[Editor’s Note: This post contains major spoilers for season one of Marvel’s The Punisher, as well as discussion of gun violence, PTSD, and related content.]
I came out of Daredevil season two feeling like I’d been dragged through the mud and had my heart stomped on by someone with heavy, booted feet. It was similar to how I felt coming out of season one, but worse — because instead of just one ship breaking my heart, Daredevil‘s sophomore season featured two. The unexpected chemistry between Karen Page and Frank Castle knocked me on my ass… and now that The Punisher has hit Netflix, I find myself in a Shipping Situation that’s taken over my whole brain.
I’ll be really honest. My experience with Daredevil and Punisher comics is somewhat limited. But I fell deeply, madly, ridiculously in love with Netflix’s Daredevil. I have issues with the series — namely, its treatment of women and its obsession with orientalism and yellow peril — but at the end of the day, I enjoy it. I enjoy Matt Murdock. Foggy Nelson gives me equal parts joy and heartbreak. And I love Karen Page. I think Daredevil struggles with how to treat her, because she’s supposed to be one of Matt’s Great Loves and the writers do a disservice trying to shoehorn that in rather than let it develop organically, but I love her.
And to my great surprise, I also love Frank Castle. I love him so much.
Realistically, I probably would have ended up shipping them by default just because of that diner scene in season two. Don’t even talk to me about the scene in the hospital. And now that The Punisher is out, I’m just…. done for.
The marketing for The Punisher framed Karen as one of the only people Frank can trust. Karen Page and Frank Castle are very, very different people — but they both, ultimately, have the same goal. Uncovering the truth and exposing scum for what it is. The Punisher explores their relationship in ways that I didn’t expect. There’s a lot of trust between them, and an affection borne of that. There’s also frustration, grief, heartache — all the makings of the best kind of angst.
Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle is so nuanced. His performance of this character is so solid in every way. Frank Castle is alone. He’s lonely. But he’s also surrounded by people who — while they don’t agree with his methods — support him in what he’s doing. He grieves for his wife and his children. He’s angry at the establishments that turned him into a weapon, then tried to silence him and his family in case he revealed their secrets. He’s been betrayed a dozen times over. At the end of the day, he has very few things — very few people — that he cares about.
Karen Page is one of those people. She’s been through the wringer, but she relentlessly pursues truth regardless of the consequences. She has no problem going toe-to-toe with crime bosses or traumatized soldiers with bombs strapped to their chests. She’s determined, courageous, and fiercely protective of the people she cares about. Somehow, between storming into a hospital to take out a guy under Karen’s charge and then saving her life (twice), Frank Castle ended up in that small, inner circle of People Karen Cares About.
Originally, Karen wasn’t supposed to be in The Punisher. Hell, originally, The Punisher wasn’t supposed to exist. But Bernthal gained so many vocal fans after his performance in Daredevil season two that Marvel and Netflix were quick to give him a spin-off series of his own. And then he lobbied to have Deborah Ann Woll added to the series, because he just loves filming with her so much. And that’s how we get moments like this one:
Which, as you can imagine, fucking broke me. I won’t spoil the rest of the season (the cheek kiss happens a few episodes into the season, in a scene where both Woll and Bernthal deliver heart-stopping performances that lead up to this wholly unexpected moment of tender affection), but know that the relationship between Karen Page and Frank Castle is integral to the emotional beats of the series… something that, I acknowledge, will probably anger die-hard comic fans, since they never even interact in the panels of a comic.
Who Are the Characters?
Frank Castle is The Punisher. In the Netflix MCU, he’s a former marine whose wife and children were gunned down at a park after he returned from his final deployment in Afghanistan. He begins The Punisher by tracking down and murdering the rest of the gang members supposedly involved in the shooting that day. Then he goes into hiding as Pete Castiglione, a construction worker who takes out the trauma of his past (which manifests in flashbacks of Frank’s murdered family) with a sledgehammer on sheetrock. Soon, he discovers that it wasn’t gang violence that killed his family — it was government agents, deployed to take out a man they thought would reveal their illegal activity in Kandahar.
Karen Page is a journalist and former secretary who met Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson when she was falsely accused of murder. She went onto work for them and was instrumental in bringing Kingpin Wilson Fisk to justice. She joined the New York Bulletin with the intention of reporting the true story behind Frank Castle, and has become a prominent and vocal crime reporter for the paper. In The Punisher, she uses her journalistic prowess to identify David “Micro” Lieberman when Frank asks for her help, then helps him escape police custody when he’s falsely assumed to be working with a gunman/suicide bomber who takes Karen hostage after his plan to kill a senator goes topside.
Why They Work Well Together
I already expounded upon this pretty well, but let me reiterate: the chemistry between Jon Bernthal and Deborah Ann Woll is stunning. The easy way these two work together makes every interaction between Frank and Karen feel special, whether they’re arguing over his approach to justice or carefully communicating with body language and coded speech to get Karen out of a deathly predicament.
Though there’s not (yet) a romantic component to the Karen and Frank relationship, the organic development of their friendship makes it more dynamic and interesting to watch than most other relationships in the Netflix MCU. The MCU as a whole, really. Neither character has been shoehorned into the other’s life — they care about each other, and therefore do what’s necessary to help each other, which is how relationships work. What a concept!
These two put their lives in each other’s hands — literally — time after time. They trust each other completely, and I am so here for seeing how their relationship develops moving forward.
Why They Might Not Work Well Together (In Real Life)
Frank is, ultimately, a traumatized soldier who lost his entire family in an extremely violent event and then used violence to wreak his vengeance. He’s officially dead, by all government records, and he’s probably not ready for another romantic relationship right now. Maybe he won’t ever be ready. On the other side of the coin, Karen also has a traumatic past, but she ultimately turns to journalism and law rather than vigilante justice.
By most definitions, these two shouldn’t work together. In real life, they surely wouldn’t — I don’t think either of them would even be living free lives, if I’m honest. But that’s what’s so great about fiction, right?
Is It a Standard/Popular Ship? Are There Alternate Ships Involving the Characters?
I think most Punisher fans would argue that pairing Frank and Karen is ridiculous, but those fans probably hate all of the Netflix MCU for not staying “completely true” to the comics. Karen Page and Frank Castle never interact in Marvel comics. In Daredevil, they become very unlikely allies, and in The Punisher, their relationship develops even more. There are, obviously, alternate ships involving these two, but like I said before, this one is one of the only really organically developed ships in the ‘verse.
Dream Fantasy (Kept PG)
Honestly, I just want these two to be happy and safe. Whether that’s together or apart, I don’t care. They both deserve a nice, long nap and a lot of therapy to help them work through everything they’ve suffered. But if I’m being totally honest, I’d love for them to reach a point where all that really intense physicality and trust can have a romantic element to it. I think that’s a ways down the road, if they ever get there at all, but I would love to see it happen. I haven’t stopped thinking about Karen Page and Frank Castle for months. I never expected The Punisher to throw me quite so many bones…
So I’m trying not to be too greedy.