Things continue to get complicated in what seems like it should be a simple quest for the Punisher in “Cold Steel.” For a man trying to avenge his family, he’s getting caught up in a lot of distractions, complications, and general chaos. Of course, the fact that he’s a moral man and not just the mindless killing machine caricature he’s been shown as in the past isn’t helping.
The episode opens with Billy Russo showing us yet another layer of his own complex history. After an elaborate grooming session (the man does like to look good), he pays a visit to someone and we learn a lot more about his past. It’s almost, but not quite, enough to make me feel a bit bad for him. It’s an odd mix of compassion and cruelty, but that’s about right for him.
After the title sequence, which I think is the best of the Marvel/Netflix shows so far, we’re back to David’s base of operations. He and Frank are thrilled when David’s searching, based on info recorded from Frank’s scope after his almost successful assassination attempt at the end of last episode, gives them what they’ve wanted: a name for “Agent Orange.” William Rawlins III is a legendary figure in the American intelligence community, and David sounds both admiring and fearful of the man. Frank is less impressed, and annoyed when he learns the details of some of what powered the man’s climb through the ranks. They also find out that Colonel Bennett is dead, but their progress gets interrupted when David notices the cameras he has all over his family’s house have gone dark.
Billy and Madani have a lot of fun in the shower, and then compare notes on scars afterwards. Ah, sweet pillow talk. Even that turns dark(er) as Billy tells more about his childhood. Man, he’s a dick now, but he could not catch a break when he was younger. Even Madani feels bad for him. Then they go back to joking about the threat of a real conversation and admitting to feelings.
Frank goes to visit Sarah again, bringing flowers as an apology for the missed dinner while he was busy almost dying with Gunner in the woods. There’s a simple enough explanation for the cameras going dark, although I’d argue that it shows David was a bit lazy setting things up. Frank and Sarah banter about wine choices and her doubts about how she’s doing raising the kids. David waits impatiently back at his hub, clearly upset.
Madani and Sam share a plan about using an arms dealer to set a trap for Castle. This turns into a joke about her taste in men, which goes badly. Madani is not an easy person to work for, and even harder to try and be friends with.
Frank, under the guise of being helpful, gets David’s camera’s back up and running. Sarah reminisces about some of the things she misses that David used to do for her. She wonders about what people like her and Frank are supposed to do. It’s a long and meandering conversation that takes a turn I’ve been waiting for since they first starting hanging out. Frank handles it very well, all things considered, but David is not going to be happy about this. Frank returns to the hub to start dealing with the aftermath of the conversation.
Down at the docks, where so much of this story seems to keep ending up, Russo and Rawlins have another meeting. Rawlins goes on a long diatribe about American industry and current state of global economics. Eventually this goes back to planning another anti-Castle op. Billy talks about the need for special outside contractors this time, which Rawlins isn’t thrilled with. Rawlins alco wonders about Billy being willing to go up against Madani, and Billy sounds like an ass once again. Just after this, we see another layer of Madani’s plan. She’s a clever one. Sam has some doubts, but goes along with her instructions.
David and Frank have a drunken chat (well, mostly on David’s side) about how they met their wives. Both of them are actually surprisingly sweet stories. The more I hear about Maria, the more I think she was a great lady, and I wish we’d get to see more of her than just the odd flashback. Things end with David doing something stupid and passing out after spouting some bad ideas.
Billy recruits his contractors and they are a swell bunch of guys. Billy knows just how to handle them, and makes some irresistible promises, but is also realistic about what he can actually offer. While this dark deed is done, David wakes up and regrets it. He still wants to pursue some of his bad ideas from the night before, and Frank is very against this. Frank does have a good hangover cure and displays some unexpected skills. Their debate gets interrupted when Sarah calls for “Pete” with a new problem about Zack. Even David agrees Frank should go.
The next section of the episode cuts back and forth between Frank and Zack’s talk, and the confrontation between Billy’s team and Madani’s. Of course, Billy knows who he’s going against, more or less, and Madani doesn’t. But Frank manages to get a heartbreaking confession from Zack about what’s behind his bad behavior, and they start actually bonding, while a crushed David watches via restored monitors. Madani’s team spring what could be a good ambush, but they’re being cops while Billy’s side are being soldiers, and that’s a very uneven place to start from. The firefight gets ugly, with losses on both sides. Near the end, one of the characters makes a major mistake, and things turn even uglier. I suspected this would come, or something like it, quite a while back, but I’m sorry I was right.
The final two scenes are on very different notes. Frank and Zack pass a football back and forth, with Zack acting more like a kid than a thug. David tries to do something dumb, but understandable, and Frank handles it. Madani deals with the aftermath of the firefight, and we see just how twisted and fucked up one of the characters are. It’s an ugly scene to end on, cloaked in looking like something nice.
What I liked: This series continues to impress me. Everyone involved is doing well. Billy is loathsome, but at least he’s a complex kind of bad guy. David is caught between what he should do and what he really wants to do, and it’s a bad place to be. Frank is acting like the sane one this episode, which has got to be surreal for him. Sarah’s also in a bad place, but it’s understandable, and I get why she did what she did. I’m really hoping this is the end of Zack-as-jerk.
What I didn’t: The character death was sad. I liked that one. David was a bit lazy setting up his monitoring system, although maybe he was pressed for time.
Another great episode. I’ll give this a 4 out of 5.