Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Vengeance And Methodology Make "Gunner" Compelling Punisher!

The Good: Good performances, Moments of character, Moments of principle
The Bad: Pacing, Plot meanders
The Basics: The hunt for The Punisher villain Agent Orange begins in earnest in "Gunner."

One of the best surprises in the last week has been the quality of The Punisher. The first season of The Punisher is, almost instantly, more satisfying and complex than Netflix's previous outing into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Defenders. While the group dynamic of The Defenders was unfortunately dull, The Punisher has managed to be engaging with a much more intimate focus and a stronger sense of thematic cohesion. By "Gunner," it is hard not to be hooked on The Punisher - which is no small feat given how little interest I had going into the show and the antipathy I had toward the source material.

"Gunner" picks up right after "Resupply" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the new episode without some references to the prior one. After all, at the climax of "Resupply," Madani learned that Frank Castle is still alive and David Lieberman was shocked by how he intervened in the car chase Castle took Madani on. "Gunner" picks right up with the consequences of those actions.

As Madani, still deeply bruised from the car accident, gets dressed for work, Castle and Lieberman bicker yet again about the potentials represented by Castle saving Madani and her seeing him. While Lieberman watches from a remote location, Castle goes to Lieberman's home and helps to repair Sarah's car. When Madani returns to work, Rafael informs her that their superiors are going to investigate her for the loss of the guns. Lieberman quickly figures out that the MICRO footage required a cameraman who knew the government team was illegal and Frank Castle guesses that person was Gunner Henderson. Lieberman and Castle believe Gunner might be the key to learning the identity of the shooter in the Micro video, who they are calling Agent Orange.

Madani brings Karen Page in to Homeland Security and the two interview/interrogate one another. When Page stonewalls about Castle, Madani confesses to Stein that it was Castle who stole the guns and then saved her life. Unbeknownst to them, Rawlins is monitoring the agents at Homeland Security. After Karen Page meets with Frank Castle, Stein lies to the reviewing agent about not having a suspect in the gun theft. Stein and Madani begin searching for anyone who can help them find Frank Castle, while Castle and Lieberman manage to track down Gunner, who is living completely off-the-grid. When Castle manages to track down Gunner, he discovers his former Cerberus coworker is anything but eager to see him!

"Gunner" is surprisingly good on the detail front. Rawlins is given a CIA award and director Dearbhla Walsh has an amazing attention to detail in the scene. Rawlins is not actually allowed to keep the physical award and there a no photographers at the event. As Marion James moves up in the CIA, she asks Rawlins to be her Deputy Director. The viewer knows what James does not; that Rawlins is already lying to his new Director and in addition to the war crime video of Zubair being killed, this helps to characterize Rawlins as a bad guy. Also very subtly characterizing Rawlins as evil is his use of CIA or military operatives on American soil to hunt Frank Castle and Gunner. There is only one detail that is unfortunately off in "Gunner," which is that Gunner's log cabin is using an old, traditional fireplace. Modern wood stoves burn so hot that they do not put off smoke, which makes a lot more sense for Gunner's cabin if the guy is trying to remain invisible.

The scene between Frank Castle and Karen Page harkens emotionally back to Daredevil Season 2 (reviewed here!), where Page went out on a limb for Castle. Bernthal and Woll play off one another with an effortless sense of chemistry that manages to not oversell the depth of Castle's care for Page, while clearly showing it. Despite the carnage in "Gunner," most of the episode's best moments involve characters actually reaching out to one another. Page reaches out to Castle and is desperate to try to reason with him and appeal to the humanity he still possesses; Leo reaches out to Frank Castle for a father figure. The intense attempts to connect with one another makes the meandering plot of "Gunner" much easier to swallow.

Despite all of the intensity, the simple moments land incredibly well in "Gunner." David Lieberman helps mix up Castle's ready-to-eat meal right before he dives into a sandwich he made for himself. The moment is hilarious and it says a lot about Frank Castle . . . that he would not even check the lair's refrigerator is deeply amusing. Also simple is the overwhelming arc of "Gunner;" this is a hand-off episode. Frank Castle loses an old comrade and David Lieberman steps up to fill the niche that needs to be filled and the process of Lieberman becoming Castle's comrade-in-arms helps make the sidekick feel vital and entirely essential.

"Gunner" quietly illustrates just how far corrupt people will go to attempt to cover up their mistakes and in that regard, the episode succeeds incredibly well.

For other works with Ben Barnes, please visit my reviews of:
Seventh Son
The Big Wedding
The Words
The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader
The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian


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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