Thursday, November 23, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Punisher' - Frank Takes His Shot at Rawlins as Lewis Struggles to Find Purpose in 'Crosshairs'

Netflix's The Punisher - Episode 1.07 "Crosshairs"

Lewis struggles with the ramifications of his actions. Frank and Micro pursue another face from the past. Madani and Sam go bug hunting.

"Crosshairs" opens on Lewis in the aftermath of him killing O'Connor. Lewis has really emerged as the most tangential character of this season so far. His presence is important because of the thematic significance. This is a show that offers the illusion of having a serious conversation about military service and the way the system fails veterans when they return home. But most of the burden of that story falls onto Lewis. He's the only character where that theme actually connects. Sure, Frank still has a ton of respect for patriotic duty and is torn apart over having to injure a fellow soldier in this episode. His service put so much of this narrative into motion as well. But these central themes of depression and PTSD don't really pertain to Frank. He's just fixated on the idea of avenging his family's deaths. That's his sole motivation. He needs to keep moving in order to avoid the boring normality of a life without that mission. This season appears to be a journey of Frank finding purpose in his life in a way that he didn't after he previously believed he completed this mission. That's interesting from a character perspective because of the solid acting from Jon Bernthal. Now, Daniel Webber has been very good as well. However, he's being asked to carry his own unique and separate storyline this season that doesn't appear to be dovetailing into anything Frank is doing anytime soon. Lewis isn't a character with a secret agenda who is going to double cross someone at some point this season. He's just a traumatized soldier adrift in his own life. Again, that story can resonant in this world. But right now, it feels more and more like Lewis' entire existence is simply a contrivance in order to extend the story of the show to 13 episodes. If he were to disappear, the show really wouldn't be loosing anything.

That's unfortunate to say because Lewis finds himself in an agonizing head space right now. He's dealing with the aftermath of killing someone. His father believes that it's possible for him to come back from whatever he had to do overseas because Lewis wasn't the one carrying the burden of making those decisions. Instead of pulling away, he is trying to be there for his son in his time of need. He's a really earnest and supportive father. But he has no idea what to do about this situation. He almost got shot. Lewis dug a hole in the backyard. And now, the seemingly crazy behavior only intensifies more. Lewis shows up in the middle of winter without wearing a shirt, with blood on his hands and an apparent stab wound to his stomach. It's a pretty gruesome visual. And yet, his father is willing to write it all off as Lewis just needing a good night's sleep without any traumatizing nightmares. Lewis can improve himself with the proper motivation. Lewis has been searching for that purpose this season. He's connected with other characters and was susceptible to their thought processes. He changed to situations according to Curtis and O'Connor. It got him no where. He needs a way to let out these aggressions. But now, he's doing something for himself. That something is just making a bomb probably for nefarious purposes. And yet, that mostly just feels like a way to derail Frank's mission for an episode in the near future instead of something that is suppose to have larger importance in the overall story.

Meanwhile, Madani spends the entire episode basically looking for the bug in her office. She doesn't literally do that. It's mostly contained to one scene. But that's the entirety of her story in this episode. She gets to thinking about the Frank Castle case and his role in Gunner's death and starts to suspect that a bug has been planted in her office. Of course, it would be just as easy to assume that she got this idea because Billy visits her at work and even says that no one is listening to her in her office. The show is just really calling attention to the fact that Billy is a villain now. That's a transition that still doesn't have much meaning to it. But the show is at least allowing Billy to be more upfront as a personality now. Elsewhere, Madani is reluctant to even entertain the notion that she and Frank Castle share similar personality traits. She's determined to solve this case. And yet, it's hard to trust her investigative abilities because she has no grand sense of why Frank is doing anything that he's doing. She seems smarter than that but comes across as a little behind the curve simply because the audience already knows so much more than her. Sure, it will be fascinating to see if she keeps the bug in her office and feeds false information to the CIA that is listening in. But again, that feels like something just to extend this story for as long as possible even though it feels like it should be reaching its climatic moments shortly.

