Marvel’s The Punisher Ep. 1
These reviews will contain SPOILERS for the episodes I’m going over. Read at your own peril. Also, THOR RAGNAROK SPOILERS, as well as all Marvel Cinematic Universe films released at this point in time. I may also discuss SPOILERS from Dardevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Defenders.
Ok, we good?
I’m Nathan, and I’ll be covering Netflix and Marvel’s The Punisher for you this season.
A Brief Recap of Frank Castle’s Life as We Left Him
For those who haven’t seen the other Netflix Marvel shows, Frank Castle’s family was killed in a shootout between three factions in Central Park. Castle too was shot, but came back from a flatline in the hospital. Mr. Castle spent the first four episodes of Daredevil Season 2 hunting down these factions. He is caught before he could complete his mission. He is tried in court. Karen Page, Foggy Nelson, and Matthew Murdock are his defense team. He is found guilty and sentenced on 37 murder charges.
In prison, the Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin tricks him into the most brutal hallway fight Marvel can boast, and ends up letting him lose. Because Fisk wants his enemies in Hell’s Kitchen gone, and Frank inadvertently helped him take over the prison, he releases Frank into the wild to continue his mission of hunting down and slaughtering those responsible for his family’s horrifying end.
He figures out that his former commanding officer Ray Schoonover had a part in his suffering. But due to a boat explosion, everybody believes him dead. Karen Page, who was the only character to offer Castle any real empathy, and who was investigating his case closer because of this, finds out Schoonover was a villain as well. But before Schoonover can kill her, Castle intervenes, dragging him to an armory in the woods and executing him. Karen Page is the only person (other than Daredevil who himself is missing in action, presumed dead by everyone, though Karen nurses a feeble hope) who knows that Frank Castle A.K.A. ‘The Punisher’ is alive.)
Episode 1: ‘3AM’
Frank Castle, Prologue
We open onto an intercut of Lisa Castle being taught by her father, Frank Castle, how to play the opening of “One” by Metallica, and Frank alone in a dark room stringing along on his guitar. The opening scenes are Castle completing the search and destroy mission he started in Daredevil season 2. He literally runs down the Dogs of Hell in Alabama. We see a Cartel member celebrating his triumphant return to Juarez, Mexico, believing he has successfully evaded the Punisher. He was wrong. Castle snipes him from El Paso, across the boarder.
Castle’s final kill before the opening credits roll is an unfortunate member of the Kitchen Irish; the gang Castle exterminates at the start of his tenure on Daredevil. Castle catches up with the final member in the stall of a JFK Airport restroom. After ending the Irishman with his own tie, he goes to a secluded trashcan fire near the water where he puts the Punisher to rest.
Six Months Later…Castiglione Wields a Mighty Hammer
The Frank Castle bits and the Dinah Madani bits are intercut with each other in the show, but I’m going to look at them separately instead of jumping back and forth, at least while their paths are so separate.
The fascinating thing about the first episode, is that Frank Castle is mostly the ‘B’ plot. He’s living the trope of the veteran who is ‘forced’ to pick up his weapons and fight again, and Jon Bernthal plays it very well. Living as construction worker under a false name Castiglione (even though it shares the first four letters as Castle…real smart Frank) he encounters some shitty co-workers.
Those shitty co-workers then peer pressure the one decent co-worker into robbing some dangerous folk with them. It goes badly, and the three shitty co-workers then try to murder the decent one by burying him alive in cement.
Frank, who spends his late nights smashing the wall with a sledge hammer with the fury of somebody who missed their opportunity and overslept when the wall went down in Berlin, notices the attempted murder going on. He then murders his shitty co-workers with his sledge hammer. I think we’ve found Odin’s “god of hammers”. Well, one of them tried to drive away and Frank shot him with a gun he borrowed from the corpse he just made.
He ensures the younger, decent co-worker makes it out of the cement pit alive, and asks what happened. The mobsters they tried to rob earlier know who he is. So Castle decides to pay these men a visit.
During some violent peek-a-boo in the dark, Castle eliminates the threat to his young co-worker. But as he leaves the now corpse-ridden establishment, we see a man on a computer, Micro, looking at the CCTV feed of Castle emerging from the alley.
