frank can turn up anywhere. At the end of Season 1, with that final scene, I felt like Frank wouldn’t want to stay in New York, and I was just taken with the idea that he probably went off to see the America that he’d never really seen, even though he spent years defending it and his country. So, I loved this idea that he had just been driving around the country, not staying anywhere too long because he didn’t want to put down roots because, deep down, he knows that, bad stuff will happen around him. What came out of that was that I knew, pretty early on, I wanted to put him in a relationship with a young girl and play this surrogate daughter relationship, just because it would allow you to see a completely different side of him. There was great potential for chemistry there. I was a huge fan of The Professional, the Luc Besson movie, and I loved the idea of doing something like that with Frank. I feel like those first three episodes became a Western, and I’m a huge fan of that genre. Frank has so many parallels with the Western hero of classic American film. And so, I loved the idea that the first three episodes were, in essence, a Western. Episode 1 essentially takes place in a saloon. The siege in Episode 3 played like Rio Bravo. So, we could just have fun with this different side of America and play with the genre, before we took it back to New York and picked up the Billy Russo story.
Season 1 was an origin story for Billy Russo’s character, and then Season 2 really strips all of that away and we see what he’s like now, with the scrambled brain that he’s dealing with. What made you decide to really focus on that and explore what that would be like?
LIGHTFOOT: It was about just doing justice to a character and starting from, if that were done to you and you were given those injuries, what state would you be in? We did a lot of research into the effects of traumatic brain injury. Regardless of the cosmetic damage to his face, what would those injuries have done to his brain? The effects of TBI are very varied. A lot of the time, they change people, emotionally, as well as messing with memory. It was the idea that we could show a real version of that, rather than just something token. I loved this idea that, if Billy didn’t remember what had been done to him, he could feel like he was the victim, this season. It was fun to flip that switch. He was a guy that felt that he was the one whose brother had betrayed him. He was almost in the shoes Frank wore, in Season 1. I thought that was just a really interesting dynamic to give them, and it felt much more truthful than him waking up and just deciding that he wanted to rule the world, or being a mustache-twirling villain. It felt like a real way that character would go.