Saturday, November 25, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Punisher' - Billy Goes After Sarah While Frank Sets a Dangerous Trap in 'Danger Close'

Netflix's The Punisher - Episode 1.11 "Danger Close"

As danger knocks on Sarah's door, Frank takes his quest for vengeance to the next level with some help from an unexpected ally.

The Punisher is back. The whole city knows that Frank Castle is alive and terrorizing their streets once more. But now, Frank has painted the iconic white skull on his black t-shit once more. He's assuming this identity as The Punisher again. He's going after the most corrupt people in the system. That list focuses on Billy Russo and William Rawlins right now. They are his main targets. They are going against him as well. So, "Danger Close" is the episode everyone has been waiting for. It's the climatic hour where the two sides finally clash. The stalling techniques can now be over with. There is no longer any reason to delay this story any further. There are still a few more hours left in this story. But right now, it's time to complicate all of the personal relationships in the hopes of emerging victorious in this very precarious situation. However, this hour is annoying because it incorporates a really lazy and cliche plot device in order to force the conflict into action. This entire season I've been hoping that the show wouldn't inevitably put Karen Page into harm's way and make her a damsel in distress. The show did do that with the Lewis story even though she got to be a bit more heroic than she typical is. But now, the show is incorporating the exact same plot with Sarah and Zach. They are the ones kidnapped in order to bring out a personal response from Frank and David. The villains know how important this relationship is and are now exploiting it for their own personal benefit. It's just such a lame and formulaic twist that has been done a million times. There is nothing new in the way that The Punisher does it. And it doesn't even seem like a big deal because Sarah is ultimately just a minor character in the events of this episode. That's weird and very problematic as well.

Of course, the show needed to give the Lieberman family a chance to react to the news that their new friend Pete is actually Frank Castle. That relationship has been very meaningful this season. He reached out to them and ensured their safety for David. They were continuing to live their lives having believed that David was killed for trying to expose a conspiracy within the government. And now, they are in for a shock in learning that David is actually alive and has been working with The Punisher. Sarah tries to get her kids to remain quiet about their recent interactions with Frank. She doesn't want to bring any more attention to this family. She saw the damage taking on the government did to David. That simple action destroyed this family. She doesn't want anything like that to happen again. And yet, government agents still show up at her door demanding answers about the recent Frank Castle sightings at her house. It's a little unclear how the Lieberman connection of it all was discovered. It seems like it was just a random neighbor who called the tip line about Frank Castle. That makes sense even though it happens offscreen. It's just important for Billy and Rawlins to learn that David is still alive and has been working with Frank this entire team. That further puts the pressure on their coverup as they could really expose the truth in a very damaging way. But it's still ultimately a plot device that the truth about David comes out while his family has been taken hostage by the villains of this story.

It's all building to that elaborate action sequence in Frank and David's bunker. Sarah was the only other person in the world who had Frank's cell phone number. Karen didn't even have it even though their personal connection runs much deeper. Sarah had it in order for Frank to have that immediate connection into her life. He needed that in order to care for her whenever David asked him to. And now, that cell phone is the reason why Billy and Rawlins can pinpoint Frank's location. They are working outside of any official jurisdiction. They are going rogue. It's compromising their careers in the process. Billy is aware that all of this is essentially building to a confrontation between him and Frank. He knows that he can't go to the bunker himself because it's just too big of a risk. He's already under a lot of suspicion by Madani for killing Sam. Meanwhile, Rawlins is reluctant to go because he wants his hands to remain clean throughout all of this. He's perfectly content with Billy Russo being the fall man should their activities be exposed. He has the justification for doing that because it was Billy and his team who killed Homeland Security agents on American soil. Rawlins can deny that he had anything to do with that action. He believes he can escape from all of this with his job still intact. Of course, that's not true as his boss points out to him later on. This situation is growing more and more complicated for Billy and Rawlins. It's going to have massive personal consequences for both of them. They are doing their best to have others do the work for them. But it can only possibly end with one of them being able to put Frank down.

