The Good: Wonderful acting, Great pacing, Good narrative development, Wonderful character development/reinforcement
The Bad: Nothing!
The Basics: "Virtue Of The Vicious" creates a perfect hour of television for The Punisher by playing a number of huge moments with realism and a surprising amount of class!
I cannot think of a show that I have been more pleasantly surprised by, yet taken so long to get through, as the first season of The Punisher. Netflix picked an unfortunately busy time in which to release their latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and with the impending return of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., it's not like the MCU is going to be less crowded this week! The truth, however, is that The Punisher has been a pleasant surprise and were it not for a massive crossover event in the DC Television Universe, I would have easily and enthusiastically finished the first season of The Punisher by now. But today, I'm back with "Virtue Of The Vicious." And it was incredible!
"Virtue Of The Vicious" picks up where "Front Toward Enemy" (reviewed here!) left off and it's impossible to discuss the new episode without some references to the events of that one. After all, "Front Toward Enemy" found Frank Castle being revealed to the world as alive when Castle rescued Hoyle from the mine that Lewis Wilson had put on him. "Virtue Of The Vicious" picks up after an assassination attempt on Senator Ori, which Wilson warned Castle about. The episode is a bit of a divergence from the prior episodes, but it continues the intriguing quality of The Punisher where it explores realistic consequences of violence.
Lewis slays a man in his home and tries to set the man's birds free. The man was Isaac, an employee of Ben Russo. Russo is interviewed by Mahoney and Mahoney insinuates that Anvil was over-extended by taking Senator Ori's protection duty. Castle calls Russo to warn him that Lewis will try again. The narrative then turns to a flashback, with Senator Ori telling Mahoney his perception of the assassination attempt. Karen Page is interviewing Ori when a bomb goes off. Wilson kills two of Russo's men . . . aided by Frank Castle. Page tells Mahoney a different story, one where Wilson and Castle were fighting one another through the Senator's suite. Wilson's murder of Isaac quickly becomes clear; he needed an Anvil uniform to get access to the hotel where Ori is set up. Karen claims to have been rescued by Frank Castle.
Dinah Madani was in the hotel at the time of the bombing and the gunfight as well. On her first day back at Homeland Security, Rafael Hernandez is told the truth about the op in which Stein was killed and she removes the bug in her office in front of him. Madani exposes Rawlins to Hernandez and she learns that all of the mercenaries killed in the sting operation worked for Anvil in the past. Madani interrogates Russo and after the bombing, she manages to find Castle. That leads to a stalemate in the hotel stairwell that turns Madani and Russo against one another. While Castle manages to escape to the basement and rescue Karen Page from Lewis Wilson, he is severely injured and Wilson makes a choice with incredible consequences!
With "Virtue Of The Vicious," it is official: Daniel Webber is one of the best actors playing unsettling and troubled characters working on television today! Webber opens the episode with a chilling and simple series of actions: shooting a man through a peephole and then playing with Isaac's birds. Throughout the episode, Webber portrays Lewis as an extremist who is brutal and arguably as efficient as Frank Castle, but with a very different political agenda.
"Virtue Of The Vicious" takes the time to reinforce and explore the character of Frank Castle. Castle has been a pretty monolithic character - existing in the moment of his family's death - on a quest to right the wrongs done to him and the other members of Cerberus in Afghanistan. Frank Castle is a monolithic character, but he is not one who is unprincipled. Karen Page makes the argument to Mahoney that bombing people over their anti-gun stance is not Frank Castle's style. Madani, similarly, advocates for the philosophical core that guides Frank Castle. While the perception of The Punisher might be that it's a redneck, gun-lover's corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the reality is that the show - and the character - is more complex than that. Castle might be a big advocate of the Second Amendment, but he is not someone who would kill people for disagreeing with him. In fact, when Russo turns his gun on Madani after she identifies herself as a Federal agent, that turns Castle against his old friend.
There are many shows that piece together a story by showing different characters' perspectives - the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "A Matter Of Perspective" (reviewed here!) comes instantly to mind - but "Virtue Of The Vicious" manages to feel fresh and different. The characters are all deep and complex, from Karen Page (who, instead of cowering, attempts to reason with Lewis) to Frank Castle who does everything he can to save Karen Page's life.
Deborah Ann Woll illustrates that she was cast for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as far more than a pretty face. Her performance in "Virtue Of The Vicious" is riveting, especially at a key moment as Page is held hostage by Wilson. Woll's performance opposite Royce Johnson at the episode's climax reinforces Woll's ability to play the role of Karen Page with subtlety and nuance with only her eyes and the tilt of her head.
"Virtue Of The Vicious" hits perfection in the most subtle and clever way possible. The episode contains huge character moments and big plot reversals that, on a lesser show, would have been milked for melodrama or end-of-episode twists. But one of the key moments in "Virtue Of The Vicious" has Madani realizing the truth about Russo and the death of her partner and in the episode it is treated as a professional investigator would; with a level of detachment and desire for justice, as opposed to instantly revealing the sense of personal horror for melodramatic effect. In a similar way, when the episode is put together, all of the various aspects come to make perfect sense; Madani turns to Karen Page because she already knows the truth about Russo, Castle, and Rawlins, for example.
Jim O'Hanlon directs "Virtue Of The Vicious" in a way that keeps the pace moving and makes even the moments where characters are simply telling stories to one another into gripping television.
Ultimately, "Virtue Of The Vicious" puts The Punisher on a very short list within the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a work of art that is layered, complex and realistic . . . and perfect!
For other Marvel Cinematic Universe works with the character Brett Mahoney, please visit my reviews of:
Daredevil - Season 1
"AKA Top Shelf Perverts" - Jessica Jones
Daredevil - Season 2
For other works in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please visit my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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