The third episode of Punisher’s first season is “Kandahar,” which seems to be where a lot of what’s going on was set in motion. It’s the only central point connecting most of the characters that are playing major parts in the show so far. And we learn a lot more about what’s going on as this develops.
Last episode ended with an unfortunate turn of events for Micro, as David Lieberman calls himself. Now he’s much worse off. Frank Castle has him prisoner, and it’s a really unpleasant set up for the computer genius. Micro, babbling away nervously, makes a joke about the movie Marathon Man. There’s a lot of uncomfortable talk between them, Lieberman pleading his case and Castle being unimpressed. Then Castle gets his own surprise from some of Micro’s precautions.
After the title sequence, Micro finally persuades Castle to take the precautions seriously, in a scene that manages to combine tension and slapstick. Micro keeps trying to persuade Castle they’re on the same side. He’s not having a lot of luck. Castle gets uncomfortably close to Micro and gives him a very intense, creepy speech about routine. It’s really well done and wouldn’t make me want to be anywhere near Castle.
Micro’s backstory, how he got into this, comes out as he babbles. His heart really was in the right place, and I understand why he did what he did. He even, eventually, convinces Sarah, appealing to her about being a role model for their kids. We end up learning how Madani got her copy of the video, and seeing even more proof that the late, unlamented Carson Wolf was crooked. By the end of the sequence, it becomes apparent why everyone thinks Micro is dead. Castle learns a lot, but doesn’t relent on his own precautions.
While Agent Sam Stein brings Madani up to date on the investigation into Wolf’s death, we see that two more of our characters have ties. Billy Russo, who runs the training facility Madani was looking into, drops by Curtis’ meeting place. These two go way back, it seems, and we learn a good bit more about Russo. After a lot of reminiscing, Russo makes sure Curt is still up for something tomorrow night.
Castle and Micro have another scene that highlights Castle’s mistrust of just about everyone. Lieberman does his best to sway Frank, but he’s not listening. When pressed about who’s coming to save him, Lieberman makes a really good point. Castel really isn’t giving Micro enough credit, but I understand why, from his perspective at least.
Back to Kandahar via flashback, we see a man we don’t know giving a strange talk to a group of soldiers. Among the ones there are Colonel Schoonover, who we met during season two of Daredevil, and Russo. They’re going to be taking part in a special operation codenamed Cerberus. The man says the soldiers will be his dogs of war. Granted, that’s not an unknown expression, but it’s really interesting that’s the name of the motorcycle gang Punisher later kills off during his time on Daredevil. We get to see more of the relationship between Castle and Russo, and at least one other of the soldiers.
In the present, Curt runs another meeting of his group. A younger man, Lewis, is talking this time around about his own trauma and problems with being back home. The series is doing a great job highlighting the horrible way America treats its veterans. Curt reveals what he does now in civilian life, and Lewis gets a pamphlet from one of the guys in the group he should probably be staying away from.
In Micro’s bunker, the alarm goes off again, and Castle pushes back about the story, having done some of his own poking around. Micro shows him what he actually has set up, and it could be just as dangerous to Castle as the first claim. While Micro doesn’t have the skills Castle does, he shows that he’s got his share of bravery, and is just as confident in his skills as Castle is in his own.
We flashback to the interrogation we’ve seen video of several times now. It’s being run by the civilian who is running Cerberus, who we never get a real name for but has been dubbed Agent Orange. The man being interrogated is, of course, Madair’s friend Zubair. We hear Zubair’s plea again, which I certainly believe, and get a lot more of a clue that Agent Orange is corrupt. There’s a shady midnight burial, and some doubts coming from some of the men. With this uncertainty shown from the past, in the present, Russo and Curt observe a ritual for Frank that, if Frank knew about it, he probably wouldn’t care. It’s a touching scene and gives us a bit more about both Curt and Russo’s past. I admit, when Madani first started looking into Russo, I had my doubts about him, but the character is really growing on me. I hope we don’t learn something ugly about him down the road.
Back at the apartment, Madani is going over Wolf’s murder when her roommate/mother walks in. The pictures are disturbing, even rattling her mother’s professional psychiatrist demeanor. Mom, whose first name is Farah, bounces back quickly and gives some good insights into Madani’s mindset. Farah’s good at what she does, however annoying that must be to an adult daughter forced to temporarily live with her mother.
Frank has dosed off and is having his familiar flashback of Maria, although with more detail this time. He wakes with a start and Micro starts talking to him again, still pushing to convince him they should work together. Amidst all this, the alarm goes off again. Castle keeps trying to make distinctions between them, and this might be part of why he gets distracted when Micro pulls off a slick stunt.
While Lewis from the group gives a very vivid example of his PTSD, Stein has a surprise for Madani. He brings her proof that Wolf was up to something, and it’s a lot of proof. Madani has her own trust and paranoia issues at this point, which worries Sam. They bicker a bit, and Madani actually seems a bit surprised when Sam storms out.
After pulling his trick off, Micro offers a very concrete bit of proof that Castle can trust him. Castle still doesn’t believe him, but Micro has at least made an impression. Micro keeps pressing on and makes a few more good points, and draws a decent comparison between himself and Castle.
A good bit of the rest of the episode is a long flashback to Kandahar. Agent Orange sets up a new mission for them, and Castle has a lot of doubts about it. Orange ignores him, and the Colonel backs up Orange. Sure enough, things go horribly badly, and the unit takes major casualties in a really ugly firefight. Castle goes into near-berserker mode, fighting desperately to get his men out, and shows what an amazing bad ass he is. In the aftermath, Orange is his usual cocky self and Castle snaps. Russo pulls him back and tells him something surprising enough to make Castle stop, although there are some more tangible reasons for Castle ceasing.
After this long sequence, Micro wraps things up. He shows the extent of his preparations and gives a hint at what he can offer Castle as a partner. Micro knows they’re not going to become friends, and he’s fine with that. Micro knows what levers to pull, and shows Castle some really surprising revelations about Cerberus and what it actually meant. Castle finally tentatively agrees, with one condition. It’s something most of the Marvel characters would be appalled by, but Micro agrees.
What I liked: Just about everything. They are tying the characters together really well. I’m liking Russo as I get to know more about him, and Curt is impressing me with his loyalty. Castle and Micro’s debate, which was most of the episode, made perfect sense for both characters. Micro isn’t the kind of fighter Castle is, but he’s dedicated and brave and tricky. Castle’s combat sequence in Kandahar was brutal and perfect.
What I didn’t: Really, very little. What at first seemed like big coincidences about the characters meeting up has been revealed to make perfect sense. I can’t stand Orange’s smarmy smugness, and I really hope we get to see him face some justice in here somewhere .
I’m giving this one a 4.5 out of 5. I thought it was a great episode.