Photo: The Punisher (Netflix)

I’ve seen some viewers complain that this show’s version of Frank Castle isn’t as ruthless as his comic book counterpart, but I would argue that’s an intentional storytelling choice. This season of The Punisher is very much an extended origin story. (In fact, it’s a bit of a retread of the origin story the Punisher already got in Daredevil, but we’ll set that aside for now.) Despite everything he’s been through, Frank Castle has been able to cling to the tiniest shred of his humanity. But “Danger Close” finally pushes Frank to his breaking point. The military turned him into an assassin for their own gain, the government killed his family, and now it turns out the man he viewed as a brother was in on all of it. It’s enough to send anyone over the edge and no one goes over the edge like Frank Castle. “Everything’s changed,” he tells Micro. And that’s true for the show too.

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How do you solve a problem like Frank Castle? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?

With Lewis’ mini-arc over, The Punisher returns to the Liebermans, who we haven’t seen in a while. Zach’s ill-advised phone call to a Punisher tip line puts the family on Rawlins’ radar and despite a valiant effort by Sarah, she and her son are quickly kidnapped. Frank instructs Micro to reunite with Leo, who managed to escape the kidnapping thanks to more of Sarah’s quick thinking. And then Frank sets about preparing to take down Billy and Rawlins’ death squad. For those who have been waiting for Frank to go into full-on Punisher mode, this episode’s climax doesn’t disappoint. Blood spurts, heads roll, and Frank’s carefully hidden guns ensure he’s never left without a weapon. If the last episode positioned Frank as John McClane, this one sees him go full Rambo.

It’s not my favorite action sequence of the season, but then again I’m not sure this kind of brutal gun battle is ever going to be my favorite thing in the world. And to be fair, I think some of its hollowness is intentional. In a rare moment of a supervillain actually thinking logically, Billy decides to not to join the raid on Frank and Micro’s lair. So despite all the carnage Frank unleashes, he doesn’t get the cathartic kill he really wanted. Frank is left spent but unsatisfied in a room full of dead bodies.

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While Frank more fully embraces his role as the Punisher, Billy is trying to “level up” in his world of villainy. He no longer wants to be the guy who actually puts his life on the line. He wants to be the guy pulling the strings from a safe distance, like Rawlins. And though Madani gives him the chance to sell out Rawlins and save himself, Billy doesn’t take it. He may not respect or even fully trust Rawlins, but he does see him as his ticket to success. But though Billy may think he’s climbed another rung on the socio-economic ladder, it’s clear Rawlins will never see him as anything more than a grunt. He’s all too happy to offer up Billy as a fall guy to his boss/CIA Director Marion James (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) when he comes clean about all the nefarious stuff he’s done over the years.

“I don’t understand the question, and I won’t respond to it.”

Of the many, many foils The Punisher has given Frank this season, Marion might just be the most interesting. Like Frank, she seems to be a fundamentally decent person. But like Frank, she also has a moral line that’s flexible depending on the context. She disapproves of Rawlins’ illegal methods and even claims she’s willing to risk her job by exposing them if she has to. But, hey, if there’s a way to clean up his mess without causing a public fuss, she’s not opposed to that either—even if it means framing Billy and sentencing Frank to death-by-hit-squad.

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Unlike Rawlins, Billy, or Lewis, who were either unhinged or just plain evil, Marion only turns to violence in service of the greater good, which is similar to how Frank operates. Rawlins argues that exposing Project Cerberus could set U.S foreign policy back 10 years and that’s a risk Marion isn’t willing to take if she doesn’t absolutely have to. So while she doesn’t necessarily like the idea of murdering an American citizen without a trial, she’ll do it in order to protect her country (and her job). That’s another reason Marion makes such an interesting foil to Frank. She’s not a rogue vigilante, she’s a CIA leader with the full force of the U.S. government behind her. The fact that she sanctions Frank’s death (off the books, of course) raises fascinating questions about the context in which we think about murder as being justified or unjustified, legal or illegal, necessary or unnecessary.

Though this episode is doing some smart, subtle things with Marion and Billy, the same can’t be said for Madani. She doubles down on her bizarre decision to just tell Billy everything she knows about him. She’s ostensibly trying to enlist his help in exposing Project Cerberus, but as she later tells Rafi, she also wants the satisfaction of a personal confrontation with him. Which is a really, really dumb motivation for a supposedly brillant Homeland Security agent. I’ve held out hope all season that Madani’s story would eventually go somewhere, but I’m starting to worry it won’t end much stronger than it began. Although now that she’s finally (finally!) working with Frank and Micro, maybe there’s still reason to hope.

After spending two episodes largely apart, Frank and Micro’s relationship is once again at the heart of “Danger Close.” And the episode pays off the idea that they’re stronger together than they are apart. Both men have a tendency to blindly jump into action when their family and friends are threatened, like Micro tries to do in this episode when he sees the footage of his family being kidnapped. But both men also have the ability to help the other think logically in a crisis. Micro has spent most of the season doing that for Frank and now Frank gets to return the favor as he works out a plan to save Micro’s family. Just moments beforehand, Frank had been planning to break up his partnership with Micro. But Sarah, Zach, and Leo are like family and no one messes with Frank’s family.

Why does Frank look like a 75-year-old version of Moe from the Three Stooges in this photo?

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I didn’t expect The Punisher to put Frank back into his Punisher costume until its final chapter and because of that “Danger Close” almost feels like a finale at times. In fact, I could imagine a version of this season that streamlined its narrative into fewer episodes and used this action sequence as its climax. And more so than anything, that makes me curious to finish out these final two episodes. If The Punisher is willing to pull out all the stops this early, what else does it have left in store?


Stray observations

  • The squib budget on this show must be insane.
  • So much for Frank’s moral righteousness about using bombs, huh?
  • Despite the fact that I know all of these Marvel leading men are insanely jacked, I’m somehow still shocked by how jacked they are when they take off their shirts.
  • Frank’s spray painting skills remain impeccable.
  • Micro mentioning that the Liebermans used to call a local park “the pool playground” is such a great true-to-life detail.
  • The artistically placed blood splatters and bullets on Frank’s post-battle Punisher vest were a nice touch. They also made me remember that Frank’s criminal defense on Daredevil revealed he’s stuck in a permanent state of fight or flight thanks to the bullet wound he received in the shootout that killed his family. So far, that doesn’t seem to be an idea The Punisher is interested in playing with.
  • If I were directing this episode, I would’ve had Micro give his coat to Leo after their hug.
  • Relatedly, The Punisher is very good at cold verisimilitude.

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