Frank proves himself to be a better tactician than any of them were expecting too. Billy and Rawlins have the location for where Frank and David were operating from. They can send a team to storm the building. But the show is highlighting how Frank is preparing for their arrival. It's a badass sequence where he loads up on bullets, hides guns all over the place and stuffs items with explosives. He's ready to strike and defeat this team of operatives that want to kill him. He's ready to face off with his old friend from the war. He has realized that it was his second family from overseas that killed his family from home. His wife and kids are dead because of the actions Billy and Rawlins took overseas. They were covering up their illegal activities. Frank got hit in the crossfire. And now, he's a massive problem that they need to address. He has refused to die. He's still motivated by justice. He is bound and determined to kill them. He's motivated by rage when it comes to taking out this team of operatives. At first, he acts in the shadows. The team enters the building and aren't confronted by anyone. They are allowed to enter the central room of activity and see the torture video playing with a countdown attached to it. It's only upon Billy being informed of the situation that they realize it's a trap. Frank reveals himself by tossing a severed head that he's rigged to explode into the room. That's a campy and pretty gruesome moment as well. This episode isn't afraid to be as vicious and graphic as possible. The violence is plentiful and destructive. In the end, it doesn't stop this conflict. Frank realizes that Billy isn't there. Sarah and Zach are still in trouble.

So, Frank ultimately has to team up with David and Madani in order to rescue Sarah and Zach. It's a partnership he has been very reluctant about. He has never been willing to trust Madani. Of course, the narrative has more than justified his insistence that she might not be a good agent after all. Here, she invites Billy down to the station to answers some questions on the record and potentially force him to slip up somewhere. It's a strategy that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The narrative has repeatedly told the audience that Madani is a good agent. But now, it's seeming more and more like she is obsessed with this case and is willing to do anything in order to expose everyone involved. That includes teaming up with someone the entire city wants to simply view as a terrorist. She has no reason to trust Frank other than the suspicion that he wants the same thing. Of course, he wants to kill Billy and Rawlins. She doesn't want that. She's still reaching out to the CIA and seeing what the suspicion of an investigation does for the people involved. But that ultimately doesn't do much in the main story. It just forces Rawlins to have an ugly confrontation with Marion. She's another agent whom the audience is told is good and respected but who is in the middle of a compromising position. Her reaction is key. She's willing to help Rawlins emerge unharmed in exchange for his resignation. But all of that could be made even more complicated by Frank reaching out to Madani. The core trio need to work together in order to emerge victorious. But this partnership feels more inevitable instead of something where trust has firmly been established. It's mostly just convenient for the narrative at this point.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Danger Close" was written by Felicia D. Henderson and directed by Kevin Hooks.
  • Sarah being taken is the only reason that Frank is willing to work with David again. He feels betrayed because David approached Madani behind his back. He did that by himself. Frank is willing to walk away from this partnership. And then, they discover that Sarah and Zach have been taken by Billy's men. That's what brings them back together.
  • David is also incredibly nervous about revealing to his daughter that he has been alive this whole time. It's something that he needs to do because Frank is bringing the fight to Billy. Frank is too busy laying the trap. David needs to ensure that Leo is safe and not helplessly wandering the streets. Of course, the show just breezes past their reunion a little too quickly as well.
  • Billy and Rawlins are operating under the belief that David is alive solely because Frank was seen interacting with Sarah and the kids. They have no proof that Carson Wolf was lying about David's death. They just assume he's alive because it's extremely convenient that Frank has bonded with this new family where David was also trying to expose the truth about Kandahar.
  • Rafi is furious with Madani as well after seeing the interview with Billy. Billy knows that talking about his sexual relationship with Madani will compromise any investigation she has into him. And yes, that is something Madani should be agonizing over because it has been pretty clear for awhile now that Billy is smug and devious. She just didn't see the signs for a long time.
  • And yet, Rafi still presents the Kandahar case to Marion James with Madani. He's the one who can make a reasonable and rational case about these illegal activities within the CIA. He trusts Marion even though the audience knows just how complicated she truly is right now. But the scene is mostly just a case for someone to criticize the way Madani runs things without it being too big of a deal in the end.

As noted in previous reviews from this show, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.