Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Punisher Puts Frank Castle's Moral Dilemma In The "Crosshairs!"

The Good: Interesting character conflict, Good performances, Decent direction
The Bad: Very simple plot, Climaxes in a strangely stupid moment for the protagonist
The Basics: "Crosshairs" continues to throw all of the protagonists from The Punisher into further chaos and conflict!

There is something both refreshing and disappointing about the formulaic nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The works in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are like the repetitive epic; while the specifics and the style might vary, the stories told are essentially the same one over and over and over and over again. The refreshing aspect of this is that perceptive viewers can pretty much figure out from the beginning who the good guys are and which allies are likely to betray the protagonist, etc. etc. As a perfect example, having had almost no knowledge of the source material going into The Punisher, the moment Ben Russo's company - Anvil - was mentioned, it hearkened back in my mind to the fact that Russo and Castle's corrupt c.o. went by the street name The Blacksmith and I had Russo pegged as the show's less-obvious adversary for Frank Castle. By "Crosshairs," the rest of the audience is up to that speed.

"Crosshairs" follows the events of "The Judas Goat" (reviewed here!) and because of the serialized nature of The Punisher, there is no way to discuss the new episode without some references to the prior one. After all, "The Judas Goat" had major movement as Madani exposed herself and her case to Billy Russo. Lewis snapped and killed the fraud, O'Connor, which was a pretty big move. And by the point "The Judas Goat" ended, Billy Russo's true allegiance was revealed to the audience.

Lewis Walcott cleans up after killing O'Connor and returns home, where his father tries to express his concern for him. Castle and Lieberman plan to infiltrate a military base to meet with Colonel Bennett, whom Gunner said was a man who could identify Agent Orange from the MICRO tape. When Russo visits Madani at her office, Stein gets offended and shortly thereafter, Madani confides in her partner that she believes her office is bugged. Russo meets with Rawlins and they try to figure out how to get to Frank Castle.

At Bennett's weekly visit with his mistress, Castle breaks in so Lieberman can clone his phone. The moment Castle breaks in, the Mistress calls for back-up and Castle is left to take out U.S. soldiers who are hunting him. After escaping the military base, Castle and Lieberman wait for Bennett to go on the move. Lewis goes shopping for bomb materials, while Bennett gets debriefed by Russo and Rawlins. After Madani and Stein find bugs in her office, Lieberman tracks Bennett's phone, which puts Castle directly in front of Agent Orange!

"Crosshairs" is an interesting episode in that it is a pretty simple episode that takes the time to deliver a genuine character conflict for Frank Castle. Instead of having a big reversal that makes the plot more complicated, "Crosshairs" features a very small reversal; that Lieberman and Castle have rightly figured out that going after Bennett will put them in a trap. Lieberman proves his intelligence by coming up with a smart way to get the information they want without risking killing Bennett. Castle relies upon Lieberman to keep him from his own worst instincts.

But the real conflict in "Crosshairs" is within Frank Castle. Castle's quest for revenge upon everyone who was involved in the illegal actions coming out of Kandahar - and the death of his family and subsequent cover-up - is now putting Castle in conflict with some people who are still in the U.S. Military. The conflict that Castle has in the idea that there might be collateral damage among military personnel who are, essentially, innocent in the conspiracy he is investigating is a compelling one. Castle wants his vengeance, but he acts as a scalpel in "Crosshairs," not as a sledge hammer. That transition is well-handled in "Crosshairs" and it feels very organic.

The other major character in crisis in "Crosshairs" is Lewis and so far in The Punisher, he is simply coming unspooled. In "Crosshairs," Lewis falls apart as Madani takes control of her life. The contrast between the two characters is exceptional, but as Lewis falls in "Crosshairs," Madani comes out of the dark and actually starts trusting Stein more.

Amber Rose Revah has a comparatively small role in "Crosshairs," but her performance as Dinah Madani is quite good. At a key moment, Revah stops all that she is doing as Madani and she emotes powerfully with her facial expressions. Without any dialogue, Revah takes the viewer through Madani's entire thought process and as the scene progresses, her determination makes it entirely clear exactly what her character is searching for.

"Crosshairs" does a decent job with its smart plot twist and its character conflict, but it comes to a head with a sequence that defies the intelligence of the protagonists. There is an awesome reversal at the end of "Crosshairs," but to land that moment, one has to figure that Frank Castle is somehow less smart than the audience and that Lieberman - who seems incredibly smart and educated on a wide variety of subjects - is just terrible at communicating essential information to Castle.

Ultimately, The Punisher has a satisfying, if simplistic, episode with "Crosshairs."

For other works with Andrew Polk, please visit my reviews of:
House Of Cards - Season 4
House Of Cards - Season 5


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

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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