Wednesday, March 23, 2016

End The Arc: The Punisher Is Resolved In ".380"

The Good: Wonderful acting, Good dialogue, Decent direction
The Bad: Obvious issue with the ending, Light on character development
The Basics: Hero and anti-hero clash one last time when Daredevil and The Punisher independently hunt The Blacksmith in ".380."

One of the more interesting facets of well-structured serialized television that has multiple seasons to develop is how a show seeds elements and foreshadows. That can make television that is magnificent by the season or the series, but have episodes that hold up less well on their own. In the second season of Daredevil, the later in the season, the more the episodes run together, telling a strong overall narrative, but having less plot distinction within the episodes. "The Man In The Box" was filled with exposition, but the episode was mostly explanation of prior events than it was a story that told a new series of events. ".380" is similar, as it continues the menace left at the climax of "The Man In The Box" and barely moves the pieces (characters) forward. In fact, the most significant character moments come from Claire Temple; her life changes drastically, while the other characters continue on in pretty much the directions they had been going in.

".380" picks up in the final seconds of "The Man In The Box" (reviewed here!) with the Hand's ninjas scaling Metro General Hospital and the five young people Daredevil rescued from weird experimentation and exsanguination staring like zombies, together, waiting for them. Like most episodes that are part of a tight serialized narrative, little is actually resolved within ".380," though the journey is certainly engaging enough to keep the viewer glued.

The Hand's ninjas scale Metro General Hospital, there to recover the five children Daredevil previously rescued. Nobu's lackeys are efficient and manage to get the kids away, arguably because they want to be returned to The Farm, though the hospital's staff is shaken by the appearance of the ninjas and the casualties that result. While Claire tapes herself up, Murdock tries to explain The Hand to her. After Karen Page lies to the police about Castle's involvement in the shooting at her apartment, she and Murdock meet up, where she tells her former employer that she is convinced Frank did not kill Reyes. In the hospital, Nelson is visited by Marci Stahl, who offers him a meeting at her current law firm. Temple manages to survive an investigation into the children being admitted and the ninjas who broke into the hospital, but the autopsy on one of the Hand's ninjas suggest that he was dead before.

After Daredevil interrogates A.D.A. Tower, he heads to Chinatown to confront Madame Gao, who might be the primary competition to The Blacksmith. The same night, Page and Castle have coffee out and when Castle recognizes a car circling the block, he gets the civilians to the back of the diner while he takes out the assassins sent by The Blacksmith to kill him. Castle is given a lead, which puts him on a collision course with the core of The Blacksmith's forces and the firefight on the pier where Castle confronts them is a climactic battle for The Punisher.

Foggy Nelson is barely in ".380," but his scene with Marci is surprisingly charming. While viewers might want to root for Nelson and Page having a relationship, Marci Stahl has proven to be more than what she initially appeared to be and she's surprisingly fun to watch opposite Nelson. The brief scene of Stahl offering Nelson hope for his future is the mirror image of Claire Temple's. Temple takes a moral stand against the cover up and the hospital's profiteering and her strength of character is a nice foil to Stahl's more flirtatious approach with Foggy. Temple and Nelson sharing a scene at the end of ".380" is instantly evocative of Temple and Malcolm in Jessica Jones.

The return of Madame Gao is enjoyable for those who are detail-oriented and have an idea what is being foreshadowed by the mystical, Japan-based elements throughout the second season of Daredevil. When Gao left the narrative in the first season, the implication in her lines was that she was not actually human (in the books, Daredevil villains tread toward the supernatural as opposed to the science fiction - mystical forces as opposed to aliens) and her return in an episode that is laced with mysteries from The Hand, makes her understated scenes seem more otherworldly than the content they contain. Madame Gao ignores any aspect of Nobu's return and discusses with Daredevil the intricacies of the New York City drug trade. Gao is a pragmatist in ".380" and she acts for the episode as an unlikely ally to Daredevil.

On the Punisher front, ".380" illustrates a weird directing weakness from the early part of the second season of Daredevil. The Punisher's mantra is "one bullet, one kill," yet when Finn encountered Frank Castle in "Penny And Dime" (reviewed here!), he notes Castle's prowess with an AK (AK-47), an automatic weapon. Spray firing is not the m.o. of a sniper and it fits the specific needs of The Blacksmith. In ".380," Karen Page advocates for Frank Castle because she has survived two incidents of spray firing in the prior episode. The early crime scenes with The Punisher's victims - including the on-screen killing of the Kitchen Irish in the season premiere - are more like the methods of The Blacksmith than The Punisher, which is unfortunate for convincing the viewer that Page is right about Frank Castle being innocent of killing Reyes, the medical examiner, and trying to kill her. In other words, it would be easier to sell the idea of Castle's innocence to the viewer in ".380" if the crime scenes from "The Man In The Box" did not look so much like the early scenes of slaughter in the second season of Daredevil.

Director Stephen Surjik, however, gets the Punisher's violence right in ".380." Rewatching the episode, viewers are likely to catch important moments that foreshadow the nature of The Blacksmith. At the pier, Frank Castle does not start taunting his adversary until he sees the face - and lingers on it - of one of The Blacksmith's most trusted guards. Surjik makes sure that Castle lives much closer to the "one bullet, one kill" rule than the spray firing from the prior episode.

Surjik gets a great performance out of Jon Bernthal. The diner scene allows Bernthal and Woll to play off one another one last time for the season and it is infused with an intriguing amount of chemistry. While there has been a "will they or won't they" vibe between Murdock and Page for most of the second season, the idea of Castle and Page seems almost viable in ".380." Bernthal sells both the chemistry and the idea that Castle is perceptive enough to figure out how Page feels for Murdock, which is a surprisingly subtle line for an actor to be able to walk.

The climax of ".380" is very much a Marvel movie ending for The Punisher storyline and given how grounded and serious the rest of the episode (in fact, most of the season) is, it is hard to buy the conceit. ".380" resorts to the old science fiction conceit that is played out in comic books as well that begs viewers to accept the death of a major character without seeing it.

Fortunately, the absurd conceit is not the end of ".380." As the Punisher arc (more or less) resolves, Stick and Elektra return to the narrative. The frustrating aspect of their return is that it forces viewers to believe that Elektra and Matt Murdock are, far and away, the very best Stick ever trained. Any future adversaries in Daredevil who rival the powers and abilites of either Elektra or Daredevil and were trained by Stick will need a convincing in-universe excuse to not be at Stick's side in ".380." Stick tried to have Elektra killed and fearing for his life, the few people he might keep around him should be his very best. In ".380" they hardly seem to be better than the hospital security guards.

Ultimately, ".380" is a series of endings and it refocuses the show - going into the penultimate episode of the season - on the Elektra plotline. While that has been a weaker aspect of the second season, ".380" turns to that plot for its final act with enough of a sense of urgency (and weirdness for the scenes with The Hand) to make it seem vital.

For other works with Deborah Ann Woll, visit my reviews of:
Daredevil - Season 1
True Blood
Highland Park

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Daredevil - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season of the blind vigilante here!


For other television episode and season reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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