Friday, November 24, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Punisher' - Frank Gets Distracted as a New Terrorist Attacks the City in 'Front Toward Enemy'

Netflix's The Punisher - Episode 1.09 "Front Toward Enemy"

Following a deadly explosion, Karen lands in a bomber's crosshairs - and Frank isn't happy about it. Curtis makes a grisly discovery.

As expected, Lewis' purpose on the show is to create a plot complication that hinders Frank and David's ability to progress too quickly in their investigation of Rawlins and Billy. Now, they are completely distracted by needing to stop a madman detonating bombs throughout the city. It's personal for Frank because Karen finds herself at the center of this story. Karen hasn't been seen in awhile. It seems likely that she's just going to be an occasional presence in this world who reminds Frank of his humanity even though she's not a huge part of his life. And yet, there's importance in that. Sure, it's annoying that she is being thrown into a dangerous situation in order to get a reaction out of the main protagonist yet again. But she does appear to have more agency this time around. She's actually confronting the terrorist who may wish her harm. She has grown a lot over the course of the various shows she has appeared on. Her presence also forms this immediate connection to this case for Frank despite it being completely tangential to what he should be doing. He and David have made no progress in finding Rawlins after Frank took that shot at him a couple of episodes ago. Now, they are monitoring Madani in the aftermath of Sam's death when a bomb just so happens to detonate down the street. It's this explosive action that starts this episode that also has a strange way of pulling everything together.

So yes, this is a momentum stopping episode for the overall narrative of the season. The events of this episode will have an overall role in the endgame of the season because of the news report that comes out in the climatic moments. But it has very little to do with Rawlins and Billy. Billy is only seen in maintaining his relationship with Madani and ensuring that she doesn't know too much and will be coming after him and his associates shortly. The focus shifts to a different aspect at play this season. As such, it's appreciated how this feels more like an episode of television instead of the horrible concept of a 13-hour movie. Frank and David are removed from the overall narrative even though things are still happening in that regard. Instead, they are motivated through a personal relationship to something else happening in the city. Lewis hasn't just made one bomb. He has made several and sent them to government buildings to send a message. It turns out that he really has become a fanatic who believes the government is trying to suppress the second amendment and the only way to get them to back down is through violence. It's a sudden shift for the character. Knowing the backstory doesn't really help it from seeming new and alienating to the main story. But it does bring out some very interesting things about Frank Castle.

Frank has an infamous legacy throughout this city. He was the terrorist who plagued these streets and made people fear for his lives. He didn't care much about that identity because he believed he was moral in his cause. He has a code that he lives by. He only kills criminals. The argument can be made that he is a vigilante doing the job that the police won't. He's taking justice into his own hands. He's being judge, jury and executioner in one fell swoop. Yes, that is very morally compromising. Only a select few people know about that though. It's mostly Frank, Karen, David and Curtis. They understand his beliefs. Not even Madani has an explanation for his actions. She's trying to make sense of this crazy story that is becoming more and more destructive to her life. And now, a new terrorist has arrived who is preaching this very horrible and misinformed message. It's also a case of the show trying to say something meaningful about the real-life political environment. It knows that guns are a very sensitive subject in this country with the government being unable to pass any legislation about them despite numerous tragedies. However, the show tackles this very serious subject in about as broad a way as possible. Lewis comes across as one note. And now, a politician who is anti-gun is introduced who is very one-note as well. It doesn't seem like the show is adding anything new or relevant to the conversation.

