Three Billboards Roundtable

Janes:

For the first half of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, I thought for sure it was a Good movie with a capital G. The humor is dry and pitch-black, the performances (especially by Frances McDormand) are fiercely committed, and the narrative feels substantial and morally ambiguous. McDormand plays Mildred, a grieving and rage-filled woman who rents three billboards to call out the beloved police chief (Woody Harrelson) for failing to find her daughter’s killer. Mildred is sympathetic, not only because she has a dead child and an abusive ex-husband, but because she’s a well-rounded Nasty Woman at a time when we really need one. And yet we don’t entirely root for her, mostly because Harrelson’s Willoughby is terminally ill and appears to be a genuinely decent person–maybe the only one in the film.

That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have certain flaws from the start. Director Martin McDonagh clearly has a “special strong woman” problem: aside from Mildred, every woman in the film is dehumanized, uncharacterized, and/or treated as the butt of the joke. Mildred’s ex’s girlfriend (Samara Weaving) is very young, very pretty, and very stupid. A hapless secretary (also very young, pretty, and stupid) serves almost no function except to get punched in the face. Willoughby’s wife (Abbie Cornish) is at least twenty years his junior and not particularly three-dimensional. (This age difference is not addressed in any way, presumably since everyone should just be used to seeing 55-year-old men act opposite 35-year-old women by now.) The lone black woman is a cipher without any motivations outside helping Mildred. Mildred’s daughter is a bratty teenager who is raped to death before the movie begins.

Three Billboards also immediately has some race issues; there are no main characters of color, and the script establishes the character of Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a dim-witted cop who lives with his mother, by casually mentioning his torture of a black man, without ever showing the tortured man on screen or even giving him a name. It’s cold comfort that Dixon was clearly being set up as a villain (more on that later) when a white writer is using violence against black bodies for the sake of “edgy” characterization without bothering to humanize any actual black people.

And then there’s the lazy “midget” humor at the expense of Peter Dinklage, which is pretty self-explanatory. It’s like McDonagh was trying to be politically incorrect, like he was just ticking off the boxes of every “ism” he could think of.

But still, I was ready to like this movie for the remarkable character work alone. And one scene in the middle even gave me hope that the movie was reaching for greater things: Mildred is in the police station, and when she calls Dixon out for “n***er-torturing” (even the sympathetic characters use the n-word in this movie, which–again–might have been defensible in the name of “realism” if the movie were at all interested in the black experience), he goes on an incoherent rant that goes something like, “you can’t say that anymore, now it’s people-of-color torturing.” I thought this was a brilliant indictment of ignorant racists who don’t understand the point of “political correctness,” an interpretation that was apparently confirmed by Willoughby’s incisive and damning statement to Mildred: “If you got rid of every cop with slightly homophobic or racist leanings, you wouldn’t have any officers left.”

Hot damn, I thought. Is this Oscar-baity movie about the struggles of the white working class in flyover country–which should be a Trumpian’s wet dream–indicting America’s police as systemically racist? Is the script using Willoughby’s character to point out that even decent people can enable everything terrible in this world? Putting aside the sexism and ableism, does this movie have something to say about race? Is this actually going to be a Great movie with a capital G?

Spoiler: no. No, it’s not.

Shortly after that scene, the movie takes a hard left turn for the worse: Willoughby, rather than die slowly of his illness, commits suicide and exits the film early. It’s a neat narrative trick, but unfortunately, it also unravels the moral ambiguity of the whole affair. Now, Mildred’s only option for antagonist is Dixon, and he’s not morally ambiguous at all. He’s portrayed as a disgusting, card-carrying homophobe and racist, one whose only sympathetic quality is his inability to understand when people are making fun of him. The only person who believes in him is Willoughby, which by all evidence seems like naïveté more than anything else. And once Willoughby is gone, Dixon goes on a terrifying violent rampage in which he beats an innocent man, throws him out a window, punches his young secretary in the face for good measure, and then beats the innocent man while he’s down (and potentially, um, dying). It’s horrifying to watch, but also exhilarating, because all you can think is, “Okay. This script gets it. There’s no coming back from that.”

