“The Punisher” thoughts, Season One, Episode Three: “Kandahar”

Even when he’s not extrajudicially executing people, Frank’s actions are horrifying. The episode brings this home with a sequence that subverts the now-trademark feature of every Marvel/Netflix show, the hallway fight. Pinned down by enemies who deliberately set a trap for his infamously lethal unit (known in-country as “the American Taliban”), Frank launches a berserker attack against the building where the bulk of their opponents are holed up. What follows is the close-quarters combat you’ve come to expect, but in an entirely different format and tone. There’s no long take, no continuity of space and time — everything is jittery, choppy, and disorienting. Jump cuts skip past several seconds of action, as muzzle flashes toss us from one shot or enemy to the next. Incongruous fades stretch out time without actually marking its passage, as they do in traditional cinematic grammar. The music isn’t some hard-charging rock or hip-hop song, nor the usual ominous electronic burble, but “Wish It Was True” by the White Buffalo, a plaintive piece of what sounds like earnest country-grunge Americana until you listen to the lyrics: “Country, I was a soldier for you, did what you asked me to, it was wrong and you knew…the home of the brave and the free, the red white and blue — well, I wish it was true.” The music swells as Frank ends the sequence by bashing an already dead man’s skull in for what feels like half a minute, blood covering his face. It’s an unpleasant sequence, saying unpleasant things about the Punisher, the war, and their intersection in the public imagination, and using the street-level superhero genre’s own tools to do so.

I reviewed episode 3 of The Punisher, which by this point is revealing itself to be a very sharp show.

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