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An exhilarating Punisher asks: How do you solve a problem like Billy Russo?

Photo: Cara Howe (Netflix)
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The previous episode of The Punisher ended with a statement of purpose for Frank that doubled as a statement of purpose for the show: Take care of Billy Russo first and then tackle the rest of the season’s dangling threads, most notably John Pilgrim. So “One Bad Day” is an episode all about what to do with dear ol’ Bill. CIA Director Marion James advises Madani that sometimes the “least worst choice” is to do nothing. If Frank can take out Billy without much fuss, maybe that’s what’s best for everyone. It’s clearly the option Madani wanted when she brought Frank back to New York. But now that the opportunity is finally here, she isn’t so sure that’s what she wants anymore.

This is a good episode for Madani, a character The Punisher hasn’t always served as well as it could in the past. “One Bad Day” opens with a flashback to one year ago, when the recently shot Madani was pressured to give a falsified statement to protect Frank (and her job) by placing the blame solely on Billy. It’s helpful context, both in terms of plot logistics and in terms of Madani’s mental state. The combination of being betrayed by Billy, getting shot in the head by him, and then lying to cover it up understandably left Madani a little bit confused about her core ethos. This is the episode where she finally decides to trust her gut again—most dramatically when she puts a stop to Frank’s torture and advocates for taking Billy down through the legal system. I love that Madani gets a compelling character arc that’s not tied to a simplistic “Strong Female Character” ass-kicking moment. Her big hero moment comes when she simply asserts her own agency. She lied because she felt she owed it to Frank. This time around, she’s prioritizing herself and her values.

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Unfortunately, putting Frank back into the box isn’t as easy as Madani would like it to be. Once Frank commits to a plan, he can be a bit of an antsy, unstoppable force—as Curtis acknowledges when he criticizes his friend’s impatience. If Marion is a voice for inaction, Frank is a voice for action, even when that action isn’t entirely thought through. He sees all of life as a war—one in which he’s always justified in taking either defensive or offensive action. In fact, he doesn’t even really see a different between the two. The world is a hellhole and you simply do what you can to mitigate that. Frank certainly isn’t alone in his pessimism. In fact, Madani, Curtis, and Marion are all painfully aware that the world can be a shitty place too. They just have different philosophies on what to do about it. Curtis tries to help people on an individual level, while Marion tries to help the world (or at least the country) on a big-picture one. Madani, meanwhile, is still remaking her own moral philosophy.

That also goes for Billy, who theorizes that the feelings of fear he experienced during his recovery stemmed from being cooped up in a hospital, unable to act. So he decides to reclaim his power by taking violent control of his life (and of other people). That means it’s time for a good old-fashioned bank robbery! After some militaristic training sessions, Billy’s Boys pull off a tense heist that’s nearly thwarted by the no-nonsense demeanor of manager Lillian. It’s hard to make a bank robbery storyline feel original, but this episode does so by emphasizing how Billy trains his men to pull off the mission with military precision. I’ve seen plenty of heist scenes that lay out the big plan, but fewer that emphasize the need for actual practice and rehearsal. That Billy built redundancies into his plan means he’s still able to pull it off, even when Frank kidnaps one of his men for a torture session. It’s a clever plot beat that also doubles as effective character building for Billy.

Photo: Cara Howe (Netflix)
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This is one of the best paced, exhilarating episodes of the season, one that makes time for both character and action. It doesn’t come close to rivaling the show’s strongest first season episodes, but Felicia S. Henderson’s script adds a much-needed jolt of energy to the season. (Henderson also wrote one of my favorite episodes last season as well, the character-centric “Cold Steel.”) We don’t know how Billy’s story will resolve, as this episode ends on a massive cliffhanger. But it’s a really engaging journey up until that point. “One Bad Day” is one of those episodes where the stuff I want to talk about most is the stuff that happens right at the very end—namely, the big moment in which Billy realizes that the skull imagery that’s been haunting his nightmares is tied to his “brother” Frank. Thankfully, the benefit of a binge-watch (and a binge-review) is that I don’t have to wait that long to dive in!


Stray observations

  • Given that there was a whole episode last season all about Frank’s reluctance to kill soldiers, his willingness to torture wounded vet Jake felt really out of character to me.
  • After we get that rom-com about Frank and Beth, I would also love a spinoff series starring the overly enthusiastic forensic analyst who idolizes Madani.
  • Frank and Curtis have some really great car banter, and I remain impressed by Jon Bernthal’s ability to have chemistry with just about any scene partner. The Frank/Curtis/Billy friendship triangle is also a really interesting one I hope the show explores more. You understand why these guys are (or at least were) friends, despite the fact that their demeanors differ pretty drastically.
  • Other stuff that happens in this episode: Billy and Dr. Dumont discover a mutual appreciation for a pain-pleasure sexual dynamic. I’m still not sure how I feel about their storyline, nor how I feel about Dr. Dumont in general.
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About the author

Caroline Siede

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Caroline Siede is a pop culture critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. Her interests include superhero movies, feminist theory, and Jane Austen novels.