But as it turns out, there is. I had very high hopes when Willoughby’s replacement, a dignified, no-nonsense black man named Abercrombie (Clarke Peters), immediately fires Dixon. I assumed that Abercrombie would play a large role in the plot, that he would sympathize with the injustice Mildred faced in a way that even Willoughby couldn’t. But instead, he all but disappears, and the movie shifts focus to Dixon, its least rounded character. Dixon, mere days after throwing poor Red out a window, magically has a change of heart after reading a letter from Willoughby that once again insists Dixon has “a good heart” (based on… something? Daddy issues? White male solidarity?). He works his ass off to solve Mildred’s case, all the while knowing that she most likely set him on fire. He doesn’t solve the case, but he makes such a concerted effort, even Abercrombie congratulates him. The man who begins the movie fresh off torturing a black man ends the movie forgiven by a convenient black guy substitute.

Some will argue that the script isn’t insensitive, it simply has “nuance,” and that it’s necessary to humanize Dixon’s character for the sake of good writing. I would actually agree with the latter point; very few real people resemble cartoon villains, and it’s always valuable to understand where a character is coming from. I would have appreciated a few scenes that help the audience understand why Dixon is the way that he is–he was rejected by his father, he’s emotionally dependent on and abused by his mother, etc, etc. Understanding his motivations is enough to humanize him, and the script could have accomplished this without asking us to ride along for his redemption arc, without asking us to forgive him even a little bit, without asking us to take his perspective in the last act at the expense of all others, even Mildred.

For the record, I’m a firm believer in the possibility of redemption. But even if a violent bigot is theoretically capable of redemption, it wouldn’t happen in the span of a few days and a freak arson incident. Dixon’s arc is, at best, a white liberal fantasy of redemption for racism (written without ever speaking to a black person, seemingly), and at worst a Trumpian wet dream about all those racist, violent cops being “good at heart.” Even if it’s true (because God only knows who’s “good at heart” or what that even means when you’ve done so much harm to the world), does it matter? And is that the story that should be told, especially right now?

That was rhetorical, but feel free to answer if you’d like, Keets…

Keets:

I’m definitely willing to argue this story should be told, and right now is the best time, but I’m not at all sure it’s a story of redemption. My read of the film is that it is meant to be explicitly political, and that its numerous representational infelicities (I very much agree with all of the points you made there) are specifically intended to make the medicine go down smoother for the intended audience: white Trumpist middle-Americans.

Three Billboards presents an America entirely without justice, and I think that’s pretty much the entire point. The titular billboards are exactly a demand for justice, and we spend the entire movie waiting for that particular act of justice: retribution for the brutal murder of Mildred’s daughter.

I don’t think it’s an accident at all that the mechanism of Dixon’s redemption arc is supposed to be his providing that justice—he thinks he’s sacrificing his dignity to get evidence the soldier was the murderer—and that he fails in the attempt: DNA evidence and the soldier’s service record prove he couldn’t have committed the murder (at least of Mildred’s daughter). Once again: Dixon fails to complete the act that he clearly thinks will act as his penance, that will prove he’s a good cop and good person after all. Having failed, is he really redeemed?

That one, I think, is to be left as a question. As you point out, the film establishes early on and very clearly that Dixon has been and continues to be awful, and prepares him as the key antagonist. He tortured a black man in the jail before we meet him, and on-screen he almost kills the billboard-owner, Red Welby, in his rage at Willoughby’s suicide. Even worse, the replacement sheriff, Abercrombie, fails to provide the justice Dixon so richly deserves, inexplicably choosing to stop at just firing him after the assault, when he clearly belongs in jail. It’s left to Mildred, in the end, to deliver punishment, but even she does so by accident, having tried to make sure the police station was empty before firebombing it.

