Picking up where we last saw him in Daredevil (2015) season 2, Frank Castle is traveling around the country killing off members of the gangs involved in his family's death. We first see Frank chasing down a pair of Dogs of Hell bikers on an Alabama backroad, then running them over with a van. Later, he snipes a cartel member who was there that day in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico...from across the border in El Paso. Lastly, he takes out the last member of the Kitchen Irish by strangling him in a toilet stall at John F. Kennedy International Airport as he's preparing to leave for Dublin. His revenge complete, Frank tosses his skull vest in a trash can and burns it.
Six months later, Frank is laying low in New York City, working on a construction site in Brooklyn under the assumed name 'Pete Castiglione'. He spends his days continuously hacking away at walls with a sledgehammer to vent his built-up rage, and also puts up with the bullying of his colleagues. Nevertheless, Frank manages to make a friend in the form of a new recruit, Donny Chavez, who lives with his grandmother after his parents were killed in a car accident.
Frank doesn't completely separate himself from his past life. On a regular basis, he travels into Manhattan to pay visits to his friend Curtis Hoyle, a former Navy Corpsman who runs a support group for veterans. Curtis, who lost the lower part of his left leg to a suicide bomber and now sports a prosthetic, is the only person from the old days that Frank has maintained contact with since faking his death. Curtis seeks to provide Frank with some words of wisdom and also passes him literature to read from time to time. He is also in the midst of trying to assist Lewis Wilson, a discharged Army veteran who feels rejected by the country and is visibly suffering from PTSD.
Over in Manhattan, Special Agent Dinah Madani reports to work at the Department of Homeland Security's New York field office. She has returned to New York City after a posting in Afghanistan. Her top case is the murder of her partner Ahmed Zubair, an Afghan National Police officer who was kidnapped by US soldiers he caught trafficking heroin, tortured on video, shot in the head execution-style, and buried in an unmarked grave. When she tries to convince Special Agent in Charge Carson Wolf that this case has merits, he shoots her down citing the case as off-limits. Nevertheless, Dinah turns to her newly assigned partner Sam Stein for help. She asks him to dig up everything on file concerning Colonel Schoonover, last year's explosion and drug bust at the docks, and everything they have on Frank Castle. It can't be a coincidence that Frank and Schoonover died one day and twenty miles from each other within New York City limits. It is clear it won't be long before she crosses paths with Frank. Later, we see Madani open up to her mom about her lack of faith in the legal system and how Ahmed's murder is affecting her.
Meanwhile, Frank finds Donny trying to make friends with Lance, the leader of the workers who regularly harass Frank. Lance, it turns out, owes money to a loan shark from the Gnucci crime family, who is threatening to break his legs and seize his car. His buddy Paulie manages to get patched in from his cousin about a poker game that a Gnucci outfit gang is holding. It should be a simple job with a jackpot of $70,000. None of the players will be armed as no guns are allowed at the table. The only gun is held by the single guard at the door. Lance and his crew are able to persuade Donny to join along with them for the robbery.
The robbery doesn't go smoothly, as in the midst of frantically scooping cash up from the poker table, Donny accidentally drops his wallet, revealing his driver's license to the Gnucci boss in charge of the game. With the gangsters now knowing Donny's real name, Lance and his buddies take Donny back to the construction site and decide to drown him in the cement mixer. They are stopped by Frank, who proceeds to kill Lance and his friends with his sledgehammer, after getting Lance to give up the location of the poker game. After dropping a rope to Donny, Frank heads to the poker game and guns down all of the gangsters in attendance just as they're getting ready to head out to get Donny to give up his accomplices. He doesn't notice that his departure from the scene afterwards has been caught on a surveillance camera, which is being monitored by David "Micro" Lieberman. Confirming that he is indeed seeing Frank by comparing the footage from the Gnucci shootout to footage from Frank's attack on Karen Page and Grotto at Metro-General Hospital, David smiles and says, "Welcome back, Frank..."
- 10-Minute Retirement: After Frank kills all the gangs associated with his family's death, he quits being a vigilante and tries to have a quiet life as a construction worker. It lasts all of six months.
- Action Prologue: Frank is introduced on a highway in Alabama, taking out two Dogs of Hell bikers. Then he snipes a cartel member in Juarez all the way from El Paso. And on his return to New York City, he goes to JFK and kills a Kitchen Irish banker in the bathroom.
- Angry White Man: O'Connor, one of the participants of Curtis' PTSD group, claims that the suppressed minority in the USA are christian white men and that the government is planning to take their guns. A not-so-subtle Take That! to the gun fanatics. He even has an NRA cap.
- Asshole Victim: Lance and his buddies, and the mobsters at the Gnucci poker game.