As far as Frank Castle’s character is concerned, this episode is mostly filler, with the exception of the gunfight at the end where Micro identifies him. Earlier in the episode he also meets with his friend and fellow war veteran Curtis, who like Sam Wilson (Falcon from the Captain America Trilogy and upcoming Infinity War duology) leads group therapy for veterans. Curtis is nice. He also represents the clear moral good among the several military vets we see in this show. Castle would be morally grey (or a lot darker) with the villains being irredeemable. There is also a red flag vet who tried to get a rise out of Curtis. He may be trouble later.
We don’t learn anything new about Frank in this episode, other than seeing his nightmares in the flesh. But that’s okay. It’s the first episode of thirteen, we’ll see more of Frank come out to play now he’s back to doing what he does best.
Dinah Madani: An American Hero
While Frank is the passive protagonist of this episode, the ‘go-getter’ protagonist is Dinah Madani. Her entrance in the parking garage instantly cements her as a badass, but also somebody who you don’t want to be a pedestrian near. She is played brilliantly by Amber Rose Revah.
Her former partner, and friend of hers from Kandahar, Ahmad Zubair, was taken from his home, tortured and executed. Nobody else cares, but she is not letting her friend’s death going unnoticed, unavenged.
She initially categorically dismisses her new partner, Sam Stein, while they engage in the exposition dance telling us her damage. I like Sam. He’s cheeky and on their boss’ shit list; two reasons to like him.
Their boss, Carson Wolf, as Madani points out, is a sexist, a racist, and demeans her abilities.
He tells her to stay away from the heroin smuggling in Kandahar case, the same situation that cost Zubair’s life. He says that she was pulled out of Kandahar before she sabotaged her career. But Madani knows better, she was taken out of Kandahar before she discovered compromising truths about U.S. military behavior in the region. But her boss is a shit, so she’s got to conduct her investigation low-key. At least while he’s the boss.
Positioning such a man in close proximity to Madani is a great writing tactic to make her instantly more likable than she already was. Were they not confident people would like her? He literally says, “it’s your word against mine, kinda like your case here.” There are precious few things the writers could’ve done to make Wolf more odious. On the other hand, making her boss misogynist and racist is all too real.
My only problem with Wolf, from a writing standpoint, is that he acknowledges how clever and “tenacious” Madani is. But he thinks she’ll stop investigating on his say so. It seems like a really dumb move from an otherwise intelligent character. A repulsive character, yes. But I thought he’d be smarter than that.
While Madani and Sam are having a chat later, she mentions she wants Sam to find everything he can about Schoonover, and Lieutenant Frank Castle. Sam asks the obvious question, why investigate men who are already dead? Why investigate the Punisher?
Madani points out the absurd coincidence of their perishing “one day and twenty miles apart” after serving in the same unit during their time in the U.S. Marine Corps. Reconnaissance…in Kandahar during the time her friend Zubair was murdered. She mentions the heroin bust on the boat Castle is presumed to have died on as well.
Madani takes a liking to Sam, but when she asks “what did you do to piss [Wolf] off?” He tosses her own earlier line back at her, “you gotta earn my trust first.” Madani’s not amused.
We catch up later with Dinah talking to her mother Farah. In this discussion we see the clear emotional tie Madani has to this case. It’s not just that her friend died. What really keeps her up at night is she told him American forces could be trusted. She told him to believe in her, and now he’s dead.
She is actually staying at her parent’s luxurious apartment while she searches for a new place of her own now she’s back from Afghanistan. Within two minutes, the believability of this mother and daughter having a complicated yet ultimately warm relationship is palpable.
Dinah’s mother is a psychiatrist and an avowed atheist. Her father is a surgeon and a godly man. Madani says her faith is in the system that took in her parents (from Iran) and “made them wealthy and respected.” Madani believes in the best of America with a remarkably uncynical devotion. She believes in justice for the guilty. Madani believes the truth must be set free, and that she’s the person to do it. Her mother warns her to drop this case, “I don’t want to see your head on a plate.”
Madani isn’t going to drop it though. She’s just getting started.
See you all soon with episodes 2 and 3.
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