Marvel's The Punisher binge recap: Let's talk about season 2!
One batch, two batch, binge recap! Coming off a surprisingly good first season of The Punisher, it’s time for Frank Castle to figure out his next steps. Luckily, EW’s Heroes For Hire, Chancellor Agard and Christian Holub, have teamed up once again to guide you through all 13 episodes with this handy binge guide. Follow along as you watch!
Episode 1: ‘Roadhouse Blues’
Here we are, back again! The Marvel/Netflix universe as a whole is, of course, winding down a bit these days. Daredevil, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage have all been canceled, which means this season is probably our last outing with Frank Castle, too. Hopefully, it makes the most of the opportunity; season 1 of The Punisher made the No. 2 spot on the Marvel-Netflix ranking I did with my co-recapper Chancellor Agard a few months ago, so season 2 has a lot to live up to as far as we’re concerned.
What I like about the first episode, at least, is that it tries its hardest not to look anything like season 1. Instead of New York City, we find Frank on the road in Michigan, with hardly a gun or a skull emblem to be seen. In fact, for a minute there it looks like Frank might even be trying to break out of his routine.
The first scene, of course, tells us that he won’t succeed. We see Frank driving a truck with a young girl in the passenger seat. He’s got a bloody face, and we don’t know why. They run into a roadblock with various people pointing guns at them. The girl asks what they should do now. Clearly, she hasn’t read any Punisher comics, or she would know that Frank Castle’s go-to response is to pull out a gun, start shooting and ask questions later. After firing off a round of fire, he throws the truck into reverse…and promptly hits a car parked behind him.
Before we find out what happens next, we get pulled into reverse ourselves. We flashback to the previous night when Frank first meets this young girl at a bar. She takes one look at him and calls him “rough road,” a reference to the saying “you have a face like 40 miles of rough road.” She’s looking a little jumpy, and we soon learn why when she calls a Russian gangster requesting a meeting. Apparently, she’s in possession of some “photos” that are of interest to this guy. Unfortunately for her, her contact is tied up in a chair with a bloody face. His torturer holds out the phone on speaker mode so the guy can respond to her and set up a location for a meeting (i.e. that very bar where she just ran into Frank). After she hangs up, her contact is killed by his torturer, a guy who doesn’t seem very nice at all.
Back at the bar, Frank’s dealing with a smaller problem in the form of a drunk asshole repeatedly hitting on and insulting the female bartender. Frank tells the guy to back off and then crushes his fingers when he tries to throw a punch. The bartender is impressed and tells him her name is Beth. Frank’s not trying to parley his chivalrous act into anything more, but Beth is; after they talk at the bar for a few hours, she asks him to grab a drink at her place. He accepts her offer.
I like how the subsequent sex scene is constructed. It’s built like a montage, with scenes of their lovemaking interspersed with weighty conversations about each of their tortured pasts. Beth may not have seen her whole family murdered in front of her eyes, but having to pick up the pieces of her rock-star life to raise her son and pay bills without the son’s father in the picture is a difficult struggle in its own right. They start sharing so much that Frank even tells her his real name, rather than using his “Pete” alias.
In the morning, Frank tries to pull the classic leave-before-your-hookup-wakes, but he’s foiled by the arrival of Beth’s young son, who just got dropped off. Rather than leave, Frank decides to stay a little longer and take Beth and her son out for pancakes. This kid is perceptive enough to know they had sex last night, even though he doesn’t quite grasp what sex is (at this point he’s more interested in hockey).
Despite the whole “Punisher” thing, Frank is clearly pretty good with kids, and both he and Beth seem reluctant to say goodbye afterward. In fact, after a few hours of driving, Frank decides to turn back and return to the bar. As much fun as he had with Beth, though, something else grabs his attention when he arrives. It’s that young blonde girl again, looking scared as she hurries into the bathroom. Two women follow her, while a man stands guard at the door, and Frank knows something’s wrong. He barrels into the bathroom and engages the girl’s three attackers in a bare-knuckle brawl. I love the kinetic energy of this fight and its claustrophobic action; anyone who enjoyed the bathroom fight from Mission: Impossible — Fallout will probably like seeing Frank hurl the male attacker headfirst into a sink.
When they leave the bathroom, though, Frank and the girl find out that there are even more attackers, as the fight spreads into the whole bar. Things quickly get messy. The bouncer gets killed (meaning this episode sadly fulfills the awful “Black Characters Die First” trope) and even Beth gets shot. After going beast mode on the entire bar, a very bloody Frank (his adrenaline pumping, his voice back in that lower octave) carries her into a nearby truck and heads for the nearest hospital…bringing us right back to the front of the episode.
That sudden reverse into a parked car is a lot scarier when you know there’s an injured woman in the back! Nevertheless, Beth survives and is successfully transported to a nearby hospital, after which Frank and the girl keep driving. When she asks if there are “more of them” out there, Frank replies, “I hope so.” The Punisher is back, baby!
He’ll soon find that his old allies and enemies are also alive and well. We catch a glimpse of our old friend Dinah Madani as she ruefully drinks from a flask in Billy Russo’s hospital room. Shortly after she leaves, his eyes open…
- Is it just me, or did Billy’s last-minute wake-up resemble the scene from earlier in the episode when Frank tried to leave Beth’s house, thinking she was asleep even though she wasn’t?
Episode 2: ‘Fight or Flight’
After watching the second episode of Netflix’s Marvel’s The Punisher’s second season, I think the show should be renamed Marvel’s Frank because it is definitely giving me some Logan vibes. Look at the similar setups: Frank, like Hugh Jackman’s adamantium-clawed mutant, is trying to live a quiet, violence-free life, but then he meets a young woman, here her name is Rachel, and gets drawn back into madness. The similarities must have been on purpose, but at least for now, I don’t hate them and find them pretty charming because it gives me something to hook onto since the show is still in that place where it’s establishing what the season is exactly about in this episode.
Wait, I lied. The Punisher should actually be renamed Marvel’s Angry & Sassy because this episode is actually very much about setting up Frank and Rachel’s antagonistic dynamic. He’s angry, she’s sassy and angry. It’s your classic odd couple pairing, and it works here and actually brings much levity to the show’s self-serious vibe. Their dynamic made me actually laugh out loud several times: Frank handing her a bloodied wad of cash to book a motel; a disgusted Rachel’s commentary on Frank trying to treat his wounds; Frank handcuffing her to the bed and taping her mouth shut so he could sleep; and the way she reads Frank during his attempt at interrogating her. “You know, it really must get so tiring being so angry all of the time,” she says, in one of the show’s funniest and most self-aware moments ever.
But there’s actually more to their interrogation than simply laughs. Frank tells Rachel that he was trying to live a quiet life and probably wouldn’t have helped her if she were a guy (He says he’s “old-fashioned”). She responds by pointing out that the bar brawl was what he made it, and it looked like he was just looking to mess some people up. The whole point of this exchange is to explicitly engage with Frank’s internal struggle: Does he actually want peace and quiet, or does he actually love being the Punisher? Sure, the answer is obvious (look at the name of the series), but the show has earned enough goodwill that I’ll reserve judgment until we see where this goes.
As to be expected, the gang that attacked them in the roadhouse eventually tracks them down to their new motel and another, less-exciting but still good action sequence ensues. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go exactly the way Frank planned, and he, Rachel, and the lone remaining henchwoman end up getting arrested. Of course, that arrest only leads to more problems for them because the moment the police put their info into the system, mysterious religious fanatic guy and his tech sidekick manage to track them down and put a plan in place to attack the quaint small town precinct.
