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#TAPReviews | The Punisher and the flaw in the vengeful right

One batch, two batch
Dulani Wilson 18th December, 2017 Comics, Reviews, TV
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Frank Castle’s debut in Daredevil Season 2 left many pleased with the rage filled, blood-soaked, vengeful militaristic vigilante that is The Punisher. The dichotomy of the ideals betwixt Daredevil and Frank being some vastly different, yet existing on the same line of eventual progression provided nice moments of philosophical masturbation. But now the legend behind the skull comes with his own episodic season bereft of reincarnation, flying ninjas and super-powered team-ups that fell abit short of fans expectations.

How will Castle fair in this brave new familiar world. Only one way to find out.

 

SPOILERS AHEAD

 

Frank’s Zen moment is a ticking time bomb

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The first episode is like those GTA mission where the main story is complete and your left with those pesky side missions to clear out the rest of those undesirables then you find those pocket missions that you forgot but now you can start running and gunning again. Frank clears up the last of those involved in the drug game and by connection to the death of his family. Biker gang members get run over. The last member of the cartel gets sniped in Mexico from over the USA border (you could almost imagine the jurisdictional nightmare). And the a dirty accountant type gets strangled to death in an airport bathroom stall. By all presumptions, this ends the blood-soaked turmoil wrought by the one-man army. But with that much grief and seething rage, it is only a matter of time that Frank gets drawn back into the ebb and fro of the foaming sea of violence.

Six months after he clears up the dregs involved in the big heroin cartel and his family’s death, Frank spends his rage filled days cathartically demolishing walls on construction sites. That does not stop him being rudely interrupted by certain construction crew members who blame Frank for cutting into their overtime. The restraint Frank shows is damn near commendable. But things get ugly when these construction crew brings a newhorn into a robbery of an illegal gambling card game run by the Mob. The construction crew mess-up, the new kid unwittingly dropping his wallet with license and details. So the big bad construction crew decide to off the newbie to avoid being ratted out by him. And it is here where if Frank was a caged animal, we were happy to open the gate and whisper in his ear “get ’em”. Let’s just say Frank is as deadly with a sledgehammer as he is with a gun.

Frank, in trying to save the newbie from his stupid mistake, even goes to the lengths of killing the mob members at the illegal card game. But his effort to isolate the mob threat puts him on CCTV and on the radar, corroding the theory that Frank was dead.

We soon find the events of Daredevil 2, and the part Frank’s General played in the assassination of his family is all but the tip of the spear. Micro aka David Lieberman, a former NSA agent got a hold of footage from years before of Frank Castle and a team of black ops unwittingly murdering an innocent Iraqi officer. This was done under the command of Rawlins – an amoral CIA douche not above having dead soldiers bodies stuffed with heroin to smuggle back to the US and getting good men killed over shotty intel.

David’s possession of the incriminating footage of the illegal op, however, put him in the reticle of the nefarious Rawlins and the US government, forcing David to abandon his family in hiding after faking his death. Now the only way he can get his normal life back is to marry his brains with brawn, as the answers that will get him from under the boot of the corrupt US government is the same answers that will give Frank the ability to enact his righteous revenge on those responsible for his family’s murder.

 

PTSD

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This is understandably a serious topic when speaking about military service and the effects it has on soldiers coming home from war. And though we know The Punisher wants nothing to do with that label as some form of cheap defence of his actions, it is safe to say he has issues. If it is not violent anger its heart-wrenching rage… but, for the most part, Frank seems more in control. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Lewis Walcott – a soldier who ends up through indoctrination by far-right ideology begins his own little campaign of terror setting off bombs to flout his message. Something about the right to bear arms that was being infringed on by the media, institutions and all that. Thing is, nuts will always find a reason for chaos. But the idea and comparison to Frank’s rage rampages are striking, save for one key difference… innocent casualties. But as good as Frank is, casualties are inevitable.

