The Punisher is out of prison and back on the hunt for the people that played a part in the murder of his family, but “The Man In The Box” barely shows Frank Castle. Instead the episode focuses on how his return impacts the world around him, creating a tense atmosphere that brings the story back down to earth. The business with The Hand is shoved into the background, solely used as a way to bring Claire Temple back into the narrative when the police take The Hand’s chemical farm victims to Claire’s hospital. The final moments of the episode feature a rush of superhero fantasy as a horde of ninja scale the hospital walls, but for the most part, this is a much more grounded chapter that slows down to let all the recent changes sink in.

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That’s not to say there aren’t big moments in this episode. Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk have their first meeting since the climactic fight at the end of last season, and one of the major players in The Punisher’s plot is taken out when D.A. Reyes is gunned down in her office after revealing key details of Frank’s story to Matt, Foggy, and Karen. Matt and Fisk’s reunion has a lot of threats being passed around until Fisk just decides to grab Matt by his lapels and smash him against the table, and given Matt’s shitty behavior this season, I can’t deny the pleasure of seeing him get pummeled a bit. The conversation essentially serves as a recap of Matt and Fisk’s drama from last season, but by the end of the episode, it becomes clear that Fisk is starting to put the pieces together regarding Matt’s relationship to Daredevil.

The show teases that Fisk is about to uncover Matt’s secret identity, suggesting that the writers are planning on taking influence from “Born Again” for the future of the series. One of the great Daredevil stories of all time, “Born Again” has Fisk learning Matt’s secret identity and systematically destroying his life, sending Matt down an extremely dark path. It also features the first appearance of Nuke, who showed up in Jessica Jones as Will Simpson, so the MCU has all the players needed to make “Born Again” happen. Given that The Defenders features Daredevil’s Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez as showrunners, it’s possible that “Born Again” could be folded into that show, although I’d imagine that Marvel would want to save this Daredevil-centric story for the character’s solo series.

From the very first shot of D.A. Reyes in her Fordham sweatshirt, it’s obvious she is not long for this world. When the broader characters on this series start showing more depth, it typically means they’re about to get killed off, and surely enough, Reyes doesn’t make it out of that scene alive. She finally becomes a character with layers when she expresses remorse about not clearing out Central Park when they planned the Blacksmith sting and talks about how she’s worried about Frank coming after her daughter, but she’s gunned down once she delivers all the necessary backstory. Reyes has been a caricature all season, and it’s a shame that she’s taken out just as she becomes interesting and gains emotional weight, particularly because she’s one of the MCU’s few women of color.

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This show has a real problem with wiping out characters just as it begins exploring their potential, and I’d like to see the writers commit to fully developing these supporting characters from the start rather than giving them quick depth at the end to make their deaths more powerful. It’s cheap and lazy, and it makes it hard to connect with these characters when the show has built in the expectation that they’ll be dead by the end of the season. Reyes’ death is unfortunate, but it does effectively turn up the terror for the rest of the episode. The moments showing the chaos at the courthouse after Reyes’ death do strong work capturing the fear and panic that spreads after a shooting, showing how these moments of violence completely shatter any sense of order.

After Reyes’ murder, Karen starts to look into the other people involved in Frank’s case in hopes of tracking him down, joined by her new editor Ellison. The Karen and Ellison relationship has come out of nowhere, and as this story becomes increasingly dangerous, it makes less and less sense for Ellison to trust an unproven journalist with it. Ellison assigns Karen a security detail because of her connection to Frank, but she argues against his “patriarchal bullshit” and says he never would have pulled this with Ben.

The patriarchy has nothing to do with it, though. Ben Urich was a proven reporter while Karen is the office manager of a law firm taking her first crack at being an investigative journalist, and Ellison should be worried about her safety, especially considering these specific circumstances. Instead of taking this logical approach to the situation, writer John C. Kelley frames Ellison’s decision as an emotional one, and he won’t lose another person he cares about after losing Ben. Why exactly does he care about Karen so much? Working together does not automatically form an emotional connection, and watching Karen’s scenes with Ellison makes me wonder how much stronger they would be if Ben was in Ellison’s place.

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Claire Temple continues to be the main voice of reason on this series, and her rooftop conversation with Matt is the highlight of this episode. Matt’s Daredevil issues are overwhelming him, and Claire is there to tell him that his messiah complex is separating him from his humanity. She has no patience for Matt’s excuses regarding why he’s avoiding the people he cares about, and she continues Foggy’s work trying to convince Matt to let other people carry the burden of protecting the city. As is to be expected, the dialogue bluntly addresses many of the main themes of this season regarding Matt’s relationship to his secret identity, but Rosario Dawson sells these lines by delivering them with conviction, fully conveying Claire’s frustration and pity as she sees how far Matt has fallen since they last interacted.

Claire doesn’t mince words, telling Matt that he needs to get off his cross, stop playing the loneliest little soldier, and act like a human being. Foggy is in the hospital with a gunshot wound and Matt won’t visit because he’s dealing with his superhero enemies and the crushing realization that all of his work is useless, and Claire is trying to convince Matt that his primary duty is to his friends. One man alone can’t fix the world no matter how hard he tries, and if he continues down this path, Matt is guaranteeing that he’ll be alone on his futile mission.

The stubborn Matt refuses to listen, but that’s actually a good thing for the immediate future, and he’s back in his Daredevil duds at the end of the chapter to set up a big ninja showdown for the start of the next episode. Despite the missteps with Reyes and Karen, “The Man In The Box” has a more consistent tone than the last few episodes, but the ending suggests that consistency won’t last as the show returns to the ninja fantasy elements. There’s still time for the writers to find a way to make The Hand fit into this gritty world, but this episode proves that the season is stronger when the writers let go of The Hand and commit to The Punisher’s arc.

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Stray observation

  • The prelude of Bach’s “Cello Suite No. 1” makes its return this week, and all I can think about is Health Choice Café Steamers. I feel like that song is used in so many food commercials.
  • Elektra appears in this episode to fight off a man sent to bring her to Stick. It gives Elodie Yung the opportunity to say a few words in her native French, and finally puts Elektra’s trademark sais in her hands. But it feels very tacked on and distanced from the rest of the episode.
  • The x-ray in Reyes’ daughter’s bag is the first indicator that Frank isn’t the person coming after her. It’s against Frank’s M.O. to go after the families of the people that hurt him.
  • Elektra can fit 6 bodies in the back of a Mazerati. Those are some damn fine storage skills.
  • “You are a lot of bad things. Boring is not one of them.”
  • “I’ll spend more than $6 on postage to bring you down!”
  • Elektra: “Are you going to kill me?” Jacques: “Something like that.” Elektra: “Well you ought to know: it’s rude to keep a girl waiting.”

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