In which we learn exactly what kinds of crimes Punisher and Micro committed for their government — and why they're thirsting for revenge
We’ve been hearing a lot about Kandahar so far this season, but this episode finally takes us there and shows us what kind of crimes Frank Castle committed in Afghanistan. Folks, it’s brutal and bloody. But it also feels real. I had a lot of doubts going into this show, but if the rest of it is as honest as this episode, then The Punisher has honestly exceeded my expectations.
The Kandahar flashbacks are littered throughout this episode. In the present, Frank has Micro tied up naked in a chair in his own little Micro-Cave. Before we get into Frank’s flashbacks, we get another set of flashbacks. These are Micro’s, revealing how he went from being a happily married family man to…well, a naked guy tied to a chair in an empty warehouse. Come to think of it, I wonder if Micro’s small computer hive is an intentional visual reference to The Conversation, where Gene Hackman’s surveillance equipment takes up only a small portion of the large warehouse space he owns.
Speaking of The Conversation, Micro also ends up seeing something he shouldn’t. But in his case, it’s video of Ahmad Zubair’s interrogation and murder. We see Micro debate with his wife whether or not he should publicize the tape. He doesn’t like the idea of teaching his children to be good people while also refusing to do the objectively “good” thing when he can, but she also refuses to give her blessing on the action, since she knows he just wants someone to tell him it’s okay. Well, he does it anyway, and the backlash comes soon. Not long after he sends the file to Dinah Madani, Micro is in car with his family when he sees a SWAT team approaching. Ordering his children to stay in the car, Micro tries evading his pursuers on foot. He’s soon cornered by none other than Carson Wolf, who has him at gunpoint on top of a bridge. As other cops converge, Carson yells that Micro has a gun (when he obviously doesn’t, of course). His wife arrives just in time to watch Carson shoot her husband, knocking him backward off the bridge.
Back in the present, Micro explains that a cell phone in his pocket saved his life. After his “death,” federal agents went about smearing his name, making him seem like a traitor. Frank mentions that Micro’s wife still believes he was a good man, but as Micro notes, that doesn’t seem to count for much right now. He believes that Frank won’t kill him because he’s a good man, but Frank tells him, “You don’t know s—.”
Soon enough, we learn the s— for ourselves. (Recap continues on page 2)
In Afghanistan, Frank and Billy Russo were drafted into Schoonover’s Operation: Cerberus. In typically grandiose military fashion, Schoonover insists this makes them his “dogs of war.” But interestingly enough, Schoonover doesn’t actually seem to be in charge. That designation belongs to the man so far known only as “Agent Orange” — the bald, civvy-clad, cold calculator who tells these soldiers whom to kill, but not why. As he puts it so succinctly: “I point, you shoot.” No other rules apply.
What that means is when Agent Orange is interrogating poor Ahmad Zubair and finds out the Afghan cop doesn’t actually have any information on terrorist whereabouts, he orders Frank to kill him, and he does. The last thing Ahmad says before Frank kills him is “I have a family.” I was worried about this show wallowing in Frank’s dead-family misery, but so far it’s doing the exact opposite. If Frank went about murdering people with families all the time, why should we care what happened to him? Didn’t he deserve it, in a way?
Yes, probably. This episode climaxes in a montage of Frank taking out an entire compound of Afghan fighters by himself. Although he pointed out that the operation was likely an ambush, Agent Orange made them go through with it anyway, in order to kill one of his “high-value targets.” If you’ve read good War on Terror reporting like Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars, then you know this is actually pretty similar to how the war in Afghanistan was conducted. Higher-ups would come up with lists of high-value targets and send their soldiers to kill them. Often, those murdered would not be Taliban at all, and were often innocent of any crime whatsoever. As Frank points out, this made the American army appear to ordinary Afghans not like a liberating army, but just as the “American Taliban.”
Nonetheless, Frank is a solider, and he does his duty. The result is a sequence very reminiscent of The Raid, with one soldier taking down an entire building of machete-wielding fighters. By the time they’re done, he and Russo and the rest are covered in blood and dirt and scum. They’re anything but heroes.
Back in the present, Micro reveals to Frank that Operation: Cerberus was totally off the books, which made Frank and his teammates little more than glorified mercenaries. At long last, Frank decides to partner up with Micro, so they can wipe out the people responsible for these horrendous war crimes. Again, I’m glad that the show isn’t painting its protagonists as particularly heroic. They’re still going to be acting like shadowy assassins — but this time, their targets will deserve it. Does that make it any better? I’m not sure, and I don’t think the show is either…