Dixon has a sincere and permanent (at least through the end of the film) change of heart in the sheriff’s office that night, brought on by Willoughby’s suicide note. Immediately thereafter he is literally burned alive and left permanently disfigured, which along many dimensions is harsher punishment than our justice system would ever subject him to for his numerous crimes. So: Dixon has been harshly and somewhat miraculously punished, and equally miraculously has been rehabilitated from his brutal inclinations. Isn’t this justice?

I think the film argues it isn’t, and does so by making every other part of the plot and subplots various examples of injustice. Willoughby is clearly an honorable man, and is publicly shamed for not solving an unsolvable case; he is a good father and husband and is taken from his family at an incredibly young age by (mostly) cancer. His wife is present and supportive, and is denied an opportunity to say goodbye by his suicide. There is, of course, the main plot, in which the murderers of Mildred’s daughter are never found or punished. Red Welby is brutally beaten by Dixon, and receives no compensation whatsoever. Denise, Mildred’s co-worker, is arrested and held on a trumped-up drug charge only to put pressure on Mildred. James (Peter Dinklage) supports Mildred consistently, to the point of fabricating an alibi for her, and in return receives only ridicule. No character in the film receives a moment of justice, ever, and this must force us to realize that even Dixon’s arc, which has the shape of justice, is only a parody of it.

Dixon was punished and rehabilitated, but there wasn’t justice—we feel that even if Mildred has chosen to forgive him, we can’t, and more to the point, the victims of his crimes (Red, the unnamed black man tortured in his cell, doubtless many others before the movie begins) have not been given satisfaction for the way they were treated. He tries to make a grand gesture by at least making justice possible for Mildred and her daughter, and fails at that.

The reason why what Dixon went through wasn’t justice, and why he doesn’t merit our absolution, is that the State (or the Polity, to be more broad) never judged him and found him guilty. Judgment is the ingredient missing from his punishment and rehabilitation, and its absence is also the through-tune in the injustices of every other subplot in the film. Without the active judgment and intervention of a just State, all that can exist is a chaotic sequence of revenges and assaults, some deserved, some not, and none of which does anything but provoke more chaos.

This, I think, is the film’s political agenda: to present America as a country without justice, particularly in how it treats its citizens of color, and the citizens of the countries touched by its wars. It aims to present in Dixon and the other deputies inescapable evidence that being an officer of the law doesn’t make you an instrument of justice, and in Willoughby and Abercrombie an illustration that a law system that tolerates the injustice of individuals can become systemically unjust. The fact that black characters are entirely marginal and mostly voiceless isn’t great, but their persistent presence on the margins of the film is meant to remind the target audience that the injustice suffered by Mildred, the tough-talking, white, and highly sympathetic lead, is only one example of the injustices tolerated by the system we live in.

Janes:

I stand by all of my earlier points, but I do think that your argument about the philosophical underpinnings of the film–which point towards nihilism and randomness–is its best defense. For all its faults, the movie does a pitch-perfect job of bringing the viewer into its world, which is full of good people who suffer, bad people who get away with murder, and the morally ambiguous Mildred, who achieves catharsis but still not justice. I buy all of that, but only to a point. I think that’s why I enjoyed the movie so much while I was watching it, but didn’t think it held up once I left the theater. The film only works if you are engrossed in its warped, nihilistic logic.

I could actually believe that McDonagh’s intent was to portray a world without justice, especially for women and people of color. I could also accept the argument that Dixon’s arc isn’t one of redemption in the actual text of the film (although it feels like one just by virtue of taking his perspective so heavily, which remains super problematic), since that last scene is so morally ambiguous. But I just don’t trust that McDonagh had creative control over the bulk of his Trumpian-friendly decisions, or that he actively viewed them as concessions; if his play The Cripple of Inishmaan is any indication, ableist and otherwise politically incorrect humor is just sort of his jam.