Meanwhile back in New York, Dinah Madani visits Billy, whose face is scared and hidden behind a skull mask in the hospital. However, it’s not a friendly social call. She’s there to torment him because he, you know, shot her. But, apparently, Billy doesn’t remember that. In fact, he claims he doesn’t remember anything that happened in season 1. When his therapist, played by Supergirl’s Floriana Lima, enters the room, she explains to Madani that they refer to his jumbled memory as a jigsaw, which is some self-serious silliness. I’m convinced already that the show won’t actually call Billy Jigsaw, which is kind of lame, but whatever because Ben Barnes gives a pretty tortured performance in the episode even with his face hidden behind a mask. There’s a palpable sense of frustration and trauma as he tells his therapist about his reoccurring skull-filled, glass breaking nightmare for the umpteenth time.
Madani is traumatized by the events of season 1, too. As we saw in the last episode, her alcohol intake has increased, and here we learn that she visits Billy almost every day and refuses to believe he has amnesia. Her mentor/friend Rafi tries to convince her that this isn’t healthy, but she doesn’t care. That night, she goes home and has a nightmare about Billy right before Frank wakes her up with a call asking for help. She says no, leaving Frank to defend a precinct from religious zealots on his own.
Episode 3: ‘Trouble the Water’
It’s episode 3 of a Punisher season, so it’s time for a big battle! As you may remember, last season it was the episode “Kandahar,” a flashback to one of Frank Castle’s gnarliest battles from his time in Afghanistan. This time around, it’s an Assault on Precinct 13-type situation, with a gang of religious zealots laying siege to a small-town Ohio police station where Frank and Rachel have ended up.
Before we get to the good stuff, though, we learn a little bit about the enemies involved. We see the main bad guy (whom I’ll refer to as Mysterious Religious Zealot for the sake of expediency) in his home environment, a.k.a. some rural church. This guy clearly loves God: He wears a priest-like collar, constantly quotes the Bible, and says prayers for the people he kills. But it seems like his biggest interest in this church specifically is the wealthy patrons who are financing healthcare for some of the members — specifically this guy’s wife/girlfriend, Rebecca. The wealthy patriarch is played by Corbin Bernsen, with significantly more menace than he ever brought to Psych. This evil church version of Henry Spencer tells the Mysterious Religious Zealot that they need him for a mission. He doesn’t explain the specifics (aside from a Bible reference to the Book of Daniel: “One of ours has been thrown to the lions”), but clearly that’s what set this guy on Rachel’s tail in the first place.
Speaking of whom, Rachel is still trying to play the innocent victim, telling the sheriff she’s just a college student who got waylaid by all these mysterious assailants. The sheriff doesn’t buy it any more than Frank did, and he’s got fingerprint data on his side. Apparently “Rachel” has gone by many names and claimed to be many ages. Even caught like this, Rachel refuses to tell the truth about herself, just as she did with Frank. Hand it to the kid — she’s got balls, though I would like to learn a little more about her soon.
Mysterious Religious Zealot isn’t a big fan of Frank and Rachel sitting in a jail cell, though. He comes to the station with his police lieutenant friend (whom we saw looking frightened and exasperated at the end of episode 1’s massive bar fight) and tries to take the two with them. This sheriff is a by-the-book kind of guy, though. Arraignment is Thursday, so he’s not letting Frank and Rachel go before then. This once again turns the lieutenant into an exasperated mess. The Mysterious Religious Zealot decides to turn things up a notch. After the peaceful option fails, he opts for war.
He’s brought a miniature army with him, and they start firing on the police station from their spots in the surrounding woods. The station is well-equipped with guns, but their force is not up to the task. While Frank still languishes in handcuffs, one of the amateur cops gets shot. He needs to get to a hospital, but that’s not happening while the station’s besieged — at the same time, he also doesn’t want to give Frank and Rachel up to certain death on his account. So the fight continues, and it really kicks into high gear once Frank gets out of his restraints.
The high point of the battle comes once Frank is armed. Mysterious Religious Zealot continues his assault, and while some of his troops are firing he sends a pair of them to hurl a Molotov cocktail at the station. Just as they’re about to let loose, Frank sends a well-aimed bullet right at the bottle. Both the assailants ignite immediately, and even the Mysterious Religious Zealot seems unnerved by their hysterical screams as they both burn.
After that, the battle gets a little more boring. Unlike “Kandahar,” there’s no crazy one-take sequence. The first part of the battle consists of two groups of people firing guns at each other through windows, and the second consists of Frank running through the woods at night. Credit to the Mysterious Religious Zealot, though: Not only does he avoid getting shot by Frank, he even manages to sneak up behind the Punisher. But just as he gets Frank in his sights, Madani shows up in her DHS helicopter. The lights are bright enough to make the zealot miss his shot, though he successfully escapes into the wilderness. Thank God — it would suck to lose an intriguing villain quite so soon.
Madani comes to Ohio straight from New York, where there’s been an update with Billy Russo. After he got angry in one of his therapy sessions with Dr. Dumont, the guards are called in. That’s when Billy rediscovers his strength and beats them all to death with their own weapons. He takes Dumont as a hostage of sorts to secure his safe passage through the hospital. She truly sees him as a wounded man in need of redemption and healing, so doesn’t scream for help. He manages to escape the hospital…
…and that’s what inspired Madani to come get Frank, even though when he used his one phone call at the station she refused to help. When Rachel asks where they’re going now, Frank and Madani reply at the same time: “New York.”
Episode 4: ‘Scar Tissue’
And just like that we’re back in New York City, killing the pretty cool Western vibe the show had going for it in those first three episodes. Honestly, there was something freeing and compelling about seeing Frank out of the concrete jungle, and having him back there in this episode kind of brings everything down a bit, especially because there still isn’t much going on in this episode.
“Scar Tissue” is mostly concerned with the trauma in almost all its stories. First we have Billy, who is grappling with the mental pain of his scarred face, and how that makes him think about himself, and scars from his childhood too. His memory is still a jigsaw puzzle, and so he’s looking for something to hold onto as he roams the streets as a wanted man. Ultimately, he decides to visit an old guy named Arthur, who used to work at the group home Billy lived in and was a child molester. During their conversation, the man starts teasing Billy about his messed-up face, and Billy ultimately snaps and murders him. (Speaking of Billy’s face, the actual scarring is pretty lame, right? Like, his face doesn’t actually look that messed up.)
After getting his revenge on Arthur, Billy is unmoored once again and turns to the only person he can in New York: Dr. Krista Dumont. He shows up at her home that night and asks for her help. Of course she agrees, which is a development we all saw coming the moment she was introduced.
Meanwhile, Frank and Rachel Amy are busy lying low in Madani’s apartment. While Frank calmly enjoys some TV on the couch and resists the urge to go after Billy when a news report about his escape comes on, Amy takes a moment to exhale and let herself go in Madani’s room. After taking a shower, she tries to nap on the bed but can’t. So she crawls underneath the bed and cries herself to sleep, which was a pretty effective way of conveying just how traumatized she has been by all this.
