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The Punisher: 3 AM

"The only person you're punishing is yourself."

Frank Castle is a broken, haunted man. He's traveled a long way and gone to extremes to avenge his family, but that's done now.

Hidden behind an ugly beard and a fake name, Frank works in a high rise demolishing concrete walls with a sledgehammer, the only activity that would allow his mind to go away. When he isn't working, when he dreams, he has visions and nightmares about his wife and children. Until one day on the job, a nice guy named Donny notices that the bullies they work with have deliberately trampled on Frank's lunch and he offers him half of his, along with a few friendly words that Frank isn't ready to hear. When those same bullies later rope Donny in on a foolish hit on a mob poker game and Donny is about to pay the ultimate price for their mistake, it's enough to pull Frank out of retirement, pretty much in spite of himself.

I'm relieved that this particular Netflix outing isn't wall-to-wall violence – at least, not so far. In fact, this premiere episode was surprisingly quiet and thoughtful, except for the opening scenes of Frank completing his vengeance, and the explosive burst of action in the last few minutes when Frank saved Donny and brutally took down all three bullies as well as everyone at the mob poker game. I guess a small kindness like offering someone half of your lunch can have major karmic repercussions.

(Don't you love that moment when the audience knows that the bad guys have picked on the wrong nonentity, but they don't?)

There wasn't much else yet to focus upon, although honestly, this particular introduction to Frank and his circumstances was enough. We were introduced to Dinah Madani, an agent of Homeland Security, and her dweeb of a partner, Sam Stein, as well as Dinah's mother, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo of the unforgettable voice. Since Frank obviously needs a mission and Dinah and Sam have one, I bet their needs will coincide.

And dare I say it, if Frank could go so far for a man who simply offered him a sandwich, he has a tremendous amount of help to give... somebody. Maybe Frank should be actively helping his fellow veterans like his friend Curtis, who leads the group therapy that Frank hovers about but won't sit in, and sometimes loans Frank really good books. (I liked Curtis.) Perhaps Frank should take something from the plot of Moby Dick about the futility of vengeance. You think?

I really like the way the show looks. The Agents of Doux spent some time in our reviews of The Defenders talking about how each main character has a color of their own. It's interesting that Frank is more about the lack of color, which fits his character to a T. Most of this episode featured deep blacks with deliberate splashes of white and occasional pops of the primary colors red, blue and yellow. Frank himself is dark physically, emotionally and sartorially, staying in the shadows and trying to make himself into nothing. We all know very well that a man who feels injustice so deeply won't be able to stay quietly in those shadows.


-- The opening credits featured those pops of white on black, accompanied by a mournful guitar. The first scene showed Frank teaching his daughter to play.

-- The episode title, "3 AM," was when Frank woke from another dream about his family and went back to the work site to hit the wall. If he hadn't, Donny would have died.

-- This episode must have been physically brutal and demanding to shoot, especially for Jon Bernthal. They didn't have a stunt man sledgehammering those walls. I think.

-- Frank's home was a small room that resembled a prison cell. Madani's parents, a shrink and a surgeon, had a beautifully textured home, quite a contrast.

-- Madani's boss Wolf wasn't interested in the case she was obsessed with, in Afghanistan. Frank told Curtis how blurred things were in Afghanistan.

-- The music during the kill scenes at the end were set to cadence.

-- The last shot in the episode was of actor Ebon Moss-Bachrach noticing Frank in a surveillance video outside the restaurant. No idea who he is, but I'm sure we'll find out. (I'm completely unfamiliar with the comic book stuff. Honestly, I'd rather not know.)


Donny: "You some sort of secret badass, Pete?"

Lewis, the young veteran: "I just know that I fought for this country and that it's got no place for me. I don't know what the rules are anymore."
Which could have been taken right out of Frank's mouth, if he was one to talk.

Curtis: "You got half a life left to live, my friend. If you don't, you might as well be dead." Half a life. Interesting way to put it.

I really like what Jon Bernthal is doing with what has to be a difficult part, and I'm encouraged that this series could have depth. Three out of four sledgehammers,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. Programming note: the Agents of Doux are planning to post a review every other day until we finish the first season.

  2. Some guys from Frank's old unit should still be alive so that's probably who identified him on the surveillance video.

  3. I guess a small kindness like offering someone half of your lunch can have major karmic repercussions.

    I laughed out loud at this. Donny was so lucky. Being nice does indeed pay off, right?

    Donny did get on my nerves, though, because he was too naive. A driver's license, really? But I liked the story as a standalone introduction to this series.

    Billie, you mentioned the colors of each defender, and one thing that each standalone series -- sans Iron Fist -- does very well is establishing its own tone. For The Punisher, the tone they set, the word that I kept coming back to, was "pain".

    Dinah's mother, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo of the unforgettable voice.

    Yes! I have a hard time seeing her characters as different people because her voice and accent are so unique. In fact, she delivered the line "none taken" in the exact same way she did in an episode of The Expanse. This is not a critique, though, she has great screen presence.

    This episode had lots of great quotes. Frank said "happy is a kick in the balls waiting to happen", which is a terrific line coming from a depressed point of view, and Curt replied with "so you kick yourself in the balls first", which is exactly what Frank is doing. Also, "you've been in the hole so long it has become home."

    And I loved Madani calling out her boss' on his misogyny right away.

    Great review, Billie. Like you, I'm encouraged this series could have depth.

  4. I'm having some mixed feelings with this opener. I think that it was very well done. Jon Bernthal was absolutely great, and I loved how the episode played with my expectations of violence. Every time one of the bullies would harass Frank and we would get just a quick shot of the sledgehammer made me lean forward in my seat. I wanted Frank to kick the crap out of them, and I finally got my wish. (The music during that fight was awesome.)

    But I still had trouble paying attention to some parts of the episode. Madani had some great moments, but my mind would wander when she appeared on screen. I'll probably like her more once she and Frank inevitably collide.


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