We’re a little less than halfway through The Punisher’s second season and “Nakazat” (the Russian word for “punish”) is the episode where things finally feel like they get going. Better late than never I suppose? Most importantly, this is an episode that puts Frank front and center. I’m on record as carrying very little about the question of whether or not superheroes kill people. But that’s more so about non-lethal superheroes questioning whether they want to kill someone for the first time (a.k.a. all three seasons of Daredevil). The question of whether Frank will ever stop killing is a much more interesting one to me. If Frank’s soul hangs in the balance based solely on one act of murder, he’s long gone by now. Instead, The Punisher asks a different question: What would redemption look like for Frank Castle?
Frank has left a lot of people alive lately, starting with the Russian gym owner/gang leader Kazan in the previous episode. This time around he spares the life of a child porn-enabling photographer after Amy argues his crimes are only borderline worthy of the death penalty. And Frank also spares the life of Russian crime lord Nikolai Poloznev on behalf of Poloznev’s teenage daughter. That two of those people (Kazan and Poloznev) wind up getting murdered by John Pilgrim anyway is certainly an extra wrinkle in Frank’s newfound worldview.
“Nakazat” also offers this season’s most explicit exploration of Frank as a dad, a.k.a. the best and most interesting version of Frank. That’s always been the subtext of Frank and Amy’s dynamic, but this episode brings it to the forefront, as Amy can’t stop asking questions about Frank’s daughter Lisa. Amy argues that it’s healthy for Frank to imagine Lisa living a life into adulthood (she would’ve just turned 15), but that seems more like a way for Amy to build up her own father/daughter relationship with Frank. The scene where she gets him to teach her how to disarm someone is the best use of their dynamic yet, one that shows off Frank’s inherent paternal warmth as well as the stoic mask he puts on to prevent him from getting too close to anyone.
Amy still isn’t entirely working for me as a character, however. She’s supposed to be a teenager pretending to be an adult, but she comes across more as an adult pretending to be a teenager. I also can’t quite get a handle on how successful she’s supposed to be as a con artist. The first few episodes seemed to imply her skills were severely lacking, as both Frank and the small town sheriffs immediately saw through her act. Here, however, she’s a full-on mastermind, especially when she pulls a sleek switch from waitress to school girl as part of Frank’s plan to capture Poloznev. It’s a really fun sequence, but it feels out of line with the skills she’s shown in the past. And just where did she get that nifty reversible skirt? We already know she can’t sew, so I have to assume that means Frank made it for her. Helping your kids with crafts? Another total dad move.
The Poloznev heist sequence is zippy enough that Amy’s shifting skillset isn’t a massive issue. And director Jamie M. Dagg brings some appreciably elegant direction to this episode, particularly in the wide tracking shot when Frank takes Poloznev to a pier to execute him. It’s a scene that serves an expositional purpose—we learn Amy’s photos are of the Schultzs’ son David, who’s hiding the fact that he’s gay in the lead up to an eventual presidential run—but writer Christine Boylan fills it with great character beats as well. We barely spend any time with him, but Poloznev immediately feels like a three-dimensional character (Dikran Tulaine’s grounded performance really helps there). And it’s a scene that challenges Frank’s murderous worldview in a way that still feels true to who he is. Frank’s not trying to save his own soul, and he doesn’t particularly sympathize with Poloznev’s situation. He’s just doesn’t want an innocent teenager to lose her father.
The biggest theme of the episode is control. Frank is learning to control his murderous impulses by listening to an emerging sense of empathy that’s developing within him. Meanwhile, Madani, Dr. Dumont, and especially Billy are all seeking a sense of control in response to the traumas they’ve faced. Watching Billy rebuild his life offers some insight into the path he took the first time around. It’s easy to imagine past Billy creating Anvil Securities as a way to harness the camaraderie of military service while making money in the process. This time around, however, he takes a slightly different route, forming a criminal gang rather than a security company. (The group doesn’t have a name yet, so I immediately dubbed them “Billy’s Boys.”) It’s another standout performance from Ben Barnes, who’s getting an interesting opportunity to essentially play an alternate universe version of the character he played last season. Like Dr. Dumont says about cops and criminals, sometimes it just takes a slight shift to set someone off on a whole different path.
- I don’t understand why Frank and Amy had to go through so much pedophilia-related rigmarole to get those photos developed, when the images would almost certainly look entirely innocuous to a random photo developer without a encyclopedic knowledge of up-and-coming presidential candidates and their publicly declared sexual orientations. Or just, like, pay a non-pedo photographer to use their studio?
- Relatedly, how the hell does Amy know how to develop photographs? Do they teach you that at teen con-artist school?
- It shouldn’t need to be said, but I genuinely think there are so many other versions of this story that would add a sexually charged element to Frank and Amy’s dynamic, and I would just like to say god bless The Punisher for not doing that.
- In terms of dubious sexually charged relationships, however, we do get an assault/kiss between Billy and Dr. Dumont.
- An all-caps note I took while watching this episode: CURTIS IS THE REAL HERO OF THIS SHOW. His relationship with Jimbo (the veteran with glasses) is so, so sweet.
- I would watch a whole episode that’s just Frank proudly saying, “Atta girl.” I also really enjoyed his casual “Bang, bang, listen to me” while training Amy.
- Powerful Russian agents controlling the U.S. President? What a fantastical scenario The Punisher has dreamed up!