Billy Russo is not at all who he appeared to be, as we found out in Episode 6 of Netflix’s The Punisher. Though he plays the part extremely well, he isn’t a friend to Frank Castle or Dinah Madani. In fact, he’s been working with Rawlins, AKA Agent Orange, for years now. In Episode 7, ‘Crosshairs’, we found out that Billy was working with Rawlins even during the events of Kandahar. But this partnership, though beneficial to both parties, has nothing to do with loyalty. And if this episode was any indication, Billy might try and make a power play soon.
Billy Russo has always struck me as someone who wants to be top dog. But we also know he’s a master of manipulation. He’s intelligent and wouldn’t try to overthrow Rawlins until the most opportune moment. But there was a scene in this episode where Billy puts Rawlins in his place, despite their difference in ranking and power. It suggests that either Rawlins isn’t as tough as he tries to appear, or that there’s something much darker in Billy that we just haven’t seen yet.
The scene opens in a military safe house, one that Rawlins is currently staying at. Billy admires it, his ambitions made clear. Rawlins asks if he’s still sleeping with Madani, confirming what we already suspected. He’s definitely attracted to her, but the feelings appear to be entirely an act. And a good one, at that.
Rawlins wants to make sure that Madani isn’t a threat, that she won’t find Frank Castle, and Billy confirms that. He knows Frank, she won’t find him unless he wants her to. But Rawlins doesn’t think Billy knows Frank as well as he claims. After all, he didn’t show up at the docs. He should have had a sniper take him out during their meeting. And it’s at this comment where we see Billy really start to change. His demeanor changes from nonchalant to something a little more intimidating. And his speech is one of the most chilling (and satisfying because I really hate Rawlins) yet.
“I always thought of you as more of a hands-on kinda guy. Your face when you were workin’ over those Afghans…they would talk and talk, scared shitless. Terrified, and you just keep on hittin’ ’em. And there would come this moment. Always. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later, where they knew that they were gonna die. And you knew it, too.”
There’s almost an admiration in his voice as he talks about this, as he remembers. But there’s also something else…contempt? That certainly becomes more evident as he continues.
“I saw that same look on your face once. That fear. When Frank gave you that milky eye, he was gonna keep right on goin’, too. And you knew it then. All of your grand ambitions choked out of you in a shitty tent…I think that maybe the only reason that you ever wanted Frank dead was so that you could pretend that he never made you feel like a man about to die.”
Rawlins sits in silence and I don’t blame him. I mean, what do you say to that!?
The speech almost feels like foreshadowing. The emphasis that was put on it, it feels very important, something we’ll want to remember in later episodes. And quite frankly, it’ll be difficult to forget. There’s this moment where Billy’s features completely change. His stance only alters slightly, subtly, and his eyes become just a little bit darker, but it’s enough that it changes the entire atmosphere of the scene. If you’ve seen Ben Barnes in works like Dorian Gray or Westworld, you’ll know that this is a specialty of his. He’s able to be both frightening and charming, often at the same time. And it’s what makes him a fantastic Billy Russo.
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