Tuesday, November 21, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Punisher' - Frank and David Pull Several Old Friends Into Their Mission in 'The Judas Goat'

Netflix's The Punisher - Episode 1.06 "The Judas Goat"

With Frank in bad shape, Micro calls on Curtis for help. Madani and Russo continue to mix business with pleasure. Lewis stands up for his rights.

Well, The Punisher appears to be back in stalling mode at the moment. It feels weird to say that given some of the big moments that happen in "The Judas Goat." Billy is revealed to be working with Rawlins while Lewis kills O'Connor after leaving he never served in Vietnam. And yet, it's an hour that mostly sidelines Frank. It's the kind of action that typically happens because the story is moving too quickly and the show has 13 hours to fill. And yet, Frank and David really haven't learned a whole lot about the enemies they are facing. In fact, the audience knows so much more than the protagonists. That's going to become a problem very shortly. It leaves very little room for patience. Right now, the audience knows that Agent Orange is William Rawlins, who works for the CIA and is about to get a major promotion. We know that he has bugged Madani's office and basically knows everything that she and Sam do. And now, we know that Rawlins and Billy are working together. That's a huge reveal - especially after an episode where Billy learns that his best friend from his old unit is still alive. But all of this information just makes it more apparent that the show is deliberately keeping things slow with Frank and David's investigation. Of course, slow and deliberate has been the hallmark of most of the storytelling choices this season. It has been more focused on the long game while providing cheap thrills in the moment for each episode. It's been building up the antagonists instead of making them these big, villainous presences right away. That's a perfectly fine way to tell story. But here, it mostly feels like this twist happens with Billy in order to give him some more dimension in the narrative. Plus, there is an inherit sense of inevitability to it because of his role in the narrative so far.

And so, Frank is recovering from the injuries he got fighting alongside Gunner. Gunner died in those woods. David made sure that the police knew exactly where to look to find his body. That was a tip to Madani about what actually happened out there in those woods. Of course, it then becomes a mystery as to why Gunner's body is the only one out there to find. It appears that Rawlins did some amount of clean up. None of the bodies from the assault team are there to find. That mostly highlights how great Madani is at solving mysteries. She is able to deduce that Gunner and Frank fought side-by-side against the enemy within the government that they are all tracking. It's proof to her just how well-connected this adversary is. She's proven right to be skeptical and cautious in her handling of this case. She can still only trust Sam. She does get confirmation that Frank Castle is still alive. His blood is all over the woods. This scene may be a logistical nightmare for any kind of official investigation. And yet, Gunner and Frank's blood can't be the only ones out there. If the bodies were gone, then there still must be some evidence of what happened. Bullet shells are still on the ground. Trees are still shot up. There is a lot of chaos. The show just doesn't do a great job in explaining how much Rawlins cleaned up and how much of this can Madani use to ultimately make her case in figuring out what's going on. But then again, that may be too easy and the show still has half a season of story left to fill out.

That explains why Frank is basically recovering for the majority of the episode. No one is targeting him like they were in those woods. David is able to get him back to their lair and enlist help from Curtis in treating Frank's wounds. That brings someone new into this circle of information. Of course, Curtis always knew that Frank was alive. That was a very deliberate act on Frank's part as well. Frank could trust this information with Curtis but not with Billy. That told the audience everything we needed to know regarding the true allegiances of these characters. The flashbacks focused more on Frank and Billy's relationship. It would be easily to accept the two of them remaining truthful with each other. But that's not the case at all. Frank got out because Billy encouraged him to following the horrifying raid that took place in Kandahar. That event proved to define so many of their current trajectories in life. That was the moment that seemingly sealed all of their fates. Frank returned home and became a target because of what he knew. And now, he is fighting back against that conspiracy that took his family from him. But again, this is a story that has been told over and over again constantly in Frank's life. Is it the only thing that is ever going to define him? Or will he find purpose elsewhere? Those are the questions that plague Frank throughout this episode. Yes, they are important questions to ask. But in the end, the plot dictates him staying on course despite him seemingly having no reason not to trust Billy.