I intellectually understand the value of the bait-and-switch for Trump country–even if catering to them at all strikes me as a very ethically ambiguous decision in itself. But I think there is a way to humanize oppressed people for the intended audience without playing into their bigotry. It’s a very thin tightrope walk, but my counterexample would be Friday Night Lights. FNL showed a genuine love for a very conservative region and culture (I get tears in my eyes every time Riggins says “Texas Forever,” and I’ve never even been to Texas), but was still wholeheartedly interested in the black and female experience–at times even more than the white male experience. There are women and POC playing huge roles from the start, and by the time you get to the fifth season, you realize that the writers have pulled a bait-and-switch: drawing viewers in with football and white guys and then locating the heart of the show primarily in female and POC characters like Tami and Vince. The only way to humanize oppressed peoples is to actually show their humanity, which is why I thought there was such a missed opportunity in Abercrombie.

I liked this movie. I thought the black humor struck an absolutely brilliant tone (when it wasn’t at the expense of POC or disabled people), and that the feeling of impotent anger in the writing really speaks to our time in a visceral way. But as long as we’re talking about its cultural context, if Three Billboards wins Best Picture over a film like Get Out, which portrayed violence against black bodies in a brilliantly humanizing way, would feel like adding insult to injury.

Keets:

Completely agree—this is not the Best Picture of the year.

Quite simply, making a movie about systemic injustice in 2017, and making it about poor(ish) white folks, isn’t and can’t be right or good or Best. It can only be political, and so I think the value you assign to the film depends entirely on your sense of the urgency and efficacy of its political message.

To me, a straight white man possessed of every form of privilege scientists have so far discovered names for, this message does seem urgent, and at least potentially efficacious, which makes me think it’s fair to call Three Billboards a great movie for this moment, but not the Best one. The comparison to Get Out is incredibly apt, because one (of many) spectacular achievement of that film is to take a sociopolitical context as its raw material and fashion out of it a self-justifyingly dramatic narrative. Get Out makes the political personal, and thereby timeless, while Three Billboards makes the personal political, and therefore momentary.

There is a fair amount of existential despair packed into my calling Three Billboards a great movie: I believed in the political speech of FNL at the time, around 2010 and the few years after. Then, the most urgent political message seemed to be creating empathy and identification with the experiences of women and people of color in a society still structurally biased against them, even as the forms of lip-service towards marginalized communities became ever more elaborate. Today, in a society with a suddenly-discovered willingness to accept and applaud outright racism in public speech and policy, it seems much more urgent to get the point across that in the phrase “person-of-color torturing”, the real problem isn’t with the first word but the second.

All of which to say that I hope the moment in which the content of Three Billboards seems at all necessary or even justifiable rapidly passes us by. But also that Frances McDormand gets to make another award speech on Sunday, because those are fun.

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Everything new is old again

The Handmaid’s Tale, the novel written by Margaret Atwood, is a devastating and sui generis entry in the annals of dystopia, which stands alongside 1984 and Brave New World in the originality of its exploration of the psychology of a totalitarian society. The Handmaid’s Tale, the TV show being serialized on Hulu, is not.

The show so far is wonderfully acted, both from expected quarters (Elisabeth Moss) and… less-expected (Yvonne Strakovsky, Alexis Bledel). The direction is excellent, and the action is genuinely moving and traumatic. The third episode’s scene of a riot, filmed in slow motion, set to a vaporously slow cover of “Heart of Glass,” was truly haunting.

For all that, though, the show has lost the heart of what made the novel so brutal and revelatory.

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The end of the world

Liu Cixin’s space-opera trilogy Remembrance of Earth’s Past revolutionized Chinese science-fiction, and creates a vision of the future as relevant and communicative as any in the history of the genre.

Liu’s avowed poetics for the work, at least as represented for English-speaking audiences, are given in an essay published in 2014, around when the first part of the the trilogy, The Three-Body Problem, was first translated. The essay concludes with his claim, “I wrote about the worst of all possible universes in Three Body out of hope that we can strive for the best of all possible Earths.”

