Written by Steve Lightfoot
Directed by Tom Shankland
Frank finishes hunting down what’s left of the Dogs of Hell, the Kitchen Irish, and the Cartel. Six months of hair and beard growth later, he is smashing walls with a sledgehammer at a construction site. I guess they’re remodeling or something? There’s a new kid, Donnie Chavez. The other guys on the site think Frank’s nuts. He never talks. Just smashes walls all day, longer than paying hours. He’s going by Pete Castiglione. While he smashes walls, memories of the day at the carousel play in his head. He goes to a tiny, fairly gross apartment afterward, washes up, and reads Moby Dick. The memories still hit on a regular basis, and he imagines Maria there with him when he wakes up.
Frank’s coworkers are jerks, apart from Donnie. They don’t like him working extra because it leaves less paying work for them. One kicks his lunch pail over, which gets his attention. Unwise. Donnie tries and fails to make friends on the site, and he brings Frank half of he sandwich his grandma made him. Frank remains uncommunicative. Donnie inadvertently sets off more memories. Frank is done.
We get a voiceover from Curtis Hoyle, who leads a veteran support group. He tells a story about how when a soldier is in a hole, only a fellow soldier can help him out. The group is somewhat marred by a very tone-deaf angry older guy who feels oppressed by liberal politics. There’s also a sad kid who feels like the country he served has no place for him. The angry guy feeds the sad kid’s disgruntlement with his “the government is tyrannical” talk. Frank is lurking outside, and Lewis (the kid) says something that hits home: “All I know is that we risked our lives and we did terrible things, and it meant nothing when we got home.” Frank comes in after everyone else leaves, to give Curtis the book back. Curtis wants to know what it’ll take to make Frank happy. Frank thinks happiness is just misery waiting to happen. He resists Curtis’s encouragement, but he’s not unappreciative.
Cut to a Homeland Security agent in ICE, who has a classic Mustang she definitely enjoys driving (with tennis shoes she then swaps out for nice boots). Her partner, Ahmad Zubair, was killed in Kandahar. She’s Dinah Madani, newly returned from Afghanistan, and she’s not fond of her new partner, Sam Stein. She’s trying to get Zubair’s murder investigated. He was killed after discovering U.S. soldiers trafficking heroin. Wolf, a guy higher up the chain, comes in, and he’s a jerk. Madani thinks she was reassigned to working from the U.S. because she was getting too close to figuring something out. Wolf forbids her from looking into Kandahar.
Sam thinks the fact that he’s Madani’s partner is proof that Wolf doesn’t like her. Now she wants to look into the colonel involved in the drug trafficking. Schoonover. And since she’s looking into him, she’s also looking into Frank. She thinks Frank might not be dead like everyone thinks he is because Schoonover died a day after the dock explosion Frank allegedly died in, which seems like quite the coincidence. Sam’s fine with this.
Frank is smashing walls. Donnie tries to get in on the group of jerks’ night out drinking, and he offers to pay for the first round. He winds up paying for all the rounds. Also, these guys are into some bad stuff. They’re looking for some kind of illegal job.
Frank has another dream about Maria, where she comes to wake him up. While he’s sitting drinking coffee at the construction site, he overhears the jerks talking about their exciting new job stealing robbing gangsters at gunpoint. They try to get in his face. He doesn’t react, but they are getting very close to making him snap. Then there’s an accident and one of the other jerks gets a compound fracture. Donnie tries to get Frank to help. Frank turns away. One of the other guys wants to cancel the job, but the one who got it from his cousin doesn’t. They pull a very reluctant Donnie into it. Frank hears some of this, probably.
Madani is having wine with her mother, Farah, venting a bit about being shipped back to the U.S. and being barred from looking for the truth. Her parents are Iranian immigrants, a respected psychiatrist and surgeon. Madani’s father is strong in his faith, but Madani only has faith in the system that has taken care of them, but she needs to protect that system, and that means rooting out corruption when she finds it. Farah is afraid for her.
Now Frank is reading The Crack-Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I had to google that. “The Crack-Up tells the story of Fitzgerald's sudden descent at age thirty-nine from a life of success and glamor to one of emptiness and despair, and his determined recovery.” Sensing a pattern in his reading materials. Frank reading is intercut with Donnie helping the jerks with their job. They interrupt a high-stakes poker game between gangsters and take all the cash. Donnie screws up and drops some of the cash, then his wallet, and the gangsters see his ID.
