Sunday, November 26, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Punisher' - Frank Has a Brutal and Gruesome Confrontation with Billy and Rawlins in 'Home'

Netflix's The Punisher - Episode 1.12 "Home"

Frank makes a damning confession. A shootout leaves Sarah wondering what to believe. Rawlins goes in for the kill, once and for all.

The Punisher has the most graphic action in all of the extended Marvel cinematic universe so far. It had to be. As a character, Frank Castle is wrestling with the fact that he loves violence and uses it to exact vengeance from those who have wronged him in the past. It would feel disingenuous if the show shied away from the brutality on display in its main character. And so, the first season opens on a montage of Frank killing a bunch of cartel members in brutal fashion. It's a season that also features an extended sequence where Frank storms an Afghani building to battle a ton of soldiers. It's a show that has beaten and torn apart Frank Castle. And now, "Home" is the most vicious and brutal episode of the series so far. It needed to be. This is seemingly the climax of the whole story. Of course, it can't be the end just yet because it's only the penultimate episode of the season. But there is a lot of finality on display throughout Frank's actions in this episode. Frank, Billy and Rawlins are all in the same room for the first time in the present day. This war that they've been waging against each other has finally come to a head. The show needed to make it as brutal as possible. But it also has a duty to ensure that there is meaning behind the violence. It can't just be violence for the sake of violence. Otherwise, it would be a really lackluster story. It's important to see how violence changes these characters. How their actions in such a manner stem out of a lifetime of mistreatment and demented mindsets. "Home" is an effective hour of the show because it does explore those lingering issues. Frank is on a quest to kill those who murdered his family. He's reached the end of that journey. He's betraying those closest to him to get his version of justice. That's a decisive action with consequences. And seeing Frank make his choices in the end carries weight because of the audience's understanding of just how much this mission means to him.

Sure, "Home" starts very slowly. It opens on Madani interviewing Frank and David on the record. The two guys are annoyed because she's asking all of these questions in the official way in order to have their testimony should their plan for stopping Billy and Rawlins fails. It's just a sequence of repeated information that the audience already knows. There is basically only one piece of new information for Madani as well. Frank confesses that he was the one who pulled the trigger on the gun that killed Ahmad Zubair. But again, that's not anything new for the audience. As such, this opening seems unnecessary. It's the team establishing a plan of attack. They are completely willing to stage the prisoner exchange. Frank and David are going to turn themselves over to Billy in exchange for Sarah and Zach's freedom. That's the deal that they agreed to. They have a plan to ensure that Billy and Rawlins don't get what they want. It involves staging David's death once more. That's a very manipulative scene that happens early in the episode. It should be apparent to the audience right away that it is just a fake out. Of course, the show doesn't confirm that right away. It take a little longer to confirm it as true with Sarah and the kids having nothing to worry about except the high cost of therapy they'll all eventually need. It's just an excuse to get Frank all alone with Billy and Rawlins. That's what all of this is buildings towards. That's when the episode truly gets exciting and compelling.

This is all building to Billy and Rawlins torturing Frank in order to stop the countdown clock in David's bunker. It seems timed to the release of the video exposing the illegal actions from Afghanistan. That coupled with all of the testimony that Madani has collected will take down Billy and Rawlins for their crimes. They are torturing Frank for the password into the computer system to stop the release from happening. It's important for Frank to be in a familiar environment. He's right back to being in the place where he could disappear from the rest of the world. This was his safe zone for the majority of the season. And now, it has been invaded by Billy and Rawlins. They are now officially getting their hands dirty. They are the ones actually interrogating and torturing Frank. They are no longer hiding behind someone else. They are actually in this location leading the story forward. That allows Frank to get confirmation that Billy had knowledge of the assassination attempt on him that ultimately killed his family. No, he wasn't the man who pulled the trigger. But he knew about it and did nothing to stop it. It all just reveals Billy to be a very greedy man. That is his motivation for everything this season. His actions are a testament to how far he has come in life. He likes that measurement of growth and will do anything to ensure that he doesn't get sent right back down to where he came from. He worked hard to make something of his life. Frank is a threat to that simply because Billy chose to align himself with Rawlins.

