Posted December 3, 2017 by Jasmin in Reviews

REVIEW: The Punisher S01E03 – Kandahar

Episode: S01E03 – Kandahar
Directed By: Andy Goddard
Streaming Available: November 17, 2017
Created By: Steve Lightfoot
Based on Characters By: Gerry Conway, John Romita, Sr., Ross Andru
Starring: Jon Bernthal, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Ben Barnes, Amber Rose Revah, Paul Schulze, Jason R. Moore, Michael Nathanson, Daniel Webber, Jamie Ray Newman, Deborah Ann Woll

Frank has a really strange way of making friends. Seems when he wants to “get to know” someone, his method is to restrain them and test their morals. Similar to the way he and Daredevil “meet” (with Murdock chained to the roof, “Kandahar” kicks off with Micro naked and zip tied to a chair.

© Nicole Rivelli /Netflix

For someone experienced with torture, Frank should know better. But this harsh introduction opens to the door to a friendship at best, and a symbiotic relationship at worst. If the two of them can both survive long enough to realize they’re on the same page.

While this song and dance encompasses all of the present timeline, the rest of the episode is flashbacks. One arc takes us to Afghanistan as we see the hell of war with Frank and his men. The other story is of David Lieberman and how his brave but stupid (his wife’s words) actions led to his demise. At the end of the day, “Kandahar” teaches us to never trust any organization that calls itself Cerberus.

Beginning with Lieberman in New York, he’s an NSA analyst that feels like he’s being underutilized at work. With the video of Frank’s squad murdering Zubair, David struggles with morality over duty. Unfortunately, he chooses morality and pays dearly for it. This dilemma is something I struggle with as a viewer across genres. Do characters in morally questionable lines of work get to grow a conscious? External bad guy covering up an internally good guy is a trait both Frank and Micro have in common.

© Nicole Rivelli /Netflix

“Kandahar” reveals that David sent the video to Madani while she was still stationed in Afghanistan, and that action is what put him in Wolf’s cross-hairs. But who sent him the footage in the first place? Good money says it was Russo, but time will tell if that’s true. Through David’s flashbacks, we see connections between the pieces. David, under his Micro alias, pulled in Madani who is trying to get in with Russo who turns out to be one of Frank’s best friends.

The Punisher arguably takes a Homeland turn in this third episode as we get a taste of Cerberus missions back in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Russo and Castle are squad leaders under Schoonover’s command in this Cerberus group. Seeing the lighter side of Frank is fun. The relationship that he and Russo have is one that very few could ever understand. A comradery forged through blood from behind a scope. When Curtis and Russo visit Frank’s grave in the present, the secret that looms between them is that much more heartbreaking.

© Nicole Rivelli /Netflix

Relationship building has been solid in The Punisher so far; which is impressive at only three episodes. Billy Russo was immediately likeable from his introduction in “Two Dead Men,” but the connection is solidified in “Kandahar.” The fact that Curtis trusts him is going to make his eventual betrayal that much harder to accept. Karen Page mentioned being the only person that cared about Frank Castle, but here we learn that is not the case. What will the reunion be like when Russo finds out Castle is still alive?

Much of this episode’s focus are the atrocities of war. Where The Punisher has been brutal in its violence before, the graphic nature of Frank’s one-man-raid on an insurgent compound is pure gruesome. Stuck on a mission he didn’t believe in to begin with forces him to step up in order to save his unit. Those tickets to see Bruce Springsteen that his wife sent might have also been motivating Frank….

© Nicole Rivelli /Netflix

“I point, you shoot,” the Agent Orange (the man who interrogated Zubair) tells everyone when Frank voices opposition to the mission. This CIA spook is the worst kind of “leader,” and I hope Frank gets a chance to finish what he started in Kandahar with this man.

The Punisher has always been covertly political, but “Kandahar” brings the government motivations front and center. However, the series (so far) stays away from pushing a narrative. The audience is only told one side of this war story. We have no idea what “the other guys” have done, why they are targets, or why they deserve scrutiny. Viewers own assumptions may shape opinions, but I love that this series keeps its focus on the characters we’ve been introduced to.

War is ugly, even in fiction, but The Punisher keeps delivering solid storytelling with each successive episode. I was all-in with the sledgehammer in “3AM,” but now I’m intrigued and really want to solve this puzzle.

The Punisher is streaming now on Netflix.

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Jasmin loves Batman, sci-fi, and movies with lots of explosions. When she’s not writing about geektastic things, she’s probably playing video games or watching sports. Her ultimate goals include traveling the world to watch tennis and working for BioWare to revive the essence of the original Mass Effect Trilogy.