Frank’s military buddy Curtis Hoyle holds meetings with vets suffering from PTSD and it is here we get a candid, unencumbered look into the mindstate of those that serve and are forever changed by it.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a bit jingoist in places, but in all there is a reality that is touched on, and the degrees to which it affects soldiers and their families as well as how they tend to deal with it. Whether it is Curtis’ need to help others overcome their problems. A pretty-boy Billy Russo’s need to make bank and industry, gaining control over a game that once had him as a pawn. Or Frank and Lewis, soldiers still stuck in their never-ending war even when no longer on the battlefield.

 

The Janus-approach to vigilantism

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Is it me or does it feel like Karen Page is a bit two-sided with her stance of vigilantism. On the one hand, she seems very preoccupied with Matt taking on the mantle of Daredevil to the point that she inevitably breaks off contact despite him hanging up the suit for sometime in the beginning of Defenders. But on the other hand, she seems more supportive in Castle’s hunt, at least trying to convince him to gather evidence and to bring the bad guys to justice. Not to stop his rampage or his vigilante efforts like she did with Matt.

We sense Karen Page cares for him, and the feeling is obviously mutual, topped with complicated sexual feelings that go unexplored. But it seems it takes a janus to betray one’s own ethics to help Castle escape custody time and again. And in that sense, we hope Karen never changes.

 

Corruption of the highest order

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Dinah Madani, the woman charged with the investigation into the murder of the Iraqi officer gets shipped back stateside for asking to many questions. It is, however, stateside that she finds out more than she could have ever bargained for, as she soon uncovers.

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Rawlins has proven once again that every war ever fought is primarily funded by drugs, particularly Anglo-hegemonic ones. And it seems Frank Castle’s involvement in the illegal op was too much of a loose end. So you can imagine when Rawlins, having bugged Dinah’s office, hears of the possibility of Frank being alive and in play, it is a call for concern. Especially since it was Frank’s well-placed punches that gave the CIA director his fucked-up milky eyes after the FUBAR mission he sent Frank into that saw the loss of a few good soldiers.

 

The Far-right and American militaristic gun violence

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While there seems to be relative disconnection between the far-right and America’s obsession with the right to bear arms, The Punisher, however slight or briefly, does touch on the issue with Lewis’ character and O’Connor, the jaded Vietnam vet complete with radical ideas of what a ‘real American’ is and how the government and the American public at large doesn’t appreciate their service and sacrifice. It was at this point that Lewis, who was already greatly unhinged became indoctrinated right their in a group session meant to help vets recover from PTSD. Sound familiar?

Race, however, isn’t something that comes up. Heard the word ‘cracker’ at some point when O’Connor went on this ‘true minority’ being the Christian American’ and the enemy being the ‘liberals’ who wanted to “take away our freedoms and our guns”. A particular flashback scene was also telling of another dynamic. Son Frank Castle Jr. references to his father killing ‘Hajjis’, a militaristic discriminatory term for Iraqis / middle-eastern peoples. Frank answer is a quick, vicious grab that puts the fear of god in his son’s eyes. In public even. And it was this scene that showed violence was never a stranger to Frank or his family, so it’s hinted through scenes like this that the perfect family home in Frank’s whimsical dreams are isolated moments that may not be the entire story.

Lewis soon finds out however that O’Connor actually did not serve in Vietnam. This sends Lewis over the deep end, feeling betrayed, he viciously stabbing O’Conner to death and decides to go the route of the Unabomber to bring his message of… well that seemed a bit cloudy. Part of me thinks he just wanted to blow shit up.

America’s gun and jingoist culture aside, the arguments for strongly regulating the type of guns is presented as weak, idealistic dreaming via the viewpoint of a high-profile politician. The hypocrisy of the politician hiring Anvil – a security contractor comprised of ex-militia – to protect him from a mad-bomber whilst arguing a case for gun control. Whilst being interviewed by Karen, a woman that has a gun permit for a snub-nose in her purse. Well if you had a run in with Fisk, you would too. And is her killing Fisk’s assistant in Daredevil Season 1 going to come back and bite Karen in the ass anytime soon?