The trilogy certainly takes a dark view of some of the ways humans relate to one another and to their world, but human nature is what Liu takes for granted: humans would act this way even in a Liebnitzian “best of all possible universes.” The “worst” universe Liu creates isn’t the human characters, it is the plot he embeds them in, which is so full of misfortunes that it borders on sadistic. Humans’ difficulties with one another and with their world are the subject that he wants to examine, and hopefully improve, if our actual universe turns out to be less awful than the fictional one he has drawn.

The center of the awfulness is the game-theoretic principle (invented by Liu) that gives the second book in the trilogy its title: Dark Forest Theory. Spoilers follow.

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Arrival was the fucking worst

Before I get started, a few things to clarify. First, I’m going to spoil absolutely everything; personally, I think I’m doing people who haven’t yet subjected themselves to this movie a favor, but make responsible choices. Second, this is definitely a case of trying-and-failing being worse than not-trying-at-all. Arrival does definitely try, but it’s hard to name anything that it succeeds at.

Let’s dive in.
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Why aren’t you watching Casual?

Maybe you don’t have a Hulu account. I would allow that, but really, Hulu has enough network shows that you should dump your cable TV subscription and replace it with $7.99 a month at Hulu. No, I wasn’t paid to say that [although if someone at Hulu does want to pay me to shill for them, you can reach me on Twitter @adversioned].

If you do have a Hulu account though, no excuses. You should be watching Casual.

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Daredevil Recap: 2×02 “Dogs to a Gunfight”

Previously: THERE ARE NO PREVIOUSLIES THIS IS NETFLIX.

Open on Foggy on the phone, talking to (we infer) Karen, the morning after Shane tried to kill Grotto and ended up shooting D. Neither of them have seen Matt since the night before. Foggy finds himself at the police line (what are these called again?) around the hospital, and hears a radio mentioning shots fired on a rooftop “on 10th.” He immediately heads for a building “on 10th,” gets buzzed in by saying he lost his keys, and runs to the roof, where he finds… nothing. So we get an honestly-pretty-funny montage of him getting buzzed into building after building by making up excuses, and occasionally getting berated for being “an idiot.” He finds Matt facedown, draped over a skylight, and panics, runs over to him with a bunch of “No no no no no!”, and pulls off his mask. I really hope this is the last occurrence of “No no no no no” in Foggy’s scripts for this season, because I’m already sick of it. Matt appears to breathe and flap his mouth in response, although he still looks really dead. Time for the opening credits!

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PigHelmet is angry.

Let’s start with a slow pan over Matt on a couch in his underwear. Why not? His face is still covered in his dried blood, and he’s in his apartment. He calls out to Foggy for an aspirin, who responds, “You’re sure you don’t want an x-ray, maybe a psych eval?” This scene is serious Foggy all day, so I obviously love it. Foggy is super pissed that Matt almost got killed, that he could have been seen wearing his costume, and even more pissed that he wants to keep looking for Shane “The Punisher” Walsh [Did you know Shane’s last name in the Walking Dead was “Walsh”? I just had to look it up… Rick Grimes is pretty much the only character with a last name on that show.]. Matt, meanwhile, is supremely dismissive and condescending—he calls Foggy “buddy” multiple times, and calls it a “dumb mistake” that he didn’t notice Shane had the ankle-holstered gun that he got shot with. Matt is positive that the police won’t be able to handle Shane, and that he needs to keep looking for “the shooter.” Foggy tries to take the suit away, and Matt grabs it—”Let go.” “You first.”—and then yanks it away. That little exchange is great: at first it seems like Matt’s ability to beat Foggy up is part of the conversation, but it resolves with him pettily yanking his suit away, and Foggy’s righteous anger maintains all of the moral high ground.

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“Gimme it!”

