A truly exceptional episode with clear and classic inspirations, “Trouble the Water” delivers a quality of action that you’ll rarely – if ever – see on the small screen.
This recap of The Punisher Season 2, Episode 3, “Trouble the Water”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
“Trouble the Water” opens with a brief flashback to John Pilgrim being sent on his current assignment to “prove his faith”, and you know what? I could have described his low-rent wacky religious community before I even saw it. The problem with having a devoutly spiritual hitman who makes a habit of quoting scripture is that their taste in property is always the same. But since Josh Stewart is doing a much better job selling the character of Pilgrim that the script is, this opening was needed. We needed to know about his dying wife and his sons – Lemuel, really? – and his faded white nationalist neo-Nazi tattoos. It helps to understand where he’s coming from.
We know where he’s going, at least: Right into the Sheriff’s Department where Frank, Rachel, and his henchwoman, Marlena (Teri Reeves), are being held. He tries the peaceful approach first, without much success. The sheriff is well-meaning, but ultimately pretty stupid. Frank tells him multiple times that trouble is coming, and all available evidence supports the theory, but he’s still insistent on doing things by the book. Hosea 8:7 has words for him: “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” Man, I was just waiting for that one. “Trouble the Water”, indeed.
Before that, though, we check in on Billy’s therapy, which isn’t going well. It’s going so poorly, in fact, that he gets ridiculously agitated, batters his security, and has Dumont escort him out of the hospital. Just like that, he’s loose. When Madani shows up later, Dumont is still defending him – I think I smell an ill thought-out relationship brewing! Brett Mahoney (Royce Johnson) just smells bullshit. He’s sick of Russo and Madani and Frank Castle and presumably every other street-level hero and villain in New York, functioning as he does as a link between the various seasons. His role is always thankless, but his presence is always welcome.
While Madani is making off with Russo’s dream journal, Rachel is making friends – particularly with the young officer, Ogden, who is rather obviously enamoured by her. And thus begins another recurring theme of The Punisher Season 2 – much older men quite clearly wanting to f**k Giorgia Whigham. She’s charming, I’ll give them that, and I’ll give it to the season overall, too. Having her be moderately capable of survival on her own makes the character less dependent on Frank. The fact she can pick locks and rob vending machines and manipulate people into doing her bidding gives her some means of being useful, rather than just a burden. Whigham plays that aspect of the character to the hilt, but she can do emotional turns too, as we’ll see by the end of “Trouble the Water”.
Before that, though, siege time! This whole sequence – which is quite clearly a riff on Assault on Precinct 13 – is dynamite, and you rarely see anything like it on the small screen. It begins with the power to the Sheriff’s Department being cut, and the phones being jammed. Classic stuff. There’s a gradual build-up in which Frank sits stoically by as the locals continue to make breathtakingly stupid decisions. Ogden tries to clear the jammer’s range in the department’s Charger, and ends up taking a bullet for his trouble. (“It’s too much car,” says Deputy Dobbs (Rudy Eisenzopf), the resident comic relief who doesn’t immediately realise that the young man has been shot.)
Everything here – from the pacing, to the small moments of characterisation, to the way the scene gradually begins to incorporate more characters within the building – is just perfect. It expertly builds tension around which of these clearly expendable supporting characters will snuff it, and whether they’ll let Frank loose early enough to save the day. As it turns out he is able to free himself, but the comradeship he establishes with the Sheriff means he’s allowed to be let loose into the woods, to pick off Pilgrim’s men before they can enter the building. It’s truly great stuff.
And it doesn’t end with as much bloodshed as you’d think – not for the good guys, anyway. Frank convincing Ogden to take a back seat saves his life, and he gets a rare moment of compassion from Rachel as a reward. The Sheriff makes it. Marlena doesn’t, but she’s offed by Pilgrim’s chokehold of doom, presumably as punishment for her repeated failures. In the end the closest any of our heroes come to death is Frank himself, lined up as he is in the sights of Pilgrim’s rifle. But no such luck. Madani arrives in the nick of time, and for obvious reasons. Now Billy is loose, she needs someone to hunt him down. And who else can do that but Frank?