Photo: The Punisher (Netflix)

For its eighth episode, The Punisher switches from a show about vigilante violence and wartime PTSD to a show about bizarre, fucked up interpersonal dynamics. And it’s kind of great! The episode establishes its central theme by opening on the deeply warped relationship between Billy and his birth mom. Though Billy has perhaps moved a little too quickly into full-on villain territory, this episode at least offers more context for his behavior. He grew up in abusive group homes after his drug addict mother left him at a fire station when he was a baby. His desire for a life of luxury is rooted in a deep need to overcome his past. But Billy is clearly holding onto that past too. After finally achieving success, he tracked down his mother and put her in a kind of medically induced coma as punishment for abandoning him.

It’s a slightly over-the-top act of villainy for The Punisher’s more grounded world. But it raises an interesting new theme for the latter half of the season to explore: the relationship between the military and money. Of the many reasons people join the military, one of the most common is to gain access to a kind of upward mobility to which they have no other path. That’s exactly why Billy enlisted and his self-made success is contrasted with Rawlins, who was born into a life of luxury and had his position virtually handed to him as a result (he also used his injury from Frank’s punch as an excuse to climb the ranks in the CIA). While Rawlins doesn’t have a sense of what it means to be truly destitute, Billy does. And he won’t let anyone—even his best friend Frank—take away the comfort and safety he’s earned for himself.

Four Weddings And A Whole Lot More Funerals

Compared to all that, the screwed up interpersonal dynamic between Frank and Micro in this episode is downright hilarious. The weird not-love-triangle love triangle between Frank, Micro, and Sarah finally comes to a head when Sarah (totally understandably!) kisses Frank after he unexpectedly shows up at her house with flowers (Frank needed an excuse to check on the Liebermans after Micro’s cameras went down). But rather than use the kiss as a cheap excuse for melodrama, writer Felicia D. Henderson smartly lets everyone involved act like adults. Drunken, occasionally passive aggressive adults, but still—adults.

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Micro is upset by the kiss but he also completely understands why it happened and he doesn’t really blame Sarah or Frank for it (at least not in the rational part of his brain). Instead, he processes his feelings by getting super drunk, which leads to some great off-kilter bonding between Micro and Frank. Ebon Moss-Bachrach is the funniest he’s ever been as Micro tries to plaster over his emotional strife with a veneer of humor. And after watching Micro spiral, Frank opens up about his own vulnerabilities. Before their kiss, Sarah notes that Frank never talks about his family. But that’s not completely true. In fact, throughout this season Frank has been surprisingly open about discussing his family with Micro. He even initiated that conversation about Thanksgiving they had back in “The Judas Goat.”

“This is fine.”

And that openness continues in this episode as Frank tells Micro about his unusual courtship with Maria. She got pregnant only three months after their guitar-centric meet cute. Frank proposed immediately and never regretted it. Maria was the love of his life and having a family with her was the best decision he ever made. No matter how strange the dynamic between them becomes, Frank and Micro are always able to connect over their shared sense of fatherhood. And that’s how Frank winds up going to have a talking to with Zach, threatening the kid’s life with a knife, and then tossing a football with him. The fucked up interpersonal dynamics continue!

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This is a purely character-centric episode for Frank and Micro, with very little of consequence happening in their story plot-wise. But the interactions between them are so great, their storyline feels like far more than just filler. And Micro’s drunken stupor does inspire one concrete plan: He decides he and Frank need to work with Madani rather than run from her. Unfortunately, Madani might not be in a place to work with anyone after surviving a truly brutal shootout with Billy and his men. It’s a deeply harrowing action scene that ends with Billy killing Stein in a truly gruesome fashion. And it leads to the episode’s most truly fucked up image: Billy bathing a traumatized Madani, who has no idea that her lover is also the man responsible for her trauma.

“This is also fine.”

“Cold Steel” offers a different kind of psychological study than the previous Punisher episodes. And that makes for a refreshing (if disturbing) change of pace.

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Stray observations

  • This series thinks it’s using Billy and Madani to reach its softcore porn quotient, but it doesn’t realize that its true porn is Frank Castle in prime dad mode.
  • The warehouse attack seemed poorly planned on both sides.
  • Billy’s wrist blade is a great super villain weapon.
  • It’s weird that when Micro is describing his penis to Frank, neither of them references the fact that Micro was naked in front of Frank for an entire episode.
  • Based on how much everyone keeps talking about how pretty he is, I think it’s safe to assume Billy’s face is going to wind up being disfigured before this season is out.
  • I don’t know if it translates on paper, but Frank telling Micro “go away from me” (rather than “get away from me”) really made me laugh.
  • “Wu-Tang Clan, that’s that next level shit.” That’s one area on which Frank Castle and Luke Cage agree.

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