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TV Review: Marvel's The Punisher, Season 1, Episode 8 "Cold Steel"

THE PUNISHER, Season 1, Episode 8 "Cold Steel"

RECAP/REVIEW:

Last episode saw the pace pick up a bit as Frank discovered that Rawlins is Agent Orange and attempted to assassinate him, while the side characters continued to waste valuable screentime, outside of Ben Barnes' Billy Russo who is making for a really great conniving villain (that, by the comics, would one day become Frank's arch-nemesis, Jigsaw). Episode 8 picks up with ol' Russo, fixing his hair, getting dressed and taking great pride in his appearance. So many bits have been dropped about his "good-looking appearance" that there's just no way this doesn't end in Jigsaw. We'll see. Russo is then seen heading into what appears to be a mental hospital and goes to visit an old woman that is bedridden and unable to speak. He knows the nurse by name and asks "How is she today?" which means Billy makes regular visits. The nurse leaves and Billy lays right into it. He inspects her teeth and says that he's paying extra for them to clean them. "Very important to have a good smile in your line of business, right? Keep those customers happy? Nothing like a nice smile to let them know you give a shit." So, apparently, this woman is either a former dentist or a prostitute and it turns out it's none other than Russo's real mom, who had abandoned him as a child.

He starts talking to her about his problems with Frank, confessing how he feels his only friend (Castle) is about to ruin everything for him. He also mentions being in a group home and how hard that was on him. So, Russo is essentially keeping her alive out of spite and hatred, even as he says she may have done him a solid. "The way I see it, you want weak kids, give 'em everything. But, if you want 'em strong...treat 'em hard." He then injects her with drugs to calm her down.  "I'd have given you the world. I'd have given you anything that you ever wanted. If you just wanted me." He then kisses her forehead and leaves. "See ya next week, Mom." Damn. To say ol' Billy has some mommy issues is no stretch.

At Micro's place, Micro is analyzing the image of Rawlins from Frank's scope when he tried to assassinate him and gets a match that it's Rawlins and where he is on the food chain; the very top. Micro is concerned about this, saying how Rawlins has every resource at his disposal. Frank isn't convinced as he brings up how Micro has been on the CIA site all day and found nothing to indicate they were onto him or Micro. Before Micro can be relieved, however, the cameras to his family's house go down. Micro freaks out and yells for Frank to go check out his family and Frank is quick to assuage him.

We then get in the shower with Madani and Russo, back at their off-duty shenanigans. They have some pillow talk about bruises and scars. She sees Russo's bruises from shots fired from Frank. He tells her it was paintball. They then look over each other's scars, giving a quick overview of each. Madani makes a casual observation, "All those battle scars and not one on this pretty face." Oh, Russo, you're done for. If he isn't Jigsaw by the end of this, I'm suing. There's a knife scar on Russo's chest and he talks about how he got it when he was 10 or 11 at a group home when a man came onto him and he fought back. Madani is empathetic to Russo's past and shows hurt for what he's been through. It's a great scene, actually, as it still gives us some small ounces of hope that maybe these two characters, in the least, could save each other, although it's highly unlikely.

Later, Frank is at Micro's house, bearing flowers for Sarah, who seems to take them as a romantic gesture. She invites him and to have a drink. Frank obliges. It's then that Frank sees that Sarah as unplugged her internet and camera system as a means of escaping everything. They have some flirtatious conversation, mostly on her end, as Micro hands out back at base, unable to see what's going on. But, it's not for long, as Frank gets her back online (and Micro, for that matter), as she pops open another bottle. She wants to talk about what's missing (Micro for her, Frank's wife for him). She expresses how she wants to move on and be happy again, then invites him to stay longer, the tipsier she gets. Then, makes her move, giving Frank a kiss. Frank, thankfully, pushes her away (but, y'know, is nice about it) and she is apologetic. Frank takes some enchiladas and rolls out. He's made of some stern stuff.

Man, I do so hope we don't see Frank close the deal with Sarah. I highly doubt it, as Frank has been built as the no-nonsense character he always has been. He really doesn't have time for that and Micro's allegiance is far more valuable than sleeping with a lonely mom.

Back at Madani's office, she calls in Sam to tell him that she's got a lead on Castle, who is trying to arrange an ammunition buy with a dealer she knows. She is attempting to set something up, which is sure to go South. This is all false, of course, as she's merely setting up whoever is listening in on her bugged office. The wheels are in motion...We then see the awkwardness back at Micro's as Frank returns. Micro is getting shitfaced and says he doesn't blame Frank for kissing Sarah (hey, she kissed him, though). And, y'know, I just didn't expect to be writing this kind of 90210 shit for a series called The Punisher, but here we are. I'm just not digging this part of the story. At all.

At the docks (does anybody meet anywhere else?) Russo and Rawlins meet and discuss how they need to take out Castle as he's the problem that could disrupt everything for both of them. Rawlins is planning to get in on Madani's operation and Russo says he's going to need use men outside of his own. Rawlins is concerned that Russo may have feelings for Madani. Russo assures she's just "a means to an end" and that there's "no one on this green Earth" that he's worried about going against. Rawlins smiles. Lots of tough guy posturing when it's clear that Castle is more than just a thorn in their side.

Madani is meanwhile planning the tactical plan, reminding everyone that the plan will not be put online. She and Sam walk and talk later, addressing a "fake plan" they intend to publish in order to mislead whoever is bugging her office. Back at Micro's, Frank talks to Micro about how he played the guitar to win over his wife. It's another "getting-to-know-you" scene that plays well to a point, but is so out of character for Frank. It's the oversharing that bugs me about Frank in this show. Laughing and reminiscing is just not his style; I understand the desire to "humanize" him, but the thing is, Frank lost his humanity with his family. He really is The Punisher. At least, that's how it should be. Micro meanwhile, shares his story of meeting Sarah and the boys clank drinks to their respective ladies. All my issues aside, I do like the interactions between Frank and Micro, even when Micro informs Frank that he's "hung like a moose."

