Punisher: helplessness in the face of the apocalypse

On Phoebe Bridgers’ sophomore album, she predicts her version of the end of the world and the dissociation of self that comes with it

Some of 2020’s best albums have eerily reflected just how dark and miserable the year has been so far. Some, like Taylor Swift’s Folklore, sound desolate by design, as the pop singer crafted her latest full-length project during her time in isolation. Others, like Oddisee’s ODD CURE, are the result of a massive studio session crammed into just a few weeks. Then, there’s Phoebe Bridgers’ devastating sophomore record, Punisher.

Punisher is the type of album you put on either after lighting a joint at the end of a long day or while driving late at night. It’s the type of album that carries a lot of weight throughout the bulk of its 11-track run. The themes Bridgers sings about aren’t uncommon. Depression, dissociation, and anxiety drive the album, but the Los Angeles-born singer also tackles the reality and seriousness of imposter syndrome.

In short, imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which the person who has it will constantly feel like they don’t deserve to be in the position they are; they believe they’re going to be exposed as a fraud. In a press release following the announcement of Punisher in April, she explained that the song “Kyoto” was about imposter syndrome and “about being in Japan for the first time, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go, and playing my music to people who want to hear it, feeling like I’m living someone else’s life.”

Bridgers’ desire to dissociate becomes even more apparent on “Halloween,” where she sings “Baby, it’s Halloween / And we can be anything” on the chorus. Though this song is about a couple hiding their issues by dressing up as different people, it only enforces her continued longing to be someone else.

These moments of dissociation culminate in the closing track “I Know the End,” a sombre and creepily foreboding track about Bridgers’ prediction that the end of the world is approaching. In the third verse, she begins to list the things she sees while “driving into the sun” as the apocalypse begins to set in. Much of what’s on her list can be associated with modern conspiracy theories like a UFO sighting, the fear of God, and of course, subtle shade thrown at Donald Trump’s United States of America.

Clearly, like the rest of us, Bridgers isn’t optimistic about the rest of 2020.  With a potentially game-changing election looming at the beginning of November, she knows that the future of her current home is in peril. While being pessimistic about the remainder of the year doesn’t take rocket science to understand, Bridgers’ helplessness is intrinsically linked to her own experience with imposter syndrome.

Bridgers certainly isn’t the first artist to sing about these topics on an album, but the timing of Punisher’s release date paired with the introspective songs and macabre predictions of the near-future makes this album a definitive reflection of what is probably the worst year in a long time.

In the span of eight months, nearly a million people have died from COVID-19, we lost Kobe Bryant, riots are breaking out over blatant and systemic racism, and a revolution seems to be on the horizon in the U.S. — among countless other tragedies that would take far too long to list. It’s certainly easy to feel the same helplessness that Bridgers does.

But what can we do?

We do our best to educate ourselves and others. We make lists of resources that we can use to make life a little easier for everyone. But we can only do so much before we need help to change things. Yes, we can vote, yes we can vocalize the criticisms of our society with little to no negative consequences. But, still, it doesn’t feel like enough.

And yet, Punisher feels like one of the only albums that encapsulate the helplessness of 2020 in a brief 40-minute run. On “I Know the End,” Bridgers doesn’t seem to have any answers to her troubles, though she sings without any sign of anxiety. In fact, she sounds at peace. Maybe she’s onto something. Maybe she’s just completely dissociated. Maybe we’ve all gone mad. All we can do is ride it out and hope for the best.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


Punisher Season 2: Netflix’s redemption

Frank Castle returns in all his grim and violent splendor 

To fans of the Marvel Netflix shows, it came as a big surprise when Netflix announced that they would be cancelling Iron Fist, Luke Cage and Daredevil, due to a massive decrease in viewership last year, according to Screen Rant. Many thought Marvel Netflix originals were coming to an end, which is why it was unexpected to most when Netflix released the second season of Punisher on Jan. 18. With this new addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, viewers are presented with 13 more episodes delving into the war-torn psyche of Frank Castle.

For those who need a refresher, Frank Castle, or “The Punisher,” is a former marine, as well as a member of the Cerberus Squad, a covert special operations task force created by William Rawlins, director of covert operations in the CIA, as part of a plan to smuggle heroin from Kandahar to the United States. Due to problems with Rawlins’s leadership, Castle decided to take his leave and return to his family, only to lose them in a shooting orchestrated by Rawlins in order to prevent Castle from finding out the truth about his smuggling operation. Wanting nothing more then revenge, Castle takes on the mantle of a violent and ruthless vigilante in order to achieve it.

The season starts with the meeting of a new protagonist, Amy Bendix, a cunning grifter who’s caught in a fight that’s completely out of her depth, presenting Castle with a new conflict that demands his brand of violent justice.

Their paths cross with a hitman named John Pilgrim, an ex neo-nazi turned devout Christian who takes orders from powerful people, a nod to one of the Punisher MAX comics’ antagonists, The Mennonite, who was also a religious hitman hired to hunt Castle. His pursuit of the jarhead and Amy leads him to New York, where, just like in The Mennonite, he is subjected to all sorts of temptation, which ultimately leads to his downfall.

And, of course, we see the return of Billy Russo, struggling with amnesia and psychosis following his traumatic disfigurement at the end of season one. In this season, he takes on his colder, darker “Jigsaw persona from the comics to continue to taunt and toy with Castle.

As far as comparing it to the previous season, there were some major improvements. Firstly, there was the camerawork. In the first season, what bothered a lot of viewers was that there were awkwardly long  30 to 45 second bust shots of certain characters giving their lines in a monologue without anything interesting happening in the background. In the second season, they seemed to have learned from their mistakes and varied the shots during those long monologues. Secondly, there were major improvements in the story as a whole. The first season can be boiled down to a continuation of Castle’s origin story, where he realizes that his mission is not yet complete and goes back to work with the help of Micro, a former NSA agent who shares enemies with our favourite vigilante. However, the second season plays on the aftermath of said mission: what does Castle do now that he got his revenge? Does he move on to live a normal life? Is that even possible for a man like him, so psychologically entrenched in war and violence? This entire season rests upon the fact that there is no Punisher-free life in his future, and he learns to accept it.

Overall, the second season was a successful redemption from the first, giving as much depth to Castle’s character as the villains’, making it a much more interesting tale. Even though it’s a Netflix Original that doesn’t have to stick to the canon story, they made references to both the movie and the comics that definitely did not go unnoticed, making the show richer as a whole.

Graphics by @spooky_soda

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