The Punisher: Nakazat

"Do you think they know? That some of their parents kill people?"

I believe that I'm legally obligated to begin this review by mentioning that 'Nakazat' is the infinitive form of the Russian verb 'to Punish.'

So, appropriately enough, the Punisher goes after some Russians, in an episode that makes you think to yourself, 'Oh. So that's what's going on.'

I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting to get answers about what was going on with the different factions chasing Amy. I'm glad to get them, because I've spent most of the first half of this season completely bewildered as to what the Hell was going on, but I was expecting them to tease it out longer. I suppose we probably still don't know the whole story, but it's nice to get some kind of framework for who the different factions at play are.

So, the Russians hired Amy and her friends to take pictures at a funeral, on the off chance that they can get a picture of a senator who is poised to one day become president doing something super gay in public so that they can use that photo evidence to blackmail him and thus achieve their goal of having a sitting US President who is being completely controlled by Russia.

Sigh.

Meanwhile, said Senator's parents, played by Annette O'Toole and Corbin Bernsen, are super alt-right fundamentalists who use their evangelical base to stir up fear and hate in order to get themselves put into power. These parents suspect that their bigoted, homophobic base will probably not be down with their son being elected President if they knew he was gay, and so they're willing to do anything to cover it up.

Sigh.

To this end they are using Pilgrim, a religious leader who has no trouble justifying doing any evil thing in the world himself in order to fulfill his holy mission, because God is on his side. Which means he gets to lecture you about not having a clean conscience about lying while on his way to shoot three people in the head.

For the love of God, show. I'm begging you. I have no breath left for sighing at this point. And I haven't even gotten to Billy and the Vets yet.

So. All of the above represents the answers we get to who all is after Amy. And the way the answers were revealed is satisfying and the storytelling is well executed. I just have a few issues with the story being told.



Here are my main problems with all this:

- First, and probably most trivially, I have a hard time not rooting for Annette O'Toole. I love her, and think she's one of the most wonderful people in the world. It's hard to see her be evil. To be fair, that's more of a 'me' problem. No such problem with Corbin Bernsen, for the record, he does 'villain' fantastically. More on that in an upcoming American Gods review.

-The concept of Russians installing a US President whom they completely control is too real to be enjoyable viewing just at the moment, but more relevantly for the sake of a review it feels like a cheap shot to take as a plot point and I wish they'd been less on the nose with it.

-Closeted gay politicians on the alt-right are kind of dime a dozen, both in fiction and in real life. And religious leaders who do evil while condemning everyone else is similarly well explored territory.

But mostly, above all other deep and world weary sighs, I am so completely, fundamentally, and thoroughly done with the 'photo evidence proving so and so is secretly gay' being a plot coupon. Not only has it been done to death, not only should we as a society be a million miles beyond this – as even Frank points out, but it just doesn't fundamentally make any sense. For one thing, how on Earth did the Russians magically know that this funeral was going to turn into a gay make-out session? Did they send photo squads to a lot of his family events on the off chance that he got all steamed up for man-love at one of them? And more importantly, and I cannot stress this enough, if you are a closeted alt-right politician, you do not make out with men in public under any circumstances. You save it for airport bathrooms and discrete motels outside of town. Honestly, even the Punisher movie with Thomas Jane got that part more or less right.

Maybe I'm wrong about one assumption, and I hope I am. Maybe the Senator is perfectly comfortable being gay, is making no attempt to hide it, and this is all his parents' doing. I really hope that's the case, because it's a much more interesting story.

Billy and the other veterans, meanwhile, are rapidly escalating into gang violence, and the really scary part about that plotline is how reasonable each step along the path for the other veterans has seemed at the time. They were trying to save a friend's car, because their friend was living in it. That's not the actions of a group of sociopaths, that's the actions of a group of people who feel like society has thrown them away and therefore only have each other to depend on. Although, to be fair, the one guy did jump to 'we should rob banks' startlingly quickly. I wouldn't have expected it out of a Punisher series, but the Veterans Affairs stuff going on in the background has always been the strongest part of the show.

As for Billy himself, all I really want to say at this point in the series is that he's a much more interesting take on Jigsaw than we got in Punisher: War Zone, even if I also wish that they'd gone a little bigger with the scarring after all the buildup. As for his relationship with Dr. Dumont, I find the 'threat of sexual violence turning into intimacy' thing extremely uncomfortable, and I wish they hadn't gone that way. I don't have a lot of rules in my life, but 'don't make out with someone you just stabbed' is right up there on the list.