It's important that Frank and Billy sit down for the first time following Frank's supposed death. Frank is no longer keeping this a secret from Billy. Billy found out because of Madani. He managed to exploit their new relationship for that information. Of course, it was inevitable that she turns out to be sleeping with the enemy. That was a huge concern the moment that twist occurred in their dynamic. And now, it has come to fruition. He is only as aware as he is because of her. She trusts him. She believes he can find Frank quicker than anyone else. She's counting on their bond as brothers from their service. She's hoping to exploit that connection. And yes, Frank becomes aware of Billy trying to communicate because he's reaching out through an old codename. But he needs that extra push to reveal himself to someone new. He needs to be sure before entrusting his secret to a new person. He does that with Billy to figure out if their friendship can be strong once more. Billy is offering Frank a new life. The potential to move on and have an identity beyond Frank Castle, the tortured family man. He's offering an escape. He wants to know if this is the life Frank's family would want for him. Frank works through his feelings on this subject with Sarah. That parallel of family continues to hold strong for him. He is able to recognize that she has a way to power through these uncomfortable and infuriating feelings. The children provide that for her even when she hates them. Frank has to commit to his current path for vengeance. That's his solution for getting through these tough times. But again, what life is awaiting him once all of that is over?

At least, David and Curtis are genuine in their concern for Frank. They want to ensure that his life is protected at all costs. They care about him and don't what him to be destroyed by this mission. David is personally invested as well because he is so desperate to be reunited with his family. It pains him to see what their lives have become in his absence. Frank reaching out to Sarah once more is just as much about David finding relief as it is about Frank making a decision about what to do. But it's also important to see that David and Curtis don't have all of the answers either. David is still shaking with doubts before any kind of big decision. He frequently isn't even allowed to have an opinion when Curtis is around. And Curtis is unable to give Lewis the support he needs right now. He can sense that Lewis is falling onto a dark path. His story was bond to end in tragedy. That was the expected outcome of this season. And now, it is surprisingly happening. He is just as shaken up about it too. It could hint at even more remorse and trauma. Or it could be his origin story as a villain as well. Billy has been the most deceitful character of the season so far. He's not torn between two sides of his identity. He's been able to play along with the situation while still being aligned with Rawlins. That partnership will need more of an explanation moving forward. Billy's motivations are still shrouded in secrecy. But that finally moment proves that Billy can't be trusted. The sooner that Frank realizes that the better.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Judas Goat" was written by Christine Boylan and directed by Jeremy Webb.
  • This show has already been more graphic than most other Marvel screen adaptations. That's been true of onscreen violence. And now, it's true for onscreen nudity and sex. There is a shot of Ben Barnes completely nude from the back. That's surprising. The sex between Billy and Madani has no clothes whatsoever. That's boundary pushing for this company while still just seeming like it's flirting with the ideas of more graphic material.
  • Lewis has simply been searching for a place to belong all season. A place where his mind isn't as chaotic or traumatized. He hates Curtis for ruining the opportunity to work at Anvil. And yet, he still trusts Curtis to pick up the phone when he needs to be bailed out of prison. It's a complicated relationship. But it's also the most sincere and trusting one he has right now.
  • It's important to note that Lewis doesn't go over to O'Connor's house with the intention of killing him. That easily could have been the case after O'Connor abandoned him in front of the courthouse as well as the revelation that all of O'Connor's stories are fake. And yet, that confrontation ultimately leads to Lewis stabbing O'Connor multiple times in the chest.
  • It was pretty clear from the very first images of this episode that it was going to be an hour of mostly filler too. It starts with yet another fantasy of the family Frank had or wishes he did. In this one, he's imagining a life where his family is having Thanksgiving with David's. They are happy and celebrating when things inevitably turn to tragedy just like they always do.
  • The relationship between Frank and David continues to deepen as well. Curtis questions why David pulled Frank into this mission in the first place knowing the toil that it would take on him. But Frank and David have become closer than that. They can reminisce about the holidays they used to have. They can still picture that happiness even while knowing that it's out of their reach now.

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.