This episode is all about Frank, Billy, their personalities and whether they’re actually different from each other. As we see Frank preparing to storm Valhalla alongside Curtis and Billy preparing an ambush to his nemesis, Madani and Dumont talk about them, their past and just how can one be distinguished from the other. The audience knows, of course, that Dumont is merely manipulating Madani to try and get information about Frank in order to help Billy. The masterful editing that permeates this episodes intercalates the dialogue between the two women with the soldiers about to fight their war, in a narrative that entertains as much as it makes the audience reflect upon what’s about to happen.
“The Dark Hearts of Men” opens with a scene from Frank and Billy’s military days, amidst some sort of passing ritual in which the two had to go through a corridor of soldiers who would beat them up. It ends with the two bonding, Billy telling his friend that he loves him, and this scene becomes increasingly heartbreaking as the episode moves forward. Flashbacks like this one were a big part of season one, and now that they’re back it feels like they were definitely missing this time around. Good to have ’em back.
We spend a considerable amount of time watching Agent Madani and Billy’s therapist Dumont discussing Frank and Billy, which, besides set up what’s about to come between the two, also shows that the doctor can be just as manipulative as her patient. Either she changes Madani’s view of Billy, or she makes her believe that Frank is just as bad. Further than that, their dialogue is an exposition of what the writers want the audience to think. How is Frank different from Billy? Dinah defends Frank, much like we would, but Krista goes deeper and makes us wonder if any of that is actually defendable. This great scene has but one flaw. The whole “saving the bird” story was a little too cliché, to the point that an experient agent like Madani should have known there that she was being played.
We also get some good moments from Curtis while he and Frank talk about the war and their relationship. The script makes a good job of showing how can veterans like them dread the war and miss it at the same time. Curt, by the way, is by far the best person in this whole show, the only one with more than a little humanity left in his heart. That could be, as Frank suggests, because he was trained to save people, while men like him and Billy were trained to kill them. As they talk, Billy watches from a distance. He could have shot them at that moment and ended it all, but that wouldn’t break Frank and make him suffer as Billy thinks he deserve. A decision that could prove very unwise down the line.
Meanwhile on the other plotline, very little happens this episode, but it was a very interesting and meaningful little. Pilgrim skillfully fights his attackers and shows a physical side of him that had not yet been shown. It is a great fight scene, with amazing choreography and stunts, that ends with a bloody Pilgrim having a drink, doing drugs and even getting oral sex. Those were not very godly acts at all, and the character he was shown to be would never do such things. That, however, does not look like a mistake or a slip from the writers, and instead we are most likely lead to believe that in times like these the old mobster Pilgrim returns. That means that now we a psychological, controlling enemy for Frank, who can be just as dangerous in terms of toe to toe combat. Let’s wait and see where that takes us.
As we approach the end of episode ten, Billy sets up two different traps for his former friend. The first one, with the lights and sound turning on and off as Frank gets beaten, is meant to make Frank feel just like Billy felt at the beggining of the season. The whole sequence is done in a way that’s meant to look and sound just like his dreams from earlier episodes. Russo knew, of course, that The Punisher could escape that, and so he does. Grunting, shooting, stabbing and spitting blood all over, Frank Castle rises out of hell like a supernatural force, in another fantastic scene.
What follows is the true and final trap set up for the character, one which he easily falls for. As Dumont gives Billy Russo all the information she just extracted from Madani, we realize the whole sequence in Valhalla was Russo’s tailor-made way to break Frank Castle. As he accidentally kills a lot of innocent women, Frank comes face to face with the monster he became. Billy’s plan to break him was brilliant, but it remains to be seen whether it will actually break him or just make him somehow even more mad.
Like Dumont says to Madani, “hell would be an eternity spent facing our own failings”, and that is Frank’s life at this point. An eternity facing his failure to protect the people he cares about. The thing is, some people stay in hell, suffering for eternity, while others fight their way out of it, grunting and spitting blood in the devils’ faces. We all know which is most likely for Frank Castle.
5 stabs in the dark out of 5.
“The Dark Hearts of Men” is perhaps the finest example of just how good this show can be. Episode ten was as great as the early episodes of this season, and it highlights what a true shame it is that The Punisher can’t always be like this. Great writing, directing, acting and even editing made this one of the most solid episodes of the whole Marvel/Netflix partnership, and it brilliantly transitions the season towards its final moments.
- The Punisher using the same vest over and over again, and it getting more and more bloody and destroyed as he fights his enemies is a great concept, both visually and metaphorically. Let’s hope they keep this going.
- Curtis is definitely one of the MVP’s of this season. Besides his relevance plotwise, we get funny moments like him pretending to be sick, as well as that great comparison between Billy and his vets and the Hashashins during the crusades.
- Pilgrim’s dream or hallucination about telling his wife everything was a heartbreaking moment from a mostly cold character. It also revealed that even his name was changed for his “new” life, and that his wife doesn’t really know about his line of work.
- The music has been great the last few episodes. Great choices that impact emotional moments.