Monday, November 20, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Punisher' - A Mission in the Woods Turns Deadly for Frank as Karen Worries About His Future in 'Gunner'

Netflix's The Punisher - Episode 1.05 "Gunner"

Frank and Micro go looking for answers from a reluctant witness. Madani and Sam learn of a looming investigation. Rawlins sees a ghost.

With each passing episode, Frank and David become more like a buddy comedy duo. It's a really fascinating journey that has happened over the series so far. They started as potential adversaries. Then, they became reluctant partners. And now, they are buddies who are capable of teasing each other while still needing to count on the other in the field. It comes after Frank does something that could be so personally destructive to this relationship as well. David disagrees with how Frank is handling Madani. He thinks it's a mistake to keep her alive and aware that Frank Castle is still alive. Frank did that because Madani did nothing wrong. As far as he knows, she's an upstanding agent for the government. She's not corrupt just because the person she replaced was. And yet, Frank was also living out some sick fantasy where he was playing a game of chicken with her all while knowing that David was just around the corner ready to strike her with the truck. That's a decision he didn't tell David about beforehand. Frank didn't know if David was capable of getting his hands dirty for the good of the mission. And now, he forced it into happening. David isn't directly responsible for a death. But he does seriously injure someone who could eventually compromise their mission. That's a precarious headspace to find him in throughout this episode. And yet, the bond between Frank and David continues to develop. They don't trust each other all that much. But they definitely need each other. They are becoming more and more aware of that the deeper into this mystery they dig. That support is necessary even though it is challenging both of them in ways that they don't want to admit.

In some way, Frank is living the life that David wants solely because he gets to spend time with Sarah and the kids. David is experiencing that through Frank at the moment. He's still just keeping a watchful eye over their interactions. But it doesn't have the same amount of dread and uncertainty that it did at the start of this story. Instead, it's a story of longing. David longs to be with his wife and children. And now, he can only experience that through Frank who returns to their lair openly talking about how David's son is just as much a dick as he is. It's all innocent teasing at this point. But Frank is also allowing himself to get sucked into this new family unit. He knows the target that is on his back. He's putting Sarah and the kids in danger just by being around them. But they serve as reminders of the family he lost as well. He can't experience life with his wife and kids anymore. He's just haunted by their memories. Instead, he just has to get by with trying to avenge their deaths. But it's also impossible for him not to insert himself in Sarah's life. He is there to fix whatever is broken at the house. David's daughter even thinks it's a good idea to invite him over for Sunday dinner. It's an invitation he is happy to accept. And thus, it's tragic later on when he doesn't show up because he's bleeding out in the back of a truck.

It's important for the show to be challenging Frank's mission in such a way as well. That's basically what Karen's purpose on the show is right now. She is interrogated by Madani in this episode about Frank Castle. Madani knows that Frank is alive. But she's currently keeping that information to herself. And in this scene, Karen is working Madani for information just as much as Madani is working Karen. It proves just how far Karen has come as a journalist. She doesn't give up any information about her friend. And yet, she is still very worried about Frank. She sees that he has returned to his crusade. She's wondering what life comes next after he gets justice for his family. She's heard this story over and over again. Frank is solely motivated by the conspiracy that took his family from him. She understands that and is able to accept that Frank's life is tragic and misunderstood. She sympathizes with him in a way that no one else does. The world at large labels him a serial killer who died shortly after his rampage of the city. But Karen knows his code runs much deeper than that. He only kills people he believes deserve to die. He only targets criminals. And then, it's only criminals who stand in his way as well. But Karen wonders about Frank's life after all of that is done. He's still flooded with memories of his family. She wonders if this mission will ultimately do any good. Killing these politicians will only make them martyrs. She thinks it's smarter of Frank to work with her and Madani in order to expose these corrupt officials. He counters by saying that these guys are the ones who determine what the truth actually is. They shape the story. They can still ruin the lives of anyone who targets them. They are ghosts because their true natures are still shrouded in secrecy. And so, it's a reunion between Frank and Karen that ends with the two realizing that they are on separate paths in this mission. They care about each other. But they can't stop each other from doing what they believe to be right.

