WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Marvel's The Punisher Season 2, streaming now on Netflix.
When the second season of Marvel's The Punisher opens, Jon Bernthal's Frank Castle is little more than a drifter, living a life of anonymity as he from one nondescript town, seeking to escape his former life. But he, and the audience, knows he won't succeed. In the premiere, he stops by a Michigan bar, stays a little too long, and becomes entangled in one of the two bloody threads that drive the story. He's simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, which, lucky for viewers, leads to the best episode of the season and, arguably, of the series. It's a tribute to John Carpenter's 1976 action thriller Assault on Precinct 13, and it's just about perfect.
While enjoying beer, live music and the company of the bartender, Frank crosses paths with Rachel -- no, make that Amy -- a young con artist who's in possession of blackmail photos that have already gotten all of her friends murdered. Way over her head, with no one to turn to, Amy (Giorgia Whigham) is targeted by trained killers sent to retrieve the photos, which could derail the political aspirations of a U.S. senator, and to eliminate anyone with knowledge of them. Frank, of course, identifies the professional mercenaries as soon as they walk in the bar, and takes every one of them down in a brutal, close-quarters fight that begins in the women's restroom before spilling out into the crowd.
But the mercenaries make their biggest mistake when they wound the bartender after Frank promised he wouldn't bring trouble to her door. Determined to protect Amy Bendix, even though she insists she doesn't want his help, and to exact revenge, Frank Castle finds his new war. Wounded, Frank takes Amy to a motel in Larkville, Ohio, to hole up until the inevitable next battle, which arrives soon enough. Frank emerges victorious from the savage melee, but he, Amy and the surviving mercenary are arrested at the end of Episode 2, and taken to the sheriff's department.
It's not exactly Mayberry, but Larkville isn't prepared for the hellfire that's about to rain down. Ex-military, Sheriff Hardin (Joe Holt) isn't naive; he knows there's more to the bloodbath at the motel than four murders. But he doesn't heed the warnings, of Frank or the no-nonsense doctor who stops by to patch him up; Hardin swore an oath to uphold the law, and that's what he's going to do. "Trouble's comin', Sheriff," he's cautioned -- and if anyone knows about trouble, it's Frank Castle.
About one-third of the way into Episode 3, trouble arrives in the form of John Pilgrim (Josh Stewart), the relentless killer who works for the wealthy and powerful Schultz family, and a corrupt state police officer in their employ. When Sheriff Hardin rebuffs their clumsy efforts to "extradite" the prisoners, he inadvertently places a target on his back and on those of his ill-equipped deputies.
In Assault on Precinct 13, a Los Angeles gang launches an assault on a decommissioned police station and its skeleton staff, who have temporarily taken custody of three prisoners. On The Punisher, as in Carpenter's film, the station's phone and electric lines are cut; and this being the 21st century, Pilgrim and his mercenaries also block cell phone reception. Frank again warns the Sheriff, urging him to hand over himself, Amy and the mercenary to whoever is coming. Instead, he endorses a plan for Deputy Ogden to make a dash to a patrol car, and then get help from the state police. That only results in Odgen being shot.
When the assault begins, with a hail of bullets fired from the darkness into every window of the station, it's only a diversion, so the mercenary can free one of their own. It's during firefight that Frank earns the Sheriff's trust after he chooses not to run when he could have. As in Assault on Precinct 13, Hardin realizes their prisoner is the key to ensuring their survival.
With that, he releases Frank, who begins his one-man assault by shooting Molotov cocktails as they leave the hands of two attackers, which results in the men being burned alive. Then he moves like a shadow through the trees of the nearby woods, picking off the attackers, one by one, until only Pilgrim remains.
Alas, Frank is deprived of that final kill, not only because of the arrival of Agent Madani (Amber Rose Revah), but also because there are another 10 episodes remaining in the season. But for 50 minutes or so, minus some cutaways to Billy Russo, The Punisher succeeds in delivering a wonderfully tense standoff that could go toe to toe against any thriller on television.
Streaming now on Netflix, The Punisher Season 2 stars Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle, Ben Barnes as Billy Russo, Amber Rose Revah as Dinah Madani, Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, Jason R. Moore as Curtis Hoyle, Josh Stewart as John Pilgrim, Floriana Lima as Krista Dumont and Giorgia Whigham as Amy Bendix.