Sunday, November 19, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Punisher' - Flashbacks Reveal More of Frank and David's Tragic Pasts in 'Kandahar'

Netflix's The Punisher - Episode 1.03 "Kandahar"

Franks skips the subtlety while interrogating Micro. Brutal memories of top-secret missions shed light on Frank's past.

"Kandahar" basically rehashes a lot of information that was talked about in "Two Dead Men." And yet, it's the most successful episode of the series so far because it understands the value in showing the events to the audience instead of just telling us about them. The overall conspiracy vibe of this season hasn't been all that successful because it's been difficult to become invested in any of the events that happened in Kandahar. It was all just so impersonal with the various supporting characters just feeling like plot devices to keep the narrative complicated. Many of them still ultimately feel that way. But now, the show is expanding its world a little bit to show the tragedy behind Frank and David's lives that have led them to this moment where they need to partner together. It's often a brutal and uncomfortable story. The show is doing a fascinating job in exploring how blindly following orders can be so destructive to a person's psyche. Frank still believes in the chain of command despite how much his government took from him. That trauma makes him incredibly skeptical of what David wants with him. He's been doing things by himself for awhile now and has comfortably disappeared into the background with no one actively looking for him. But now, this investigation into what actually happened overseas is starting to heat up once more. It's personal for Frank and Billy because they lost so much. But theirs is a mission that will turn lethal with the two of them still not sure if they can actually trust one another.

Most of the story in the present just focuses on Frank interrogating David and trying to get information out of him. He sees him as a valuable resource who can help shed some light on whatever it was that was also going on during his service. Frank doesn't care about David. He is just the target who is refusing to give up information. Of course, David sees Frank as incredibly stubborn and unwilling to accept help when it is staring him right in the face. He believes that the two of them need each other because they are similar. When David looks at the two of them, they are both men who lost everything because of the government. They've had to live in the shadows where personal happiness has been taken from them. Frank doesn't have the same opinion. When he looks at the two of them, all he sees is their differences. David got what he deserved because he broke from the chain of command. David's family is still alive and allowed to keep on living without him. And more importantly, Frank was actually on the ground in Kandahar and experienced everything that happened there. That only carries weight if the audience is actually in that environment as well. So, the show is very smart to incorporate these flashbacks now.

And so, Frank was recruited into a clandestine operation called Cerberus. He was led to believe that it had congressional approval. The operation was overseen by Major Schoonover and Agent Orange. Schoonover was Frank's superior officer. Frank and Billy served as the lieutenants on the ground during the missions. Agent Orange was the representative from the government who pointed at the various targets that needed to be dealt with. He's the shady, new figure in this narrative. The audience already knows that Schoonover was a corrupt officer who was running an illegal drug operation. He's already dead so he can't play a new part in this conspiracy. That's where Orange comes in. He's the one going after targets despite the objections of the military experts on the ground. He's misleading the men he has supporting him in this mission. He's the one who ordered the assassination of Ahmad Zubair. This hour reveals that Frank was the one who shot him and buried the body - making sure to recover the bullet first. But he was just following orders. He was also following orders into an ambush that he saw coming as well. He knew that running the later mission would be a trap. His unit was still sent in. Agent Orange only cares about eliminating the targets. He's cold and impersonal that way. He's the man who truly turns Frank into what he is. Before that mission, he was simply a guy with a loving family and an appreciation for Bob Springsteen. He could joke around with Billy. But then, he went into that compound all by himself and took out many enemy combatants. He's furious in the end because of all the fellow soldiers who either died or were injured during that raid. He punches Agent Orange for being so careless. It's all so vicious to watch. The show wants the audience to experience the brutality on display within Frank. He's a man capable of doing this and eager to kill whomever is involved in this new conspiracy. But those aren't actions that should be celebrated either because of how destructive they ultimately became for him.

