Punisher: Memento Mori

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He just can’t get away from that damn merry go round…

Punisher’s first season ends with “Memento Mori,” which wraps things up and gives a few surprises along the way. With this being a season finale, there are going to be spoilers ahead. So you may want to skip this review if you haven’t finished the season.

Frank wasn’t looking too good at the end of last episode, and he hasn’t miraculously healed up in the time since we last saw him. With limited options available to them, Madani and David bring the barely alive Punisher to one place they can get off-the-books medical help. Taking advantage of one throw away line in a conversation back in one of the first episodes, we’re reminded that Madani’s father is a surgeon. Hamid, the father, actually reacts to this a lot better than Farah, the mother. Hamid goes to work while Dinah and Farah argue and Frank… bleeds. A lot. It was a nicely realistic touch that even someone as tough as Frank doesn’t come through the brutal beating last episode undamaged. In fact, he’s damaged a lot.

In an interesting parallel to Frank getting help from his friends (or whatever Dinah Madani is), Billy Russo does his own bullet-ectomy and then has to deal with a horde of Federal agents coming to arrest him. Remember how Billy and Frank were in the same very elite unit? Yeah, things don’t go well for the Feds. Russo sure as hell had a definitive plan for things going to hell.

After a very rough night, Frank wakes up and gets the bad news about Russo getting away, although whether that’s from the trap Frank and David set or the raid we just watched, I’m not sure. As this happens, techs are pouring over the remains of David’s hub/hideout, while CIA boss Marion James argues with Homeland Assistant Director Rafael Hernandez about Madani’s actions.

A bit later, David babbles while he helps Frank get dressed. David also prepared a few presents for Frank and gives him some great advice which the vet-turned-vigilante will, of course, ignore. Madani comes back in and does her part to help Frank get ready to go out, and Frank remains his own version of very polite and grateful. Madani offers threats/warnings to Frank, which impress him about as much as David’s suggestions.

Marion and Rafael argue a bit during Madani’s debriefing. Madani has a few cutting comments that are even more biting because they’re completely true. She’s not exactly completely forthcoming in this session, but, as she points out, they might not want to know everything anyway. They certainly don’t want the public knowing it all. Rafael sends Madani off to write her report, and Marion makes an interesting observation.

David has a tense reunion with his family, in a hotel room under DHS guard. While David and Sarah catch up, Curtis has a much worse meeting, waking from a sound sleep to find that Russo has come by to ask questions and make accusations. You have to give Curtis credit, he’s a very brave man who stays dedicated to his ideals even when literally under the gun. It’s not just a visit, it’s a trap, and Frank almost ends things here and now. After a lot of tension, and exchanges of words and gunfire, they pretty much call this one a draw and agree to meet for a showdown later. Even here, Billy shows he has some degree of honor.

Russo’s selection of where to meet is a psy-op in and of itself, and kicks off a bunch more flashbacks for Frank. We learn a bit about Russo’s past and some unrevealed details about the day Frank’s family died. While it was something we didn’t know, it actually works perfectly. The more they’ve shown of her, the more Maria has gone from a “death by origin” motivating prop to an actual real character, and I can understand why losing her sent Frank over the edge.

Sarah interrupts a family card game to drag David away and finally tell him how glad she is that he’s back. At the infamous carrousel we’ve seen so many times now, two concession stand kids get their closing/flirting interrupted by a really unwelcome visitor. The elements for the final showdown are being set up bit by bit.

Madani glares at her report, her own ethics clashing with what she needs to do. She gets a very welcome interruption when she receives a message on her phone. She decides to follow up on it, much to Rafael’s displeasure. Frank sneaks up on the rendezvous, fighting through more flashbacks, when Russo turns things into a show. Russo fires up the music and lights, and shows he’s not above exploiting whatever advantage he can. Taunts and massive amounts of gunfire are exchanged over the whimpers and screams of those poor concession kids. I bet they’re both going to be looking for new jobs. Madani arrives and the gunfight gets more complicated. By the end of it, everyone is badly wounded. Since it’s his show, Frank finally comes out on top, and he takes some wicked vengeance on Russo, both coming up with a great way to make him suffer, and possibly creating the MCU version of one of Punisher’s only recurring foes. In a series of small, touching bits at the end of the fight, the boy who was hitting on the girl through their introduction scene goes to help her the instant he’s freed, Frank doesn’t flee the approaching sirens and stays to help Madani, and the kids both do something touching that will help keep Frank safe from any misunderstandings with the cops.

Three days later, Frank is brought to Madani’s hospital room. There’s a very unofficial meeting between Frank, Marion, and Rafael, with Madani mostly just looking on and shaking her head. By the end of it, there’s both a possible set up for second season, and some legitimate reasons why Frank isn’t going to be spending the rest of his life in prison. There’s also a wrap up to the current status of Russo.

Sarah and the kids are making dinner, slightly dressed up and clearly excited. David and Frank arrive in their beat up, A-Team reject van. After a quick discussion, David gets his longed-for homecoming and Frank slips away. Sarah seems to get enough of this to understand why “Pete” isn’t staying for dinner.

Frank wraps the season by sitting in on Curtis’ group. It’s a big step for him, and his monologue is touching, as well as a big step forward for him. It’s also a nice nod to vets, which they’ve done so much of throughout this season. Frank’s last line is a big admission on his part.

What I liked: This was a really high quality series. Jon Berenthal did an amazing job as Punisher, and everyone else did well, too. I don’t recall any bad performances this season. The action, fights, and gun battles were all well-staged and executed. Madani was very much not a damsel in distress. A damsel causing distress, maybe. David also wasn’t the stereotype computer geek, and even Maria Castle got some actual depth. The respect for veterans was apparent throughout. Russo was a layered, complex character not just a cardboard cutout of a bad guy. It was good to see Karen again, although I’m not entirely clear on why she didn’t get Frank some help from Matt.

What I didn’t: Not a lot, really. Russo’s escape from the Feds this episode was maybe a little too easy. While it makes sense, the lack of ties to the larger MCU or even the Netflix corner of it was slightly disappointing.

I’ll give this episode and the season a 4.5 out of 5. It was damn good and well worth watching. Punisher will be back for another season, and I’m looking forward to it.

Next up for the Netflix/MCU is Season Two of Jessica Jones.

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