Karen and Grotto are in a room in a police station, working on his witness protection application. Foggy comes in, still amped up, and grills Grotto about why he told them the Irish were hit by “an army” when there’s only one Shane; Grotto replies that he thought the stories that the attacks were done by one man had to be “ghost stories.” Cop-friend Brett comes in with an orange prison jumpsuit for Grotto to change into (“Protective custody,” he explains, to Grotto’s total lack of satisfaction), and asks to speak with Karen and Foggy outside. He tells them that the cops know a little more about “the shooter”: he’s working independently, a vigilante targeting different crime families. This leads to the exposition—I mean revelation, sorry—that there are other vigilantes copying “Daredevil” (“We call them ‘Devil Worshippers,’” Brett says), and that the police are divided over whether they approve of the murderous tactics of the shooter. Looks like some Thematic Tension!

Back in Matt’s apartment, Senses have gone haywire: quiet things are loud, Matt’s ears are ringing, and he isn’t entirely aware of the world around him, accidentally knocking a glass off a shelf that he’s then unable to catch. As the glass shatters, everything goes quiet: Matt can’t hear anything at all anymore, and sinks to the ground, clearly yelling loudly, though neither we nor he can hear his voice. Apparently being shot in the head is bad for you. I guess we had to expect a Coping With Loss of Powers storyline at some point, but it’s still disappointing when it actually happens: I wish the show was better than this.

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Mawp. Mawp.

In the police station, Foggy is at first nervous and uncomfortable as the power-suited, dyed-blonde DA walks up, but then quickly transitions through quippy to confident. She expects to be able to force Nelson and Murdock to give up representing Grotto, and to be able to make whatever witness protection arrangement she wants for him, but, as blurry-Karen-in-the-background does a amused/impressed/slightly-turned-on face, Foggy out-bullies her, threatening to involve federal authorities and remove the DA from the case. After this brief visit from actually-good-at-his-job Foggy, everyone heads into the holding room to hear what Grotto can give the DA in exchange for witness protection.

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Out-of-focus Karen is into it.

Grotto offers to give up everything he knows about “those Irish pricks,” with which the DA isn’t impressed, since they’re all dead (she offers that “the ones who aren’t dead are fleeing the country,” which I guess is a way that his offer could be not the stupidest thing he could have said, but… whatever, Grotto isn’t supposed to be a brain surgeon). They want him to meet with a drug dealer named “Brass,” while wearing a wire, he doesn’t want to, blah blah, and to finish pressuring him, they throw dozens of autopsy reports from people killed by The Punisher—sorry, I mean “the shooter from the hospital.” DA steps out of the room, and the assistant DA (Assistant to the DA? Unclear. [I searched youtube valiantly for a clip of Dwight shouting “MICHAEL!” but couldn’t find one. I’m ashamed of you, Internet.]) says [Wow, how was that for a parenthetical? Do you have any idea what we’re talking about anymore? Me neither… ok I just checked and we’re learning what the assistant DA says when the DA leaves him in the room with Grotto, Karen, and Foggy] that the “intelligence people” have completed a profile, and have given “the shooter” a code name. Foggy scornfully suggests some great ones, including “Killdozer,” but the reply is “They’re calling this one [meaningful pause] The Punisher.” Rather than breaking into riotous laughter, Foggy and Karen look scared and worried. Maybe the ominous music overlaid on the end of the scene surprised them, since I’m sure they were thinking, along with the rest of us, “Come on there’s no way the writers expect us to take this seriously… right?” Let’s cut to another scene because this one is awful. [Janes: Seriously. This was the most laughably bad scene in the whole season—at least that didn’t involve magical Oriental ninjas.] [Technically that was a spoiler but if you didn’t know, you want to start preparing yourself now. It’s not good.]

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Karen: “Was that dramatic pause before ‘Punisher’ really necessary?”

