The Punisher: Virtue of the Vicious

“Patriotism is a virtue of the vicious.”

All of our characters collide when Lewis goes after Senator Ori, and Madani faces up to several truths. Also, Karen is repeatedly awesome.

I loved this episode. I loved the way the show fractured time to show us all the angles and stories behind the attack on the hotel room, as if the bomb Lewis used was a temporal one. It's not a new technique, but it's effective here as a way to bring all of our characters to the breaking point (like Lewis did to the cowardly Senator Ori).

Madani changes a lot in this episode, unexpectedly so for me. Her decision to just say WTF I'm going to open up and be honest took a lot, especially after her experiences so far with the Kandahar stuff. It was as if deciding to tell the truth about the bug, about everything was a process of empowerment for Dinah. I was cheering when she told Rafi about the bug and told the bugger (probably Rawlins, right?) that the show was over. And I was also cheering when, from the get-go, she resisted Billy Russo.

Russo is pretty flat as a character, although we don't know much about his motivations. He can barely keep up the veneer of being a good guy at this point, and once he realizes Frank is around, he drops the mask completely – and he does have a lot of scary moments to shove at us here. For example, was anyone else holding their breath when he spoke with Karen? How about when he looked like he was about to convince Madani he was a good guy, despite being ever-so-obviously the man who killed Sam? I think the worst part was the smile in the stairwell. Once it becomes clear Madani's seen past Russo's fa├žade, he lowers his head and gives a little smile – like a little boy who's been caught with his hand in his father's wallet. And doesn't care.

Frank, I think, has great internal changes, and from action to inaction Jon Bernthal feeds Frank with subtle motivations. I mean, yeah, there's all this crazy action stuff; he even rappels down a firehose to escape the police. There's also the way Frank talks to Lewis. The way Frank tries to open the door to save Lewis. The way he gives up and watches the man who is a darker twin of Frank, someone still struggling in the agonies of despair, not yet brought up above the surface by the power of purpose. The way Frank looks at Karen in the elevator, so clearly separated by a gulf they can't cross no matter how close they get physically.

I wanted to talk about Lewis. I don't know if the character was intended to be mentally ill. I do think the character is intended to be shown as going into a mental decline. The changes in his breathing, the obsession with specific poems. This part disturbed me more than I could say. I know there's criticism of this show for portraying men in the military with mental problems. I think it's erasure to not do so. And I think that Lewis and his suffering were somewhat dignified by the words of Kipling –
When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier–
What didn't work for me was the disappearance of Curtis, who just vanished after being saved (and apparently didn't say a damn word to the police about Lewis and Frank, which is unfortunate since 'hey this guy attacked my former teammate' would have put Frank somewhat in the clear and confirmed he and Lewis weren't working together, and be used further to corroborate Karen's story in the episode today.

I was also confused by Karen's gun. I thought it was taken from her, but she has it again and uses it to shoot Lewis in the foot in an extremely brave Karen moment. Can someone explain that?

Bits and Pieces

The assault on the hotel and Senator Ori was the act of a desperate man, but it's crazy how many resources Lewis was able to compile.

Rafi. He turns out to be trustworthy, but I think he's going to die.

William Rawlins. Where is he in all this?

The title is actually from a quote by Oscar Wilde.

The opening metaphor of the birdcage and the birds who cannot leave.

Oh, I also felt some of the gun dialogue with the Senator got repetitive after a while, but that's probably part of the nature of this type of approach.


I feel lucky to review this episode. Five out of five caged birds.


Billie Doux said...

I thought this was the best episode of the season, at least to this point. It was a beautifully constructed episode; I liked what you said, Joseph, about the episode structure being fractured like the bomb. I even thought at first they were doing Rashomon.

Loved the white wire moment, the fire hose and that incredible staircase, and that amazing moment between Frank and Karen in the elevator, which just felt so incredibly romantic. From this point on, I'm shipping Frank and Karen.

Poor Lewis.

Shari Houtman said...

An amazing review for an amazing episode! This was by far my favorite episode. I would say more but Billie beat me to it. So ditto.

And no, you're not crazy. Karen gave the gun to Billy's goons and I never saw her get it back until she used it.

An Honest Fangirl said...

Am I going to write a far too long analysis about birds? Yep! (It's finals week. I'm in the analysis state of mind.)

The birds in the cage were a rather blatant metaphor for the American people. The cage itself was society, the poor Anvil man was those, politicians/media/etc, who support and maintain society (the cage), and Lewis was himself. Obviously.

Lewis views the birds as being trapped in the cage, especially as their caretakers begin to fall. Well, it would be better to say as soon as Lewis begins to kill their caretakers. He views the people in power as people who are restricting the American people and forcing them into a cage as opposed to allowing them to fly free like birds are supposed to do. Once Lewis destroys those who are upholding the current societal rules, he expects the American people to be thankful, to joyfully and willingly go out and enjoy their new freedom.

Except that's not what the birds do. No matter how much poking and prodding Lewis does, despite the fact that he moves the cage to the open window, the birds stay put. The American people don't want to leave the current society. They're very comfortable there. They're taken care of. But it's also more than that. The birds in the cage weren't robins or sparrows. They were the brightly colored birds that you would get at a pet store. They've never lived out in the wild before, and they most likely would not survive.

Lewis thinks that he's saving the birds after he kills the one thing that kept them alive and well cared for, but he's wrong. Instead, he's just dooming them to a slower, more painful death of either starvation, freezing, or predators. When you remember that the birds are supposed to represent the American people, it becomes very, very clear what the show thinks about the current state of society. Yes, we might be in a cage and only survive due to the whims of someone more powerful, but we're doomed if we try to leave the cage at all.

JRS said...

Interesting. I had an opposite interpretation - I kept identifying the birds with Lewis himself. Trained and raised by society but also caged and unable to respond to society when it speaks to him. I think your interpretation is better, Fangirl. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I thought I remembered Karen picking up the gun that the Senator dropped during the gunfight and stuffing it in her purse?

Beautiful episode, thanks for another great review.

Patryk said...

Yeah definately the best episode of the season and that's suprising since it dealt with the side-villian not the main plot. But yeah I was a bit taken out of the story by Karen's magic gun, way to undermine a scene with a plot hole.

I was also sad that Lewis killed those two budgies by killing their owner as I had two of those as I was young. One even escaped because she learned how to open a cage! I bet she died of starvation soon after as a bird bred in captivity and unsure how the real world works.

I'm glad the reviews continue, I actually stopped after this episode to let the reviews catch up so I can comment directly after watching. :) Can't wait to see how the season ends.

Lamounier said...

Another excellent episode, and I loved the structure of this one. Like you said, Joseph, it's not something new, but the writers knew how to use it.

My favorite parts of the episode were the scenes with Frank and Karen, and Madani. I loved that Madani regained her agency, which led her to discover that Russo killed Sam. In fact, I really liked that both Madani and Frank saw Russo for who he really is at the same time.

Frank is a powerhouse. He was shot at, likely had his arm broken and still managed to escape.

Fangirl, loved your analysis of the birds in the cage.