Furthermore, the episode takes steps in making her less enigmatic by revealing some of what she went through before she entered the roadhouse. Through a jumbled flashback/dream sequence, we see that she and some friends, who worked for a woman named Fiona, were working some funeral (the nature of the work is still unclear, but it sounds shady and involved taking pictures). That night, she left their motel to get tacos, and when she came back, she found her friends dead on the floor. However, she had to hide underneath the bed because the Mysterious Religious Zealot guy returned to the motel room. What happened between that moment and her landing at the roadhouse still remains unclear, though.
She eventually shares all this Frank, who is actually fairly open to listening to her after hearing her cry herself to sleep in. But for some reason, he doesn’t use this as a chance to open up and tell her he knows how she feels since he watched people he loved get killed in front of him, too No, instead, Amy finds out exactly who Frank is and what happened to him after she sneaks out of Madani’s apartment and googles his name at a nearby electronics store. When she returns to the apartment, she asks if killing the people who murdered his family made him feel better and he admits “sometimes.” That’s enough to convince Amy that she wants to stop running and actually fight back against the men who are after them.
Amy and Billy’s respective traumas are at the forefront of the episode, but the hour does get into a bit with others as well. Both Madani and Curtis point out how Frank’s failure to actually kill Russo has made their lives more anxious. We’ve already seen what Russo’s continued existence has done to Madani, but when Frank visits Curtis in the episode, Curtis answers the door with a gun in hand because he’s worried Billy will come after him. Madani and Curtis very much want Frank or someone to put an end to Billy to free them from this shadow hanging over them. In fact, Madani actually goes out looking for Billy after Frank gives her an Arthur lead, and accidentally ends up shooting Sgt. Mahoney in the chest because he sneaks up on her at Arthur’s home. Thankfully, he was wearing a vest.
Episode 5: ‘One-Eyed Jacks’
This episode gives us this season’s first taste of the greater Marvel-Netflix universe. That’s right, folks: It’s time to check in with Turk! This time, we see that New York City’s favorite petty criminal (played by Rob Morgan) is just trying to mind his own business when suddenly Frank Castle slides into the back of his car. Frank’s been out of New York for a bit, so it makes sense that Turk would be one of the only criminal contacts he remembers.
Frank is looking to figure out how these zealots came to be pursuing Amy. Amy remembers the name of her Russian gangster contact, so Frank asks Turk to go to the Russians and ask for a meeting on his behalf (even though we viewers know said Russian gangster was already killed by Mysterious Religious Zealot). Turk threatens to call the cops on Frank, but when Frank threatens to kill him before he could even hang up the phone, Turk acquiesces to his demands.
While Turk meets with the Russians, Frank returns to Madani’s apartment to find that Amy has gotten ahold of the DHS agent’s credit card and is using it for online shopping. Frank is disgusted with how many clothes, food items, and laptops she’s bought with it… until he notices the pizza. In the middle of eating, Frank gets a call from Turk. Similar to Amy’s call with the Russian from episode 1, this appears to be a one-on-one convo, but really the phone is being held to Turk’s mouth while he’s bound in a chair and surrounded by scary-looking Russians. Despite a civil conversation, Frank knows it’s a trap — especially after Amy confirms his suspicion that the original Russian is probably dead. Now he just needs to make it his trap.
Meanwhile, the other two people who were with Frank at the carousel that night aren’t doing too hot. Madani’s having nightmares about Billy, and Billy’s having nightmares about Frank — or at least, the blazing skull emblem that is the only thing that comes to mind when he tries to remember the face of his frenemy. In this episode, for once, Madani and Billy both deal with their trauma in a constructive way: by going to therapy! Billy is still living with Dumont, so she’s able to provide helpful advice as needed. When he wakes up agitated one night, she calms him down by asking him to name five blue objects in the room. On the other side, when Madani approaches Curt for help tracking down Billy, she ends up getting pulled into his regular group therapy session with fellow veterans. At first, the guys scoff at her presence, but she soon shuts them up by talking about her own awful experiences in Afghanistan. I like that this episode spends time with the veterans and their experiences because the nuanced take on America’s Middle East wars was one of my favorite elements of season 1.
The captive Turk told Frank to meet the Russians at his place, and the gangsters send a well-armed squad over there. But Frank skips that and goes straight to their home base at the gym, Turk having already told him that they don’t keep any guns there due to constant police supervision. Even though Frank and the Russians quickly ascertain that they’re not exactly enemies here (since they’d both like to know who killed Amy’s Russian contact), neither of them are the get-together-and-talk type, so they decide to fight for supremacy.
It’s a pretty awesome fight, more reminiscent of the bar/bathroom clashes in episode 1 than the militarized police battle of episode 3. I think this show’s violence works better when it’s up close and personal, and honestly, I think Frank is a way more interesting screen presence when he’s not using guns. With no armaments at hand, both sides use weight room implements as their weapons. Frank takes a few hits, but the fight is over once he takes the biggest goon’s head in his hand and repeatedly bashes his head in with a weight, while never breaking eye contact with the main gangster. After that, he learns who paid for the “photos” Amy stole that sent the zealots after her in the first place. Unfortunately, he won’t be easy to track down. This guy isn’t just a gangster — he’s got high-level contacts with the Russian government. They won’t find him in a weight room, so fully untangling this thread will have to wait for another day.
I am still loving the dynamic between Amy and Frank. Earlier in the episode, when he was yelling at her that Madani wouldn’t be happy with such use of her credit card, Amy responded, “Is she ever happy about anything?” Now, at the end, after they’ve left her apartment and are on their way to Curt, Amy asks Frank if Madani will be happy when she finds out they haven’t really left New York.
“When is that woman ever happy?” Frank asks.
Episode 6: ‘Nakazat’
Control is the heart and center of “Nakazat.” It begins with Frank and Amy forcing their way into some pedophile’s child pornography photo studio in order to develop the highly coveted photo in Amy’s possession. While Amy heads to the darkroom, Frank hangs back with the pedo-tographer and is about to kill him, but Amy comes out and stops him by pointing out that this guy’s crime is “borderline.” Instead, they set the studio on fire as they leave and give the creep time to flee.
While this little trip felt somewhat unnecessary — the photo, which is of two guys kissing at a wedding, is pretty innocuous without context so they could’ve gotten it developed anywhere — it does set up the episode’s interest in control. Specifically, it introduces the idea of whether or not Frank can control his impulse to kill. Does he have to kill his opponents, and more importantly, will he ever stop killing? In the episode before this one, we saw Frank stay his hand with the Russians, and we’ll see that again toward the end of the episode, too. It’s definitely an interesting avenue to explore because it feels more nuanced than your typical “Should superheroes kill or not?” Here, the show asks if there is a life for Frank after he’s done punishing, or if this murderousness is just part of him. Given the fact that everyone is urging him to kill Billy, I’m curious to see where he ends up landing on that score.
After the little photography trip, Frank and Amy start making moves to track down Poloznev, who was the one who hired Amy’s gang to take the pictures. What’s great about this team-up is that the show really digs into their father-daughter dynamic in a way that’s pretty powerful. First, Frank teaches her how to disarm someone with a gun, which was pretty tender. Then, while surveilling Poloznev and his daughter, Amy asks Frank questions about his own daughter and suggests that he should always think about her and wonder what she would be like as a grown-up. While I don’t buy that Amy, a 16-year-old, has this kind of maturity or insight into grief, I was pretty moved by their conversation because of Jon Bernthal’s subtle and moving performance You can see him fighting back the pain and emotions behind his eyes as Amy talks to him about his daughter.
