Contributor Editors Tara Bennett and Mike Avila are doing detailed recaps of each of Daredevil Season 2's 13 episodes. Mike is the lifelong Daredevil aficionado and expert, while Tara is the television junkie. From those perspectives, we’ll publish our reviews every two days.
Episode 4, “Penny and Dime,” is the culmination of The Punisher’s origin story.
It features a new threat to Hell’s Kitchen making his arrival: An Irish gangster named Finn Cooley. He’s after The Punisher, and his crew is terrorizing the neighborhood to track him down. Meantime, Karen’s investigation leads to the truth about what turned Frank Castle into The Punisher. Her findings also point toward a larger coverup in play, one that points right at District Attorney Reyes. How is she involved in the events that led to the creation of The Punisher??
At the funeral for the firm’s ill-fated client Grotto, Matt Murdock continues to question his role and purpose as Daredevil. He wonders if his one-man crusade is undermining not just the police, but his own faith.
But when Castle is captured by the Irish mob, Matt suits up – in a new and improved costume – and helps The Punisher take down his enemies. In the end, the two settle on a grudging respect for the other. Castle, admiring Daredevil’s courage; Murdock, empathizing with the unimaginable tragedy that could transform a man into the Punisher.
Last but not least, Matt and Karen continue to grow closer, but Murdock’s temporary state of bliss is interrupted by the abrupt reappearance of a person from his past.
Mike: “Funerals are for the living.”
I loved this line by the priest after Grotto’s eulogy. His words are as much for Matt to learn from as they are to give some sort of proper farewell to a low-level criminal no one but his legal representation team will mourn (and I doubt Foggy is losing much sleep over him). I was no fan of Grotto’s place in this season’s story, but his purpose seemed to back up Matt’s argument to Castle in Episode 3 that redemption is always a possibility. That’s a big element in this episode, which feels like the conclusion of the origin of Frank Castle.
Thanks to Karen’s crack detective skills, we learn that there are greater forces in play that may have led to the creation of The Punisher. Karen, who knows all too well how it feels to pull the trigger and take a man’s life, at one point calls the Punisher a lunatic, but in almost sympathetic fashion. She tells Matt and Foggy that the bullet wound to his head should have killed him. And, she notes, ADA Tower gave her these files for a reason, perhaps because DA Reyes is involved?
Tara: I enjoyed the dual revelations regarding Castle's path that led to his current exploits. At the Castle home, there was a poignant vibe as Karen crept around the home and pieced together a more complicated history than she expected. I appreciated Woll's performance as her black and white assumptions clearly began to melt with every commendation, family picture and children's toy she encountered and explored. And then later at the carousel, when Castle is clearly remembering something extremely important to him (revealed later to Matt), we get more of a confirmation there is less monster to this killing machine than what's been presented. Plus, he's ready to take torture for a dog. How are we not 100% swayed by that move?
Mike: Frank Castle’s origin story is one of the best in comics because it is simple, straightforward and tragic. Frank and his family were enjoying the day at the park, only to be caught in the crossfire of a gang shootout. It’s completely random, and horrible and it’s the kind of event one could see being the trigger point for someone to become the Punisher. Adding some dense conspiracy to the mix with DA Reyes will only dilute the power of that story. I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s see where the writers take it.
Also, good news, Tara. The Kitchen Irish mafia are back!
The Punisher is being hunted by what’s left of the Irish gang he decimated in the season debut. A menacing fellow by the name of Finn Cooley shows up to mourn his dead son and retrieve the $1.2M ‘the shooter’ got away with. He also marks his territory by taking an ice pick and burying it in the eye of the supposed gang leader. OK, then. The Irish mobsters are straight out of central bad guy casting, but they acquit themselves well.
I really liked the main guy, Finn. He’s wild-eyed and he has the presence to be a formidable enemy of Castle’s. He also is a sadist, judging by the glee with which he buried that drill bit in Frank’s foot. Which is why it’s a shame he was dismissed in anti-climactic fashion in one of the goriest deaths this show has produced. I think it was a waste to off this guy so early. He had genuine charisma. And a show about Daredevil can never have enough charismatic mobster types.
Tara: Oh lordy, Mike. The gangs this season are giving me cliché migraines. See more of my thoughts on that in The Bad.
For now, I'll focus on the upsides, including Matt's excellent journey through the Irish killings to track down where Finn was torturing Castle. To me, that's the cool part of Matt's abilities, and having him wind his way through the leftover scenes of many crimes, building out new context about Frank was really clever storytelling. I wish there was more of that.
I also appreciated the gravestone confessional from Frank to Matt. It was far too long, but kudos to Bernthal for doing the very best he could with all of that real estate when brevity would have worked to the monologue's emotional impact. Plus, I'm sorry. I can't take a scene like that totally seriously when Matt is sitting there in the costume. Castle is pouring his heart out to a guy in an upscale Halloween contest and it took me out of the right frame of mind to just be in the moment. Not my favorite framing of an emotional scene.
Mike: Bernthal is tremendous here, as he shares the trauma of Castle’s return from the war and how it affected his home life. It’s heartbreaking to hear him recount how he told his daughter he was ‘too tired’ to read her favorite book that night. He would read it tomorrow, he promised. Except there would be no more tomorrows for her, because she would die the next day.
Karen was a real MVP of this episode. She’s coming into her own as an investigator. The attraction between her and Matt is off the charts. That scene in the rain outside of Josie’s was quite powerful.