- Beard of Sorrow: Frank has grown out his beard and his hair in the six months he's been working on the site. Doubles as Beardness Protection Program.
- Big "NO!": Frank's reaction to his wife being murdered by a masked gunman in his dream.
- Boom, Headshot!: How Frank finishes off the last surviving Cartel member, Paulie and the Gnucci pit boss. The first is a sniper shot taken from across the U.S./Mexico border, the second is Frank shooting one of Lance's partners just as he's about to drive off, and the last is Frank turning the gangster's own gun on him.
- Bullying a Dragon: Yes, that's a great idea to talk shit to the buff, silent, brooding guy with a Marine's build that swings a sledgehammer all day long, throw rocks at him, and fuck with his lunch. Frank keeps his cool but when those same hoodlums decide to drown Donny in cement, that's all the reason Frank needs.
- Camping a Crapper: Frank kills the final target connected to the Irish mob in a men's room stall at JFK airport. Two guys in the bathroom overhear the fighting, thinking it's a gay couple having rough sex and shout "Get a room, you dirty bastards!"
- Continuity Nod:
- Madani asks Sam to dig up everything on file about Frank, about the boat explosion at the docks, and the death of Colonel Schoonover.
- In the last scene, we see Micro using his gait recognition software to compare footage of Frank leaving the poker game with footage of him from when he went after Grotto at Metro-General hospital.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Two in rapid succession.
- Lance and his crew have a semiauto pistol each. Frank has a sledgehammer. Three minutes later their bodies are in the cement pit.
- The Gnuccis have fully automatic weapons. Frank has access to the building's power. One Darkened Building Shootout later, Frank turns the last guy's gun on himself.
- Decoy Antagonist: The Gnucci gang that the construction guys rob look like they're going to be a problem but by the end of this episode Frank has pretty deftly murdered all of them. Their deaths are mostly a plot device to get Frank on David's radar.
- Drop the Hammer: Frank uses a sledgehammer to dispatch of Lance and his two buddies, who are all armed with guns.
- Darkened Building Shootout: How Frank dispatches the Gnucci associates that Donny was coerced into helping his coworker rob.
- Foil: Donny is one to Frank. While he wasn't a Marine like Frank, his father was, and like Frank he also saw his family die, albeit in a car accident. Unlike Frank however, he isn't broken by the experience.
- Foreshadowing: Curtis jokingly threatens to beat Frank to death with his fake leg. That's going to come in play later in the season.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Frank kills the last member of The Cartel via sniping him... while he's standing inside of a room in Juarez and Frank's all the way in El Paso (that is a shot of at least two miles, and without taking into account wind resistance and other elements). The filming at least accounts for the lag time between the bullet being shot and its impact, but not the other parts.
- Ironic Echo:
- Early in the episode, Lance threatens to "find a new home" for Frank's hammer, up the latter's ass. Later, after Frank has killed Lance's buddies and tortures Lance into giving up the location of the poker game, Lance asks "What are you gonna do?" Frank picks up the hammerhead.Frank Castle: I'm gonna find a home for this.
- Also, at the beginning of the episode, Curtis tells his support group a story about a Shell-Shocked Veteran;Curtis Hoyle: There's a story I heard. There's a soldier in a hole and he can't get out, so he yells for help. An NCO comes by and says, "Suck it up, son. Dig deep." And gives the soldier a shovel. The soldier does as he's told and digs that hole deeper. Then an officer comes by, says, "Hell, son, use the tools your NCO gave you." And throws him a bucket. So the trooper in the hole uses the shovel to fill that bucket, and the hole was deeper still, right? Next up, psychiatrist comes by and offers him drugs, tells him, "This is gonna help you forget about the hole." And they do. But then the pills run out. Then a soldier comes up, a guy just like him, covered in mud and dirt, and he hears the yells for help. And that filthy soldier jumps down in the hole, too. And the kid, he freaks out. What are you doing? Now we're both stuck in a hole." And the filthy soldier just smiles and says, "Calm down, buddy. I've been here before. I know how to get out."
- At the end of the episode, Donny is thrown into a hole and nearly drowned in wet cement... but Frank kills the crooks who threw him in there, throws the crooks in after him, followed by a rope — then tracks down and kills the mobsters who were getting ready to kill the kid and his grandmother. The Punisher's done this before. He knows how to get out.
- Early in the episode, Lance threatens to "find a new home" for Frank's hammer, up the latter's ass. Later, after Frank has killed Lance's buddies and tortures Lance into giving up the location of the poker game, Lance asks "What are you gonna do?" Frank picks up the hammerhead.
