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The Punisher episode 13 review: Memento Mori

As The Punisher’s first season comes to a close, Frank Castle once again finds himself asking, “Now that the mission is over, where do I go from here?

Like the rest of Netflix’s Marvel series, The Punisher has a basic formula. It started off with an episode which could very well stand on it’s own. Then the series introduces and develops new characters at the risk of dragging thing on a bit. There’s an action-packed sequence somewhere near the half-way point followed by another slow-moving episode. Then everything picks up at rapid speed. By the finale, our hero and villain engage in a no-holds-barred, brutal showdown.

In the case of “Memento Mori,” it all revolves around the impending duel between Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) and Billy Russo (Ben Barnes). Yet despite the title, which is Latin for “Remember that you have to die,” there are no major deaths here. Instead, they’re symbolic and, in many ways, transformative.

When the finale starts, Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), a.k.a. The Punisher, is in really bad shape once again. Despite his brutally killing William Rawlings (Paul Schulze) last episode, he’s close to dying from the torture he received. Fortunately, both Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and Agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah), having come to his rescue, take him to the apartment of Dinah’s parents. It’s the first time we meet Dinah’s father who also happens to be a doctor, who saves Frank’s life.

Meanwhile, Billy, at Anvil, performs surgery on himself to treat his bullet wound. After procuring his emergency funds from his hidden safe, DHS agents raid the building to apprehend him. Billy, no longer hiding the fact he’s a sociopath, kills all the agents, then blows up the building. Cue Billy walking away like a badass with explosions behind him, all shot in slow-mo, of course.

After Frank (way too rapidly) recovers, Micro hands him a forged passport and cash. He suggests Frank take this as an opportunity to leave New York and start a new life. Dinah also agrees, adding that after this, she’ll have no choice but to arrest him if she ever sees him again. Frank, however, has other ideas. As long as his former friend. Billy, is still alive, Frank’s vengeance for his family isn’t over.

Dinah turns over the surveillance footage of Rawlings and Billy torturing Frank to DHS director Rafi Hernandez (Tony Plana) and CIA deputy director Marion James (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). When they ask where Frank is, Dinah claims he escaped. They know she’s lying, but she reminds them of the pickle they’re in. Considering Frank could still testify about Operation Cerberus and the government’s attempt in covering it up, do they really still want go after him? I guess Dinah and the show forgot Frank already gave his testimony on tape.

Micro returns to his family, who are still in protective custody. Things are still very awkward between him and his wife, Sarah (Jamie Ray Newman) as you might expect. It certainly didn’t help that Micro bailed on them again to save Frank. Sarah asks about Frank, and Micro assures her he’s still alive, but that he’s also “gone.”

The next morning and elsewhere in New York, Curtis Hoyle (Jason R. Moore) wakes up in his apartment to find Billy holding him at gunpoint with Curt’s own gun. Yes, Curt is once again the hostage of another crazed vet. At least Billy acts more polite than Lewis did.

The redundancy continues when Curt admits what Billy already suspected since episode 6–that Curt knew Frank was still alive and was helping him all along. We also get the first of two blatant mentions this episode about how Frank and Curt are “alike.” “The difference,” Curt says, “[is] Frank would never betray a brother.” The exception, of course, is one who threatens to shoot another brother’s good leg. That’s because Billy has unknowingly walked right into a trap set up by Frank and Curt.

Frank snipes Billy through Curt’s apartment window, but misses. Billy, however, wounds Curt in the shoulder. When Frank calls Curt on his cellphone, he asks to talk to Billy. Frank then tells Billy to let Curt go, as the fight is between them. Billy agrees, and tells Frank to meet him at midnight by the same carousel where Frank’s family was murdered.

This cues Frank having a flashback to him and his family having a picnic at that same park with “Uncle Billy.” I assume this takes place before Frank and Billy’s recruitment into Cerberus, but it’s kind of ambiguous. The main point is showing Frank during happier times. That and Billy claiming his parents named him after Billy the Kid. It’s quite revealing with regards to how Billy sees himself, especially when he says how Billy the Kid was “betrayed by his friend for money and fame.” Not unlike how Billy betrayed Frank. Oh, the irony!

Back the Lieberman’s safe house, Micro bonds with his kids over a game of “Go Fish.” Laura interrupts their game, telling the kids she and their dad “need to talk.” Once Micro and Laura are in the bathroom, however, they engage in a much more intimate–and very adult–sort of bonding (wink, wink). I guess the prolonged “readjustment” period didn’t last very long.

Frank arrives at the carousel and contacts Dinah, who, defying her orders, leaves the Homeland Security office to help him. However, Billy holds two teenagers as hostages. Thus an intense, well-choreographed firefight between Frank and Billy ensues. We also have the second mention of how alike Frank and Billy are, as Billy proclaims how he and Frank are “bad men” whom no will mourn. He even literally says, “We’re the same.”

