The Punisher: Memento Mori

"Me and you, Frankie, we're the same."

Pretty much the perfect finale to an excellent first season.

I was almost dreading this series because I expected the focus to be on Frank Castle going on possibly justified but difficult-to-watch killing sprees. Instead, creator Steve Lightfoot chose to explore two important, substantial topics: the difficulties faced by soldiers after they have returned home, and the difference between a vigilante and a terrorist.

How did Lightfoot make Frank Castle sympathetic? It wasn't just the continuing flashbacks to Maria and the kids, although that was a key part of it. It was the charismatic performance by Jon Bernthal, who gave a tamped down undercurrent of emotional distress to nearly everything Frank said and did. It was also choosing to limit the violence in order to give it weight. I particularly liked that much of this season was about Frank's partnership with another man who also lost his family (David), and his enduring friendship with another veteran who chose a caretaking role with other veterans, even at the risk of his own life (Curtis).

This final episode, like the rest of the series, was beautifully shot, with an emphasis on darkness and silhouette, as well as the jarring artificial images of the "painted ponies" as Frank finally confronted his artificial "best friend." It was outright uncomfortable at this point in the story to see Billy Russo having a fun afternoon with Frank and his family in flashback, laughing and joking and eating junk food as Billy inadvertently revealed how he really saw himself: as the clever, resourceful Billy the Kid, ultimately betrayed by a friend. In fact, the real Billy the Kid wasn't exactly someone a good guy would emulate, and Frank's daughter Lisa even points out the obvious: how could Billy know he was named after Billy the Kid if he's an orphan? It made me wonder about exactly what happened with Billy's mother.

Just like Lewis, who tried to justify victimizing the innocent, Billy insisted that he and Frank were exactly alike when clearly they were not. I have to give Ben Barnes credit for doing such a great job with this character throughout the season; during the initial episodes, I honestly couldn't tell if Billy was evil or good or somewhere in between. Now, in the finale, there is no ambiguity remaining, with all those cops he casually killed while leaving the building and the two kids from the cotton candy stand that he carved up. I guess the big question is why Billy didn't just take the money and run? Was it because he knew Frank would never leave him alone, or was it simply a need to win?


The long hand-to-hand between Billy and Frank, culminating in that long, plaintive scream as Frank mangled Billy's face on that broken and oh, so metaphorical mirror, was so cringeworthy that I couldn't watch it a second time. It told us in a painfully obvious way, pun intended, that Billy is not a reflection of Frank, even after Frank's utter brutality in that moment. Billy could never see his own internal ugliness, and now it's external as well.

The way they showed Billy sitting in the hospital bed with bandages covering his face screamed supervillain, so I looked it up and there it was. Billy Russo is the real name of Frank Castle's most frequent Marvel nemesis, Jigsaw. I'm glad I didn't know that while watching the series. It would have ruined the suspense.

I was so pleased that David got a happy ending. Seeing the Liebermans readjusting to David's resurrection in a boring safe house while playing Fish was cute, but then it segued into the most adorable clumsy sex scene in a bathroom I think I've ever seen on TV. It was the opposite of gratuitous, because it made me believe that everything was going to be okay with David and Sarah, that the love was still there. David went home for Thanksgiving and did exactly what Frank had told him to do: he hugged his family until they had had enough. He got what Frank will never get, and Frank was happy for him, even if he couldn't bear to watch it happen.

Curtis is the sort of character you immediately care about as soon as they're introduced so that you're emotionally involved when he gets hurt. Several times during the season and especially in this episode, I had braced myself for Curtis' death, and thank you, Punisher, for not doing that to us. In the end, Frank got the beginning of the "after" that Karen wanted for him in group therapy with Curtis, working through his issues with other vets. It's about as positive an ending as we could have gotten to a story as dark as this one.

The only thing that could have made me like it more was if Frank was ready to explore the possibility of a romantic relationship with Karen, because I am now convinced that they belong together. Might I suggest that this would be great for season two? Until then, that amazing moment in the elevator in episode ten, "Virtue of the Vicious," will have to do.

Bits:

-- "Memento Mori" means "Remember that you have to die." Interesting that neither our hero or our villain died in this one.

-- Madani's parents finally got their moment when Madani brought Frank home in order to save his life. They also beautifully paid off David saying in an earlier episode that he was a universal donor.


-- After the despicable Rawlins died so horribly, I liked that law enforcement is now represented by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Marion, a decent higher up who sees herself in Madani. Madani needs a good mentor. She made a lot of serious mistakes in this series.

-- I assume the stand-off in Curtis' apartment occurred after Billy and Frank had a little time to heal? Although if so, how come Curtis had a signal set up and Frank was on a roof with a gun? Maybe I should just accept that Frank has supernatural healing powers and it happened the next morning.

-- At the end of the confrontation at Curtis' apartment, Billy stood in front of the punched out bullethole in the window, mimicking the earlier moment with Rawlins.