Can we also appreciate that it would take an asshole of a kid for me to feel happy that Frank puts a knife to his throat? Yeah, so, backtracking. Micro aka David Lieberman pretty much spies on his family as he can’t be seen anywhere near them as people think him dead. But it seems his absence has created a hot and vulnerable wife, a street-smart but emotionally-taut daughter and a violent asshole son. So when the mom finds the kid is packing a serious blade in his school bag after incidents of theft and punching his sister in the face, good ol’Pete (the name the family knows him by) goes to teach the boy a dramatic, hands-on lesson about how to kill someone with a knife. Very enjoyable that was.

But it is evident that the Punisher holds real significance in the actual marine corps, as it’s not uncommon to see vets with the iconic skull symbol tattooed on their arms or marked and engraved on their helmets or weapons. Whether that should be seen as army-types fanboying, or whether it is disturbing given who the Punisher is I will leave that to you. Then again there is always the positive takeaway being the idea that family should be held above all else. I would love to hear the viewpoint of people who have served on this though.

 

Best Episode

Momento Mori

A succinct episode that gave new meaning to the skull design of the Punisher. Frank says he wants his enemy to see him coming. And by extension, he wants them to see their death. If you ever wanted to see a Silverback go to war armed to the teeth, this is your chance.

 

Worst Episode

Virtue of The Vicious
Now don’t get us wrong. It was hella sweet to see Karen Page keep her wits about her while being held hostage by a bomb-strapped Lewis. But the playing different viewpoints and Lewis on a whole don’t contribute much to overall narrative, other than revealing to Dinah that her lover boy Russo isn’t as good as he’s cracked up to be. Must’ve also had something to do with the fact that the guys that killed her partner Sam were ex-contractors at Anvil. A few shy stone-throws away from being filler.

 

Season 2 is coming. But is it needed?

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Now, this is a flaw that resonates to the core of Marvel’s Punisher. He has a goal. One goal. To avenge his family. So once that is done, what kind of anti-hero do we have?

As far as Season 1, we dont see much in terms of the evolution of Frank, because his neanderthalic grunts and screams are what we’re here for. He is a brute force of nature, trained to complete the mission. Now we end with Frank divulging deep, dark pains in a group session for vets. And it seems to give a sense of Frank being on the mend.

But, consider the story of Frank. There is no healing for him. His family is dead. His state of being has been one of heart-wrenching melancholy and bloody, violent rage. And it can get exhausting. To watch and to feel. Such a person has one of two ends – one if you don’t like splitting hairs: death, by murder or by suicide.

Daredevil, of course has longevity as a character as he is split between the dichotomy dictated by vengeance, Catholicism and as a practitioner of the law. This eternal conflict makes for interesting dilemmas that inform his decisions. Frank, however, has no qualms about killing anyone remotely involved in this family’s death. Take away everyone involved in his family’s death, what do you have? You now have the task of giving him new purpose outside of his family to keep him and the series going. And without a boundary or checker that gives him the inner conflict of stepping over a particular line of engagement, like – I don’t know – murder… there isn’t much that can be done in the way of character depth.

The Punisher: War Zone movie tried its best giving more time in portraying the loneliness and melancholy of Frank Castle in his holy war. But I think a season 2 will have more of a tasking time punching up character motivations for a second third time around. Otherwise it’s just a Death Wish, angry-white-man-with-a-gun rehashing.
 
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Billy Russo surely will be a nemesis that could be making a return as Jigsaw. The Punisher did well to mangle Billy’s face the glass from the merry-go-round in the park where his family died. And this is the first time we see Frank actually has not killed someone he set out to kill.

In the end, it felt Marvel and Netflix stepped away from the issues with the need for interconnective-narratives and produced a series that could exist in and of itself. Which we are thankful for. I believe Jessica Jones, which is next up will follow suit. Luke Cage Season 2 and, most arguably, Iron Fist Season 2 is a crap shoot. But after the Defenders, maybe Netflix has found terrafirma as to what works and what doesn’t.

 

RATING: 7 out of 10

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