The Punisher Review: Episode 1.03 “Kandahar”

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The Punisher moves to heavier material in “Kandahar,” which also addresses some of the back material from Daredevil season two. After discovering who Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) really was, Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) was able to sneak into Micro’s secret hideout, sneak up on Micro, and then hit him in the face, presumably knocking him out at the end of The Punisher’s second episode, “Two Dead Men.”

Now “Kandahar” is upon us and this episode fills in the blanks about the character and takes us back to battle that Colonel Ray Schoonover (Clancy Brown) spoke of at the Trial of the Century in Daredevil season two. 

The Punisher

Castle Goes to Work on Micro

The episode opens with Castle torturing Micro — David Lieberman — as a way to extract information from him. Castle uses his knife to open and eat his fruit. As he is doing so, an alarm starts blaring in Micro’s secret hideaway. Castle asks Lieberman what the hell is going on and Micro tells him that the place is rigged to blow unless he inputs a code followed by a retinal scan. Micro suddenly has some form of control in this situation.

Micro begins to hobble his way over there and Frank steps in, warning him not to try anything. That’s when The Punisher notices a semi-automatic hiding under the desk where Micro needs to work. Micro screams that he didn’t know it was there and Castle either believes him or decides he has neutralized the threat and allows Micro to input the code, and this is when we see Micro’s little blue pen for the first time. This will later prove to be “a thing.”

Realizing he’s lost a little control, Castle goes into overdrive with his enhanced interrogation. He talks down to Lieberman, tells him how he’s going to take his sanity from him through torture, and puts hands on him. Micro caves pretty quickly and tells Frank the story of how he came by the disk and much of Micro’s tale is provided through flashbacks.

Through the flashback, the viewer is given a little insight into Micro’s home life prior to him living like a hobo in a makeshift Bat-cave. Micro’s wife initially encourages him to send the tape up the chain and Micro pushes back, stating that it would just get buried and that it wouldn’t jibe with the messages they preach to their kids about responsibility. Micro then emails a copy of the tape to Agent Madani.

The next day, Micro and his wife are driving with the kids when he notices heavily armed Homeland agents approaching his car. Micro leaves the car and eventually ends up on a dock, where he gets on top of a railing. Carson Wolf (C. Thomas Wolf) shows up and shouts out that Micro has a weapon, which he doesn’t. Despite his wife being present and there being no gun or weapon, Wolf shoots Micro and hits him in the left half of his chest. A cell phone saved his life, but Micro knew it was safer if his family thought he had been killed.

Billy Russo Pays the Bills

Taking a break from Castle torturing a soon-to-be ally, The Punisher takes us to the veterans center where Curtis Hoyle (Jason R. Moore) is surprised by Billy Russo (Ben Barnes). Russo has shown up with a check to cover the rent and keep them in coffee. Hoyle tells Russo he should stick around, Russo tells Hoyle that he doesn’t need all that. Hoyle tells Russo that’s exactly why he should stay. He tells Russo that it would be great for these veterans to see what they can accomplish in their second life. Russo says that he would feel guilty because he got out in time and it would feel selfish because he has no plans of going back. Hoyle shows him the check and reminds him this type of stuff isn’t what selfish people do.

The two briefly discuss business and personal feelings when Hoyle asks Russo why he’s really there. Russo asks Hoyle if they are still on for tomorrow night and Hoyle confirms with a big grin. Russo tries to talk Hoyle into coming to work for him as an instructor. He even tells Hoyle that he would personally look out for him. Hoyle replies that he also got out in time, even if it did cost him a leg, and he has no intentions of going back, a sentiment Russo had expressed earlier.

Operation Cerberus and the Making of The Punisher

Many people look at the death of Frank Castle’s family as the origin of The Punisher. The death of Castle’s family, for many years, was the origin story of The Punisher. It wasn’t until Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov came along with “Valley Forge, Valley Forge” that fans began coming out of the woodwork, expressing their longheld belief that Vietnam created The Punisher, not the death of his family. Marvel modernized the characters, so the Middle East became the new setting for Castle’s military service. What didn’t change was Castle’s past as a dispatched killer for the United States.

