At long last it has finally arrived, Marvel/ Netflix’s ‘The Punisher,’ and let me say after watching the first few episodes, I COMPLETELY understand why they decided to delay the release of this show after the terrible events in Las Vegas. The show pulls very few punches, stays very true to the Punisher from the comics and his love of guns and violent quest to put down criminals and those that have wronged him in his quest for justice, and it still feels a little disquieting to watch the character run amuck with a gun after everything that has been going on. However, I think it is a testament to the character, to Jon Bernthal’s acting, and to the quality of this show, that I could not help but carry on, as the show had me hooked in a way I do not think I had been since the first season of ‘Daredevil.’
The series opens up with Frank Castle tying up loose ends from the quest we last saw him embarking on at the end of ‘Daredevil’ Season 2, hunting down all the gang members and everyone else involved in the shootout that killed his family, with a few final kills that include Frank running down some bikers in his van, choking a guy in a bathroom, and a bad-ass sniper shot across the border into Mexico to take down one criminal who thought he had escaped the Punisher by fleeing the country. And then Frank retires the Punisher persona, burning the costume and getting work at construction site to literally hammer out his aggression (and many, many flashes to the family he lost, which recur throughout the series), which does not work all that well because he really freaks out his co-workers, who turn out to be evil jerks anyways. Except for one who tries to befriend Frank, but Frank is just not in a place for friends and pushes the guy away, right into the hands of the other idiots, who enlist him in a heist where they rob a local high-stakes poker game run by the neighborhood mob family.
Of course the job goes wrong, the kid screws up and reveals his identity to the gangsters and his co-workers decide their best plan of action is to the kill the guy before he can rat them out. So they take him back to the construction yard and decide to bury him in a block of cement. Sadly for them, Castle is there working late, and he does not like what he is seeing. Using his sledgehammer to kill everyone involved and save the young man, Castle leaves a note for him saying to flee the city, while he himself goes to the poker game site and murders all of the gangsters, just for good measure. As he leaves his latest justice spree, we pull back to reveal Frank is being watched by a security camera, and we get our first look at Micro, who says “Welcome Back Frank,” recognizing Frank’s moves.
Meanwhile, we meet special Agent Dinah Madani of Homeland Security who has recently been reposted back to New York after her investigation into the death of her partner, Ahmed Zubair, has made some higher ups uncomfortable (clearly setting up her story for the season). She meets her superior, Carson Wolff, who tells her to drop the Zubair investigation. Her new partner, Sam Stein, recognizes her moral code and wants to help but warns her against going against Wolff right away.
In Episode 2, Micro reaches out to Frank for the first time, which really pisses off Frank, as he does not want anyone to know he is alive, especially since Micro sends him a DVD of Frank and his squad killing a man named Ahmed (who just happens to be Madani’s partner – more on that later) in Afghanistan. Frank does his best to track Micro, but Micro escapes, so Frank instead turns to Karen Page for help in getting more info on Micro, which she reluctantly does, as there was once an investigation on Micro (real name David Lieberman) being done by her paper that was never published. Frank visits Micro’s family and learns that they believe David is dead, having been killed by a man named Carson Wolff (the same one who is Madani’s boss. As Marvel used to say about the MCU, it’s all connected). So Castle visits Wolff, interrogating him and learning the man was part of a conspiracy that also killed Frank Castle’s family, enraging Frank. Wolff breaks free and tries to kill Frank, but Frank overpowers and kills him instead.
Madani, meanwhile, starts looking into Frank Castle and his associates to continue her investigation (after some not-asked-for therapy from her psychologist mother), her first target being Billy Russo, Frank’s best friend and squad member, who currently runs a private security company called ANVIL. To get around Wolff, she hires ANVIL to do some training with her and her men. She manages to meet and befriend Billy, who asks her out on a date, thus starting a romantic entanglement between the two, which is interrupted when she gets news of Wolff’s death. To close the episode, Castle leads Micro on a chase through the city, ending at David’s grave, where Micro meets Castle’s friend Curtis (one of the only men who knows Frank is alive and who sees Frank regularly as Frank often visits his group therapy sessions, listening in from behind closed doors). He tells Micro that Frank is gone, and does not want Micro following him anymore. Defeated, Micro returns to his lair, where not-too-surprisingly Frank climbs out of the man’s trunk, ambushing him.