The back of Shane’s head walks into a badly-lit and out-of-focus pawn shop, where the grizzled pervy-looking owner is selling something to someone whatever. Shane asks to buy a police radio which gets encrypted channels, and Pervy has one in the back, and is charging $1,000 for it—sure, why not. Shane also asks to buy the surveillance video from the store. (…What? He just walked undisguised through a hospital shooting everyone! What is this supposed to achieve?!?) Finally, after he also buys the shells out of the guy’s shotgun for a few hundred dollars (again, what?) and is walking out, Pervy lives up to his name and tries to upsell him some child porn: “She’s barely 12, guaranteed!” Shane ominously flips the sign out front to “Closed”—oh hey, there’s the Potbelly on 14th across the street—and grabs an aluminum bat as he stalks back towards Pervy, whose suggestion that Shane “just take it easy… I’m just trying to make a buck!” is answered by a wet CRACK offscreen as the scene ends. To find out who Shane actually hit, tune into Season 7 of The Daredevil. If you don’t get that joke, I envy you so, so deeply. [kht: I don’t get it. Do you envy me?] [So, so deeply.]

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Potbelly is open… for punishment. And reasonably-priced milkshakes.

Foggy and Karen look at some bills and morgue reports from Punisher killings, and Karen feels like she’s doomed, or deserves to be, because she’s still working out guilt from killing a bad guy last season. Killing is bad, everyone. Kudos to Foggy for the “you’re not the one who deserves to be punished” semi-pun: we’re all going to handle coping with that awful name-reveal scene differently, and I’m glad to see him starting the process.

Karen comes to Matt’s apartment—he has a nosebleed, but can hear again—to tell him about the meeting with Reyes, the DA. When she sees the broken glass that he dropped earlier, she asks if it was hair-of-the-dog, and says that “whenever he wants to talk about what’s really going on with him, she’s there,” calling back to Foggy’s revelation that he explains Matt’s bruises to her as the results of an alcohol problem. This is actually pretty touching. Then we move on to the point of the scene: after describing the DA meeting briefly, she moves on to the new vigilante in town (“They’re calling him The Punisher,” she says, sounding a bit pained. So are we, Karen. So are we.), and Matt says they need to put together a file on him, “find out who this guy is.” When Matt asks if she thinks The Punisher is crazy, she says, “No, we created him—when we let The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen…” “There’s no connection,” Matt interrupts, defensively. Thematic Tension, welcome back! Karen insists that D’s actions open the door for “men with guns, who think that the law belongs to them,” and Matt says that Daredevil has never killed anyone. Karen isn’t so sure, and says that “there’s something about this city that makes good people shoot their way out of bad situations… he could be any one of us.” I don’t get what you’re saying there, Karen! Thematic Tension is always so hard for me to interpret. And then she immediately makes an awkward exit, although on her way out she stops in the door to stand waaaay too close to Matt, and say “We care about you… you’re worth having around,” and glance repeatedly at his lips. He really needs to talk to Nelson and Murdock’s HR rep.

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Matt needs an adult.

Matt rushes out to talk to Melvin, his suit- and helmet-manufacturing friend, about the bullet hole in his stupid piggy facemask. (I didn’t actually realize it until this scene, but this was actually a great way to undo the horrible costume design from the end of the first season…) But actually, as soon as we have a glimmer of hope, Melvin says that it will take him days, and all he can do tonight is add some padding. PigHelmet it is. Lots of hamfisted foreshadowing here about something bad happening to Melvin or Betsy, in the form of a dozen repetitions of “I’ll keep you safe / we keep each other safe / nothing bad ever will happen to anyone in this room or any of their dependents.” We would have gotten it the first time, I think, but this way is good too.

PigHelmet isn’t ready yet, so Matt returns to the scene of the Irish shooting wearing only a hoodie, and finds a blood trail using senses, which leads him tooooo: an apartment with a scary-but-chained-up dog, an active police scanner, and lots of assault weapons! Chez Shane. The decor is little too Se7en for my taste, but to each their own.