Of course, nothing stays fun forever, as Micro gets a epiphany. "Madani," he says. "She wants the same things we do." Micro starts talking about giving over evidence to her so that they can have her arrest Rawlins. But, Frank isn't having that shit. "Rawlins dies, remember?" Micro doesn't like that, even though Frank has always made that the mission. "Anyone that ever looked at you sideways, they're dead. And you just keep on goin', eh? Just keep on goin'. You're a psychopath." Micro isn't done. "You have nothing but a war inside you. I'm callin' her." he says. Micro picks up the phone to call Madani. Frank punches him out and puts him to bed. A lot of truth spilled. In fact, all of it.

Russo later meets with some down-and-out Vets and offers them a blackout, search-and-destroy op, which he'll be leading. These guys are looking to get a regular job with State, but Russo offers them 500K each to do the job and get them to a non-extradition country. "Somebody must really need someone dead," one of them says. "Somebody always does," answer Russo.

Back at Micro's, Frank wakes up Micro, giving him some food. Micro is immediately regretful. "Frank, can you please forget everything I said last night? Except Madani?" Frank still isn't biting. "Forget Madani," he says. Micro is stewing and acting hurt. Sarah starts to call Frank and he tells Micro it's her. "Should I answer it?" Micro is dismissive. "It's your girlfriend," he says. Frank ain't having that shit. He talks about his committment to Maria and says he never wanted to be with anyone else. "I don't want your wife! You got it?" And that's the end of that. He then listens to her message where she says she's worried about her son, Zack, saying he's going to "hurt someone". I mean, he's kind of a twerp, so I don't know how that's a big concern, but there it is.

Frank shows up at her doorstep and she invites him in. She hands over a hunting knife that she says she found in his backpack. She doesn't know how to deal with him and...we're back in 90210 land. Frank asks where Zach is and asks her to bring him out. They sit down and Frank comments on Zach's "cool" Wu-Tang shirt (Aw yeah, Punisher is a Wu-Tang fan). Frank gives some background on himself, which is actually fairly interesting; talking about being an only child and how his parents were much older and couldn't control him. All he wanted to do was hurt people. Sounds fairly Frank Castle-ish. Frank then talks about Zach's knife, a K-Bar, a Marine's knife. He talks tough about killing a man with a knife before grabbing Zach and trying to scare him. Zach says "Do it" and that he wanted the knife because he was "scared". Then, it turns to hugs and understanding. Listen, I have to be honest, I laughed out loud here. Good intentions, but it just didn't stick the landing. I'm bored with Frank Castle hangin' with the Fam. It's sitcom level silly.

Meanwhile, Madani's "bug hunt" operation is in full swing as Russo and his team close in on the location where the set-up is. As they enter the abandoned warehouse, Russo discovers he's been set up and gunfire erupts. Homeland Security vs. Russo's minions. Russo orders his crew to "take 'em down" and it's a full on shoot out to the death. As it escalates and Russo sees his crew getting picked off, he decides to save himself and sacrifice the crew, either pushing his men in front of Madani's to be killed or shooting them himself. He is a real piece of work, that Russo. Madani closes in on Russo as she sends Sam to flank.

Russo makes it out of the building and is eventually caught in the crosshairs of Sam. Sam approaches, telling him to drop his weapons. Russo complies and Sam closes in. He yanks off Russo's mask and is shocked to see it's him. Russo activates his wrist blade (which he used to kill Bennett last episode) and stabs Sam repeatedly. He's done for. "Who's pretty now?" he says as Sam dies. Madani is en route and arrives just in time to see Sam take his final breaths. It's a devastating blow for her, but a relief for the audience that's no doubt grown tired of Sam's antics. Sadly, Sam can't muster out Russo's name before he dies. Dang it, Sam!

Back at 90210 land, Frank and Zach are now best buds and toss the ol' football around outside. Micro suddenly turns up and Frank stops him before he can make a mess of things. Frank says he'll go to Madani with Micro if he just leaves. "They'll kill him," he says. Micro begrudgingly leaves, just wanting to be their for his son. A noble, but stupid gesture at this stage in the game and shows that Micro needs Frank as much as he needs Micro. The last shot of the episode is a bloodied Madani in a bathtub, shaken and shocked with someone rubbing her down with a sponge. It's that loverboy Russo, the man that's helped cause her current situation. Now, that's how you bad guy, people!

Overall, not a bad episode. I'd argue that it was Russo's show on this one, as we peeled back more layers on him than anyone. Ben Barnes continues to be a great actor to watch and he plays both sides like a fiddle. As with most of the Marvel/Netflix shows, the villains really get a chance to shine where they always falter in the feature films. I guess it's the longer format, but at the same time I also feel they're way better written and not only are their motives more clear, but also their backstory. Again, longer format, but it's a nice change of pace from the movies. They're clearly building Russo to be Jigsaw, be it this season or next and Barnes has such great potential to grow here. While Bernthal is fine as Castle, he's still far too chatty and revealing. I want to see the quiet, calculating warrior, not the talkative and emotive war mongerer. Still, I can't complain about Frank and Micro's interactions. They've playful enough that I can almost forgive Frank's openness. The other great aspect of this episode is that we didn't hear a peep from Lewis. Sadly, that means he'll likely be all over the next episode and his storyline can't end soon enough. Eight episodes in and I'm still not feeling overwhelmed with awesomeness or a "perfect" Punisher, but it's still an engaging watch nonetheless. I'm ansty for some actual "Punishing" though and it simply hasn't happened enough this far in.

Source: JoBlo.com

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