The main focus of this episode comes from Frank and David tracking down the member of Frank's old unit who took the video of Ahmed Zubair's death. It was always curious why this secretive operation would record that moment. And now, the show is addressing that by saying it was a soldier who understood that this was wrong. That man was Gunner, the guy who previously made a joke by quoting from the Bible. He was only a minor character a couple episodes ago. But now, he may hold the key to unlocking the true identity of Agent Orange. Of course, the audience gets those answers long before Frank and David do. We see that Agent Orange is actually William Rawlins. At first, it seems like he is just a lowly officer in the CIA leading the introductory class to the new recruits. That's the fate that currently befalls him in this life. But the truth is he's a much more respected agent than that. He's receiving medals and getting an offer to be promoted to the deputy director. That's a huge deal. When his new director asks him if there are any skeletons in his closet that will create problems, he promptly says no. He does that even while knowing about this new threat to his operation. He has bugged Madani's office. He knows that she's still pursuing this investigation. So, he's eliminating the various soldiers who know anything about Cerberus. That all starts with Gunner. He has no idea that Frank and David are converging on his location either. So that leads to an epic action sequence to close out the episode.

However, it doesn't seem like Gunner is all that helpful in Frank and David's understanding of this conspiracy. He has no idea who Agent Orange is either. So, the show is in a very precarious position at the moment because the audience is ahead of the characters with information. We have an understanding that Rawlins is still running the operation and knows that Frank Castle is still alive too. Frank and Gunner don't know if they can trust each other right away. And yet, they quickly must fall back into the old routine as soon as they are the targets of a bunch of soldiers. It's a fascinating action sequence because so much of it is told through the perspective of the body cameras Rawkins is viewing things from. He has a front row seat for this mission. But it's eery to see just how effectively Frank and Gunner can eliminate these threats to their survival. One by one they are able to take them out. They are aided by the various traps Gunner has set in the woods. Again, the show isn't afraid to be very graphic. One soldier gets stabbed in the groin by a trap before Frank pushes it in further. The brutality of this way of life is on full display once more. But it's more significant to see the toil this takes on Frank and Gunner. Yes, it's very cool to see Frank take out the final target by emerging from a pile of leafs in a sneak attack. But it's also meaningful that the blows to their bodies are slowly becoming fatal. They got assistance from the sky thanks to David. But that was only good for tactical support. David is still at a loss for how to find Frank once night has fallen. This is a story that ends tragically for Gunner. He doesn't even get his final wish of being buried in these woods. Instead, Frank passes out to his injuries and only comes to once David has carried him to safety. It's a realization that makes Frank proclaim that David really has the nerve to do this job moving forward. It again brings them closer. But it also highlights the body count that keeps rising as they face off with this dangerous foe.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Gunner" was written by Michael Jones-Morales and directed by Dearbhla Walsh.
  • There has been a lot of talk about Madani needing to trust someone in her life. She is carrying this secret information that will change the perception of her case. And yet, she needs to let Sam in on the truth in order for him to keep helping her investigate. That just also means him having to lie to the official investigation into their actions on the docks that ultimately lost all of those weapons.
  • And yes, it's already annoying just how quickly Madani is healing from the injuries she sustained from being hit by a trick. She's already back at work. And the episode ends with her having sex with Billy Russo. He has no idea the kind of pain she is in. He doesn't know what happened at the docks. And yet, that's not a turn off which could really be indicative of something more with him.
  • However, Madani having sex with Billy is going to be really bad and cliche. It could be cliche for a number of reasons. It could be the familiar and problematic setup of an investigator sleeping with someone for the information that they have. Or it could be the familiar twist of her falling in love with someone who is ultimately revealed to be doing bad things and needs to be arrested.
  • So far, this show is utilizing Karen Page well. It may ultimately be because she's just a minor character in Frank Castle's story. Their relationship is significant and forces him to address the morality of his actions. But that's a good use of the character as well. She's allowed to be more than the damsel in distress or the love interest. She can just be Frank's biggest supporter and curious friend.
  • The show is really calling attention to the fact that Rawlins has scars and a glassy left eye. That matches up with the punch that Frank threw in "Kandahar." So that gives Rawlins at least more of a personal vendetta against Frank. But it's also important to see how terrified he is once learning that Frank is still alive. It's a character who is being nicely underplayed at the moment by Paul Schulze.

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.