The last episode of Daredevil focused on Catholic ideals of hope and redemption as Daredevil tried to convince The Punisher to reconsider his mission of murderous vengeance, but “Penny And Dime” shifts gears to explore another key element of Catholicism: guilt. Both Matt Murdock and Frank Castle are driven by guilt, and the severity of that guilt informs the severity of their actions. Matt’s guilt stems from his father’s murder and his inability to stop it, which has developed over time to become guilt over any crime that Matt is unable to stop when he’s dressed as Hell’s Kitchen’s devilish defender. It’s an intense guilt made stronger this week by Daredevil’s role in Grotto’s murder, but at least Matt has a person in his life (Father Lantom) to help put his actions in perspective and take some of the blame away from him.
Frank doesn’t have that luxury, and the foundation of his guilt is much more devastating than Matt’s. As we learn in this episode, Frank is fueled by the death of his family, and while we still don’t know the specifics of how and why Frank’s wife, son, and daughter were killed, we now have valuable context for The Punisher’s actions. A new wrinkle added to Frank’s story for the show is that he was shot in the head, which introduces the idea that his deadly actions are at least partially influenced by physical trauma that has affected his mental state. The question of whether or not Frank Castle is insane will be repeated throughout this season, and while the bullet to the head doesn’t necessarily confirm that, it does reveal the specific moment when Frank died and The Punisher was born.
And Frank did die. As Karen discovers this week, Frank’s heart stopped for a minute before it suddenly started back up again, and an argument could be made that when his heart started beating again, it was no longer in Frank’s chest, but The Punisher’s. This resurrection reveal gives the character a supernatural quality, but as the episode continues, writer John C. Kelley begins to explore the human side of The Punisher by exploring the aspects of Frank that still linger. “Penny And Dime” is the first time we see any kind of vulnerability from this season’s primary antagonist, and the man who was previously an unstoppable killing machine becomes something more layered as he reveals the thing that brings him constant, inescapable pain.
The depth given to Frank this week makes the other villains especially one-dimensional in comparison, and that difference is highlighted in the way Frank and Irish mob boss Finn react to the deaths of their children. Finn’s malevolence is amplified by having him care more about the loss of his money than the murder of his son, and after stabbing one of his underlings in the eye (this show loves optical violence), Finn knocks over his son’s casket as he orders his cronies to track down his money and bring in the man that stole it. After Frank is taken down in front of the Central Park carousel he used to visit with his family, he’s beaten and tortured in hopes that he’ll give up the location of the money, which he’s rigged with an explosive that goes off once the briefcase is opened.
While the Irish are tracking down The Punisher, Karen gets a big lead on Frank’s story thanks to the nurse that was at Metro-General the night Frank was brought in with his head wound, and he directs her to the home Frank used to the share with his family. While the scenes of Karen in the Castle house work well as a chilling way of introducing Frank’s past without a flashback or a lengthy exposition-laden explanation, there are some questions that nag me throughout her visit: If Frank’s story is being buried as part of some conspiracy, why was his house left untouched? We know that people are monitoring the house, so perhaps they’re keeping it in this condition to lure Frank there, but wouldn’t it make more sense to destroy any evidence that could give investigators a lead on the real story? The logistics of keeping the Castle house around fall apart if you think about it too hard, but not to the point where they ruin the sequence, and having Karen tour the dark, depressing museum of Frank’s past strengthens her personal bond with the character while giving the audience a stronger impression of Frank’s old life.
The moments of Frank sitting in front of the carousel and getting beaten by the Irish start to reveal the character’s mental and physical vulnerability, breaking him down to the point where he ultimately ends up baring his soul to Daredevil while they recuperate from their assault on the Irish by catching their breath in a cemetery. (Daredevil’s lack of subtlety strikes again!) Convinced that he’s about to die, Frank delivers a lengthy monologue explaining why he says, “One batch, two batch, penny and dime,” before he kills people, and it’s an extremely powerful speech delivered with intense pain and sorrow from Jon Bernthal.
While there’s a part of me that thinks The Punisher reciting the first line of his daughter’s favorite book before he murders people is ridiculous, Frank’s monologue does excellent work selling that plot point by putting it in a heartbreaking personal context involving Frank’s time as a soldier abroad and his difficulty transitioning back into his old life when he returned home. The speech begins by detailing Frank’s numbness to killing and how easy it was for him to kill and watch others be killed when he was in a warzone, spotlighting the character traits that have helped him distance himself from the criminals he kills. The monologue gives the impression that Frank felt truly at home when he was at war, and the fear and exhaustion didn’t kick in until he returned to his family and discovered that the things he fought to protect don’t have much meaning anymore.
Frank’s speech manages to hit on the major themes of his story without being overbearingly blunt, primarily because it focuses on specific moments in Frank’s past and revealing the range of emotions Frank felt in those moments. These events largely deal with his daughter, and the most humanizing thing about Bernthal’s performance is how well he captures Frank’s affection for Lisa, which makes the final moments of the speech especially upsetting. Frank loved his daughter, but the emotional repercussions of his time as a soldier pushed him away from her. He’s haunted by his daughter begging him to read her favorite book to her before bed, a request he never fulfilled because he was just too tired, instead promising to read it to her on a tomorrow that would never come. That book becomes the key symbol of Frank’s guilt, and he recites the first line as a reminder of why he needs to fight, bringing the pain of his family’s murder back to the surface to fan the flames of vengeance.
The most frustrating thing about “Penny And Dime” is the rushed development of Matt and Karen’s romance, which officially becomes a thing when the two kiss in the rain after mourning Grotto at Josie’s. I would believe that alcohol is responsible if either of them acted remotely intoxicated (Foggy also appears very sober considering how much he says they drank that night), and by the end of the episode it becomes clear why Kelley forces Matt and Karen together so hastily. It’s not a coincidence that Matt becomes romantically involved with Karen moments before his former lover Elektra reenters his life, and pairing up the two colleagues immediately adds tension to Elektra and Matt’s reunion. The problem is that it’s hard to root for Karen and Matt when such a huge aspect of their relationship is Matt’s dishonesty regarding his secret identity, and Karen deserves better than that. Having that secret diminishes the intimacy of their kiss, and instead of feeling like a moment of resolution for the two lovers, the kiss just introduces more problems.
- I understand that Kelley is highlighting how alone Grotto was by having Matt, Karen, and Foggy as the only people at his funeral, but Father Lantom’s argument that each person is a world would have more power if there were a few more mourners in the pews. I find it hard to believe that the only people in Grotto’s life were the people that recently took him on as a legal client.
- The striking shot of Frank sitting on the bench in silhouette with the carousel in the background does a great job of accentuating the importance of the location in Frank’s psyche. The carousel looms large and ominously, and the joy of the families riding it becomes a painful reminder of what Frank has lost.
- For a person that has apparently been operating without being seen, Frank sure does make it easy for people to track him down.
- This episode uses the phrase “no saint” too much. I get it. People aren’t saints.
- The “thunk” of Daredevil’s club hitting opponents is such an evocative sound. You can hear the impact very well and feel the pain.
- “I don’t know what you are, but I know you ain’t him.”