Frank dreams of Maria coming to wake him up again. This time, it ends with someone coming in and shooting her in the head. He wakes up violently angry, then goes and smashes more walls. The jerks come back to the site. They think they need to kill Donnie so he can’t rat them out. They beat him up. They’re gonna dump him in cement.
Donnie tries to defend himself with a pipe, but they kick the crap out of him and dump him in the hole the cement’s going in. There’s no way out, and he’s going to drown in it. Frank is there with his sledgehammer. A lot of violence ensues, and he gets the location of the job out of the last guy before he kills him. The bodies go in the cement, and he drops a rope in for Donnie to pull himself out, weighed down with the bag of money on which Frank wrote “LEAVE TOWN” in cement. Then Frank drives off in their car to go take care of the gangsters in Little Italy. He kills all of them, much like he did the Irish, except this time he makes it look like a murder-suicide. Someone with a beard and a lot of high tech surveillance equipment is watching him.
Like I said in the little tag at the top of the first Iron Fist review, I was not expecting to love this show. I popped on the first episode for something to do with my brother when the PS4 was taking too long to download the game he wanted me to play, and a few days after I was finished with the whole season. I still haven’t started that game, because I’ve been too busy spending every moment of free time in Marvel Netflix and particularly The Punisher’s fandom. I still haven’t even bought tickets to the new Star Wars movie because this took priority. This show gave me a ship I care more about than any other in the entire MCU. It got me writing my first (and second, third, and fourth) MCU fanfics after nine years of MCU material failed to get that out of me, as heartily as I’ve enjoyed all of it. It got me catching up on these reviews after an entire year of being content to leave them where they were. It made me follow all the Marvel Netflix official twitter accounts even though I’ve barely ever used twitter. It introduced me to a genre of music I never knew existed but now adore (that would be dirty blues rock, like the intro and end credits music). Frank Castle is amazing, and Jon Bernthal does an incredible job portraying him. This show absolutely deserved the full Marvel Netflix rewatch, though, because this time around, I actually remember more than the broad strokes of the plot that led Frank here. I barely even remembered that Frank and Karen interacted extensively in Daredevil S2.
As to this episode specifically, it’s a very strong start to the season. Even after Frank has disposed of the men (he believes to be) the last who were involved in his family’s deaths, he’s still not able to move past what happened. He’s haunted by nightmares and flashbacks constantly. He’s doing repetitive physical labor that isn’t anywhere near mentally stimulating enough to give him a break from those thoughts. This episode makes you desperately feel for this man even if you forgot much of what Daredevil S2 did with him and came into this show pretty lukewarm. You want him to get some kind of peace, and you want anyone involved in breaking him to suffer. It’s a very delicate tightrope these writers had to walk, and they did it like a pro. Lay on the violence too thick, and Frank would’ve been an unsympathetic monster. Lay on the trauma recovery stuff too thick, and it would’ve felt like an attempt to sweep Frank’s murder-spree under the rug.
Things I Either Liked or Which Made My Heart Hurt for Frank Castle
Things I Didn’t Like
Frank might be in a living hell or a waking nightmare (the nightmare of still being alive when his family is all gone), but there are very small hints that deep down, he’s looking for a way out. Like the soldier in the hole in Curtis’s story. He goes from reading Moby Dick, a book about a man whose obsession drove him mad and ultimately killed him to Fitzgerald’s essays that, if I understand correctly, are about losing everything and then coming out the other side. There are some fans of the character in the comics who want to see Frank Castle remain dead inside forever. I’m not one of those people. I want to see him recover, as much as one can, from what happened to his family. I love that he’s got at least one connection to other people in the form of Curtis.
An obvious theme of this show is all the ways war can break a man. For Frank, it wasn’t exactly war that did the worst of the breaking, but he reacted to his loss by waging a war of his own. Curtis somehow managed to emerge from war in a pretty good place, psychologically, but he lost a body part instead.
5/5 (This scale feels very limiting, but I don’t think I should keep saying 1,000,000/5 every time an episode is basically perfect.)
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.