The Punisher recap: 'Front Toward Enemy'
Well, I’ll admit this is not where I thought the Lewis story was going. As I said in an earlier recap, I thought Lewis was just making bomb-making equipment to cover up the evidence of O’Connor’s death. But it’s actually way worse than that. Lewis left O’Connor covered with a sheet and used the bombs for more nefarious purposes: namely, terrorist attacks against the NYPD, a federal courthouse, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Lewis went Full Unabomber for this: not only sending the explosives in mail packages, but also accompanying them with a manifesto.
PREVIOUSLY: The Punisher recap: ‘Cold Steel’
O’Connor may be dead, but his right-wing conspiracy theories are alive and well in Lewis (apparently it was only the valor faking that he objected to). In his letters sent to newspapers, Lewis rails about the government taking away people’s guns to prevent them from resisting devastating neoliberal economic policies like offshoring and upward redistribution. In some ways, he’s gesturing at the same basic enemy as Frank: an authoritarian police state where people at the top of society are unaccountable and take out their whims on all the people below them. That’s not all he and Frank have in common; Lewis also handpicks Karen Page as the recipient of his letters, since he knows she’s stuck up for people who take the law in their own hands in order to find justice. He’s not wrong, and I love how this episode challenges the whole vigilante idea. Sure, maybe The Punisher is targeting only bad guys who deserve it, but what happens when imitators with shakier ideals start popping up?
Frank certainly doesn’t like his comparison. Watching footage of Lewis’ bombings, Frank declares that he hates bombs more than anything, and only cowards would use them. Frank might kill a lot of people, but at least he looks them in the eyes when he does so, and runs the risk of them fighting back. Plus, he notes that bombs don’t actually instill fear the way terrorists like to think; instead, they bring people together and inspire them to resist even more intensely. Presumably he learned this in Afghanistan, watching American air strikes against civilians swell the ranks of the Taliban and other groups.
In a strange scene, Karen goes on a news radio show with pro-gun control Senator Stan Ori to discuss the bombings. Midway through, Lewis himself calls in to the show and rants some more, ending with “sic semper tyrannis” — or “thus always to tyrants,” the Latin phrase John Wilkes Booth declared after assassinating Abraham Lincoln. Unfortunately for Lewis, this is something of a tell. He likes using the phrase so much, both Frank and Curtis realize he’s the bomber. (Recap continues on page 2)
Curtis makes his move first. After trying to call Lewis, he heads to O’Connor’s apartment, where he’s greeted by the sickening smell of the man’s rotting corpse still laying in the recliner. He also finds the bomb-making equipment — and Lewis himself! Ever the good guy, Curtis tells Lewis it’s not too late to give this up and do the right thing. But Lewis, his mind twisted by trauma and disappointment, says he’s already doing the right thing. He’s in that scary place where someone does something awful, and instead of backtracking decides to justify their action by committing even more heinous acts. He and Curtis start fighting, and at first it looks like the older man has the advantage, but as we’ve seen already, Lewis is a brutal fighter with animal cunning. He eventually takes advantage of Curtis’ prosthetic leg, pulling it off and savagely beating his would-be mentor with it. It’s intense.
Quick note about Dinah, since we mostly see her in this episode hanging out with Billy (before she sparks the beginning of an alliance with Micro): I really hate this relationship. Billy is so obviously, cartoonishly evil, and he killed Sam. I think it really undermines Dinah’s character to have her fall head-over-heels in love with him because he has a nice beard or whatever. Some investigator she is.
Frank has an intense desire to hunt Lewis down himself. He says it’s to protect Karen, but I suspect he does see some of himself in Lewis, and fears it. So when he makes his way to O’Connor’s apartment and finds Curtis beaten, bloody, and tied to a bomb, he decides to take a different approach than his usual killing. He tries negotiating with Lewis — but then again, he doesn’t have much choice, since Lewis is on the opposite rooftop with a sniper rifle. Lewis says that Frank should be on his side, but Frank’s not having it. The Punisher isn’t motivated by grand ideology or paranoid conspiracy theories; he’s dedicated to protecting the people closest to him. So even if he and Lewis might have the same theoretical enemies, right now Lewis is threatening Curtis and Karen, and Frank will not accept that. After some intense back-and-forth, Frank convinces Lewis to tell him how to defuse the bomb.
But before he did that, Lewis called the cops. As he makes his escape, Frank must as well. The Punisher manages to hijack a cop car without killing anyone, but unfortunately he’s caught on the dashboard camera. Now everyone knows Frank Castle is alive.