Furthermore, exploring Frank as a father feels like a fresh entryway into the character. One of the weakest things about season 1 was how often The Punisher would gratuitously flashback to the same damn scene of Frank and his in bed together, or to the day she was murdered. It just wouldn’t stop harping on the mandatory Dead Wife aspect. By pairing Frank with Amy here, the show approaches his tragic back story from another angle and uses that to inform his present in a way that’s far more interesting and forward-looking.
Once they’re done with recon, Amy and Frank get to work setting at trap for Poloznev. While Amy lures his bodyguards in a fun sequence that involves her disappearing into a crowd of school children, Frank commandeers Poloznev’s car and takes him to the docks for a chat. After blandly monologuing about power, Poloznev reveals that the aforementioned picture is of the Schultz’s’ son, who is trying to hide the fact that he’s gay because his parents want him to run for president. Poloznev was trying to use it as blackmail because he fully expects the Schultzes and their huge company Testament Industries will one day rule the country. With that information in hand, Frank prepares to kill Poloznev, but he changes his mind when Poloznev brings up his daughter. Instead, Frank just orders Poloznev to get out of the country and to never come back. And thus, Frank stays hand once more, which is definitely a new thing for him. Unfortunately, the rich Russian ends up dead anyway, because Mysterious Religious Zealot — whose name I finally discovered is John Pilgrim — tracks him down and kills him.
While all of this is going on, Billy attempts to take back control of his own life by snooping through Krista’s things to find out what she’s written about him and forming a new squad comprised of disenfranchised military veterans. On one rowdy night, he and the guys help one of the veterans in Curtis’ support group get his car back after it was towed away. Of course, Krista isn’t too happy about Billy going out and about since he’s a wanted fugitive, but he doesn’t care. I like the idea of Billy finding comradery with other vets because it’s another avenue for the show to explore how isolated some vets feel once they’ve returned home, which was one of the strongest aspects of season 1.
Unfortunately, The Punisher veers into Very Bad Idea territory. When Billy eventually returns home to Krista’s apartment, she starts to lecture him about control, making the episode’s theme very explicit, and he gets angry and grabs her face while pinning her down to the deks. She stabs him in the hand with a pen. But then they just keep staring into each other’s eyes until they end up making out. We all saw this romantic hook-up coming, but it’s the last thing I want because it just feels very cliché.
As the episode ends, Curtis also decides to fight to get his life back as well. After finding out about Billy’s new boys’ club from one his vets, he summons both Frank and Madani for a meeting and makes it clear that Frank needs to handle this situation first before dealing with John Pilgrim, who paid Madani a visit earlier in the episode. “The last few days, I let men live that I should’ve killed. And it pisses me off,” says Frank. “So I’m gonna find Bill and I’m gonna end it. I’m gonna do it my way.” Against her better judgment, Madani accepts that.
- Thank god NYC has a city-wide speed limit of 25 mph, or else Billy and his gang wouldn’t have been able to catch up to that tow truck.
- I legitimately laughed out loud at how Billy’s new boy group immediately jumped from “let’s form a security team” to “let’s rob a bank” after realizing they liked their team up.
- Mahoney continues to poke at the events of last season and realizes that the Punisher was the one who messed up Billy’s face and not Madani.
— Chancellor Agard
Episode 7: ‘One Bad Day’
This episode feels a bit like everybody spinning their wheels. Also, the total lack of Amy and Mysterious Religious Zealot deprives it of season 2’s unique flavors; it feels a lot more like season 1 than anything else so far.
Madani, for one, can’t stop thinking about the events of season 1. We flashback to Dumont interviewing her in the hospital as she lay with a bandaged head. All Madani could think about was how her bad romantic decisions ended up getting people (including her partner Sam Stein) killed.
In fact, Madani can’t even take a shower these days without thinking about shower sex with Billy. It’s safe to say that Billy isn’t thinking of her, though. He’s too busy sleeping with Dumont now, exploring the connection between pain and pleasure as they finger each other’s scars during sex. Afterward, though, Billy doesn’t linger. Maybe the sex is too good and puts him too much at peace; he’d rather run with his fellow traumatized vets and mess things up.
After their invigorating run-down of that tow truck, Billy’s crew is in the mood for something more dangerous. They decide to rob a local bank, with each of them selecting a different kind of Halloween mask to cover their identity. After a cursory raid fails to uncover Billy, Frank and Curt realize that their way in will be with one of the vets. They select Jake since his meth addiction makes him easy to find.
They pick up Jake and bring him to an apartment where they tie him to a chair and start beating him for information. This makes Madani nervous; if they’re just going to torture people regardless of their rights, at home no less, what makes them different from Billy and Rawlins? Well, certainly the difference between Frank and Rawlins is that Rawlins is the one who ended up on the floor with his eyes gouged out of his head, while Frank is still standing. You win or you die. Plus, the war already came home for Frank when Billy murdered his whole family in Central Park. So yes, he’s willing to stab poor Jake in the hand with a butcher knife if it means getting clues about Billy.
Jake eventually talks — Curt does a minor “good cop” routine, telling him how Billy turned on them when they were way closer with him than Jake will ever be — but unfortunately Frank and Curt arrive at the warehouse just a minute too late, with the gang already on the way to the bank. The bank robbery scene drags a little, thanks to an owner who doesn’t want to betray her father who founded the bank. But once Billy starts brandishing a grenade, another employee frantically opens the vault for them. Billy takes him as a hostage.
Frank arrives as they’re leaving. At first, the others think he’s Jake since he’s wearing the guy’s camo jacket and red devil mask. But then Frank unveils his face and the bloody Punisher jacket, and Billy’s head starts spinning. All around him a firefight breaks out, but he’s stuck in place as his brain tries to remember what that skull means and why that guy is wearing it. Frank manages to take out a couple of the veterans, but the others grab Billy and drive off. Frank’s in pursuit, but one of the veterans is on the roof with a sniper rifle, and it all seems very intense, but it’s time for me to hand off to Chancellor!
Episode 8: ‘My Brother’s Keeper’
The melodramatic “My Brother’s Keeper” starts at 10 and pretty much stays there for the entire hour. We pick up right where the last installment left off, with Frank tearing after Billy through the streets of New York, causing oh so much mayhem. Thankfully, Curtis comes through and takes out a sniper on the roof so that Frank can handle his business. Meanwhile, Billy is still reeling from the realization that Frank, his brother, is the skull he’s been seeing his nightmares for the past years and is responsible for what happened to his face.
Eventually, Billy snaps out of it and orders his men to stop the car. He hops out with a huge assault rifle/machine-gun/whatever you want to call it and starts firing at Frank as he drives down the road. Mahoney and a bunch of cops show up, and Billy opens fire on them, too. It was a truly terrifying action sequence because you realize just how powerful a weapon like that is and how much damage it could cause. Because this is a TV show, all of this goes down on a pretty empty street without any bystanders, but my mind couldn’t help but imagine this gun out in the real world. Billy’s dudes eventually circle back around and pick him up and whisk him away.
That firefight did very little to calm Billy’s mind down. After returning to the warehouse, Billy kills two of the people on his team without saying a word. Then, he heads to Krista’s home and begs her to let him back in because he needs someone to talk to about what he just learned about Frank. Part of me finds the whole amnesia setup of the season rather boring, but Ben Barnes’ turns in a fantastic performance here as he breaks down in the middle of Krista’s apartment. “Why would he do that?” he cries, unable to understand how Frank could have done this to his face. “He was my best friend. But he was pointing a gun at me.” Furthermore, the episode does a good job of conveying just how destabilizing this knowledge is for Billy, who ends up having another violent outburst in the middle of her apartment. “If I can’t trust Frank, how can I trust anybody?” says an angry Billy, who is convinced that Krista knew about what Frank did all along. She eventually manages to make him calm down by saying that she does have love for him and care for him.