Episode 3 has Micro being interrogated by Frank while naked and tied to an office chair, while we get flashbacks to David’s past and what happened to him. It seems he was an NSA analyst who received a video of Frank and his squad torturing and killing Ahmed, and he did not know what to do with it, so against his wife’s best judgement (she was worried about the blowback), he sent it to Agent Madani, and the next day while driving with his family an armed team led by Wolff came after him, ending with him being shot in the chest and falling into the New York harbor, and everyone believing he had died. He tells Castle he only survived because the bullet hit his cell-phone, a nice touch on the part of the show as Micro is clearly all about technology. Eventually Micro convinces Frank that they should be working together to bring down the men who ruined their lives, though Frank is still very reluctant to trust him, and he does not know Micro all that well yet.
In Frank’s flashbacks, we see more of his time in Afghanistan, including the torture and killing of Ahmed Zubair, and a raid ordered by “Agent Orange,” which Frank warns Orange about, claiming it seems like a trap, and Orange ignores him. It turns out that Frank is right, and many lives are lost, and the day only saved by Frank and Billy’s brave actions, with Frank in particular going into enemy territory and in a berserker rampage taking down dozens of men to save his squad. When they returned to base, Frank attacked Agent Orange for his indifference to the lives lost and callous questioning about whether the objective was hit, and Billy has to pull Frank off the man.
Back in the present at the DHS, Madani is told she is now taking on Wolff’s position as the ranking officer, and she has some guilt over Wolff’s death, though her mother counsels her not to feel that way, but does advise her to find someone at work she can trust. After a tense conversation with Stein about Wolff having over $30 million in offshore accounts, Dinah decides to trust Sam and they becomes true partners in the DHS, and really begin to work together to figure out both the Zubair case and what was really going on with Wolff.
Episode 4 revolves around Frank and Micro working together to get some guns, as the Punisher cannot function without them. After a botched job where Frank tries to steal gun’s from the Netflix/ MCU’s standard criminal cameo Turk (all he ends up with is a hilarious pink paint-ball gun), they begin to look in other directions for weapons. Madani meanwhile is reprimanded by her superiors for the time being spent on the Wolff case and told to finish his last regular Homeland Security assignment, a weapons bust, so she sets up a sting operation begrudgingly down on the docks, which Micro finds out about while hacking government websites and decides it is the perfect opportunity to get Frank what he needs.
Meanwhile, Frank has to visit Micro’s family again, and while there, he bonds with David’s daughter who is fixing the sink, and learns that David apparently was never very hands on, information he later throws at Micro who the man gets cold feet about actually going out in the field with Castle to get the guns. The insult really stings Micro, and it stays in his mind for the raid. Madani has no idea what is coming, and thinks the raid is going as planned, until Micro hacks their radio and video feeds with a loud rock-n-roll song and a looped image. He and Frank steal the guns but Madani chases them down in her car, with Micro driving the van with the weapons and Frank in a Mustang they had stolen (from some criminals) earlier in the episode. Eventually Madani and Frank play chicken, racing toward one-another, though who would have flinched is never found out as Micro T-bones Madani’s car from the side, wrecking it and almost killing her, finally getting his hands dirty. Castle, though, is not happy, as he is not out to kill cops and federal agents, and saves Madani from the flaming wreckage, revealing to her that he is alive, though she does not share that information with anyone following the accident.
And while all of this is going on, there is a sub-plot of Curtis and his group of Vets in their group therapy sessions, with a lot of attention going to one young man in particular, named Lewis, who seems to be having a really hard time adjusting, which makes Curtis very worried about him. Lewis even has a good home with a dad who is looking after him, but he seems to be suffering from some PTSD and cannot get over how under-appreciated he is now that he is home, especially after all he had done for his country, which is clearly the show setting him up for bigger plot lines later.
If I had a complaint about ‘The Punisher’ so far it would be this subplot, and even a little bit the Madani B-story, as I know they will tie into the main A-Story of Frank eventually, but they seem so distant and quiet that they make the show seem a lot slower than it needs to be. I’m worried it might make some people give up before really getting into the meat of the story, as there is a lot here, as the show, to me, is pretty dense. I am enjoying it A LOT more than ‘Iron Fist,’ which I know is not saying much, but I’m just happy to see the Marvel/ Netflix shows are not all doomed following that series. And I should mention, the main theme and intro might be my favorite of all the Netflix/ Marvel shows so far, especially the shot of all of the guns forming the Punisher skull, which I think was a very unique and cool idea.
Be back soon with the review of episodes 5-8!