Friday, November 24, 2017

"The Judas Goat" Redefines The "Wounded Hero" Trope For The Punisher!

The Good: Wonderful direction, Amazing performances, Good themes, Decent pacing
The Bad: Simplistic plot progression, Painfully obvious reversal
The Basics: The Punisher makes a surprisingly complex and gripping episode out of consequences with "The Judas Goat!"

There is, unfortunately, a pattern to most of Netflix's Marvel Television Universe shows. At or near the midpoint of the season, the protagonist is severely wounded and/or loses their powers entirely. In the first season of Daredevil, that happened with "Nelson V. Murdock" (reviewed here!) and in Luke Cage, the protagonist's unbreakable skin was broken and the character was taken out of action in "Blowin' Up The Spot" (reviewed here!). So, by the time The Punisher gets to "The Judas Goat," the wounded protagonist episode is more an issue of reinforcing the pattern, as opposed to creating groundbreaking television.

"The Judas Goat" opens with Frank Castle severely wounded, an event that occurred in "Gunner" (reviewed here!). It's impossible to discuss "The Judas Goat" without references to "Gunner" as the circumstances under which Castle was wounded resonate into the new episode. As well, Rawlins, having lost an entire team of operatives (how he could deploy military personnel on domestic soil is a mystery that survives "Gunner"), is now that much more desperate to silence Frank Castle.

Frank Castle dreams of his coming home party - where his family and Lieberman's family's are blended. The dream turns into a nightmare when assassins come in and kill everyone in front of Castle and he awakens in Lieberman's bunker, with Gunner's arrow still in his shoulder. Lieberman has left the bunker to get the only aid he can think of: Curtis Hoyle. Hoyle extracts the arrow and sets to mending Castle, while elsewhere Madani wakes up with Russo. Russo uses his access to go through one of Madani's files and he recognizes the material as relevant to him. Russo demands to know why Madani is investigating Frank Castle and he insinuates that he knows Castle is still alive.

While Sarah Lieberman deals with her son becoming a bully, Lieberman intercepts a transmission that Castle identifies as coming from Billy Russo. Lewis Walcott is attempting to pass out literature in front of a courthouse when a police officer, when he gets arrested and abandoned by his co-conspirator. Madani and Stein investigate the scene of Gunner's death and Madani figures out essentially what happened and tasks Stein with running blood from the scene against Castle's DNA on file. Lieberman begins to suspect that someone other than Russo might know Castle is alive. Madani turns to Russo for help in finding Frank and Russo turns to Hoyle.

"The Judas Goat" opens with an obvious dream, but despite the fact the viewer knows it must be a dream, the direction is good-enough to make it engaging and it sucks the viewer in. Director Jeremy Webb stops just short of showing, on screen, four children being shot at the dinner table, but the nightmare sequence is still effective at conveying all Castle fears. Webb's direction in "The Judas Goat" is refreshing in that he takes the time to focus on expressions of the performers and he has a real artistry to his direction.

Jason R. Moore wins the performance award for "The Judas Goat." Moore plays Curtis Hoyle and during the gruesome surgery scene, his facial expressions of disdain completely characterize the military officer's distaste for civilians and their weaknesses. Moore is saddled with telling a story at a key moment and as Curtis Hoyle tells the story of the goat upon which he trained in order to be a field medic, the subtlety of his performance makes the story utterly compelling. Webb and Moore make a potentially dull expository scene absolutely gripping and heartbreaking.

Daniel Webber continues his utterly unsettling performance as Lewis. In fact, Webber's acting is so good that it compelled me to look up his biography. For someone who seems to have been an athlete and not part of the military, he plays shellshocked incredibly well.

"The Judas Goat" is a generally quiet episode that does an amazing job of exploring consequences, especially in how military people are treated after they are programmed and after their service is done. Hoyle, Walcott, and O'Connor all illustrate various aspects of veterans issues, but their common thread is that they have been left feeling betrayed by the country for which they served. Hoyle throws wood on that fire for Lewis when he outs O'Connor as a fraud. The entirety of Frank Castle's character arc has been about dealing with the consequences of his service, but the fact that so many others in his world are shown in "The Judas Goat" as having far more practical PTSD arcs.

Russo is presented in "The Judas Goat" as an old friend who has the resources to help Frank Castle. Castle seems to be the only one in the world who seems unable to grasp the concept that Russo might not be at all trustworthy, but the savvy viewer is likely to suspect Russo, much like Lieberman does. So, when Castle and Russo finally meet, there is a subtext to the scene that adds all sorts of tension to a very simple scene.

"The Judas Goat" is a decent reinvention of the "wounded hero" story in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it leaves Frank Castle with a compelling choice. Castle is torn between his old comrade and his new one and as the episode winds to its conclusion, Webb does an amazing job of re-establishing Lieberman's loneliness. Lieberman had a one-man crusade and he saw Frank Castle as a way to advance his cause and he now faces losing Castle. Lieberman is self-tortured by his solitude, which is an interesting foil to Frank Castle.

Jon Bernthal continues to rock The Punisher with his smart, subtle performances. For a character who is often emotionally distant, Bernthal has made Frank Castle gripping to watch.

Ultimately, "The Judas Goat" continues the trend of making The Punisher into a surprisingly smart, complex, character-driven piece that exceeds the expectations one might have from the Marvel Cinematic Universe!

For other works with Jaime Ray Newman, please visit my reviews of:
Heroes - Season 2
Veronica Mars - Season 3
Rumor Has It. . .


For other Marvel Cinematic Universe reviews, 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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