Frank is also losing it right now, too. When he and Curtis return to the trailer park, Amy tries to practice the disarming technique he taught her, but he snaps, pins her to ground, and yells at her while holding a gun near her head. Not only that, but then Frank decides to interrogate Billy’s cohort. And by interrogate, I mean torture. He bloodies that guy’s face up so badly, and he only stops after Curtis, who is shaken by all of this, says he’s acting just like Billy right now. Frank takes off and ends up walking in the rain by himself until he ends up at his wife and kids’ graves.
Meanwhile, Curtis returns to the trailer to check on Amy, and the two end up sharing a meal together. Curtis apologizes for Frank’s outburst and tells Amy that’s Frank very messed up way of showing that he cares for her. I really enjoyed the dynamic between the two of them, especially because it provided chiller counterpoint to all of the yelling in the scenes that came before it. Madani eventually shows up looking for Frank and ends up joining them at the table. The three of them have no idea what to do about Frank and his war against Billy, and toast to their very toxic relationship with the man.
There’s definitely more trouble brewing on the horizon. Toward the end of the episode, Billy meets up with his boys with a plan to use the money they stole today to find other vets like them to join their army/brotherhood. Clearly, he’s preparing for his next fight with Frank, and the world.
- I don’t know why, but the fact that Krista put out a cheese plate for her and Billy made me laugh.
- Frank did his best Batman impression in the episode as he crouched in the rafters of the warehouse and watched the cops examine the two bodies.
Guys, Jon Bernthal is really good at grunting.
Episode 9: ‘Flustercluck’
Well, at least Billy Russo is having a good time. This episode kicks off with a montage interspersing Billy/Dumont sex scenes with shots of his traumatized veteran gang raiding hideouts and taking money. I’m sure the show won’t do anything with this historical parallel, but I can’t help but be reminded that “gangs of traumatized veterans wandering the streets and beating the crap out of people” was pretty much how German fascism started back in the day. If this was happening in real life, it would be a big cause for concern!
It’s not the only big concern in Frank’s life right now. Evil Henry Spencer has returned to New York City to check on how John Pilgrim’s mission to find Frank and Amy is going. Since the honest answer is “not well,” Evil Henry decides to spice things up a bit. He tells Pilgrim to use his old connections in the New York underworld to put a $5 million bounty on Frank and Amy.
It’s actually not the only meeting Evil Henry is in town for. After golfing with Pilgrim, Evil Henry plays a game with his son as well. Fair warning, a lot of reading-between-the-lines is necessary here. Based on these two conversations, I think I can surmise that the situation is something like this: Evil Henry is not just a religious financier but also a politician who is planning to run for big office. His son is gay, and that’s what Amy has photos of: Him kissing other men at a funeral. Apparently, such a revelation would significantly damage Evil Henry’s political prospects, so he wants his son to return home and assuage donors’ worries while Pilgrim secures the blackmail once and for all.
I’ve gotta be honest: If this is all that’s going on here, it seems like a bit of overkill! The son tries to tell his father that “times have changed,” but I find it hard to believe that a potential gay-son revelation would necessitate a country-wide team of assassins even in the ‘80s political heyday of religious conservatism.
One thing I like about this bounty development, though, is that it brings the season’s two storylines together for the first time. So far the Amy/Pilgrim plot and the Billy plot haven’t interacted very much; in the last few episodes, as Billy took more of the spotlight, we’ve barely seen Amy at all. But now, Frank goes to a bar looking for information about Billy’s quasi-Freikorps gang and ends up getting surrounded by a bunch of toughs looking to collect on the bounty. Naturally, Frank shoots them all to death in about 10 seconds, but now he’s got something to worry about.
He heads to the trailer, but both Curt and Amy are gone. Curt had to head back to his regular veterans meeting (who now appear to be the “white hat” veterans in contrast to Billy’s “black hats,” as they promise to help Curt track down the gang) while Amy is sick of sitting in a trailer all day. With both Frank and Curt gone, she decides to find that friend she mentioned lives in New York now. Amy’s getting a little tired of waiting around for Frank to finish his revenge mission that has nothing to do with her, so she wants to try getting out of the city her own way.
The bounty, of course, messes all that up. Luckily Frank’s able to call her and give her a heads-up, allowing Amy to escape her friend’s apartment just before a crew of mean-looking thugs show up to collect. Amy’s able to hide from them long enough for Frank to come reinforce her. One guy does manage to corner Amy at gunpoint before Frank makes it all the way up all the floors (shooting goons through the stairs below them as he does so), but thankfully that disarming technique finally comes in handy. Amy takes the gun from her assailant and shoots him before he can even finish saying he doesn’t believe she’ll shoot him. The experience nevertheless rattles Amy, even after Frank arrives to finish the guy off so
While all this is going on, Billy is trying to process his encounter with Frank. He breaks into Madani’s apartment and demands that she explain what happened. She does so, telling Billy that the reason his friends have been shooting at him is that he sold out every principle he ever stood for in exchange for money and murdered Frank’s whole family in front of him. This feels like as good a time as any to say that I’m pretty ambivalent about the whole Billy storyline this season. For one thing, there’s the obvious fact that his “disfigurement” fails to live up to either the comic book history of Jigsaw or the show’s own expectations. We’re expected to have some sort of sympathy for Billy since he’s been so broken, but since it only looks like he has a couple scratches on his nose and continues to kill people on a whim, it’s hard to muster such empathetic feeling for the guy. On top of that, “amnesia” plots are lame even under the best of circumstances, and it makes a lot of this just feel like a retread of the last act of season 1, from Billy sleeping with a woman supposed to be monitoring him, and everyone else trying to track him down.
Once again, the handoff here is easy. We see Pilgrim’s past come back to haunt him, as he’s corned in a bar by former acquaintances who think he betrayed them by leaving, and want to kill him for it. Now it’s up to Chancellor to tell us if they succeed.
Episode 10: ‘The Dark Hearts of Men’
In season 1, The Punisher gave us the “Virtue of the Vicious,” which chronicled Lewis’ assault on a hotel from multiple perspectives. While I respected the show’s attempts to shake things up with that episode, I felt like the Rashomon gimmick ultimately didn’t justify itself. But, like its protagonist, The Punisher doesn’t give up easily and took another crack at a non-linear episode with “The Dark Hearts of Men.” Unfortunately, this big swing results in an enormous miss, to the point that I’m pretty sure this was my least favorite episode of the show to date.
The story at the heart of “The Dark Hearts of Men” is actually pretty simple: Frank and Billy are preparing for the former’s assault on Valhalla; however, the show decides to tell this story in the most confusing way possible by jumbling around the timeline. The episode begins with a flashback to the happier times of Frank and Billy being hazed in the army and then jumps ahead to the present, where we find Billy watching Frank and Curtis scope out his hideout in the rain. Then, the episode leaps back to 24 hours earlier to show us both Madani and Dumont’s red wine night, and the aftermath of John Pilgrim’s confrontation with Person of Interest’s Kevin Chapman and the rest of his white supremacist buddies (This latter subplot was a WHOLE other thing we’ll get into in a second). After a while, it became really hard to keep track of where we were in the timeline.