Tara: I'm not enjoying that storyline mostly because it's turned Karen into a sop this season. She had a lot more individual purpose last season, and up to this episode, she's been mooning over Matt in overload. Or she's been watching Foggy do verbal gymnastics all over someone in awe. What's Karen doing for Karen? Four episodes in and we should know that by now. Her dynamic with Ben from last season is missed and I'm just hoping her interest in Castle's real story gives her some narrative that's a lot more interesting than what she's gotten so far.
Mike: And do we want Matt and Karen together? I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. I do know that the person sitting in Matt’s apartment waiting for him at the very end is probably going to complicate things.
Something else: Karen also tells Matt about her brother for the first time in this episode. That couldn’t have been a throwaway line, so it looks like another story hint to be picked up another day.
Tara: I'd like to go back to the gangs this season. In this episode, it's the Irish. The only thing distracting from their one-note characterizations (whiskey at the funeral, throwing bodies out of the their caskets like an Irish Scarface...) is the excessive violence that hits a new level in this episode. I watch plenty of violent TV shows, but there should be a good reason for it, and to me, the drilling of feet and copious pummeling of faces feel like the showrunners are trying to toughen the show up because they're embarrassed it's not gruesome enough. I don't remember ever thinking in Season 1, "Gee, this show needs more head splats from bullets." Thus, this ramping up of the gore feels a little desperate and calculated rather than inherent, or organic to what the show is, or has been. Plus, the roll call of ethnic gangs amount to a string of accented faces. Sure, Finn is a sadist bent on revenge and "GETTING HIS MONEY!" Do I care about who killed his son? Nope. I don't care about any of the bad guys in this season and maybe that's why I'm feeling like the episodes are blurring without a lot of distinction. Fisk was a monster but a really interesting monster with a strange duality and sensitivity that was completely interesting to watch. Frank Castle got sort of interesting this episode, but he's clearly not the bad guy anymore. Who is it going to be, and more important at this point, am I going to care?
There was a very odd sense of pacing to this episode. Castle was wrapped up in a very quick and unsatisfying way, even if this was a mini arc. All of that confession and pain led to a smiling and giddy Matt and Karen date, with a Foggy who is completely OK with that. Then there's another cliché with the rain kissing. It all feels like the end of a season and that's just odd storytelling for any TV show. It grinds down any sense of cohesive arc and it creates a compartmentalized feel to what should be an upward swing in the seasonal story. Sure, Elektra (Elodie Yung) opens the door to a new arc but it doesn't feel integrated to the four hours we've been watching already.
Mike: I found the abrupt end to the Irish gang threat to be fairly unsatisfying too. Finn’s remark upon finding the Punisher’s hideout indicated he knew much more about what happened to the Castle family than he really did. And then they were wiped out rather quickly, as if the writers realized they were supposed to be one-and-done.
One more thing. When the police arrive to arrest Castle, Daredevil tells Sgt. Mahoney to take credit for the collar. It’s time for the people of Hell’s Kitchen to believe in the police again, Matt says, and the days of the vigilante are over. All well and good, but it was much too close to The Dark Knight territory for my liking. Plus, since we’re only four episodes in, we know Daredevil isn’t hanging up his horns. It just seemed...misplaced.
Tara: Yes! I completely agree with that The Dark Knight lean and it's indicative of what isn't working for me this season. I don't think the writers know what Daredevil should be on his own this season.
THE COMIC BOOK CORNER:
Mike: The Central Park Carousel refers to the Punisher’s original comic book origin, first detailed in “Marvel Preview #2.”
This episode also gives us our first look at the Punisher’s groovy Battle Van, which looks like it came from the same lot where the Scooby gang picked up the mystery machine. Frank Castle has always loved his vans. The Punisher’s Battle Van first appeared back in 1975 in “Giant-Size Spider-Man #4.”
Not an Easter Egg, just an observation; Jon Bernthal’s Punisher resembles Tim Bradstreet’s version more every time I see him. Part of it is the dark lighting used in just about every scene featuring Castle. But other details too highlight the resemblance, like the field jacket he wears in this episode.
Tara: A bit fractured and not smoothly paced, this episode was weirdly structured and created some odd narrative separations. Even if Castle isn't done in the story, they keep separating him from the core narrative, like a walking cameo, and that's very distancing for me to get my head and heart around. I want to know this guy better, but the show is making it hard for me to get there. It's also being inconsistent with Matt. Is he completely fine now? Are we supposed to believe staring down his mirror image of justice, Castle, is now resolved and he's at peace with his actions and mission? I'm not sure. It seems like it from the last 10 minutes of the episode, and that's pretty tidy (and not in a good way) storytelling.
Mike: I didn’t think the cast/crew could top last week’s episode, and they didn’t. But it wasn’t for lack of effort.
This episode tried to balance concluding the story arc of Frank Castle while setting the table for other storylines to carry through the season, and the weight of that struggle sometimes showed. The Irish gang story felt a bit half-baked, for one.
But it was more than redeemed by the details of Castle’s heartbreaking backstory. I hope this isn’t the last we’ll see of Frank Castle, because he’s been as big a star of this part of Season 2 as the title player. But with the unseen arrival of Elektra in the final moments of this episode, it would seem the season’s next story arc will focus on yet another iconic member of Daredevil’s illustrious past. The question now: Will their stories intersect?