Just when Frank Castle thought he was out, season two of The Punisher pulls him right back in.
The Marvel series returns to Netflix for its sophomore season on Friday, bringing Jon Bernthal's aggressive antihero back to the small screen as the Punisher enacts his own form of bloody justice on all those who deserve it.
Though the start of the season finds Frank lying low and making an attempt at civilian complacency as he travels across the country, it isn't long before he's pulled back into vigilante violence, thanks to a chance encounter with a mysterious young woman, Amy Bendix (13 Reasons Why star Giorgia Whigham).
"I think you find Frank just flirting with the idea of peace and quiet and taking his foot off the gas for a bit, but it definitely doesn’t last long," Bernthal recently told ET's Ash Crossan of the season's start. "I think, in that split-second where he sees something happening to her, it really speaks to the nature of, not only who he is, deep down in his core, but also the fact that I think, above all else, Frank’s a father. He’s got a code that he believes in."
"As much as he’s sort of sworn off human interaction and relationships, he’s not gonna let these people go after this young woman, no matter what," he added. "Even though she and I start out quite adversarially, it’s that first moment, that first sort of decision to go and be a protector, I think, that kind of defines where the relationship goes through the series."
Amy is a character comic fans may recognize from the Punisher canon, though the TV show's version bears little relation to any prior namesakes.
"It’s loosely based on the comic character, which was really fun because I got to play around with my own idea of backstory and where her quirks and traits come from," Whigham explained. "You find her and she’s in some serious trouble. She’s in way over her head and she doesn’t realize it. And with the help of [Frank], she is alive, but in even kind of more trouble than she is initially. That’s kind of how he gets pulled into my world and I get pulled into his world."
Frank and Amy make an unlikely pair, but as for the off-screen chemistry, Bernthal couldn't have been more effusive about his new co-star.
"I was really blown away by how committed she was, on set and off. She was committed to giving everything," he marveled of the young actress. "That’s something that I really admire and I really respect and it’s extraordinarily rare, I think, for young actors. I’m really grateful for it."
"We got super close," Whigham agreed. "I think there was a lot of trust involved in the work, and that is one of the most important things you can ask for when you’re working with other actors... I feel like, instinctually, [Jon] always is kind of on top of it, and when we would meet up outside of set and talk about the lines and the scenes and how do we communicate this through the words without it being too on the nose, we just went back and forth, and I think that translated on the screen when we would just have back-and-forth banter."
Frank and Amy have their battles cut out for them in The Punisher's second season, facing threats on multiple fronts, and menacing characters from both of their traumatic pasts.
"I had a lot of fun and I learned so much from Josh Stewart," Whigham raved of her fellow newcomer, who plays John Pilgrim, a religious man with a sinister backstory, who is on the hunt for his own form of justice. "Those were really fun scenes to shoot with him too, towards the end. Those were crazy."
Another villain of the second season is a familiar face -- sort of. Ben Barnes returns as Billy Russo, Frank's former brother-in-arms, who, as Frank learned in season one, helped orchestrate the murder of his family through his greed-driven government entanglements.
Frank put a beating on Billy in the season one finale, leaving his face battered and scarred and his memory full of holes, which presented a unique acting opportunity for Barnes, who said it felt like "starting a completely new job, with a completely new character, you know, waking up in this kind of frenetic, fractious, angry, emotional, lost place, and trying to slowly piece your life back together."
"I approached it, honestly, like I was the hero of the story because I think that’s a much more interesting way to approach someone who people will consider a bad guy and a villain," he shared. "With the sort of brain injuries and everything [that Billy has], I felt like I had quite a bit of free rein to be emotionally volatile."
"And then the interesting thing is to sew in who he really is, and the theme of like, do we, despite changing our circumstances completely, and even your memory and your perception of who you are, will you inevitably slide back into a place where your faults are brewed from?" he continued. "Because of his history, will he essentially always end up this sort of narcissistic guy who is out only for himself and to put himself at the top, or is there any salvation for him?"
The season opens with Billy still in the hospital, attempting to piece his own timeline back together as he also deals with the physical ramifications of his injuries. For Barnes, acting behind a white mask -- which his character uses to hide the extensive scarring on his face -- ultimately felt "really freeing."
"As soon as I saw the mask for the first time, we went back into makeup and I said, 'You have to shave my head,'" he revealed. "Just to give it that institutional feeling, but also to kind of free me. ‘Cause in the first season, he’s so narcissistic and concerned with the Burberry and the windsor knot of the tie, and the hair gel, and the moisturizer, and I wanted to do as much the opposite of that as I can, and just blank slate, really."
"But it was very freeing because you feel like, oh, no one’s watching me. No one can see me, so I can feel free to react however is instinctive," Barnes added. "This is a show where you have to work a little bit harder. There’s a challenge to figure out what’s happening with these characters, in their minds. You’re not just supporting the good guy to kick the bad guy and win the girl. It’s not that simple. These characters have been through a lot, they’ve all been through traumas, good and bad. And so, to try and figure out what’s going on with them, that mask is like an extension of that. Like, what is going on behind this facade?"
"And it’s really interesting to act opposite that, as well," added Amber Rose Revah, who returns for season two as Homeland Security agent Dinah Madani. "In the first few scenes, you have to change -- you just change your own reaction to what’s happening. Because you can’t see the facial reactions, so then it’s the movement and the interpretation of that. It’s pretty terrifying."
Like Billy, Madani is in bad shape when The Punisher's second season kicks off, though more of her wounds are internalized. Revah noted that their respective journeys run almost parallel, though their mental anguish is opposite -- one can't remember, the other can't forget.
"She’s very much still stuck in that horror of what happened to her in season one," the actress said of her character, who was romantically involved with the former solider-turned-corrupt contractor in season one, before realizing that he was using her to get to Frank. "She hadn’t let anyone in for a long time when she kind of started to trust Russo. And then, when he betrayed her, it was kind of like, that was the last straw. So when we see her this season, she’s fixated on revenge, and she’ll do anything to get it."
"We see a really interesting look at her toying with the idea of, OK , morally what’s right and wrong?" she added. "And then at the end, she makes a decision."
That conflict, Revah explained, is one of the reasons Madani and Frank continue to find themselves working together, often towards a common goal -- despite initial protests on both sides.
“I think they have a lot of parallels, actually," she noted of the relationship between the embattled agent and the Punisher. "With the time that they served, they’ve come back and they kind of have tried to deal with everything alone. This season actually gets worse for her. She still doesn’t know how to deal with stuff, but now she’s self-medicating, she’s drinking a lot. She doesn’t feel that she can talk to people... I think that’s a parallel that they have. They see themselves as, ‘I can do this alone.’"
Ultimately, however, that solitude becomes unsustainable, as it's Madani who helps draw Frank back to New York City and back into the fight.
"She finds herself needing [Frank], from the beginning when she first brings him back there, and then throughout [the season]. So that’s really interesting," Revah noted, adding that the agent may also be looking for validation from the vigilante, who has already made his bed when it comes to one of her greatest moral dilemmas: "The idea of, morally, is something that’s OK to do by law the right way to go? Or do you take it into your own hands?"
The Punisher season two premieres Friday on Netflix.