- Jerkass: Lance and his buddies at the construction site at first just seem like a bunch of bullying assholes. Then it turns out they are also criminal and have no qualms about drowning Donny in cement so he doesn't rat on them.
- Madness Mantra: Frank still recites One batch, two batch, penny and dime.
- The Mafia: The Gnucci crime family.
- Make It Look Like an Accident: Frank's utter slaughter of the Gnucci gang was classified by the police as a murder/suicide because he was able to wrestle one of the gang members into shooting himself on the side of the head.
- Mistaken for Gay: When Frank is strangling Mickey O'Hare before his 10-Minute Retirement, the noises make the other men in the bathroom think they're having rough sex.
- Mythology Gag:
- Frank goes by the name Pete Castiglione. Castiglione was Frank Castle's original last name in the comics but it was changed early to avoid Unfortunate Implications pertaining to Italian stereotypes at the time (then later got reincorporated on Frank's backstory as a method he used to sign up for another 'Nam tour).
- When Micro notices Frank leaving the scene of a shootout, he says "Welcome back, Frank".
- The poker game is one operated by the syndicate Ma Gnucci is a part of.
- The Johnny Cash-styled theme tune may remind some folks that a previous Punisher movie did have a Johnny Cash impersonator in a memorable scene.
- New Media Are Evil: Curtis calls social media a "talent show for assholes".
- No "Arc" in "Archery": When Frank kills the final cartel member by sniping him across the border, the scope is aimed directly at his head, not accounting for the considerable drop the bullet would have made due to gravity.
- No Honor Among Thieves: Lance, Paulie and Leo have no problem with murdering Donnie to keep him from potentially ratting them out to the Gnucci's. It also goes both ways, as Paulie ultimately abandons the now crippled Lance despite the latter's pleas for help, in a vain attempt to get away from Frank.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: Carson Wolf, the boss of Dinah Madani and Sam Stein. He is also a sexist, a racist and just plainly a complete asshole.
- Oh, Crap!:
- The last of the Kitchen Irish when he takes a good look at the man who just barged into the stall he was in... or rather, at the very distinct skull on his chest...
- Lance gets increasingly unnerved as Frank destroys him and his friends, but the moment Frank delivers his Ironic Echo line with the broken sledgehammer in his hand, that is the moment he's figuratively shitting his pants.
- Pants-Positive Safety: Donnie stores his gun in the front of his pants while he's ripping off the mobsters. Of course, considering he is not cut out for this sort of thing, it's pretty justified.
- Reality Ensues:
- Afraid that Donnie will rat on them for the robbery, Lance, Paulie, and Leo decide to drop him in a cement mixer to kill him. However, wet cement is a fluid, so Donnie is able to remain floating on top and this gives Frank plenty of time to help him.
- Frank shoots his last Cartel target from across the border, it takes half a second between the gunshot and the bullet travelling into the man's skull.
- Secret Keeper: Frank has stayed in touch with Curtis ever since faking his death.
- Stupid Crooks: Played for drama with Donnie, Lance, Paulie, and Leo raiding the Gnucci poker game. If not for Frank killing them all, Donnie and his grandmother would probably have been killed by the gangsters... and the only reason he was able to save Donnie was the last three were going to kill him in the construction site to try to clean their tracks after he let his wallet drop and allowed all of the gangsters to read his name in the middle of the theft (although the fact that they were all talking about the heist right in the middle of their work place during business hours was pretty dumb as well... lucky for them that only Frank [who was in the middle of his "don't give a crap" funk] was able to overhear them).
- Tastes Like Friendship: Donnie attempts to invoke this by offering to share his sandwich with Frank after Lance trashes Frank's lunchbox. Frank thanks him for the gesture, but insists he's not looking for a buddy.
- Tempting Fate:
- The Sole Survivor of The Cartel that Frank has been hunting before the Time Skip of six months celebrates as soon as he is over the border, daring the Punisher to come and get him now. Not two minutes later he gets a sniper round in his head. From the American side of the border, no less.
- Lance and his gang, who pressure Donny into participating with them on a robbery of a poker game, have the attitude of, "Lets talk about an illegal job very loudly and very openly, and then get angry that a huge muscular guy is drinking his coffee nearby and we didn't check to see if we'd be overheard." Thats never going to end badly. Ever.
- Too Dumb to Live:
- It's safe to say that Lance and his gang are not the sharpest tools in the box. Their utter incompetence and stupidity would have lead to them easily being found out and killed by the Gnucci's had Frank not killed both factions first to protect Donnie.
- Donnie wasn't the brightest bulb either, during the robbery somehow managing to drop his wallet in a way that it falls open with his driver's license exposed to the whole Gnucci crew.