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TV Review: Marvel's The Punisher, Season 1, Episode 3 "Kandahar"

THE PUNISHER, Season 1, Episode 3 "Kandahar"

RECAP/REVIEW:

After Frank outmaneuvered Micro last episode, finally finding out where he was hiding out and knocking him out could, we kick things off with Micro tied to chair, stripped naked and Frank eating out of a can with a knife (what, you think The Punisher would use a fork or spoon? C'mooooon). Frank attempts some mild intimidation (as if eating with a survival knife isn't enough) and Micro pleads that he's got it all wrong when the computers start beeping and we see that Micro has a countdown that requires a password and retinal scan to stop or the whole place goes BOOM. Frank relents and lets him disable it and then ups the ante on the torture as Micro continues to plead. Frank reminds him that "People think that torture is pain, it's not pain. It's time. It's time. Slowly realize that your life is over, it's over Lieberman. Now all you got is the nightmare. You and me, we got that."

Micro reveals that he was an NSA agent working on Afghanistan intel when he received a disc with video on it that had the execution of a prisoner by American forces. Micro wasn't sure what to do, but we see a flashback of him talking to his wife, Sarah, about the disc, unsure of what to do with it. Always good to talk to your wife about Top Secret Intel at the dinner table. Common practice. Micro is torn, because the intel is hurtful to the U.S., but it's also why he became an analyst; to go after real, actionable intel. Micro decides to send it to Madani after a lot of turmoil, although we never really see why he chooses her of all people to send it to.

The next morning Micro and his family is stuck in traffic when suddenly they sees a bunch of geared-up agents closing in on his car, including Pony Boy himself, Wolf. Micro gets out of the car, kissing Sarah and telling them to stay put no matter what happens. Sure. No probs, dad. Micro takes off, leading a small chase through the park before cornered by Wolf on the waterfront. Wolf, being the son of a bitch he is, keeps yelling out "he's got a gun!" while Micro pleads for his life. Of course, Sarah disobeys and exits the car, running up to where they are and naturally freaking out. She arrives just in time to see Wolf shoot Micro, hitting him in the body and sending him into the water. We return out of the flashback to find that the bullet hit his cell phone, which kept him alive and sent him underground, hiding out and planning his next move, while leaving his family to believe he was dead.

Back at the Vet center, we see Curtis cleaning up when he gets an unexpected visitor; Billy Russo (Ben Barnes). Russo, who we're not quite sure what to make of just yet, (even if the comics origin would lead us to believe he'll become the villain known as Jigsaw) is old teammates with Curtis, same as Castle, and he sneaks in to have a chat. He hands over a check to Curtis ("Your money pays the rent.") and they chat about how things are going. Curtis asks Russo to stick around to show how it would look good for the others to see a Vet reinvent themselves after war. Russo seems overly humble and I can't tell if it's because it's part of his game or if I can't shake Ben Barnes terrifically evil performance in HBO's Westworld. Barnes tells Curtis he should come work for him, but Curtis is adamant about the fact that he got out just in time, same as Billy, and has no intention of going back.

Back at Micro's hideout, Frank splashes some water on Micro to wake him up and gets back into interrogation mode. Micro keeps saying "I'm the only friend you have" but Frank still isn't convinced. He thinks someone else is coming. From here we lead to a flashback of Frank, Russo and a roundup of special forces troops being addressed by both Agent Rawlins and Clancy Brown (Col. Schoonover from Daredevil Season 2) who make it clear that they're being put together as a government-sanctioned kill squad under Operation Cerberus. None of them seem to have a problem with it (hooray, no rules!) and you know it's all nothing but trouble. Back in their hooch (that's temporary barracks while at war for the uninformed) Russo and Castle chat a bit, with Russo at one point rattling off a line from "The Charge of the Light Brigade" and is shocked when Castle recognizes it. "You are shittin' me! You read a poem?" It's a fun interaction between the two and shows some genuine camaraderie between the two. Surely, that can't go wrong later, right?

We then head back to the Vet center where one of the younger Vets, Lewis (Daniel Webber) is telling a story about how a friendly fire incident that killed some troops was lied about to the press from his superiors, saying it was enemy fire that killed them. Lewis feels betrayed by this and is conflicted about this, questioning the integrity of his own superiors. Of course, O'Connor (Delaney Williams), the crusty Vietnam Vet who spouts all the 2A rhetoric every stereotype would have you believe, tries to fire Lewis up and feed into that hatred. The biggest problem I have with both of these guys is that I kind of hate them both. It's unclear what direction they'll take these characters, but the fact that they swim in stereotype is just obnoxious (and maybe that's just my own Vet sensibilities kicking in, but there you have it).

Back at Micro's lab, we find out that Micro's computer alarm isn't actually an explosion countdown, but rather a video broadcast system; the countdown ends, the broadcast begins. Micro then goes tit-for-tat with Frank over what they've done and how they've gotten there. He brings up Ahmad Zubair, the Afghani cop that was tortured and killed in the video. This sets Frank off and we go back to flashback mode, this time on the ground of when the video was taken. We see Zubair plead for his life as Rawlins tortures him, before finally relenting: "If you don't know anything..." Rawlins turns to Castle and tells him to "do it". Castle walks up and shoots him in the head point blank, no hesitation. The dutiful soldier. We then see Castle burying Zubair with another soldier, digging out the bullet to hide the evidence. The soldier asks Frank if he's okay with what they're doing and Frank replies that "No one is asking for our opinions. Not while we're here." It's a bit of a stretch from the Castle in the comics, who was dutiful at war and did some messed up stuff, but it was never on the side that compromised his integrity. Although, he IS The Punisher and that scale can be tipped in both directions.