Meanwhile, in some warehouse, some Dogs of Hell have stolen a semi cab. They drag out the unconscious/dead driver, and start breaking the truck down for parts. This scene is actually pretty cool: the guy washing out the truck is wearing ear protectors, and so doesn’t notice the gunfire behind him until blood sprays on the panel he just washed off, followed quickly by a dead body—he turns to see a blood-spattered Shane. Uh oh.

Chez Shane, Matt notices one of the scanners has voices talking about the operation to get Brass: Grotto’s witness protection deal. Let’s check in on them. Grotto is getting fitted for his wire, and complaining about it to Karen, Foggy, and Reyes, ordered by reaction from sympathy to awkward humor to angry threats. Before heading out, cute moment: he asks Karen for a good luck kiss, and she leans in slowly… to flick him off. Best friends!

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Karen does not need an adult.

Grotto walks next door into a parking lot, and starts yelling for Brass. No one answers, and we’re momentarily confused about how anyone ever thought this was going to work, but suddenly a body-armored silhouette appears near a shipping container at the side of the lot. Grotto follows him into the container, off-camera from the observation room, and his radio gets cut off by the container. Surprise! It’s a cop, who throws Grotto some body armor—the DA is using him as bait for the Punisher. Back in the control room, Karen and Foggy figure this out pretty quickly, and start threatening to sue the DA. They’re too late to stop the ambush, though: the semi cab we saw earlier appears, and crashes into the vacant lot as it and its driver are shot to pieces by the SWAT team.

Surprising no one except everyone in the show, the driver isn’t The Punisher, because The Punisher—sorry, I meant Shane—is standing (?) on a water tower (???) nearby, waiting to shoot Grotto. I guess mostly we’re supposed to focus on how this looks cool, but I keep coming back to this: the thing that was so great about Season 1 was how grungily realistic most of it felt, and in any reasonable world this guy standing upright on top of the tallest object around would have been seen and shot ten minutes ago. Ugh. Anyway, just before he kills Grotto, D arrives, clad in PigHelmet, with a smoke bomb and a flying kick, and they start Roof Combat Round 2, this time fighting amid water leaking out of the suddenly-bullet-ridden water tower, and, relatedly, conveniently-off-target bullets from all those snipers.

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“Nobody mind me! Just standing 40 feet away in plain view with a sniper rifle!”

In the middle of all this, Karen wants to go out and get Grotto, who’s running for it, but Foggy stops her: “You can’t go out there, it’s about to turn into a war zone!” You mean, a PUNISHER: WAR ZONE, Foggy? Now the snipers say they can’t shoot, because they don’t have a “clean shot,” meaning D is in the way… but they’ve just been shooting at him for all of the last minute… whatever. Anyway, Reyes insists that “You know what to do,” and so they start shooting (again? Or maybe just continue shooting?), and Foggy lets out a really whiny “Nooo….” Not quite Backstroke of the West level, but not his best work for sure. Seriously, writer’s room—get him another word to say. Any other word.

Net result of all these bullets: Punisher gets shot in the arm once, and then suplexes both of them through a skylight, where they can’t be shot at any more. Foggy runs out—not at all suspiciously—to try to find Matt, who’s trying to gather himself after that fall. As  foreshadowed, suddenly his powers fail him oh no what a surprise! The Punisher seems to realize he can’t hear-see anything, and by the time Foggy gets there, they’re both gone. And the episode is finally over.

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Foggy’s internal monologue: “No no no no nooooooooooooo!”

 

I definitely regret blow-by-blowing [Phrasing!] that last scene—probably won’t be doing that anymore… but that is my takeaway from this episode, and really most of the season so far: the more attention you pay the worse it looks. Which is really disappointing: I like these characters a lot (in the critical sense, which in Matt’s case is more like hate in the emotional sense), and so far it feels like they’re getting drowned in cartoony melodrama. If only I could say that we were done with the cartoony melodrama for this season…