In the brutal and bloody penultimate episode, Frank makes a choice between life and death
What a punishing episode! Sorry not sorry, because that’s the only way to describe the brutal penultimate installment of the season, which sees The Punisher finally bring Frank, Billy, and Rawlins together in the same room. Even though we’re one episode away from the end, you can still feel the show stretching the plot out to make it to 13; however, Bernthal’s emotionally devastating and painful performance rescues the episode and helps make it one of the best of the season.
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Unfortunately, there’s a bit of throat clearing before the show can get to the good stuff. “Home” opens with Dinah putting Frank and David on the record about Operation Cerberus, and it’s frankly unnecessary stuff. It’s hard not to share Frank’s annoyance at being asked questions Dinah (like us) already knows the answers to. When she interrogates Frank, Dinah finally learns that he was the one who killed Ahmad, which is news to her. When it’s David turn to step in front of the camera, he refuses to play ball until Dinah promises to help rescue his family, and their conversation reveals how much David has changed over the past few episodes.
“You want justice, ’cause you haven’t found out yet that there’s no such thing,” says David. What he’s witnessed since teaming up with Frank has finally broken his faith in the system. He’s reached the same point as Frank.
Once all of that is settled, Frank and David head out to the waterfront to meet Billy for the prisoner exchange. As Frank and David walk toward the Anvil van waiting for them, David is forced to basically ignore his family because their plan depends on him not losing his cool. Homeland Security bursts onto the scene once Sarah and Zach have made it far enough away, and a gunfight breaks out. The Anvil men manage to capture Frank, but David appears to get shot and killed in the crossfire.
(Spoiler alert: David’s not dead. He later wakes up back at the Homeland Security office and is reunited with his family.)
Speaking of which: Billy wakes Frank, who was dreaming of dancing with his wife at their wedding in a cheesy but moving dream sequence, and demands the passwords to stop the countdown on David’s computer. This is the first time Frank and Billy have come face to face since Frank found out Billy’s role in his family’s murder, and hearing Billy admit that he knew about it but wasn’t involved breaks Frank. Their fraught chat also confirms that Billy did join up with Rawlins because of the money, which makes sense given his upbringing. (Next: Let the torture begin)
Eventually, Rawlins makes his grand entrance so the real interrogation can begin. Look, torture is one of my least favorite storytelling devices on TV. After a decade of 24, it’s the last thing I want to watch. But it’s incredibly effective here because the show doesn’t treat this violence lightly. Frank’s beating is brutish and mercilessly palpable, especially once the blood starts flowing from his face. As Rawlins goes HAM on his blood-soaked face, Frank drifts in and out consciousness, escaping to his memory palace, where he’s having sex with his wife to the sounds of Paul Weller’s “You Do Something to Me.” The juxtaposition between torture and Frank’s sexy times is fairly goofy, but it serves a thematic purpose. Over the course of its season, The Punisher has explored the characters’ relationships with violence. Frank is haunted by the things he’s done, and part of that guilt comes from the fact that he knows he enjoys killing, that he thrives on the violence. So it’s not surprising that his mind escapes to the last time he and his wife had sex. Moreover, we know Rawlins enjoys the violence and torture, too; remember Billy’s observation in episode 7 that Rawlins “would get as hard as a man could get” when he was torturing someone and got to that moment where his victim knew he was going to die.
After a brief intermission — during which a battered Frank deactivates the countdown — the torture resumes once more, returning to the show’s critique of how the government treats its veterans in the process. Through the many veterans we’ve encountered this season, the show has argued that the government coldly and selfishly turns these men into killing machines, sends them off, and then discards when they’re no longer needed. Here, Rawlins becomes a demented and twisted example of this. As he continues to beat Frank, he maniacally raves about how the country needs him and how Frank is nothing but a grunt (to say Rawlins is aroused by the torture would be an understatement). In his insane monologuing, Rawlins betrays his true feelings for Billy, who refuses to be just another “stupid grunt.” So, Billy surreptitiously cuts Frank’s restraints.
While all of this is going on, Frank returns to his dreamscape with Maria and relives one of their final conversations, during which she pointed out how he was home physically, but not mentally. Eventually, Maria gives him an option to choose between her or leaving again, which is essentially a choice between life and death. “I am home,” says Frank before waking up, grabbing a knife he taped under the chair, and pouncing on Rawlins. Frank murders the CIA agent, Mountain-versus-the-Viper style, by basically gouging out his eyes with his thumbs; it’s one of the show’s most brutal murders. Billy watches this all go down and remarks how he loves watching Frank work, as Frank, who is bleeding out from all of his injuries, collapses to the ground.
Billy thinks he’s going to make it out alive, but then Homeland Security storms the basement (David, worried about his friend, relented and told Dinah where Frank was). As Billy escapes, David rushes to Frank’s side and tearfully begs him to wake up. “My friend is dying,” yells David. I love the fact that David considers him a friend. Frank and David’s relationship has been the best part of this show. Eventually, Frank does wake back up, but we know it’s not because of David. He returned because he’s so consumed with his quest for vengeance and won’t rest until Billy is dead, too. It’s a depressing reminder of how melancholy Frank’s life truly is.
“That’s right, you scary, beautiful man! That’s right!” exclaims David as Frank regains consciousness.