-- Seriously, could we have a second season? With the stipulation that, along with Jon Bernthal, it must include Ebon Moss-Bachrach (David), Jason R. Moore (Curtis), Ben Barnes (Billy Russo), and especially Deborah Ann Woll (Karen Page). And hey, if you wanted to cut down the episode order and leave out some subplots, I'd be fine with that, too.

Quotes:

David: (to Frank) "I think purple might be your color. Really matches your eyes."
Madani also wore a purple shirt, a little visual cue that she and Frank were now on the same side. And in the hospital room at the end, Madani had Frank's skull-like bruises.

Frank: "Where'd you get this?"
David: "Same as everything." (typing noises)
Frank: "It's a lot of money right there."
David: "Well, stole it from bad guys, you know, learned that from you."
Frank: "You had access to money like this, you made us live in that shithole?"

Billy: "How about by your painted ponies, Frankie? How do you feel about that?"
Talk about evil.

Curtis: "You know, Frank, I've come to the conclusion that you are a shit magnet of the highest order."

I'll let Frank have the last word:

"I think that might be the hardest part, the silence. The silence when the gunfire ends. How do you live in that? I guess that's what you're trying to figure out, huh? It's what you guys are doing. You're working on it. I respect that. I just... If you're gonna look at yourself, really look in the mirror, you gotta admit who you are. But not just to yourself, you gotta admit it to everybody else. First time, as long as I can remember, I don't have a war to fight. And I guess, if I'm gonna be honest... I'm scared."

This series, especially the final four episodes, was terrific. I am surprisingly myself by putting The Punisher up there with Jessica Jones as a Marvel favorite. Four out of four mirror metaphors,

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

7 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Thanks so much to The Punisher reviewing team: Lamounier, Fangirl, J.D., JRS and Shari. I really enjoy our group writing projects, especially when the series turns out to be worth the effort.

Billie Doux said...

And woo-hoo, The Punisher just got a second season!

http://tvline.com/2017/12/12/marvels-the-punisher-renewed-season-2-netflix/

An Honest Fangirl said...

I really enjoyed this episode, but there was one thing that really bothered me: Madani. Why was she at the final battle? Just to be shot? And yeah, yeah, I suppose that that bullet was meant for Frank. But still. If you wanted the final confrontation to just be about Billy and Frank, then only have them be the characters involved. Involving Madani felt unnecessary and jarring.

Which brings me to a bigger question. Was Madani supposed to be a mirror to Frank? I assume so, but I'm not sure how well it worked out. I've said this before, but she often felt like she was on a completely different show.

Still, I really loved this season, and I'm glad that we got Season 2. What are we going to do for that? Is Frank going to be recruited into fighting Jigsaw by the government? Can he get together with Karen?

Shari Houtman said...

What I loved best about the series is that Frank wasn't just mindlessly seeking revenge. 1) he had a moral code, 2) he understood the cost of his decisions and was willing to pay them, and 3) for the most part, he thought through his attacks. It wasn't about going in guns blazing. All props to Lightfoot and Bernthal.

And to Ben Barnes for making me hate and care about Billy at the same time. As for your question. I think Billy needed to prove better than Frank. If he was going to lose Anvil and everything he worked for (and I'm quite sure he considered his success with Anvil proof that he was better than Frank) he was at least going to take Frank off the board.

I'm glad there's going to be a season 2 but I'm really curious how they are going to match the emotional weight of this season.

Patryk said...

Great that we have a second season, the finaly was perfect apart from Madani's fumbled rescue attempt. I'm also glad that I didn't know that Billy was a recurring comic villian, was a suprise that he survived.

Anonymous said...

I don't usually comment but I thought I should let you know that I thoroughly enjoy reading your reviews. Keep up the good work!

Logan Cox said...

I got the feeling after awhile that the constant reminders about what a pretty boy Billy is were foreshadowing his eventual disfigurement. I was not let down on that front. At first, I thought the bullet through the cheek was gonna be it, but I rather enjoyed the poetic justice of Frank scraping and smashing his face against the broken mirror and leaving him to live with that. I was expecting him to say, "Now YOU look at yourself."

I'm kinda glad that neither Madani or Frank ultimately went with the "beat them by being just like them"/"kill 'em all" route. It really looked like Madani was going to go vigilante there at the end, and I was totally expecting Frank to kill Billy. I like that he recognized death was too good for someone as superficial as him. It worked with Rawlins, who seemed to think he was too powerful to be undone, but Billy defined himself by his looks, his skills and his status, even over people who cared about him. So leaving him completely broken, imprisoned and a pariah was a more fitting justice than if Frank just blew his head off or stabbed him to death.

I'm also grateful that they never actually show the killings of the Castle family that made The Punisher who he is. I thought they were going to, but all of the flashbacks were tastefully done as with the rest of the season.

What else did I like? Frank and Curtis setting Billy up to be ambushed in a sniper attack, and Billy seeing through it at the last second. The passionate yet awkward (and long-overdue) sex scene between the newly reunited David and Sarah. The fact that Rafi didn't turn out to be a bad guy. The somber ending that fits so well with the rest of the series: Now that his war is truly over (for now!), Frank finds himself in the same place as the other veterans we've seen this season. Very honest.