“Front Towards Enemy” was a brutal episode for the Punisher cast, and “Virtue of the Vicious” doesn’t exactly let them catch their collective breath. It’s one of those stories that goes back and forth in time a bit, as a few different characters relive their perspective on the morning’s events. Given that starts in a room that’s been thoroughly wrecked and has blood stains on the wall, whatever happened was obviously not a polite chat.
The episode starts with Lewis up to no good as he carries a copy of the New York Bulletin that calls him and Frank Castle both homegrown terrorists. Lewis goes to someone’s apartment, and is about as considerate a guest as he was at O’Connor’s place. He does have some odd moments interacting with some pet birds.
After Lewis’ house call, the story shifts to where much of the rest of it will take place; a hotel suite that they’re going to have to start over again with instead of just sending in housekeeping. Billy Russo is being asked about Lewis by Detective Mahoney, the more or less one honest cop that kept showing up during Daredevil’s series. Billy comments that it looks like he made the right choice in not hiring Lewis for field work. Mahoney is clearly not quite buying everything Russo says. Mahoney also presses Russo about Frank Castle.
This leads to the first of many rewinds, as six hours ago, Senator Ori is setting up for a big public appearance in this same suite, with it looking a lot better. He and Russo continue their debate about guns and security from last episode, which shows that, whatever else he is, Russo is well spoken. Russo excuses himself when he gets a phone call, and he and Castle debate how to best deal with Lewis. Russo isn’t up for just blindly following Castle’s orders, and the call ends with Russo meeting Karen Page, who is there to interview the Senator.
Mahoney next goes through the wreckage of the room with Ori, who is surprised anyone survived. After Mahoney and Ori talking about what it’s like to be shot at, we go back in time again, as Ori’s interview with Karen is interrupted by the loud and violent entrance of Lewis. A firefight erupts, and then Castle walks in as Lewis grabs Karen.
Back in the present, a somewhat the worse-for-wear Karen disputes some of Ori’s version of events. Given what I know of her, I’m betting hers is the more accurate. She also isn’t at all shy in giving her opinion of the theory that Castle and Lewis were working together. Mahoney seems to have convinced himself they were, and she’s not having it. She asks him to use his knowledge from working Castle’s case before, but Mahoney is being stubborn and a bit lazy in my opinion.
Jumping back again, we see more detail of Karen and Russo meeting up. As they chat, Lewis comes in down in the lobby, dressed up in Anvil gear. Interestingly, he walks within a few feet of Madani, who is sitting in a chair waiting for something. Ori and Karen have almost more of a debate than an interview, and Karen makes some rational points for gun ownership. Then, once again, Lewis bursts in and chaos erupts, this time with him running out of ammo and revealing he has a bomb belt on. Lewis drags Karen into an elevator after a standoff with Frank and some Anvil gundogs, who take out their frustrations by shooting at Castle.
Now it’s Madani’s turn to walk through the crime scene and disagree with Mahoney. She doesn’t buy his theory about Castle either, and is just as shy as Karen in saying so. Mahoney tries to go bad cop and then gets an unwelcome surprise when he pushes about why she was on admin leave. She finally tells him she was at the hotel to talk to a guy.
Much earlier, Madani’s day starts with walking through the office and getting stared at a lot. She pauses for a moment when she sees Sam’s empty desk. In her office, she doesn’t even get settled before Assistant Director Hernandez comes in. Even with Castle now proven to be alive, he’s not buying her theories about Kandahar. She shows him some proof that there’s a conspiracy going on, and even then he’s not exactly leaping over on to her side. They argue over her methods, and she doesn’t win any points when she names her new person of interest: Agent Orange/William Rawlins. Going to the hotel, Lewis walks past her again as she gets up and goes to talk to Billy Russo. She’s having some suspicions about the man, and shows him some files that really don’t look great for him. He defends himself easily enough, and, after a slight argument, he leaves. She’s about to exit the hotel when she hears alarms and calls for Anvil on the radios, and turns to go back in.
Castle makes his way down the stairs, showing that while body armor stops bullets’ penetration, it doesn’t feel great. He dodges some Anvil guys on the way down, but Madani is working her way up. They run into each other and have a confrontation which shows how confident Castle is in his ability to read people. Russo shows up and starts throwing shots, and Castle comes to some unpleasant realizations about his former friend. The standoff ends when cops come in, grabbing Madani and Russo, not doing as well with Castle. At least he fights in non-lethal fashion, something he usually does with law enforcement unless he knows they are corrupt. He then makes a Die Hard inspired escape down the stairs.
Back in the later time frames, Mahoney pushes Madani for answers about why she and Russo were pointing guns at each other. She offers some, but not much, of the story. Madani raises some good points about the way he’s working, and then walks off without his permission, which was fun to watch. She and Karen then end up talking about Frank, their experiences with him, and the need to get in touch with him. Karen remains suspicious, but I think she’s at least starting to be persuaded by Madani.
Lewis and Karen get past more cops via his threats about his bomb, and end up in the hotel kitchen. Frank finishes his stair escape painfully and goes after them. Karen tries to talk Lewis down, but he’s too wound up for that. She is remarkably calm for what’s going on, but then, she’s been through a lot already. Frank gets there and offers himself to Lewis if he’ll let Karen go. Frank tries to talk him down, and does some great non-verbal communication with Karen. Eventually, Frank saves her with a lot of her help, and the Lewis story comes to a really messy end. With some more teamwork, Frank manages to escape. Mahoney is very skeptical about Karen’s story, but there’s no way to disprove it.
What I liked: This was another well-executed story. I generally don’t like ones where they hop back and forth in their own timeline, but this was done really well. Everyone’s various personalities came through clearly from their actions and how they dealt with each other. I know beyond doubt that Russo is scum, but he still manages to be halfway likeable, which is impressive. Karen was awesome. Punisher is one of the most realistic heroes in that he goes through all this and is clearly hurting badly. I’m glad we’re done with Lewis, as I kept thinking of his whole story as a distraction/detour. David and family not being in this one actually made sense, as there both wasn’t time for them or much for them to do. I’m glad a lot more cards are on the table overall. The emotional scene between Karen and Frank in the elevator was a big step forward for both of them.
What I didn’t: I think both AD Gonzalez and Detective Mahoney are being willfully blind. Not that he’d take one, but Frank needs a vacation. Or at least some recovery time. They were maybe a bit stereotypical with the way the Senator ended up acting.
I’ll give this one a 4.5 out of 5. It was another great episode and we’re closing in on the series finale (although season two has already been announced).