Later, we see Curtis and Russo at Frank's gravestone. They share a drink and wish Frank a happy birthday. Russo says that Frank was finding it harder and harder to come back home while he was there. Curtis, who is obviously keeping it secret from Russo that he knows Frank is alive, slips up a bit, saying that Frank told him "the lines over there [Kandahar] were blurred" and that had affected him greatly. Russo is suspicious and asks Curtis when Castle said that. Curtis says that Castle called him from there. It's going to be interesting to see Russo's reaction to Curtis when he finds out Castle is alive.

Madani and her mother (Shohreh Aghdashloo) then share some screen time where Madani is getting lectured about being withdrawn and untrustworthy of others. I feel like they're trying really hard to make Madani happen, but she's just not clicking yet. Hopefully she gains some steam, but so far she's just not doing it for me yet. Like the stereotyped Vets, she's a side character that feels tired. Hopefully there are some surprises ahead.

Micro wishes Frank a Happy Birthday back at the hideout, revealing that he knows all there is to know about Frank. Micro then continues to try and talk Frank into teaming up with him, trusting him, but Frank is stubborn. Micro talks of how they both were betrayed by their country as the alarm goes off. Micro types in the code, grabbing a pen after he's done. The pen, turns out, is a needle, and he sticks Frank with it, which ends up knocking him out. Oh, shit, Frankie may be in trouble.

We then cut to the stereotyped Vet Lewis who's at home sleeping. His dad comes home and walks down the stairs when Lewis awakens from a nightmare and shoots at his dad. He misses and then freaks out, apologizing and running off. And it's at that point that I feel like I'm watching an after school special about PTSD.

Back at Micro's, Frank wakes up, laying in bed, his pistol in hand. Micro is chill, walking around, drinking coffee. It's a good power play for him. Frank asks him why he didn't try to kill him. Micro finally gets his audience and explains, again, that they're on the same team. "Lieberman, I don't do partners," Frank says. Micro puts it plainly, though. "We're not the bad guys here, though. They are."

Flashback to Kandahar and Castle and Russo are sitting in on a briefing with Rawlins and Col. Schoonover. Castle doesn't like the plan and feels it's a trap. Rawlins, however, doesn't care about Frank's instincts and very bluntly puts his feelings as, "I pointed. You need to go shoot." Jump cut to the mission, already gone awry, men down and Castle and Russo under fire. Frank then decides to breach the compound on his own (even though he has about 6 guys still fighting outside). I can only guess this was meant to show some "Punisher" coolness of Frank dispatching bad guys, as it's strategically stupid. The sequence is cut in a jump-cut fashion that's pretty annoying and then slows down and starts playing to the tune of "Wish It Was True" by White Buffalo, which makes it kind of worse. Sure, it's cool to see Frank shoot bad guys and "Punish" but it all feels a bit corny in this context and style, even if exceptionally bloody and brutal. I do dig the Jon Bernthal Punisher "yawp" though. He does good war face/yell.

Back at base we see Frank and Russo's teams laid out, bleeding, hurt, dying and generally messed up. Rawlins, looking like a smug prick, enters the room and asks matter-of-factly "Did you get the target?" This sets Frank off and he slams into Rawlins, punching him in the right eye, leaving one hell of a mark. Rawlins, for the first time, is visibly shaken. Russo pulls Frank away and talks him off the ledge. "We can't do this anymore!" he tells Frank, who is beyond emotional over the entire incident. We jump back to present day where Micro continues to plead his case to Frank that they need to team up. "Every missile needs a guidance system. Without me you're just a blunt instrument." Micro then reveals that Frank's government-sanctioned Operation: Cerberus wasn't government-sanctioned at all. This is all Frank needs. He names his condition: "They die. Every singe one of 'em. No trials. No bullshit. They die." Micro is cool with it. "Yeah, I can live with that."

This episode got us a bit deeper into Frank's past and while it deviates from some of Garth Ennis' more compelling groundwork in Frank's wartime service (and an altogether different war in Vietnam) it's an interesting set-up tying in comics characters like Rawlins (way slimier in the comics if you can believe it), Russo and Micro, all of whom are quite good here. Ben Barnes has quickly become a great bad guy in roles like this and Westworld and although Ebon Moss-Bachrach doesn't look like the comics-version Micro, he plays a strong part and makes it his own. Sadly, the other side characters, including Madani, Sam and pretty much everyone at the Vet Center (except Curtis. Curtis is cool) don't fare as well and feel like they're slowing down the preceedings. It also feels like we're going to have to wait a while to get Frank back in the skull vest, which is a shame because that was always a problem I had with the movies; they did everything they could to get him out of it. Hopefully, I'm wrong and they make ample use, but I won't hold my breath yet. So far, it's a slow burn, but Bernthal is absolutely solid here and as things ramp up, I'm hoping to feel a stronger investment in the characters across the board.

Source: JoBlo.com

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