WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Marvel's The Punisher Season 2, streaming now on Netflix.
It may not have been the first time he uttered the phrase, but Marvel Head of Television Jeph Loeb said as early as 2015 that "It's All Connected," promising fans the events of one side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe would somehow impact characters and events on the other side. First a hashtag and then a mantra of sorts, it was ingenious, as the phrase assured the company's then-fledgling live-action TV efforts were important, while also allowing the executive to sidestep questions about potential spoilers. However, if that notion had been on life support in recent years, limited to little more than Easter eggs, then The Punisher Season 2 finally pulls the plug.
On Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., those connections were obvious early on, with a mystery surrounding the resurrection of Clark Gregg's Phil Coulson, who seemingly died in 2012's The Avengers, cameos by the likes of Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury and Cobie Smulders' Maria Hill, and the fallout from the Hydra revelation in 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But in the Marvel Netflix dramas those links weren't as clear-cut, or as seamless; Avengers Tower was including in promotional materials, and seen in a newspaper on Daredevil, but otherwise the series largely relied upon awkward references to "the Incident" (the Battle of New York from The Avengers), "the big blond dude with a hammer," "the old dude with the shield" and "the green monster."
Jessica Jones remedied that in its second season, not only with an appearance by a Captain America action figure, but a blatant reference to The Raft, the prison in the North Atlantic for superhumans introduced onscreen in 2016's Captain America: Civil War.
While we perhaps shouldn't expect the characters of Marvel's Netflix shows to weigh in on the philosophical rift between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, they would certainly have an opinion about the Sokovia Accords, which regulate the activities of "enhanced individuals." However, it's never mentioned (although Iron Fist Season 2 does flash back to Sokovia in the wake of Avengers: Age of Ultron). That can be waved away, sure -- there are greater concerns than a handful of vigilantes in New York City, Luke Cage's celebrity status notwithstanding -- but what about Avengers: Infinity War, in which half of life in the universe was snuffed out with the snap of Thanos' fingers?
The Marvel blockbuster premiered in late April 2018, ahead of the arrival of Luke Cage Season 2 in June and Iron Fist Season 2 in September. There are obvious real-world issues, like production schedules, to consider, but you can also convincingly argue that the events of those seasons actually take place before those of Infinity War. The further away we get from April, though, the more difficult the case is to make. It's damned inconvenient to address the ramifications of a large-scale, life-altering (and -destroying) event like the so-called Annihilation in a more intimate TV series without derailing the protagonist's story, but there might have been an opening in Daredevil Season 3 for Matt Murdock to awaken, physically and emotionally broken, to find not only his world but the entire world has radically changed.
That brings us to the second season of The Punisher, which, as the appearance of Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) makes clear, is set after Daredevil's third, and final, season. She's employed once again by Nelson & Murdock, whose revival is cheerfully discussed in that series' finale; Frank, battered and handcuffed to a hospital bed, asks whether Matt Murdock is aware that she's visiting him, and putting herself in jeopardy, despite already knowing the answer. Using even the most generous timeline, it's pretty clear Infinity War takes place sometime before this new season; The Punisher simply ignores it.
That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's followed interviews leading up to the release of these new episodes, as showrunner Steven Lightfoot said The Punisher unfolds in "a little bubble," and, "the guys at Marvel are good at steering me with that.”
“The truth is with, these shows take a year to make,” he continued. “Infinity War probably wasn’t finished, certainly wasn’t out, when I started writing the show, and as we know, Marvel is secretive. I didn’t even know what happened in Infinity War. It would have been very difficult for anyone to talk about it.”
As such, Marvel's legendary penchant for secrecy, which apparently now extends to sharing information between film and TV divisions, became the agent of its mantra's destruction. Although many of the attempts to forge links between the Netflix shows and the films were ham-fisted (come on, just call "the Incident" the Battle of New York, or "That time the Avengers fought freakin' aliens!"), and amounted to little more than Easter eggs, the second season of Jessica Jones finally arrived at an organic solution.
With The Punisher, there was an opportunity to do what Daredevil didn't, or couldn't, and address the psychological fallout from the loss of half of the world's population -- without hijacking the season's narrative, or spoiling the resolution of Avengers: Endgame. That wouldn't mean Frank setting off on an absurd, and bloody, crusade to find Thanos. No, all it would require is an acknowledgement of the Annihilation, and a recognition that, beneath the surface, Marvel's The Punisher isn't about violence. In its finest moments, it's about the toll that violence takes, on both the victims and the perpetrators; and it's about finding a way to live with trauma, even if you can never really move past it.
It's difficult to imagine a trauma more pronounced than, in an instant, half of the people and animals on the planet crumbles to dust, without explanation. The psychological wound would dwarf that of the Black Death in the 14th century, and form a daisy chain of crises -- economic, political, religious -- that would span the globe. Society would almost immediately begin to reorder, and everyone would be changed. Except, perhaps, for Frank Castle, who already lost everything he cared about on that sunny day in Central Park. His crusade would, inevitably, continue, only his targets would be reduced -- roughly by half.
Streaming now on Netflix, The Punisher Season 2 stars Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle, Ben Barnes as Billy Russo, Amber Rose Revah as Dinah Madani, Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, Jason R. Moore as Curtis Hoyle, Josh Stewart as John Pilgrim, Floriana Lima as Krista Dumont and Giorgia Whigham as Amy Bendix.