What’s interesting about The Punisher so far is how divorced it feels from the other Marvel/Netflix shows. Sure, Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) pops up in this episode to help Frank find Desi Micro, but that’s really the only connection to anything that’s come before. Compare that cameo to a scene in which Dinah and Sam walk through a park and Dinah opens up about how surreal it is to come back home. Back in NYC, “people obsess over things that don’t matter,” she says, noting how quickly people move on from things. You think she’s going to point to The Incident, a.k.a. the Chitauri invasion in Avengers that gets name-dropped on all of these shows, but instead she brings up 9/11. It’s an odd yet interesting note that, along with the entire episode itself, reminds us The Punisher is going for a more grounded tone and might be concerned with more than just bloated superhero thrills: It wants to explore how violence affects and changes a person.
“Two Dead Men” opens with Frank riding a ferry past the Statue of Liberty and flashing back to a time when he made this journey with his children. As moody wannabe Johnny Cash acoustic guitar noodling plays underneath, Frank remembers losing it when his son excitedly brought up the fact that he was returning to Afghanistan to “kill hajis.” The message is clear: The violence weighs heavily on his soul. From the ferry, he heads to a diner where he has his first encounter with Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). “You’re not the only ghost in this town, Frank,” says Micro, who calls Frank on the diner’s payphone and leads him to an envelope containing a phone and a DVD.
The DVD contains a video of Frank’s unit torturing an Afghan investigator named Ahmad. If that name rings a bell, it’s because Dinah is investigating his death at the moment and is having a hard time. In order to get around Carson’s attempts at blocking her investigation into Ahmad’s death, Dinah arranges for her new Homeland Security squad to have a training session at Anvil, a private military contractor owned by Billy Russo (Ben Barnes), one of Frank’s old squad-mates. After the training session, Dinah strikes up a convo with Billy, but Carson interrupts her before she gets a chance to ask him any real questions about what happened in Kandahar.
We know that whatever happened in Kandahar has Frank worried that he’s responsible for his family’s deaths, which is clear from his pained conversation with Curtis (Jason R. Moore). He confesses to Curtis that his unit was involved in interrogation and assassinations. “It wasn’t war, not like we knew it,” he says. “Truth is, Curt, I was past caring.”
In order to find this mysterious Micro, Frank turns to Karen, who ends up being conveniently useful. It turns out that a conspiracy theory-obsessed journalist pitched a story to the Bulletin a few years back about David Lieberman, a.k.a. Micro, an NSA analyst who started leaking information and was killed while evading arrest. (Obviously, we now know what Micro meant when he told Frank he wasn’t the only ghost. Clearly, Micro faked his death.) Ellison decided not to run the story, however, because our Homeland Security friend Carson Wolf asked him not out of fear it would ruin his investigation. Ellison gives Karen the story, and she cautiously passes the information along to Frank. Like most people, she’s worried he’ll kill David. (Next: The Punisher does some punishing)
With the info in hand, Frank pays Micro’s wife a visit and throws himself in front of her car. Believing she accidentally hit him, Sarah (Jaime Ray Newman) invites him inside to clean up. Meanwhile, Micro, who has cameras set up all around his home in order to observe his family from the grave, rushes over there with a gun because he’s worried Frank is going to murder his wife. However, that’s the last thing on Frank’s mind, especially once he connects with Sarah over the fact that they’ve both lost loved ones (because of the government). David realizes he has no use for the gun and eventually drives back to his techno hideout while Frank volunteers to fix Sarah’s garage door. David’s freak-out about Frank is actually pretty funny. I love how everyone’s first instinct whenever they hear Frank is doing something is to fear that he’s going to murder someone.
After cleaning up his face, Frank limps out of his apartment (he’s trying to avoid Micro’s gait recognition software, which can’t be a real thing, right?) and heads to Carson’s house for some questioning. I love the way the entire ensuing sequence was shot, from the way director Tom Shankland shoots Carson from outside when he comes home, putting us in Frank’s POV as he surveys his prey, to the simple fact that Carson and Frank’s fight isn’t shrouded in complete darkness, which is how most fights are done on Marvel/Netflix shows. It’s a brutal brawl, mostly due to the fact that Carson isn’t some random thug. He’s a trained government agent, so it makes sense Frank would have some trouble putting him down. Eventually, he does. After getting the information he needs out of him (Carson and Frank’s unit used that Central Park massacre as a cover to kill Frank because they thought he gave Micro the video), Franks breaks his neck.
Meanwhile, Dinah gets that drink with Billy Russo, who knows she’s interested in more than just casual conversation about the good ol’ days. Billy defends Frank, his best buddy in the army, and says there’s no way Frank would’ve gotten involved in drugs. “I think the system let down Frank in a big way, so he did what he was trained to do,” says Billy about Frank’s murder spree on Daredevil. However, their not-date gets interrupted when Dinah gets called to the crime scene at Carson’s home. With Wolf dead, Dinah is now the ranking Homeland Security agent.
The next day, Frank finally answers David’s call and decides to play a game with him. He sends him on a wild goose chase around New York that eventually ends at a cemetery. However, instead of meeting Frank, David is greeted by Curtis, who warns him that Frank will visit Sarah again if Micro keeps looking for him. So, a confused and defeated David returns to his lair. Obviously, he’s not alone. Frank climbs out of the trunk and punches Micro in the face.