“Fight or Flight” is another fine installment of The Punisher Season 2 that makes room for ethical debates and jokes alongside its usual helping of violence and misery.
This recap of The Punisher Season 2, Episode 2, “Fight or Flight”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Of all the things I expected to find in The Punisher Season 2, humour wasn’t one of them. The premiere didn’t have much, but “Fight or Flight” has plenty – right from the start, too. Most of it comes from Frank’s new mystery companion, who in this episode says her name is Rachel. She’s sassy and sarcastic, and that offsets a lot of the grimness that tends to accompany Frank’s escapades. When they pull over in a motel lot in search of a room, he hands her a blood-stained wad of bills for payment. “Not suspicious at all,” she quips.
But it isn’t just her. The all-attitude receptionist at the motel is present purely to crack jokes, and this will become a recurring theme throughout the season. I’ll point them out when they crop up. In the meantime, Frank has a bullet in his arse that needs removing, answers Rachel isn’t giving him, and sleep. He ties her to the bed and tapes her mouth shut so he can get some.
Agent Madani, meanwhile, is convinced that Billy Russo, now spending his time in a mask, is faking his apparent amnesia. He’s plagued by nightmares of the Punisher’s skull symbol, and of his face being plunged into a fairground mirror. He definitely isn’t faking those. But whether his memory loss is a put-on remains to be seen. Madani isn’t convinced, but his therapist, Krista Dumont (Floriana Lima), very much is.
Speaking of people who aren’t entirely convinced, Pilgrim visits Beth in hospital and decides her story about Frank – or, as she calls him, Pete – isn’t truthful. Pilgrim speaks in a lot of religious babble, but his point is more or less clear. If she doesn’t give her new lover-boy up, her son, Rex, might find himself a target. You can’t blame Beth for revealing his surname: “Castiglione”. It’s a nice nod for Punisher fans: Francis Castiglione was Frank’s given name in the comics, and he only changed it to Frank Castle so he could illegally re-enlist for a third tour in Vietnam.
The relationship between Frank and “Rachel” which will come to define The Punisher Season 2 begins in “Fight or Flight”. She’s hardly forthcoming with information, and is keener to undermine his macho philosophy. Bernthal’s Punisher is always at his best when he’s debating the morality of his actions with someone who sees them differently; it was a highlight of Daredevil Season 2 and the first season, and remains so here. Rachel has the naïveté of youth, but she’s also smart and logical – another thing that will become a recurring theme throughout the season, even if she is prone to the occasional moment of stupidity.
Billy isn’t being particularly forthcoming with information either, but that’s because he (apparently) doesn’t remember any. He recalls his time in the Marine Corps., and he recalls Frank, and he recalls that skull. But he can’t put them together. He wears his mask and works out, ashamed of his weakness and newfound deformity. And he insists his face hurts, even though the doctors say it shouldn’t.
What, exactly, is going on with Billy? He’s obviously still transitioning into the iconic Punisher nemesis Jigsaw, but this version is leaning heavily into the idea of chronic pain and shattered ego as the root of the character’s psychosis, rather than extreme physical trauma. Anyone who saw the trailer knows that Billy’s scarring isn’t all that severe, and that Ben Barnes remains a pretty fella, so it’s nice to see this development so early in the season.
Thanks to poor old Beth, Pilgrim’s goons are able to catch up with Frank and Rachel, but they’re expected. Frank had already knocked one of the motel’s walls through in preparation – Rachel: “Hey, what’s with the new crazy?” – and is able to ambush his ambushers. The snarky receptionist falls off her chair during the gunfight, which results in the deaths of almost all the attackers besides one, who is arrested alongside Frank and Rachel and transported to the local sheriff’s department. Frank makes a call to Madani, but she’s not interested in more of his bullshit. When they get booked into the system, Pilgrim’s tech support guy picks up on it, and “Fight or Flight” ends with him already staking out the joint. Whatever he has planned next, it presumably isn’t selling bibles.