Frankly, the worst part of the episode was Madani and Dumont’s very sweaty conversation about whether or not Frank and Billy are actually that different from each other. Up until this point, the show has done a good job of showing not telling when it comes to the fact that there’s actually a very thin line between the two men; however, this episode undercuts all of that work by making that idea incredibly explicit. Plus, their conversation very much does feel like it’s going in circles to the point that it becomes filler.
After a lot of timey-wimey nonsense, it finally comes time for Frank to attack Valhalla. Of course, Billy and his boys are waiting for him. First, they repeatedly stun him with a bright light and then attack him Julius Caesar style while he’s disoriented right before the lights turn back off. In the brief moment, the lights are on, all Frank can really see are the skull masks the boys are wearing, which is Billy’s way of making Frank experience the choppy Punisher-logo filled nightmares he’s been suffering through for the past year.
Once it appears as though Frank is down for the count, Billy leaves his men to finish the job. Unsurprisingly, Frank gets a second wind and proceeds to take out every single guy in the room despite his many injuries in another disturbing display of violence. From there, he rampages through the hideout in search of Billy, who appears to run up some stairs into an office. Frank decides to just wildly opens fire on the windowed room from below. When he ascends the stairs to confirm to confirm his kill, he is horrified to discover the bodies of three women and is immediately broken because he tries to never kill innocent people, especially women and children (The Punisher does get points for pointing out that Frank’s whole thing about women and children is archaic chivalry). Right at that moment, the episode flashes back Dumont telling Billy that the way to break Frank is to take away his belief that he’s better than him after her conversation with Madani. Back in the present, you have realized that this was Billy’s entire plan was to trick Frank into murdering these women. It’s very similar to the how Prometheus lured tricked the Green Arrow into accidentally killing Felicity’s then boyfriend in Arrow season 5, which was a similarly devastating moment for Oliver Queen. Of course, the cops show up and arrest Frank in the warehouse.
Frank wasn’t the only one who broke one of his rules. While the Punisher was punishing, Curtis was busy distracting Billy’s perimeter guards with a sniper rifle from a nearby roof; however, he wasn’t shooting to kill because Billy’s gang is comprised of vets and the last thing he wants to do is put any of them down, which makes what ends up happening even more heartbreaking. One of his shots nicks a vet’s femoral artery. Curtis tries to save him, but the vet dies in his arms.
While all of this is happening, John Pilgrim is busy recovering from being beaten within an inch of life by his old white supremacist buddies. For some reason, visiting his old life sends him down a road of debauchery. After taking a hit of cocaine to help with his pain, he interrupts some guy’s party with a bunch of prostitutes. A few scenes later, he’s speechifying about the uselessness of brotherhood while receiving oral sex from a prostitute, which is the goofiest most ** prestige drama ** thing this show has done. This scene combined with Krista and Madani’s faux-philosophical talk of lines, I couldn’t help but think of The Good Wife’s parody of gritty prestige dramas, Darkness at Noon.
- The season has clearly been building to this moment since it began. Remember in episode 2 when Frank admits to Amy that he’s “old-fashioned” and probably wouldn’t have gotten involved in her drama if those hitmen were after a boy? Plus, the show has gone out of its way multiple times to have Curtis mention how he refuses to let any of the soldiers in his support group down.
- Amy is nowhere to be found in the episode. It’s kind of hilarious how she’ll just disappear for entire episodes, because her story has little to do with the Billy storyline and, at this point, with whatever’s going on with John Pilgrim, too.
Episode 11: ‘The Abyss’
Frank Castle has finally been arrested, but his first stop isn’t jail — it’s the nearest hospital. Once he wakes up from his bloody coma, he finds an unexpected visitor next to him. That’s right, it’s finally time for Karen Page to show up! She was able to get into Frank’s hospital room by reciting the Bill of Rights at the police guard until he finally gave up and let her through. She claimed she was there as a representative of Nelson & Murdock, but Frank eventually deduces that Matt Murdock knows nothing of this. Really, Karen just wanted to be there for a man she cares about.
The cameo feels a little shoehorned, but Karen is probably the best person for Frank to talk to right now. He’s thinking about his wife and kids again, a loss that only Karen has known him long enough to understand on that guttural level. Those memories hurt Frank because every sunlit, blissful memory of his family is forever tinged by the knowledge that he couldn’t save them from the monster that was coming for them. Now he knows he’s the monster for those girls he saved, and he’s finding it hard to live with that.
Leave it to Karen to set things straight. After exercising her comforting abilities with Frank in the room, she heads to the morgue with Madani to use her investigative skills. Karen is able to talk the morgue guy into letting them see the bodies of the three women (who we still don’t have any names or backstories for, something that feels exploitative in its own way). He points out that based on the bullet placement, these women were not shot from far away or from below, which was where Frank was firing from. They were instead shot up close. This proves that Frank didn’t kill them after all; Billy did. That’s some pretty critical information, and all Karen had to do for it was give the morgue guy her shoes.
In order to cover up that fact, Billy picked up his own bullet casings so they wouldn’t be found when police burst on Frank at the scene of the crime. He now uses those same shells to intimidate Dumont and figure out whether she’s on his side. After all, now that they’ve helped each other commit some pretty heinous acts, there’s a chance one of them might betray the other. Dumont insists that she loves Billy.
To prove it, she finally explains her backstory, and why she’s so afraid of windows. Her father was a Vietnam veteran, not too different from Billy or his friends, who was traumatized afterward and turned to alcoholism. One night, when Dumont’s mother brought up the possibility of divorce, her father freaked out. He grabbed little Dumont and, with her in hand, jumped out the window. Dad died, and daughter Dumont was left with her own trauma…as well as, apparently, a strong desire to sleep with men who remind her of her violent traumatized father, so that she could help them commit many other murders.
John Pilgrim, everyone’s favorite mysterious religious zealot, gets his own revelation this episode. Unfortunately for him, it’s rooted in the present rather than the past. Having finally recovered from his bender, Pilgrim calls Eliza Schultz, begging to speak to Rebecca so that his wife’s voice can remind him of why he’s doing what he’s doing. Unfortunately for Pilgrim, Rebecca died during the night, while he was either choking on his own blood or doing cocaine with hookers, even though her greatest desire was to have him be the last thing she saw on Earth. Eliza eludes the truth at first, talking calmly to John as she looks out the window at the departing hearse, but then she comes to New York herself to give him the news in person. More importantly, she wants to make sure he’s still dedicated to his mission of making sure no one finds out her son is gay. That’s what Pilgrim was doing instead of being there for his wife in her time of need: Helping these politicians protect their reputation. As much as he’d like to kill them for it (flash-forwards show him wrecking the hotel room in a rage after Eliza’s departure), they now have his sons as hostages. So he has to finish the job.
I like this revelation! I’m interested to see how Pilgrim will act now, and whether he ever takes his rage out on Eliza and Evil Henry Spencer. Honestly, I’m much more invested in the Pilgrim/Amy plot than I am in the one with Billy and Dr. Lady Macbeth; I wish it got half as much screentime.
The episode ends in chaos, as Frank’s friends implement their escape plan. After Amy saves him from a crooked cop who was trying to collect the bounty, Madani and Karen explain what they found out at the morgue. Then, they dress him in that now-unconscious cop’s clothes so that Madani can sneak him out undetected while Karen pulls every fire alarm in the hospital. They almost make it, too. But Mahoney refuses to allow them to pull another one on him. He catches Frank and Madani on their way out of the hospital, handcuffs Frank, and then drives off with him in an ambulance. Not sure what’s gonna happen next, but with Pilgrim also looking for Frank at the hospital, it seems like all this season’s plotlines are finally headed for a collision course.
