Punisher: The Dark Hearts of Men


Man, stakeouts suck. 


Billy Russo is on the loose, building an army of criminally inclined, disaffected military veterans. The Schultz family is willing to do anything to keep their secrets and further their political reach and influence. Both of those groups are coming after Frank Castle, for different reasons. Anyone think going after Castle is a good idea? Both plots get some attention in a fittingly titled, “The Dark Hearts of Men.” That almost sounds like a riff on the Shadow, who would be an interesting team up with Castle, but that’s a whole other thing.

The episode starts in a flashback, with Frank and Billy, still best friends, running the gauntlet, in a brutal, rain-soaked, warrior bonding scene. Moving to the now, Frank and Curtis are in the rain, on a roof, watching Billy’s stronghold. Curtis talks about Amy’s surprising revelation for a future career, and the complications the enormous bounty on Frank and Amy are going to bring. Frank talks about how he intends to resolve the situation, which Curtis doesn’t agree with, but doesn’t argue about. As the camera moves, our two heroes seem to be observed by someone else.

Playing with the timeframe again, we move back twenty four hours, with Dumont and Madani sharing wine and making some stumbling steps toward friendship. Madani talks about the fateful night on the carousel, filling in a few details Dumont wasn’t sure of until now. Dumont encourages Madani to unburden herself, although whether as a psychiatrist, a new friend, or Billy Russo’s accomplice is open for debate. Madani offers that you can’t understand Russo unless you understand Frank. Back to the roof, Frank tells Curtis he didn’t want his friend involved, but would be dead without his help. They talk about the old days, and Frank wonders what he missed in Billy that let him become the monster he turned into. Frank also reflects on the differences between the roles he and Billy played versus what Curtis did and still does. Frank’s thoughts get almost maudlin, and Curtis notes an important difference between Jigsaw and the Punisher.

The story shifts to Pilgrim, last seen in a tight spot in a bar. He fights his way clear, every bit as brutal as Frank would be in the same situation. Victorious, Pilgrim deals with a witness, takes some spoils, and loots the bodies in true gamer fashion, albeit a lot bloodier. Madani and Dumont continue their discussion, talking about the difference in the genders, and what separates Frank from Russo. Madani still maintains there’s a big difference, and  Dumont seems very interested, in her contradictory way. Pilgrim lurches back to his hotel room and indulges like we’ve never seen from him so far, and then has an issue with a neighboring room and goes to deal with it.

Curtis attends to a domestic issue, and Frank listens, amused, praising his performance at the end of the call. A big difference between the two friends; Curtis is thinking about the future and doing what he can to make sure his real life is still there when he’s done. Frank doesn’t plan past the current mission. They talk out how this is going to go down, and Curtis talks about the Hashashin, a story I’m truly stunned Frank doesn’t know. Curtis is concerned with how Russo’s men will react to Frank taking Russo out, but Frank isn’t worried and offers an observation about Russo. Back at his hotel, Pilgrim is having a very odd night, helped along by booze, drugs, women, and hallucinations. Whatever his past, Pilgrim clearly wasn’t the warrior/holy man he is now, and has some odd reflections on brotherhood.

Still on their perch, Frank and Curtis observe the arrival of some woo girls, and Curtis talks about the usual routine. Once again, as they make their plans, they’re being watched and totally miss it. Curtis has some good observations about the need for Russo to show up, and they have an emotional parting, especially with Frank involved. I like that these two are clearly friends who care about each other, and they don’t shove that aside for the sake of showing Frank as a tough guy. Pilgrim has some more flashbacks, and is clearly not used to partying this hard anymore.

Wandering Dumont’s apartment, Madani looks at the various diplomas on the wall and wonders how the other woman got involved with caring for people like Russo. There’s a story there that goes back to Dumont’s childhood, and it’s enough of a trite stereotype that I wonder if she’s making it up. Madani doesn’t share Dumont’s idealistic view of humanity in general or Russo in particular. Dumont keeps probing at Madani, which I think is equal parts professional habit and getting a feel for one of her lover’s enemies. While Frank works his way into Russo’s stronghold, Russo gives a speech to his men, getting them riled up and ready. It’s a very good speech, showing just how slick Russo is, and so very skilled at manipulating people. Both sides get ready for the fight that’s about to happen, which isn’t good news, since Frank thinks he’s coming in with the element of surprise.

They do a good blending of scenes, as Dumont talks about the hell of human feelings, everyone feeling like they fall short, while Frank infiltrates Russo’s place. Dumont’s reflections continue as Curtis does his best to do what he’s there for, and Frank finds out he’s in a lot of trouble. It’s a really brutal ambush, and Russo put it together well, credit where it’s due. Russo gloats and leaves Frank to his men, which is just not a good idea. Supervillain 101, never leave the hero alive. Well, he does, and Frank manages to turn things around, inch by painful inch.

Up on the roof, Curtis faces his own crisis, and has to deal with some things he hoped he never would. He does everything he can to avoid it, showing again both that he’s a good man, but also a resolute one who will do what he has to. The real trap hasn’t been sprung yet, and Russo masterfully gets everything in place. Frank is left in his own version of hell, as Curtis flees. The episode ends badly for Frank, and also shows us what the point of Dumont’s long conversation was. At this point, in my view, Dumont has elevated herself from sidekick/lover/helper to a full villain in her own right.

What I liked: I don’t care for them at all, but Dumont and Russo make a hell of a team. The big trap was brilliant, if ruthless and cold-blooded, and they did a great job with it. Curtis is providing some interesting insights into both Castle and Russo. Actually, the more I hear him talk, the more I’d love to a see a scene of him with Sam Wilson. Before he became the Falcon, Sam was running a vets’ group, and I bet they’d get on really well. Pilgrim, if nothing else, is certainly on par with Frank for both fighting skill and emotional damage. I really like the friendship between Frank and Curtis, that they let us see them caring about each other, and that they’re very different people.

What I didn’t: Another episode without Amy, and I once again missed her. The scenes with someone looming behind Frank and Curtis didn’t really make a lot of sense to me. I’m not real clear on how Russo knew exactly when Frank was coming.

I really both enjoy and admire this show. It’s put together remarkably well, and might actually be the best of the Netflix/Marvel series. I’ll give this one a high 3.5 out of 5.