The Punisher season two picks up right where the blood-soaked first season left off, with human war machine Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) suddenly finding himself without a war to fight and all out of people to shoot in the face as vengeance for his family’s death. Earlier this year, Netflix invited Collider and a few other journalists to the show’s Brooklyn set to get a look at a sophomore season that is—if you can believe it—darker, more violent, and more bullet-riddled than before. In addition to getting a glimpse of Frank’s junkyard trailer hideout he shares with a new teenage sidekick of sorts, Amy (Giorgia Whigham), we got the chance to speak to Bernthal, Ben Barnes, Amber Rose Revah, Jason R. Moore, Josh Stewart—who plays this season’s creepy antagonist, John Pilgrim—who all confirmed that Frank Castle will never be able to hang up the old black-and-white skull vest for long.
In the following roundtable interview, Jon Bernthal discusses how the series handles gun violence, how Frank Castle is coping with his personal demons in season 2, the return of Karen Page, the iconic skull vest, and more.
Question: Gun violence has such a large presence these days, and I’m wondering what message you think The Punisher as a character and the show itself has about the topic?
JON BERNTHAL: I can’t speak for the show because I don’t write it. I think that you’d have to talk to Steve and to Marvel about that. For me, it’s a few things. Number one, art, when it’s done right, holds a mirror to society and makes you question it. And question yourself. You shouldn’t attempt to spoon feed answers or to preach. [Art should] make you look at yourself and hopefully present different sides to an argument and help make society or help make the viewer ask questions about the world in which they live in. I tend to try and avoid art that is preachy and tells you how to think. As far as I’m concerned, I think for so long now we’ve really gone through this thing in this country where a certain element has a stronghold and a monopoly on what it means to be strong or tough or masculine or patriotic, for that matter. For me, the great joy that I have in playing this role and other roles is where I got to pick soldiers and combat vets, and the guys that share their stories with me. To me, the mark of somebody who is strong, patriotic, tough is someone who has an open mind. Someone who is open to listening to all sides and not be steadfast and not be completely clinging to their own sense of, “This is what is right and this is what is wrong.” For me, what’s American to be open to all sides. Me, I’m just repulsed by the…you know how polarized it is. How it seems like both folks on both sides of that issue seem to know so little about the other side. I’m pretty much, for me personally because It’s the only thing I can speak to, I’m sickened by fundamentalism of any sort. You got to keep an open mind.
During our interview with [showrunner] Steve Lightfoot, we got into coping with and grappling with trauma as an ongoing process that you have to go through being a big part of the second season. How is he still coping with his own personal demons in this season?
BERNTHAL: I think that’s it. I’m sure we’re not allowed to say anything about plot or all that bullshit but I feel like we’re going to find his…how do you carry on?
Is Frank trying to work toward something in particular?
BERNTHAL: Well I think that’s it, man. It’s going, “Well, what’s next?” Frank’s a guy, like a lot of these folks that you speak with, one of the big influencers for Steve Lightfoot is Sebastian Junger and the book Tribe. To me, it’s a really interesting book and a really special book. For a lot of folks, I think when you suffer trauma, to be on-mission, to have a direction, to have an enemy that you know of and to be in it with likeminded people, it provides some sort of quiet from the storm. The monsters start to come in the quiet and when you have nothing to fight for. No direction. Peace sometimes can be the most scary place for a lot of folks. When you change people’s circumstances, there’s nothing that will take place of this world that you’ve come to know. That’s a lot of what this season is about for Frank, is he keeps getting drawn into this fight and he’s still grappling with the idea of, “who is the real Frank Castle?” And is there any peace?
What he keeps finding is, anybody he gets close to there’s some sort of military slang term called a “shit magnet,” I think Frank finds himself being that. Everybody he comes close to starts to get hurt. He has to deal with the fact that it’s when he’s not on-mission, when he’s not literally going after the worst of the worst, that’s when innocent people start to die. He has to grapple with that. This season he’s very much trying to figure out who he is. I don’t think he’s ever been a guy too concerned with finding peace of mind or finding harmony or finding love. He’s sadly kind of at home in the blackness and in the darkness.