Episode 12: ‘Collision Course’
We’re one episode from the end, and I have no idea how The Punisher is going to wrap up its two main storylines — Billy and Pilgrim/Schultz — because they have barely intersected. But whatever, let’s dive into the penultimate episode of the season.
“Collision Course” picks up right where 11 left off, with Mahoney driving away with a handcuffed Frank Castle in a stolen ambulance. Unfortunately for Mahoney, his plan to just carry Frank to the precinct gets interrupted by John Pilgrim, who comes out nowhere in a cop car and ends up driving them off of a freeway. Madani arrives at the scene of the crash in time to scare Pilgrim off and stop him from finishing the job. However, in the commotion, he actually steals Madani’s car.
Pilgrim uses the GPS system in Madani’s to find the location of Frank and Amy’s trailer. He enters the mobile home looking for Amy, but instead, he finds Curtis and holds him at gunpoint. Curtis pretends that he’s just Madani’s booty call, but then Amy comes home and ruins the plan. A hectic fight breaks out in the trailer during which Amy manages to hit Pilgrim with a shotgun and run away. Unfortunately, Pilgrim gets the upper hand against Curtis and knocks him out with the butt of the shotgun before fleeing the scene.
Meanwhile, Frank decides it’s time to end this conflict with Pilgrim and the Schultzes. So after he frees himself and Mahoney from the burning ambulance, he makes his way back to Manhattan and kidnaps U.S. Senator David Schultz, because he assumes that he must be in on his parents’ plan. When he returns to the trailer and discovers what happened between Pilgrim, a still missing Amy, and Curtis, he drags the senator inside for a good old fashioned interrogation. Unfortunately, David doesn’t know much because he wasn’t involved in his parents’ scheme, and he looks truly horrified when Frank updates him on the number of deaths his parents have been involved in.
There is something funny about how Frank suddenly cares about the Schultzes and Pilgrims of it all. It feels like that has been the last thing on his mind for the past few episodes because he’s been so caught up with Billy Russo. Here in this episode, it seems as though Billy doesn’t even cross his mind. However, it’s hard to really invest in whatever’s going on with the Schultzes because the show itself hasn’t spent that much time on it.
While all of this is going on, Madani starts to suspect that Krista may be more involved with Billy Russo than initially appeared because she realizes that both Krista and Billy have used the same quote about personal devils. So, the good agent pays the bad doctor a visit, and an intriguing game of cat and mouse ensues as the two women try to suss out exactly how much the other person knows. Eventually, they drop all pretense and just start fighting, and their brawl ends with Madani pushing Krista through a window, which is poetic, given her fear of heights and all. I wish I cared about Krista as a character because her death really meant nothing for me.
You know who will really be rocked by the bad doctor dying? Billy. Earlier in the episode, he leaves her apartment to get their papers so they can start their new life together. At first, you aren’t sure if he’s actually going to keep his word and not go after Frank Castle, but then the show pulls a surprise twist and he actually stands by it. He goes to visit what remains of his boys’ club and tells them to give on Frank and to focus on living their new lives with the money they’ve collected. Personally, I don’t buy this change of heart, but whatever, because Billy’s got a pep in his step as he heads back to Krista’s apartment with blue irises in hand. Unfortunately, when he gets back, he finds Krista’s body on the pavement and Madani starring down from the window, which means that ish is about to go down in the final episode.
- Krista remained a non-character to the very end. The show really failed to explain why she, to borrow my colleague Shirley Li’s analogy, agreed to become the Harley Quinn to Billy’s Joker.
- Surprise twist: Amy hid in the trunk of John Pilgrim’s car and followed him to his hotel room intent on killing him.
Episode 13: ‘The Whirlwind’
“They who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.” Originally a quotation from the Book of Hosea, but I first encountered it years ago while reading a history book; a Red Army soldier had written it in his diary while he and his Soviet comrades were on their way to Berlin to burn the Nazi regime to the ground. Here, it’s used to explain Frank’s role as an almost-mythic bringer of justice and vengeance. Whenever people go too far using their money and power to spread suffering, Frank is the whirlwind that comes to blow them away.
Like so many episodes this season, our finale begins by picking up right where the previous one left off. In this case, that means Billy storming up to Dumont’s apartment to attack Madani for killing the…love of his life, I guess? As you might expect, he comes in guns blazing, but Madani’s ready for him. She even manages to shoot him at point blank range, but then Billy gets his hands around her neck and starts choking the life out of her. For a second there, I really thought Madani was dead.
She survives, though — almost inexplicably. In fact, Dumont’s alive too! Even mostly siphoned off from the greater Marvel/Netflix continuity, The Punisher still possesses that innate comic-book reluctance to kill off characters. Well, sure, lots of nameless background characters have died, but it’s really hard to get rid of the ones with names — or even hurt them that much. When Madani visits Dumont in the hospital (still wearing a shirt stained with blood, because no one on this show has spare clothing), we see that Dumont was barely even touched by her window fall. When I heard she survived, I thought the showrunners were going for an interesting twist by making HER the real Jigsaw…but no. Like Billy, her face is mostly untouched. She’s just got her arms in splints.
Billy is actually in pretty bad shape. Perhaps the reason he let Madani live is that she shot him up pretty bad. Alone, he now tries to survive on the streets, and the resulting scenes are almost surreal. When he hits up a random doctor (paid in cash) to sew up his bullet wounds, the guy has to chug liquor just to keep his hands from shaking. This literally felt like a bit from Archer — not just that show’s general sense of humor, but the specific “Coyote Lovely” episode where a very similar scene plays out. But since The Punisher is not a barrel of laughs like Archer, it’s hard to tell how to respond to this. At one point during this makeshift surgery, Billy loses consciousness. Thinking he’s dead, this janky doctor just throws him in a dumpster to lay amidst the garbage and rain. It’s so over-the-top ridiculous that it almost felt like the show apologizing for keeping Billy around so long. Like, “We’re sorry we didn’t turn him into Jigsaw and just had him running around doing the same things as last season rather than focusing on the more interesting Pilgrim storyline…here, to make up for it, we’ll have the show take a big poop on him.”
Speaking of that other plotline, let’s check in with Pilgrim. The lion’s share of the finale is spent on this storyline, and the same should have been true of the season as a whole. Frank makes a call to the Schultzes to show them he has their prized son as a hostage. When Anderson Schultz (a.k.a. Evil Henry Spencer, as I’ve been calling him) threatens to kill everyone Frank’s ever met, Frank just punches his son in the face. He makes a simple offer: Return Amy unharmed, and he’ll release David.
The funny thing is that Pilgrim doesn’t even have Amy when Frank makes that offer, but the status quo soon changes. During a one-on-one gunfight between Frank and Pilgrim in the latter’s hotel, Amy wanders in and gets kidnapped by Pilgrim. But when Frank gets back to the trailer, he finds that Curtis has had a change of heart and released David to Mahoney. So when Pilgrim shows up to make the trade, Frank has to act like he still has David long enough to free Amy.