At one point, a ricochet bullet hits Billy in the face, and somehow he survives. Enraged, he threatens to kill the hostages unless Frank drops his weapons. Frank does, but billy shoots Frank his skull vest. He’s about to kill Frank when Dinah arrives, gun drawn.  Billy shoots her the head, and seeing this, Frank goes berserk. A brutal knife and fist fight follows. Just when you think this couldn’t any more vicious, Frank, using a broken shard from one of the carousel mirrors, stabs Billy in the stomach…then slowly rakes his face across the broken carousel mirror!  Really makes you feel guilty in thinking Billy is getting exactly what he deserves.

Billy begs Frank to kill him, but Frank tells him “dying’s easy.” Then, as he repeatedly slams Billy’s face into another mirror, he tells Billy he’ll now know what it’s like to feel pain and loss. “Every time you look at your ugly, mangled face,” Frank tells him. “You’re gonna remember me!” Frank frees the hostages, and holds a bleeding, unconscious Dinah until the police arrive.

Three days later, a hospitalized Dinah has almost gained full recovery (again, from a gunshot to the head!) as Frank meets with Hernandez and James. Since Frank essentially saved the CIA from scandal, the government erased his fingerprints and DNA from all police records. In return, he keeps his mouth shut and stays out of trouble. As for Billy, he’s in a coma after eleven hours of surgery. Given the amount of blunt force head trauma, it’s doubtful he’ll remember his name he wakes up. Dinah, however, hopes he remembers “everything” and that she helped take him down. Thus, Billy Russo is all set to become the villain known as Jigsaw for next season.

The Lieberman’s are back home, celebrating Thanksgiving and have invited Frank. However, after driving Micro home from his deposition, Frank refuses to come in, telling him “You know why I can’t.” Both men exchange a silent nod of understanding. Micro rejoins his family, while Frank drives away. If Micro isn’t coming back for next season, it’s the perfect ending for him and his story.

The episode ends with Frank, once again “Pete Castiglione,” at Curt’s veteran’s group. There, he confesses the hardest thing coming back from a war is “the silence,” when the fighting is over. The question is, what does Frank do now? “For the first time I can remember,” Frank admits. “I don’t have a war to fight…and I’m scared.”

Final thoughts

It’s difficult seeing where Frank’s journey takes him next season. Unlike the comics, this Punisher may be finding some much-needed closure. Obviously, something will pull Frank back into the vigilante lifestyle, but the fact he’s willing to get help is a huge step. Bernthal deserves enormous credit for depicting the humanity and turmoil lurking under Frank’s more lethal persona.

In addition, Frank and Micro’s developing friendship has been the series’ strongest narrative. There’s something almost poetic about Frank, having failed to protect his own family, redeeming himself by saving and reuniting someone else’s. Great as Moss-Bachrach has been though, there’s no need to bring him back next season. As I said, this episode gave Micro the best ending possible.

Family has also been a major theme with regards to Frank and Billy, too. Yes, depicting the hero and villain as mirror images of each other is a cliché, made all the more heavy-handed by this episode’s mirror motif. Even so, as an origin for the Punisher’s archenemy, the future Jigsaw now has much more depth than his comic book counterpart. His potential return also makes a great hook for next season.

That said, despite the terrific performances from the entire cast, I hope next season’s story doesn’t rely so much on overused tropes. I also think that while the last twenty minutes proved riveting, the lead up towards it felt ridiculously rushed, with subplots wrapped up far too fast and easy.  Also, for a series that didn’t shy away from depicting gruesome deaths, it’s ridiculous how characters who should have otherwise died miraculously survived.

Nevertheless, “Memento Mori” makes for good finale to close out the season. While The Punisher isn’t on par with the first seasons of Daredevil or Jessica Jones, it’s definitely a comeback for the Marvel Netflix shows.

Bullet Points

  • So what were Dinah’s parents even arguing about before Frank was brought into their home? What is even the status of their relationship?
  • Are we sure Frank doesn’t have a mutant healing factor like Wolverine? For a guy who nearly died from a punctured lung, he seems very spry afterward. Not to mention all the stab sounds Billy gives him during their climatic fight.
  • “Do you know where they are, Dinah?” Hold on? Is Rafi about Frank and Billy? If he is, then Dinah saying, “Do really want either of them in custody telling their story?” makes no sense considering she wants Billy brought to justice. Unless she’s suggesting that DHS kill him now.
  • After Dinah leaves being grilled, director James says, “I think a lot like her.” Just goes to show Rafi wasn’t wrong when he told Dinah that she and James are very much alike.
  • I bet that motionless DHS agent keeping an eye on the Lieberman’s in their safe house feels very uncomfortable. Especially if he can overhear everything.
  • “Lewis Wilson and Russo are the only suspects anyone needs right now.” A pretty awkward line from Deputy Director James. She makes it sound like Lewis had a connection with Cerberus when he never did.
  • Methinks the Lieberman’s Thanksgiving Dinner needs to go back into that oven a little longer.

What did you think of The Punisher?