Schoonover tells a room full of gathered badasses that their branch of service doesn’t mean a damn thing. It doesn’t matter if they were SEALs, Force Recon, Berets, and Deltas, it wasn’t relevant. They were now part of Operation Cerberus and they were his “dogs of war.” Now we are finally given an up-close look at “Agent Orange” and how little regard he has for human life. He tells these soldiers, “when I point, you shoot.” Russo ends the sequence with a joke about how they were lured in under the false promise Ann-Margret Olsson would be there.

The Punisher

The Myth of Friendly Fire

Back in Curtis’ therapy sessions, Lewis Wilson (Daniel Webber) — who continues to impress with every appearance — talks about how he respected his enemy and that’s why he wasn’t haunted by his kills. He then opens up about friendly fire. They had an Apache that hit some of their soldiers. He said that there is no such thing as friendly fire, but accepts that it happens in war. Then his face tightens up and he unloads on how they reported their deaths.

He said he saw a press officer tell some reporters that it was an enemy ambush. Wilson states that he felt it dishonored the men and women who were soldiers. These were people who did their jobs well. They weren’t killed in an ambush. They weren’t caught unawares and taken down due to their lack of skill. Wilson says that he will have a dream where he is the one the press officer is turned into a joke. All his service, all his years, it meant nothing to the military. He asks the group, “what do you do when you can’t trust your own?”

O’Connor (Delaney Williams) shouts out, “take matters into your own hands!” and one of the group vocally says, “oh, here we go again” when Curtis says that he agrees. He talks about how they weren’t the only soldiers to feel let down by the country they served and that he has friends who had everything taken from them in ways the group couldn’t even understand.

Curtis tells the group that someone risked their life to save his and throwing that away would be an insult in a sense. He wants to excel in his second life and doing so is his way of taking matters into his own hands. As the group comes to an end, O’Connor hands Lewis a pamphlet and tells him that he’s right to feel the way he feels. O’Connor is clearly trying to recruit Lewis for something.

Smile for the Cameras

Switching back to Micro’s hideaway, the alarm is blaring and Micro is woken up to Frank saying that he has looked the hideaway up and down and there are no explosives. Lieberman laughs and tells The Punisher he is correct, but that he still needs to spin him around. Micro screams and Castle finally gives in and spins him around. Micro reveals that they have been recording the entire time. If he doesn’t enter the code, then every journalist in the country will discover The Punisher alive.

Micro reveals he set it up to prove to his family that he wasn’t what the papers said he was. He wanted the chance to go back home and be with his family. Castle tells Micro that his family is dead. He can’t see them again and it’s the result of Micro’s disk.  Micro sharply replies that he’s sure it has nothing to do with what Frank did on the disk. This is when Frank slaps Micro and is visibly shaken.

Micro tells Frank that he followed orders while Micro did his job, and ask Frank to explain the differences. Micro asks Frank how many times Ahmad Zubair was beaten prior to being executed. He told Frank that Zubair was a good man, a cop, and had done nothing wrong. This  was a man who was executed. This part of the conversation angers Frank, but Micro tells Frank he knows he won’t kill him because it’s his job to know people as an analyst. The Punisher doesn’t kill good people. Frank doesn’t view himself as a good person and insists that Micro doesn’t understand everything.

The Punisher

Agent Orange Has No Moral Compass

The show flashes to the black site where they are keeping Ahmad Zubair and Agent Orange is torturing him for information. We hear Zubair insist to Agent Orange that he is not a terrorist, but rather a cop instead. Instead of reacting to this information like any normal person would, Agent Orange threatens Zubair’s family if he doesn’t stop talking right now. Faced with the prospect of potentially dying right now but knowing his family will be safe or screaming into a room full of soldiers that he is a law enforcement officer and hoping one of them care, Zubair takes the bullet instead.

A grave is dug for Zubair in the desert. Castle and Gunner Henderson (Jeb Kreager) are tasked with overseeing the burial but unbeknownst to Henderson, Castle is instructed to retrieve the bullet. Henderson is aghast at the prospect of hiding evidence. Frank reminds him that nobody out there is looking for their opinions.  