It works because Frank and Pilgrim have a very interesting connection. While Frank’s actions are all done to get vengeance for his family and ensure nothing similar ever happens to anyone else, Pilgrim has the chance to save his family while they’re still alive. Frank plays on that connection between them, and gets him to release Amy. But once David’s absence is revealed, they just start going at it. I’ve got to hand it to this season, they’ve chosen some pretty fun locales for fights; I got so excited when I realized these guys were about to duel in a junkyard. There’s certainly plenty of weapons to use, as we see Pilgrim swinging a shovel as Frank jumps over wrecked cars. But once Frank grabbed the gas tank, I knew it was game over for John Pilgrim; having gone scuba diving a few times back in high school, I know those things are HEAVY. Getting repeatedly slammed in the face with one? No thank you. Frank does stop short of killing Pilgrim, though, when he realizes that he’s a fellow family man at heart. I would have loved to see the show spend more time exploring this connection between them in depth.
Frank also understands that Pilgrim was just a blunt instrument; the real evildoers are the Schultzes, who have him on a leash. Amy reaches them first. As she holds the two of them at gunpoint at their dinner table, she starts shaking at the fact of confronting the people who so ruthlessly ordered her friends’ deaths. Eliza Schultz senses this as weakness and grabs a kitchen knife to attack, only to get shot in the head — not by Amy, but by Frank, who was right behind. Frank shows Anderson that he has a recording of their earlier phone call, in which the latter admitted to ordering all of Pilgrim’s murders, and threatening Frank’s friends on top of it. As David Schultz realized earlier in the episode, his parents went to all this trouble not even for political reasons, but just because they didn’t want the truth of his homosexuality to affect their reputation. That’s all. So Frank gives Anderson a bullet, a gun, and a choice: Kill yourself voluntarily, or we take this recording to New York’s newspapers. As they leave the mansion, they hear a gunshot — and see that Pilgrim has his sons safe. The Schultzes have reaped their whirlwind.
The Billy story finally, finally concludes with him making a panicked phone call to Curtis. Bleeding out of his stomach, Billy knows he’s on the way out. He’s managed to pull himself to the basement where Curtis hosts those vet meetings, and asks his old friend to show up just so he isn’t alone when he dies. But Frank is the one who shows up, not Curtis. At first it seems like this might be a last chance for reconciliation between these old friends, a moment to reflect on their mutual mistakes and the brotherhood that came before that…but nah, just kidding. Without saying a word, Frank pulls out a gun and shoots Billy twice to finish him off once and for all. Afterward, Madani convinces Mahoney to just say that she shot Billy five times instead of three.
In the final moments of this season (and, probably, the show in general, given the recent fates of Marvel/Netflix properties), we see a new status quo for these characters. Madani works for the CIA now, where she wants to offer him a job…assassinating random people in the Middle East, I guess? But Frank declines, saying he already has a job. We then see him burst in on a gang meet-up, guns blazing.
Finale grade: B-
Alright, we’ve reached the end of the recaps, so it’s time for some last thoughts on the season as a whole. I have to say, as a huge fan of season 1, I’m disappointed in the second outing. It felt like there were a lot of conflicting goals and storytelling choices that never quite gelled. The two main storylines of the season (Frank protecting Amy from Pilgrim and the Schultzes vs. the return of Billy Russo as not-Jigsaw) never really meshed in a way that felt resonant.
To understand the extent of my frustration with the Jigsaw choices, look at Jon Bernthal. Whatever else you might say about this show, Bernthal’s performance, at least, deserves to be iconic. He’s the best cinematic version of Frank Castle I’ve ever seen, and he’s particularly good at getting into the character’s mindset of brutal violence. Those animalistic grunts and yells during combat really take you there with him, and the best part is he’s not afraid to get down and dirty. Some of my favorite moments from both seasons (whether it’s Frank gouging Rawlins’ eyes out in season 1, or scarring Billy’s face, or going toe-to-toe with Pilgrim in the junkyard here) involve characters who are covered in layers of blood, mud, sweat, and grime. This show is really good at depicting the visceral nature of violence, which makes its conscious decision to steer away from scarring and ugliness in the case of Jigsaw even less understandable. Like yes, I know the character is played by Ben Barnes and you’d like to keep him pretty, but then…don’t cast him as Jigsaw! And don’t have the plot points of season 2 revolve around Billy supposedly having a scarred face that he just visibly does not have. Almost everything involving Billy in season 2 could have been prevented by Frank killing him in season 1, and by the end, it seemed like every character and the show itself understood that. The only reason to spare Billy was so that he could become Jigsaw, but then they didn’t do that. It just felt like a lot of spinning wheels and dead ends.
The wasted time is a double bummer because it meant there was less space for the Amy/Pilgrim/Schultz storyline, which was actually compelling and interesting. The Amy/Frank dynamic was such a revelation; as Chancellor mentioned in some of his earlier recaps, there were echoes of Logan to their relationship. It was awesome to see them learn from each other, whether it was Amy figuring out how to disarm assailants or Frank learning to laugh at Madani’s uptight persona. But their emotional goodbye in the closing moments of the finale would have had more weight if Amy hadn’t been shoved into a trailer for whole episodes at a time while Frank ran around messing with Billy. The creative team also kept the secrets of that storyline close to the vest, which made it difficult to piece together since we would only check in with it every so often. A lot of information was doled out in the last two episodes that would have been more interesting to see spooled out over an entire season. I would much rather have preferred doing periodic check-ins with Billy instead.
As a whole, The Punisher season 2 just seemed a lot less coherent and focused than season 1, which was frustrating because the potential for more was clearly there. As an example, look at the violence this season and who it was done to. Personally, I’ve never been the biggest fan of Punisher comics because it feels like our real-life country is violent and gun-crazed enough to make those stories not even count as escapism. But what I really responded to in season 1 was both the show’s examination of the trauma of military service, how it can warp and twist people in inhuman ways, and the way that Frank turned his violence on the malefactors at the top, the people who were literally running the military-industrial complex and leaving bodies in their wake for their own profit.
This season was a little more confused in its use of violence, especially at the end. The rich and powerful Schultzes were probably this season’s closest analogue to Rawlins, but while Eliza got shot at her dinner table, Anderson was given a samurai suicide option. Pilgrim was spared too, which would have made more sense if we could have spent a little longer with him and really plumbed the depths of his sympathy (or lack thereof). Meanwhile, a lot of poorer black and brown characters died, whether it was the Ringo the bar bouncer in episode 1, or Billy’s inside-man at the bank, or the gangsters in the finale’s closing moments. Excess violence is the core of the Punisher mythos, but it’s more interesting when it’s turned on characters who resonate with real-world malefactors. Still, even the fact that the show is making me think this much proves that at the end of the day, it’s still one of the more interesting Marvel/Netflix creations.
-Eliza Schultz’s blood piling on the dinner table as Anderson realizes the full depth of his situation reminds me visually of one of the most unnerving moments in comic book history: When Mr. Hyde killed and ate the Invisible Man in volume 2 of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic. The full scope of Hyde’s evil only becomes apparent to his friends and they see the Invisible Man’s blood slowly start to materialize on Hyde’s clothes and the dinner table. Hyde is like Frank in that you may disagree with his overly violent methods, but when he turns them on malefactors who actually deserve it, there’s nothing more cathartic.
-Why did it seem like there were so many Lady Macbeth vibes this season? Whether it was Dumont taking control of Billy’s villainy, or Eliza clearly being the decision-maker in the Schultz relationship, there were a lot of scheming evil women running around.
Overall season grade: B-