At least "Crosshairs" gets Frank into the action once more. He is no longer sidelined because of his injuries. He is able to go back on the search for Agent Orange. And now, the audience is seeing how Rawlins and Billy are dealing with Frank's mission. They are putting plans into motion to stop him before he exposes what they've been doing over the years. There's the belief that Rawlins is still the one giving all of the orders. Billy appears to be the soldier that he was trained to be. He's the one who leads the mission to kill Frank once Frank breaks into a military base to torture a guy for information. The show then plays things as Billy being independent of Rawlins when he kills this agent instead of sneaking him out of the country under a new identity. But even that moment is just a part of the master plan that Billy and Rawlins are running. It shows that they are a united front even though Billy is delivering big monologues about how Frank is the only person in the world who truly scares Rawlins because he's the only person who made him think he was going to die. Again, that's a fascinating backstory that helps shade in this personal dynamic. Billy is still exerting his power to try to understand his partner in this conspiracy. However, it's still a lot of telling instead of showing. Yes, there are power in words. But Rawlins remains a stoic character who lets others do the dirty work for him. He's the most nefarious presence on the show at the moment. He's responsible for so many deaths. He's cleaning up the secrets that could destroy his career. And in the end, he's still left standing despite Frank taking a shot at him.

It is genuinely exciting to see Frank's philosophy about killing torture him throughout this episode. He doesn't know what he's going to do if a soldier just patrolling the base stumbles upon him and tries to stop him. That soldier would just be following orders. It's not his fault that the man in charge happens to be corrupt. Because the show sets up this fear in Frank's head early on, it seemed inevitable that it would play out before this story was finished. It's a compelling scene too. Frank believes he can just talk his way out of being captured because the soldier is so young and unsure of what to do. But he does have to shoot him in the end. It's not a fatal shot. And that causes Frank so much internal turmoil. To him, killing is clean and easy. It's a decisive action that puts an end to the story. By simply injuring something, it leaves things open-ended in a way that's more murky in his beliefs. Frank believes he has the moral superiority in this situation. He believes if he's just able to kill Rawlins then this would all be worth it. He's given the opportunity to do just that. He follows the trail right back to the secret CIA compound. Rawlins is all alone. There is no one to protect him there. And yet, protection is all around him. Just because he's alone doesn't mean a bullet can break through the window and silence him. The windows are bullet proof. The alarms go off as soon as Frank takes that shot. He did that hoping it would be the end of this story. Instead, it just shows how determined and motivated he is. It also proves just how capable he is. Rawlins is afraid for his life once more. But that will make him just as dangerous as any adversary Frank has had to face.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Crosshairs" was written by Bruce Marshall Romans and directed by Andy Goddard.
  • This episode proves that action sequences don't need to be big and explosive in order to be thrilling and impressive. The moment where Frank fills the room with smoke to eliminate all visibility is chilling. It's very effective to see him slowly take out each of his targets until it's just him and Billy. It also creates the reasonable illusion of Billy being an enemy of Frank's in the same room without Frank realizing it.
  • David is starting to worry about how his family will react to learning that he is still alive and has come home to them. He's been closely monitoring them. He knows what's going on in their lives. And yet, he also knows that this kind of deception will need to be solved through lots of extensive therapy. It's a horrible thing that he's done to them. He wonders if they'll ever understand and forgive him.
  • It's so encouraging to see Frank be open to David about how much he knows about the surveillance of Sarah and the kids. He understands how much David has been involved in their lives over this past year. But he also knows it's best not to mention this surveillance because it would truly make him seem like a crazy person.
  • Madani truly believes that being successful at this job means not having any time to commit to a life outside of work. That means her relationship with Billy is just fun. She's manipulating him as a source. She's just clueless about the false information he is giving her. But it's also important for Sam to suspect what's going on between Madani and Billy even as she forces him to miss a date to look for the bug in her office.
  • It's never abundantly clear what Lewis has done with O'Connor's body. He was seen washing his hands in the sink and stealing the shower curtain. That curtain is still in Lewis' room in the basement at the end of the episode. Does that mean the body is down there too? He already has the hole to throw it into if he wanted to. Or is O'Connor still in that chair decomposing until someone eventually finds him?

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.