The Marvel / Netflix offerings for 2017 weren't really up to the par set by Marvel's Daredevil, Marvel's Luke Cage and Marvel's Jessica Jones. Marvel's Iron Fist was a disappointment and Marvel's The Defenders was good, but not great. Which meant it was up to Frank Castel (Jon Bernthal) to save the day, and that is exactly what Marvel's The Punisher did. A series about about vigilante violence and veterans dealing with PTSD showed an amazing amount of heart and one of the stand out things in the series was the relationship between Frank and Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), which is why the best episode of 2017 focused on their relationship: Cold Steel.
The episode, directed by Antonio Campos and written by Felicia D. Henderson, started off by showing us a side of Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) we hadn't seen: the way he treats his mother. And that's not pleasant. It was a bit heavy handed and felt like it was a giant sign telling viewers, "In case you missed it, this guy is the villain."
We get to see what his motivation is — he's obsessed with success because he grew up in an abuse group home after his drug-addict mother dumped him at a fire station. We see now that Billy's reason for joining the military was to move up in the world, unlike Frank, who did it out of a sense of duty and honor. With how over-the-top maniacal the act of keeping your mother in a drug-induced coma is… that scene makes what comes next work even better.
The whole season Frank has been 'filling in' for Micro with his family. It's not something Frank planned to do, but when Micro thinks they're in danger, he pushes Frank to go check on them — and it leads to Sarah kissing Frank. This has been coming for a while, and poor Micro had to see it happen. The reason this episode works is that it didn't turn into a sitcom where Micro throws Frank's stuff out of the lair or goes on some kind of silly tirade. Micro gets drunk. His rational mind understands what happened. His wife believes him to be dead and Frank has been helping the family and is a good guy. He showed up with flowers… why shouldn't she kiss him? And where Frank doesn't let it go any further, it still happened.
Back at the lair, though, we are treated to one of the best drunken male bonding scenes in television history. These are two guys who would probably never say a word to each other if it wasn't for the extreme situations that brought them together. Yet they have become friends. The scene is funny yet stays in complete character for both. We see Frank how he was before his family was killed, when he had something more than just vengeance in his life. He can laugh and be funny. I remember thinking that this scene made the whole season worthwhile. This is the most open we've ever seen the Punisher, and it humanizes him without weakening him. It shows the bond between these two men and it shows why, even though their methods are violent and unforgiving, they are doing the right thing for the right reasons.
But, this is a Punisher episode, so while Frank and Micro are bonding, Madani (Amber Rose Revah) sets up a trap for Billy's group that leads to a brutal shootout and Billy killing Sam Stein (Michael Nathanson). The reality of her crusade hits Madani like a freight train and cost her the life of the only person even close to being a friend. And just to put that final nail into Billy's coffin, in case anyone was still thinking he could be redeemed, the episode ends with him helping Madani wash off Stein's blood while she's in shock sitting naked in a bathtub. It's a tender and caring scene that completely contradicts the horrific way that he took Stein's life.
In the middle of a violent series, there is an episode that focuses on motivations and friendship and does it without ever feeling like it didn't belong as part of the overall series. That's what makes this the best The Punisher episode of 2017.