The Punisher episode 9 review & nerdy spots: Front Toward Enemy

The Punisher's stance on gun control, heroism and villainy is shakier than ever in episode nine, an otherwise strong instalment...

The standalone Marvel-Netflix Punisher show has finally dropped, and once again we’re doing daily write ups of every episode, highlighting the influences, in-jokes, reference points and Easter eggs we spotted, as well as a few thoughts on the show itself.

As usual feel free to discuss whether you’re watching along or you’ve seen it all, but please don’t spoil future episodes for anyone in the comments.

This review contains spoilers.

1.9 Front Toward Enemy

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As I’m sure I’ve previously noted, there’s a rather gaping problem with The Punisher as a character, and that’s that he was conceived as a villain by otherwise normal individuals who don’t think a zero-tolerance murder machine is necessarily a great thing. While it’s possible to interpret many costumed heroes through the lens of either right or left politics, The Punisher is hard to read as anything more than an NRA best-case scenario if you’re trying to make him the good guy. He is, after all, one man with a gun (or twenty) who can get the job done when the law enforcement can’t.

For that reason, it feels like both a good and bad idea to use the character to address gun problems in society. His very existence inspires people who are keen on guns – you only have to look at the number of custom Punisher-based designs on guns to see that – but usually, the people writing him are usually the types of people who don’t want everyone armed (which is to say, broadly normal people).

The solution, largely, has been to make Frank Castle the sort of person who is happy to have lots of guns, but would rather everyone else didn’t, because he doesn’t trust anyone except himself. In this episode Lewis represents Frank’s justification for that position: he things him and Frank are the same, but Frank knows different.

The dissonance works for massaging away the Punisher’s central predicament (he kills criminals, but he is one, but that’s okay because he’s better than they are) but as the basis for a story it doesn’t quite hold up to scrutiny. Especially when you have Frank railing against bombs for being “cowardly” when he’s happy to fire a sniper rifle from three miles away. (The real reason the Punisher should be opposed to bombs is because they’re inaccurate. He’s all about stopping collateral.)

The thing is, it’s okay to confront gun control issues using The Punisher if you’ve got a clear grip on the idea and something to say, but this episode hasn’t. Its basic arguments aren’t in place, and it can’t treat Frank like he might be on the wrong side of the debate. Ideally, a character we care about – Karen, Micro, even Madani – should be hauling the Punisher up and telling him he’s wrong instead of tacitly endorsing his methods. Instead that falls to a cowardly senator we’ve never met.

The annoying thing is that otherwise, this is quite a good episode. If they hadn’t sat two characters down and started talking about how the guvment wantsta took y’all guns the ideological conflict would still be taking place in our heads. Meanwhile the show could focus on its own plots instead of getting bogged down. Because the episode is tense and self-contained and has some important moments in it. Micro meeting Madani, Curtis and Lewis fighting, and Frank’s escape from the cops were all great scenes.

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The major development for the episode, though, is that people know Frank is alive. Not especially surprising given that he’s been walking around unmasked and unbearded for what must be weeks now (the Liebermans, apparently, did not watch the trial of the century). But I’m excited for what he does now that the cat’s out of the bag and Frank’s not only alive but wanted. These are the conditions he thrives under.

Comics/MCU references

As usual it’s quite light on references. You can, of course, see the now time-honoured NY Bulletin front pages that reference the events of the Incredible Hulk and Avengers movies in the paper’s offices. But isn’t it time to update those?!

The episode’s title – Front Toward Enemy – is what’s printed on the front of anti-personnel land mines, and the same reference was used for Punisher MAX #53.

Senator Ori just about qualifies as a reference: a version of the character appeared in Punisher War Journal #26 (1991) and then died in the following issue. In the comics he was an old and corrupt senator involved with organised crime, who goes after Frank after he kills the Senator’s nephew.

Also, seeing the Punisher “back from the dead” reminds me of the last two times he came back from the dead. First he killed himself after his series had been cancelled and came back as a gun-toting angel armed with heavenly guns that killed demons, and then another time he got chopped into bits by Wolverine’s son, Daken, and got brought back to life as a Frankenstein-type monster (“Franken-castle”) by Morbius using a bloodstone. Good times.

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