Case Study: Patience in THE PUNISHER
Patience is an increasingly challenging value to apply in screenwriting. It might be even more challenging in writing for television. With the viewing audience increasingly fractured, and suffering from a shorter attention span than ever, it can be tempting to dive straight into action, whatever the “action” of your narrative is.
The newest incarnation of “The Punisher” character would seem to lean into this type of instant gratification storytelling. Frank Castle aka “The Punisher”, at face value, might appear to be a pretty superficial character. He’s here to drink beer and kick ass, and he’s all out of beer.
But that’s never really been the case in the comics, and it’s not the case in Netflix’s PUNISHER series. Perhaps the greatest example of this can be found in the first episode of Season 2 of the show.
Again, we’re talking about Frank Castle. At one point in season one, a news anchor estimates how many people Frank has killed and he scoffs and mutters, “That they know about…” Violence and action are an intrinsic part of Frank’s world.
That’s why it’s so impressive that the first episode of Season 2 begins with thirty minutes that are essentially one long date between Frank and a bartender. Nothing about this is superficial, either. While Frank and the bartender do get intimate, it’s all couched within a more mature type of intimacy (these are two adults with a lot of baggage, who are looking for connection).
The extended sequence spills out to the next morning, when Frank takes the bartender and her son to breakfast. It’s impossible to watch without thinking of Frank’s tragic backstory of losing his family.
That’s intentional – Frank has a brief moment of happiness that repeats his history of being a family man. And because we spend a whole half hour living in this, when the shit hits the fan (SPOILER ALERT: the bartender gets shot, non-lethally in a fight scene in the back half of the episode) we truly feel the human cost of the violence. And we completely understand why it’s so meaningful to Frank.
It’s tough to exercise patience in storytelling. The descriptor “slow burn” can often be read as a code name for “boring.” Flashy storytelling feels more exciting. But all the flash in the world will never substitute for substance. Take the time to develop your characters, and the audience will gasp when something happens to them.
How do you apply patience in your screenwriting?