Happy Birthday, Frank

The scene flashes forward to Frank and Micro back in the secret hideout. Micro wishes Frank a happy birthday. Frank asks him how he knew. Micro tells Frank that he knows everything about him. The countdown clock starts again and as Micro types the code he tries to recruit Frank by trying to appeal to Frank’s humanitarian side.

Once again, this appeal to Frank’s decency went over like a ice cube in hell. Remember the blue pen from earlier? Unbeknownst to Frank, it is actually a hypodermic needle which Micro then uses to drug Frank. As Frank drifts off, Micro apologizes and then Frank hits the floor.

Further Down the Fox Hole

Cut over to Lewis in the throes of a nightmare, his dad heads home and into the basement where Lewis is sleeping. His dad startles him awake and Lewis fires off a round, barely missing his dad’s head and going out the window. Lewis has a breakdown over the thought of almost killing his dad and then immediately spirals, storming off, saying, “I could have killed you.”

30 Million and No Emotion

Agent Madani (Amber Rose Revah) is handed a folder by her partner Sam Stein (Michael Nathanson). Inside the folder is a trail of paperwork showing former DHS head Carson Wolf was extremely dirty. He had over $30,000,000 in offshore accounts. Madani tells him to keep it a secret.

Back at Micro’s secret hideout, Frank begins to come to. He tries to move against the advice of Micro, who gives him a cup of coffee. Castle asks why Micro didn’t kill him. Micro tells him that he must not have been listening because Micro needs his help. Castle says he doesn’t do partners and Micro tells him to get over himself. There is no place for emotion in what they do.

The Punisher

Every Hero Has an Origin Story

We flashback to Castle and Russo’s barracks and they are summoned by Schoonover for a briefing on a target. Russo brings up the lack of air support and Castle’s Spidey-Sense tingles. Castle looks at the plan and knows that it’s an ambush. He brings this to Agent Orange and Schoonover’s attention and Orange tells him that he has pointed, it is now Frank’s job to go shoot.

Fast forward to the mission, Schoonover is missing the arm he was so famous for in Daredevil season 2. Castle decides that he going in to clear a path for an exfiltration. This scene is as critical to The Punisher’s development as the loss of his family. To the backdrop of a country song, Castle removes every potential threat and his unit is free to be evacuated out.

Back at the operational command tent, the viewer can barely hear Agent Orange asking if they got the target. Agent Orange’s muffled voice is used to make the viewer feel as if they, too, have just left a combat zone. It is at this point that we see Frank’s moral compass take over. As Agent Orange’s voice clears up, Castle angrily asks him what he just said and attacks him.

Russo throws Castle into another room and reminds him that these types of missions never fall on the people in charge. He says he’s leaving the unit because the whole thing smells. He’s going back to Force. Whatever happens, though, Russo tells Castle to take a look at himself and walks out of the room almost in tears.

The Team-Up You’ve Been Waiting For

Back at Micro’s secret hideout, Micro tells Frank that Frank needs Micro as much as Micro needs Frank; Frank had been taken down by Micro with a pen. Micro takes a resistant Frank over to the computer and shows him that Operation Cerberus had no Congressional approval and was completely off book. Schoonover’s entire team were hitmen for Agent Orange. Frank agrees to help under one condition, they all die. After a moment of thought, Micro says, “Yeah, I can live with that.”

The Punisher

One Batch, Review Batch….

While there is still plenty of violence in The Punisher, the scene where Castle storms the hideout where the soldiers who planned this ambush lie in wait. Compared to the scene in the jail from Daredevil season two, this felt less than stellar. The Punisher is a story of vengeance, overcoming the rigors of war, and the trials that come along with balancing the two. It isn’t just a story of violence, it’s the story of a man overcoming the the worst life has to offer and coming out the other end.

Other Thoughts:

  • We see the making of Castle’s moral compass when he takes out Agent Orange’s eye after he insensitively asks about the target while the group is reeling from the ambush.
  • Why wasn’t the group attempting to pin Castle down met with more violence? This is a story with some some serious meat to it.
  • This story dives into the very real and serious issues veterans face coming home from war, more than other Marvel shows.  

Stay tuned for forthcoming episode reviews!

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