It perhaps highlights the hypocrisy of it all. The senator is using these tragedies from bombs as an opportunity to talk about gun control even though Karen is trying to have a well-informed conversation about this specific threat to the city. The senator then hires Anvil for personal security in order to send a message that he's not afraid of this terrorist. Billy is able to make his insurance sales pitch. It all feels very expositional. None of this story is resolved by the end of this hour. It's going to continue to be important. And so, it's probably a big deal that Billy is handling the security of this senator. It could be him running another mission for Rawlins that will have further consequences down the line. All of that is just speculative at this point though. It's apparent that the wheels are spinning and trying to force these new plot dynamics into action. But the narrative is at its most unique and special when Curtis and Frank go into O'Connor's house and deal with the monster that they find inside. Curtis is unable to defeat Lewis. He gets beaten with his own leg. That's a low point with him that further makes him question whether or not he is effective at this job. Meanwhile, Frank shows up and is able to carry on a conversation with Lewis about their ideologies. Lewis believes that they are exactly the same. They are punishing the system for trying to oppress their voices. This again connects back to Frank's code not really being public knowledge. Lewis sees Frank as a source of inspiration. He's in awe to see him in the house trying to save Curtis. But it mostly just creates more inner turmoil with Lewis over whether he can allow this bomb he's strapped to Curtis to go off.

Those plot beats showcase just how precarious all of this is. Lewis' head has been deeply troubled since the start of this season. He was just looking for purpose. And now, he is taking ahold of it himself. He's forging his own destiny and creating his own message. It just happens to be very destructive. But he's still a misunderstood and struggling kid. Frank can still manipulate that to his advantage. He honors everyone who has served and wants to help them. He lives with regrets about what he did in the past as well. He blames himself for Curtis losing his leg. He believes he didn't do enough to protect him on that fateful day. That's compelling to watch because it connects back to characters and relationships that are actually meaningful. It's not just the plot doing things in order to create story for a couple of brief thrills. It's more powerful knowing the backstories of these characters and the beliefs that they hold. Curtis is quick to forgive Frank despite the isolation he feels in this world as well. It's enough for Lewis to back down on his threat. He is able to escape and so is Frank. In doing so though, Frank is discovered by the rest of the world. The city believed him to be dead. It was just assumed despite there being no body. And now, there is physical proof that he is still alive. The video evidence has been released for all to see. The world is now blaming him for these terrorist attacks. He is now back to being the monster the media has always depicted him as. He's not that person. Lewis is still out there intending to do a lot of damage. The consequences of this action will be far-reaching even after the threat from Lewis is dealt with. The world now knows about Frank Castle. Madani can effectively do her job again. But Frank will also be fighting against a world that only wants to see him one way. Will he be able to change that perception? It's unclear because Frank still isn't sure about it himself.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Front Toward Enemy" was written by Angela LaManna and directed by Marc Jobst.
  • The other significant plot development to happen is David reaching out to Madani and telling her about William Rawlins without Frank's knowledge. He does that while Frank is busy with Lewis and Curtis. It's the first step towards a potential partnership. Madani recognizes Micro as the person who sent her the video in the first place. David is choosing to trust her now. It's a partnership that will work out but the characters still have to be tentative about it as well for lame reasons.
  • Madani spends most of the episode just stuck in her apartment being unable to do anything in her life. Her mother is there to care for her. But Billy can't help her through this difficult time. She can't be honest with Rafi without losing her job in the process. She's determined to tell the truth at Sam's funeral. And then, the world completely changes before that happens which may force her plans and motivation to change as well.
  • The news about The Punisher still being alive is all over the news. Everyone seems to be seeing it. Sarah isn't in this episode as well. And yet, this news must get back to her, right? Will she recognize Frank Castle as her friend, Pete? She should have a lot of questions as a result of that. If not, that will be really lame and forced.
  • Karen and her boss, Ellison, basically have the same dynamic every time they are seen. Karen wants to write an article that could jeopardize the future of the paper. She fiercely believes in it while he is more selfishly concerned about his business. She ultimately gets her way. And yet, it's important for him to ask her if she knew about Frank Castle being alive the moment it appears on the news.
  • Are the details of Sam's death released to the public? It seems very suspicious that Billy happens to know that Sam was stabbed to death despite being the one with a gun in that situation. That seems like it could only come from someone who was actually there. Again, it's Billy revealing himself to be the person Madani is chasing. And yet, she doesn't seem to pick up on it at all.

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.