Bits:

-- Frank teaching Amy how to take a gun away from him was kind of sweet, but I feel like there's something profoundly unhealthy about their relationship. The way he forced her to pull the trigger after she'd gotten the gun and the way she kept pushing him to talk about his daughter when he was clearly not comfortable both felt icky. I can't put it more specifically than that.

-- It took me way too long to clock that the photography studio guy was clearly producing kiddie-porn. Mostly because I was wondering why they were bothering breaking into this weirdo's studio to develop film in the first place. Do one-hour photos not still exist? Amy knew the basic upshot of what was on the film, and two men kissing is hardly 'material too scandalous to risk outsiders seeing.'

-- Amy and Frank's compromise was to only burn down the studio instead of killing the guy. That was amusing.

-- OK, we get it. Curtis is a good guy who helps people. You don't have to show him magically knowing the specifics of homeless vets' glasses prescriptions. Also, how great was the moment at the end where Curtis essentially said to Dinah and Frank, 'We're not dealing with that plotline right now, please focus on the B plot.'

-- Billy honestly doesn't remember what happened on the carousel. And he has a solid point; it would be really difficult to wake up and have all of your closest friends hate you but not be able to remember why.

-- Who is KM? Is it someone super obvious and I'm just being thick?

-- Mahoney's trick to get information out of the two hostages from last season's finale was genuinely clever. That's the first moment I've liked Mahoney.

-- So, Mahoney knows Frank was on the carousel, Curtis knows where Billy is, and Pilgrim is well on his way to finding Frank. That all felt like plot mechanics advancing, albeit in a satisfying, observable way.

-- Man, Polozney was just having the worst day. There was something charming about him, and I'm sad to see him go.

Quotes:

Frank: "I don’t really think about it."
Amy: "You don’t think about her?"
Frank: "I always think about her."

Amy: "Loss of curiosity is loss of humanity, Frank."

Frank: "Go for the joint. Joints are weakest."
Amy: "Yeah, especially on old dudes."

Frank: "Call me old fashioned. I don’t work with Russians."

An episode that does what it's doing well, even if I'm not overly fond of what it's doing. Four out of five fingerprinted coffee cups for execution, two out of five for content.

6 comments:

An Honest Fangirl said...

It took me awhile to figure out what was going on at the studio too. Although I did really like their compromise to burn the place down. I'm still not sold on Amy as a character, I think, but I'm enjoying her interactions with Frank more and more. First with the compromise, and then with him teaching her how to take the gun away from him. There is this tension in their dynamic, where Amy always wants to run and Frank always wants to stand and fight, and Frank is slowly pushing Amy closer to his view on how to deal with problems. I wonder if that's where some of the unhealthiest you're picking up on comes from?

I had hoped that we wouldn't go the romantic (I hate to call it that) relationship route with Dumont and Billy, but here we are. Seriously, never be a psychologist in a superhero universe. It never ends well for your sanity.

Billie Doux said...

Mikey, I totally get your frustration with the plotting. I kept thinking, no way this is about a photo of two men kissing, come on. And I so did *not* want Billy and Dumont to go there.

What I did like about this one was Frank and Amy, and that's good because I really didn't like her at first. I liked the interaction at the studio and the disarming training at the trailer. I kept thinking Amy was making a mistake, trying to get Frank to talk about his family, but maybe she's right and talking about it is good for him.

Mikey Heinrich said...

'Never be a psychologist in a superhero universe.' I think we might have a valid addition to the rules of television there :)

I do like Frank and Amy's interactions, they've been fascinating to watch. I don't know, there's just something there that feels a little hinky to me. Like, when Amy was pushing Frank to talk about his daughter it felt like she didn't even notice that it was making him uncomfortable. But you're probably right about it helping him. I dunno, maybe it's just me.

And seriously - Do One hour photos no longer exist? There has to be somewhere out there that develops film still, right? I actually laid awake worrying about this issue.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Walgreens. Walgreens still develops film.

I had to google it.

If you search for one hour photo you find nothing but the Robin Williams movie. Which, to be fair, is a pretty good movie.

Billie Doux said...

That does feel like a sticking point. I know some photographers still prefer film, but wouldn't someone doing what that guy was doing take digital photos?

I do understand why they didn't want to go to Walgreens with blackmail photos, though.

Anonymous said...

I didnt like the compromise of burning the place down. I know he was doing it for Amy but all i could think of was the load of girls who had been in that place that didnt have Frank with them. He has killed people savagely for being alot less than a paedophile. I think Amy is the only one other than Karen Frank has really gone into detail about his kids with. I think Amy herself realized why Frank is looking out for her so much. Than she also sees Frank as the father she never had. Cliche but extremely well done because they both can be fairly unlikeable.