The Punisher recap: 'Gunner'
Frank goes to find his old teammate Gunner Henderson, who might have a clue to Agent Orange's whereabouts
Remember Gunner Henderson? That cheery Southern soldier who introduced himself to Frank in Kandahar a couple episodes ago by jokingly quoting the Book of Proverbs at length? This episode is where we find out what he’s been up to since Afghanistan, because it turns out Gunner is actually pretty important to the plot: He is, after all, the one who filmed the Ahmad Zubair interrogation and sent it to Micro in the first place.
PREVIOUSLY: The Punisher recap: ‘Resupply’
Although they pulled off their resupply operation successfully, Frank and Micro are still at odds — but with two such stark-opposite personalities as these two, conflict is probably inevitable. Micro doesn’t think it was a good idea to let Dinah Madani learn Frank is still alive. Frank responds by mocking Micro’s family situation, saying Sarah probably doesn’t even want him back. (We know that she does want to spend more time with Frank, though, since she invites him for Sunday dinner after he fixes their car. I wonder what Frank is playing at with this; it’s almost like a Cyrano de Bergerac situation, since Micro was the one insisting Frank help fix his wife’s problems for him.)
All the mess over that incident at the docks inevitably draws the attention of our favorite local reporter, Karen Page. She meets with Dinah first, and interestingly says the same things about Wolf’s death (“he was dirty”) that Frank told her when she lay in the wreckage of her car. Soon, Dinah turns things around and asks how Karen got so connected to Frank Castle. Karen insists that she has nothing to fear from the Punisher, and that she doesn’t see him as a psychopathic killer; she sees Frank Castle’s story as a tragedy, one deserving of empathy and understanding.
After talking with Dinah, Karen goes to see the man himself. Frank gives her an update on the last time they talked — he found David Lieberman and learned the same people were after both of them. But Karen pushes back when Frank declares his intention to kill the people responsible for what happened to them. She says that a vigilante killing government officials like Agent Orange would just make them into martyrs, and that exposing the truth of their illicit activities with the help of Karen and Dinah would work much better. But Frank disagrees, saying that these men control what the “truth” even is. Funny enough, it sounds almost like a debate over revolutionary praxis (do you improve the system from within, or overthrow it violently?). Karen insists that she wants there to be an “after” for Frank, some place behind the violence and revenge and death. This is why I’m really growing to like Karen’s presence on this show. Not only does it grant a connection to the other Marvel/Netflix properties without undercutting this show’s gravitas, but it also gives Frank a genuinely opposing view to push back against him. Come to think of it, I might prefer Karen Page in The Punisher to Karen Page in Daredevil. (Recap continues on page 2)
The reason Frank and Micro want to find Gunner so badly is that they believe he can point them to Agent Orange’s real identity. But funny enough, in a twist of dramatic irony we the audience find out that information first: The man in question is named William Rawlins, and he works for the CIA. We first see him in this environment giving a speech to CIA recruits, telling them that the only reason some Americans can sleep well in warm beds at night is because there are people like them enduring the nightmares and trauma of keeping that world safe.
That rhetoric should obviously read as bulls— (killing innocent Afghans doesn’t make anyone safer), but it’s exactly the kind of thing that gets you promotions at the CIA. When his superior informs him of the good news, Rawlins is also asked if he still has any skeletons in his closet that could come back to bite them. “No,” he declares.
But of course we know he means “yes.” And to deal with those skeletons, “Agent Orange” sends a squad of soldiers to Gunner’s remote cabin to finish off him and Frank once and for all, while the boss watches from a drone. At first, it feels like he probably shouldn’t have bothered, since Gunner greets Frank’s arrival by shooting him in the shoulder with a crossbow bolt. But soon the old soldiers realize they’re on the same side, just in time to deal with this squad of soldiers. Though I don’t think it lives up to some of the show’s past action sequences, this one is still pretty fun, and I love that it’s unafraid to get brutal. At one point, one soldier stumbles on one of Gunner’s traps, and his groin gets speared by a sharp stick. Then Frank shows up and pulls him deeper into it. I am not making this up. It’s amazing to watch Frank and Gunner take this squad apart one by one, as the look in Agent Orange’s eyes grows more and more terrified. The best part comes at the end, when only one of the soldiers is left. While he’s screaming in terror, Frank emerges from a pile of leaves behind him and stabs the grunt in the neck. Staring into the body camera that feeds back to Rawlins, Frank declares, “Whoever you are, I’m coming for you.” Then he snaps the guy’s neck.
Unfortunately, that kind of battle takes a lot out of even experienced fighters like Gunner and Frank. Gunner appears to die of his wounds, while Frank passes out. Luckily Micro is there to pick him up. That’s what sidekicks are for, after all.
Oh, also Billy Russo and Dinah had sex. Good for them, even if I can’t escape the premonition that Billy is up to no good somehow.