Cara Howe/Netflix
January 18, 2019 at 04:00 AM EST

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…

The Bulletin

  • 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?

Christian Holub

Grade: B+

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