The flashbacks depicting David's "death" aren't as graphic or vicious. But they are still pretty tragic as well. He was just an NSA analyst assessing various information that came across his desk. He was simply deciding what was worth worrying about and what wasn't. It was an important job for the government. Important enough for him to see the video where Zubair was killed. That created the moral conundrum for him. He didn't believe this video should be suppressed. He needs the world to know just what kind of operations are being done overseas. He wants to set a good example for his kids. He wants to show them that they need to do the right thing no matter what. And so, he does ultimately send the video along to Madani. And yet, that action quickly comes back to hurt him. Wolf leads a team to eliminate him. This hour confirms that Wolf was a corrupt officer of the government. He had millions of dollars in offshore accounts. But it's even more damning to see how he chooses to handle David. The agents have him surrounded. David represents no significant threat to their lives. But Wolf declares that David is armed and dangerous. He then gets shot in the chest in front of Sarah. That's brutal and destructive. He plummets to his death to the river below. He only survives because of his cell phone that was in his shirt pocket. He was very lucky. He feels the need to make the people behind this conspiracy pay because they ripped him away from his family. They covered up his actions as those of a traitor who got exactly what he deserved. And now, only Frank and David know the truth.

Of course, it takes a long time for Frank to accept David as a potential ally. He already has people he trusts and can work with. Curtis and Karen know that he is still alive and are willing to help him whenever he needs it. Billy is strangely kept out of that circle. That's a secret that could ultimately become something. It's clear that he is still affected by what happened to Frank as well. After Kandahar, he knew that he needed to get out of this toxic environment. He was able to escape and build a better life for himself. But he still feels guilty. It's enough to get him to pay for Curtis' support group and visit Frank's grave on his birthday. But it could possibly be destructive when he realizes that Frank and Curtis have been lying to him all of this time. It's Frank's secret to tell. He has to be very careful with who he lets into his life. Right now, it feels like David is a consistent adversary. He has useful information. But he's also preaching the importance of a missile having a guidance system. That's the exact understanding that got Frank into this situation in the first place. He was blindly following orders despite his objections. And now, David is trying to prove to him that he is better. It's just a strategy that includes a lot of trickery. David has to lure Frank into an expected pattern in order for him to fall into a trap and get the upper hand once more. It ultimately works out in the end. It's once David gets his freedom that he proves himself to Frank. He had the opportunity to kill Frank and didn't. That means something to Frank. As such, he's willing to go along with this reluctant partnership just as long as David doesn't get in his way of killing the people who ruined both of their lives.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Kandahar" was written by Steve Lightfoot and directed by Andy Goddard.
  • Madani has now temporarily replaced Wolf as the chief of her station. That's a quick promotion for her. And yet, she is still operating as if everyone around her is a suspect who can't be trusted. She's confident and cocky with her abilities. But her mother and Sam are telling her that she needs to trust someone in order to effectively do this job. That's still a hard task for her as well.
  • It's great to see those scenes between Madani and her mother where they analyze each other. It's a different type of mother-daughter relationship. Madani is very open about what's going on in her life. And her mother is giving her various insights into how she can handle herself in a way that will improve her life moving forward. It's a very honest relationship.
  • Curtis truly believes that he is helping the veterans who come to his support group. He sees it as a good sign that so many come back regularly. And yet, Lewis is really struggling. He can't seem to get a grip on his life after returning home. He's always haunted by his actions during his service. That trauma almost leads to him shooting his dad as well. It's not a subtle story. Plus, it's not abundantly clear how it connects to everything else going on.
  • The media is aware of Carson Wolf's death. Madani is refusing to give a statement before the investigation has a solid understanding of what happened to him the night he was tortured and killed. And yet, Karen's reaction is lost through all of this. She was hesitant to give Frank this information because of the lethal consequences. And now, Wolf has actually died and Karen is no where to be found.
  • Agent Orange is the closest thing the show has to an actual antagonist so far. Plus, he's only appeared in the past with all of the stuff happening in Kandahar. This episode presents the case for why he should be a target. He was running an illegal operation that turned soldiers into hitman. There was no congressional approval for such an endeavor. So, the show will need to reveal what's going on with him in the present very soon.

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.