The Punisher recap: 'Virtue of the Vicious'
A formula-breaking episode examines the attempted assassination of Senator Ori from multiple perspectives
“Virtue of the Vicious” might be the Marvel/Netflix-verse’s most inventive episode, structurally. Written by Ken Kristensen and directed by Jim O’Hanlon, the mildly suspenseful hour jumps back and forth in time to reveal different perspectives on one climactic event — Lewis launching an assault on a hotel to take Senator Ori — bringing almost every character together for the first time. The writers took a risk with slotting such a formula-breaking episode so late in the game. While we should applaud their efforts to shake things up, the gambit doesn’t pay off. Instead, the jumbled timeline undercuts the pathos of Lewis’ story and never really justifies itself.
PREVIOUSLY: The Punisher recap: ‘Front Toward Enemy’
The episode is structured around Daredevil detective Brett Mahoney interrogating everyone involved in what ends up going down at the hotel, hence the timey-wimey structure. However, to make things comprehensible here, I’m going to go through the action chronologically, starting at the beginning of the day.
This insane day begins with Lewis murdering an Anvil agent and stealing his identity in order to infiltrate the hotel. However, before he leaves the dead Anvil man’s apartment, he notices that he has two birds in a cage. Lewis opens the cage door, trying to coax the birds out, but they refuse to fly away, not even when he puts the open cage door up against an open window. It’s obvious yet effective metaphor for Lewis’ situation. Physically, he’s free from the army, but he still feels like he’s trapped.
Dinah learns that the mercenaries who killed her men were connected to Anvil, so she heads to the hotel to confront Billy, who’s there as part of Senator Ori’s security. Obviously, Billy denies everything and tries to pass it off as a coincidence, but she doesn’t buy it.
Meanwhile upstairs, Karen meets with Senator Ori for another interview, which is really just them debating guns. Ori believes no one should have guns. Karen, who has a conceal/carry permit, believes people should be able to legally if they fear for their safety. Needless to say, their conversation is on the nose, redundant, and frankly boring. However, the scene succeeds in one nitpicky area: Karen Page has her recorder out and records the interview. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fictional journalist ever actually record an interview on a TV show. Yes, I know I’m the only one who cares about this, so let’s just move on…
Lewis blows open the doors to Ori’s hotel room and begins shooting. Thankfully, Frank arrives in time and dives in front of bullets meant for Ori and Karen. In the confusion, Lewis takes Karen hostage and reveals he’s wearing a suicide vest. So, Frank and the Anvil agents who show up have no other option but to let him escape via the elevator. Once the elevator doors close, the Anvil men open fire on Frank, clearly following Billy’s orders. (Next: Dishonorable discharge)
Frank takes off running down the stairs and comes face to face with Dinah, who demands he surrender and become a witness in her case. Obviously, he refuses, because vengeance. The tension in the scene crescendos once Billy arrives and grazes the side of Frank’s head, revealing his true colors to both of them in the process. “It was war, Dinah. And the only crime in war is to lose,” says Billy, kind of revealing why he teamed up with Rawlins. The ensuing suspenseful standoff between Billy and Dinah is interrupted by the NYPD, which arrests both of them. The cops try to apprehend Frank, who they believe is working with Lewis, but he evades capture by using a fire hose to jump down the remaining stairs, injuring himself in the process. (Note to Frank Castle: Ask Batman where he got his grapple hook made.)
Frank eventually catches up to Lewis and Karen in the hotel’s kitchen. Again, Frank tries to talk Billy down, but it’s no use. So Frank cleverly brings up how Lewis told him how to disarm the previous bomb in order to clue Karen in on how to disarm the suicide vest. It works, duh! Karen cuts the white wire, grabs the gun in her purse (when did she get her gun back? I thought Billy took it from her?), and shoots Lewis in the foot. Lewis locks himself in the freezer and begins reciting the final verses of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Young British Soldier” before he detonates the bomb and kills himself.
Lewis’ final moments are pretty powerful, but the rest of the episode does very little to service them because it’s too busy jumping around in time. While I didn’t like the decision to turn Lewis into a homegrown terrorist who was out to defend the Second Amendment, I was still invested in his PTSD narrative because it was powerful and gave the show some added weight. However, all of that gets lost in the shuffle here until the very end.
After Karen helps Frank escape from the kitchen, Detective Mahoney begins interrogating everyone who was there: Dinah, Karen, Billy, and Ori. These interrogations are pretty useless because whether or not Mahoney believes Frank saved the day or was in cahoots with Lewis doesn’t really matter; neither he nor the NYPD will play a big role in the outcome of the first season. No matter what Mahoney believes, everyone is still going to be hunting for Frank after everything that goes down here.
Oh, I almost forgot: Karen and Frank almost share a kiss, but don’t.
Marvel's The Punisher