Meanwhile, Rawlins reveals himself to have this massive ego. He's essentially the personification of the United States government when it comes to veterans issues. He sees himself as the man with all of the power. He has the influence to carry out meaningful action throughout the world. He has the respect of the world and the power to get things done. He could carry out this illegal operation for years. He simply views the men who carry out these missions as the meaningless grunts who signed up for the task. The government gifts the men and women who choose to serve the skills to be effective in combat situations. It sends them overseas to carry out missions that fundamentally change them as people. That's their importance. They are the people on the ground who can ensure the safety of the country. It's so easy to just focus on the mission and not the aftermath. Frank is fighting to be seen as important. He has the skills to make an impact on the world. He's forcing people to recognize that what was done to him was wrong. Rawlins has no remorse whatsoever. He just sees the world around him as a bunch of underlings. He's the one in charge. He holds a personal vendetta against Frank simply because he took his eye. That's such a minor injury that has fueled his hatred and willingness to do whatever it took to torture Frank. That's a powerful metaphor. Rawlins is essentially the system that is crashing down on Frank simply because he can. Frank fights back and has a couple tricks up his sleeve. But he's still ultimately tied to a chair and being beaten close to death.

This entire story hinges around the fact that Billy can sympathize with Frank in this moment. It's important to remember that he holds his own interests in this conflict and doesn't necessarily have to be tied to Rawlins' agenda. He feels the need to do his own thing. In this instance, it means cutting the ties around Frank's hands just enough so that Rawlins can be killed. It's a vicious moment that shows that Billy revels in the violence just as much as Frank and Rawlins. These are three characters who are very similar in a lot of ways. They have each been corrupted because of violence. Violence is the only way their stories can end. And things reach a definitive conclusion with Rawlins. It's just so horrific to watch what Frank does to him. Yes, it's reminiscent of a certain Game of Thrones fight from a couple of years ago. But it's still so visceral and stomach turning to see Frank repeatedly stab Rawlins and then gouge his eyes out with his thumbs. Everything ultimately comes back to the eyes. They were the most destructive quality about Rawlins because he used his sight to completely destroy so many innocent lives. He did it all under the illusion of protecting the best interests of this country. And now, he has been killed by Frank. He chose to stay and fight even when he was broken down to his most defeated position. And then, he's lucky that Madani and Homeland Security arrives to rescue him before Billy can deliver the final blow. It leaves just enough story for the finale. It was always clear that this story would end with a showdown between Frank and Billy. And now, that is about to come to fruition.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Home" was written by Dario Scardapane and directed by Jet Wilkinson.
  • It is incredibly goofy to watch those transitions between Frank being tortured by Billy and Rawlins and his dreams of having sex with Maria. They are just so heightened and ridiculous. They are Frank's escape during this difficult time. They still hold thematic purpose in the end. Frank chooses to keep on living because the mission isn't done yet. It's just a really blunt way to dramatize him making that choice.
  • It is so cruel of David to put Sarah through the agonizing experience of watching him die again. That's just so torturous and unnecessary. He doesn't want to show too much emotion and jeopardize the plan. But she saw him be shot the first time. And now, she sees him get shot in the back once again. The show even highlights this by focusing on her screams for many shots in that sequence.
  • As such, it's very appropriate for Sarah to start hitting David the moment she sees that he is miraculously alive despite all of that. Again, it was the expected outcome because this show has featured many bulletproof protections. But it's also just so rewarding to see that moment morph into the hug that this family has been wanting for so long.
  • It feels weird that Anvil doesn't seem to have an employee with high technological experience on the payroll. No explanation is really given for who this woman is trying to crack into David's computer. But it doesn't seem like she's a part of whatever operation Billy is running. She's completely confused and admires David. She doesn't even know he's dead. 
  • Throughout the season, it's been very nice to see how understated Paul Schulze has been playing William Rawlins. He was so completely menacing because of how he just lingered in the background. But he could be just as terrifying to watch in action as well. That's not an easy transition at all. And here, he finally gets to go big because he believes he's on the cusp of finishing this threat to his life and enjoys punching the life out of Frank.
  • As mentioned above, it was important for this show to feature the incredible violence that is a part of Frank's life as he embarks on this mission. But now, it's going to be just as important to see the life that comes after all of that. That's been a strong moral question throughout this season as well. So, the show is going to need to provide a strong answer to that ongoing concern too.

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.