The Bad: Simplistic plot and development
The Basics: "Front Toward Enemy" puts The Punisher in conflict with Lewis Wilson when Wilson sets off his bombs and threatens Karen Page!
One of the inevitable problems with creating a perfect, or near-perfect, episode of television is that following it up almost inevitably becomes a little bit disappointing. The truth is, I never expected The Punisher to have that type of problem because it was hard to imagine that the show would rise that high. And yet, with "Cold Steel" (reviewed here!), The Punisher took what was usually a formulaic certainty for the Marvel Television Universe and made it feel fresh again through the intensity of the characters involved. So, "Front Toward Enemy" begins at a place that is conceptually an uphill battle given the quality of the prior episode. Despite that, "Front Toward Enemy" makes for a surprisingly gripping hour of television by returning to Lewis Wilson and his post-combat, post-return trauma storyline.
"Front Toward Enemy" is impossible to discuss without some references to precisely where "Cold Steel" ended because of how it deals with the consequences of the prior episode. After all, "Cold Steel" climaxed with Madani's operation intended to root out Agent Orange by baiting a trap with the idea that Frank Castle was coming for bullets that Homeland Security is monitoring. The trap drew out Russo and a small team of mercenaries and Madani's operation ended with heavy casualties on both sides, including Russo murdering Stein.
Madani is depressed about the failure of her operation and the death of her partner and she allows her mother to minister to her. Castle and Lieberman monitor Madani from across the street and are shocked when a bomb goes off on street level nearby. The bombing was one of three explosions at government facilities . . . bombs created by Lewis. Lewis sends a letter to Karen Page at the Bulletin, asking her to print his letter and threatening to kill more people if she does not. Back at the lair, Castle and Lieberman watch footage of the bombing and Castle is offended by the terrorist act. Rafael Hernandez visits Madani at her mother's home to try to find out what happened with her operation.
Karen Page responds to the bomber publicly in print and then on the radio. Lewis calls in to the radio program Page is on and threatens her while Frank Castle listens on. When Lewis says "Sic Semper Tyrannis," Castle figures out that the bomber is Lewis and he tasks Lieberman with finding him. Hoyle, however, manages to get to Lewis first and the resulting fight leaves Hoyle beaten almost to death. Castle calls Page and Page implores him to turn the identity of the bomber over to the F.B.I. Lieberman, however, finds where Hoyle has gone and Castle rushes over to try to stop Lewis Wilson and save Curtis Hoyle. The Punisher finds himself over his head when he tries to figure out how to defuse the bomb Wilson left on Hoyle. At the same time, Madani decides to take a stand at Stein's funeral, but meets with an unexpected person on her way to the event.
"Front Toward Enemy" is an interesting detour that picks Lewis Wilson's story back up and the reappearance of Karen Page in The Punisher's narrative is a nice way to tie the series back to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Page continues her character arc of being ballsy and assertive as a writer for the New York Bulletin. Page has transitioned nicely from being a damsel in distress to a strong character in her own right. In "Front Toward Enemy," Page takes a stand and actually baits the terrorist who makes the bombing personal to her.
The real important issue in "Front Toward Enemy" is that The Punisher, which has a tendency to be viewed as a pro-military, pro-America, honestly more redneck appealing comic book, actually has a dialogue about terrorism and the Second Amendment. "Front Toward Enemy" makes the implicit argument that militias and other reactionary groups are fundamentally anti-American and that the Second Amendment is not intended to be an absolute right. It is impressive that The Punisher uses the opportunity to speak to its potentially more conservative audience with a reasoned argument that tries to balance the liberal desire for fewer gun deaths with the reactionary arguments about gun rights and vigilante justice.
More than an issue-driven story, "Front Toward Enemy" continues the trend in The Punisher to have the characters drive the plot. Madani's grief and trauma are explored with realism that might not make great television, but they make Madani's character pop and make her relatable. Madani continues to trust Russo and the viewer waits for Russo to make a slip of the tongue, the way Madani does when she notes that Russo was not at the operation where Stein lost his life. Lewis Wilson's transition from patriotic soldier to deluded terrorist is handled with appropriate philosophical delusions. Wilson has become brutal and fails to equate his actions and perspective with those of an enemy of the state. The writing for the episode is sharp and complicated on the philosophical front.
The make-up in "Front Toward Enemy" is absolutely brutal. When Castle finds Hoyle, the carnage makes the character unrecognizable. It is agonizing to see Hoyle so beaten and the make-up is so well done that the entire scene between Castle and Hoyle is difficult to watch for how Moore looks.
Daniel Webber manages to find the right balance in "Front Toward Enemy" between philosophically angry, coldly delusional and twitchy as fuck. Jon Bernthal continues to make Frank Castle the embodiment of masculinity and emotionalism. In "Front Toward Enemy," Castle tells the story of his relationship with Curtis Hoyle's lost leg and Bernthal makes a scene where Castle is simply telling a story into intense and heartwrenching television. The cold anger Bernthal presents while Castle and Wilson are squared off is intense and Bernthal taps into his dark side for his delivery of the lines in a powerful way.
The real magic of "Front Toward Enemy" is that The Punisher continues to transition from a potentially monolithic character plagued by an insatiable thirst for revenge into a well-motivated, deep character whose philosophical core remains surprisingly patriotic in a real (not faux, flag-waving) way.
And "Front Toward Enemy" continues to, delightfully, defy the expectations of a Marvel Cinematic Universe television show by making a military story with realism and a character-driven exploration of trauma that is unlike anything else in the MCU!
For other works with Tony Plana, please visit my reviews of:
One Day At A Time - Season 1
Pain & Gain
The West Wing - Season 2
"The Maquis, Part II" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"The Maquis, Part I" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
For other Marvel Cinematic Universe reviews, please visit my best to worst listing at the Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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