Episode 8 of Netflix’s The Punisher begins with a beautiful and subtle nod to American Psycho as we watch Billy complete his morning routine – face mask and all. In fact, throughout the episode and, come to think of it, previous episodes, Billy Russo does give off some very Patrick Bateman-esque vibes. There’s one quote from the film in particular that springs to mind:
“Though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable… I simply am not there.”
Though Russo may not be quite as far gone as Bateman (although with the way things are going, who knows?), there are definitely some similar traits. And those only become more evident throughout ‘Cold Steel’.
We see him walk through a clearly underfunded hospital and enter a room where a nurse is attending to an exhausted and defeated-looking woman. He asks the nurse how the women in the bed is doing, and apparently her condition hasn’t changed. Billy thanks the nurse as she leaves the room, leaving him alone with this woman. She, as it turns out, is his mother.
At the beginning of this meeting, we’re hopeful that we might actually get to see a softer side of Billy Russo. His mother’s therapy lamp came in, one that he asked for because he knows she likes her sunshine. But despite his cheerful, even caring demeanor, she still looks rather frightened. And we start to see why. He leans forward and opens her mouth, checking her teeth, happy that they’re being cleaned. He pays them extra for that, after all.
He starts to tell her all about what’s going on with Frank Castle, how Frank was his only real friend, but he just won’t mind his own business. Billy does care about Frank, but he cares about his empire more. As it turns out, his mother is really the only person he can talk to about this. She’s his only confidant, and it makes sense why. You see, he keeps her sedated. Awake but unable to talk. Barely able to move. And though its cruel…well, Billy isn’t just doing this for the fun of it.
Billy Russo grew up in the system, and it’s clear that he holds a lot of resentment. He grew up in many different places, in all of them unwanted. And it gave him a lot of time to reflect. In many ways, he tells her, that was the greatest gift. After all, if you want your kids to grow up weak, you give them everything. If you want them strong, give them nothing. He’s only giving her what she gave him: unlimited time to reflect. Cruel? Yes. Understandable? To an extent, yes, especially considering what we find out in the next scene.
Now we get to the part that many of you are still wondering about. Yes, Dinah and Billy are still sleeping together. And yes, even though it’s wrong and he’s terrible and just using her, it’s still really, really hot. It’s bad, but it’s hot. But here’s where it gets interesting. As Dinah asks Billy about each of his scars, particularly the massive one on his shoulder, he gets surprisingly honest, telling her about his time in the system.
“There was this good Samaritan that used to volunteer at the Ray of Hope Group Home. It’s where I was placed at the time.”
Dinah immediately stops getting dressed, listening intently to his story. His honesty catches her off guard.
“He’d been going there for years, I mean, we all thought he was so cool. I guess I must’ve been ten, eleven at the time…when a grown man tells you that you’re pretty, you know nothin’ good is comin’. Let’s just say I wasn’t interested in the kind of games he had in mind. So I went after him with the stickball bat. Caught him good a couple times, too…then he broke my arm. Got pissed off, ripped my rotator cuff in three places, so…”
The whole time he tells the story, he looks off, away from Dinah, losing himself in the memory. And when he finally looks at her, the dark, haunted look on his face falls away and he smiles, starts to crack jokes and play the story down. If this is an act, it’s an insanely good one. There’s no question that Billy is using Dinah, but is there a possibility that there could be real, honest-to-God feelings here? Or is he just that good at manipulation? Honestly…I don’t know. I think it’s a mixture of both.
Whether they have feelings for each other or not, they both have jobs, responsibilities. Dinah’s is at Homeland, where she’s currently working on an operation to catch whoever planted the bug in her office. She and Sam make it sound like they’re planning an operation to catch Frank Castle, knowing that whoever planted the bug will hear and undoubtedly try to ambush them at the meeting. What they don’t know is that Homeland will be one step ahead of them. Well, in every way but one. Dinah still has no idea that she’s working against Billy.
Billy thinks getting in the middle of the operation is a risk, but Rawlins is determined to get Castle, no matter the cost. And he thinks Billy’s getting soft, that he’s actually grown attached to Madani. But Billy makes it very clear to Rawlins that this isn’t about that.
“There’s no one on this green Earth that I’m worried about going against. We clear on that?”
As he says this, he gets right in Rawlins face, staring him down. Yet again hinting at a showdown between the two of them. Rawlins wants Frank dead, but Billy? He wants power and success, and he’s willing to play the waiting game to get it. That being said, he’ll do this operation. Rawlins will pay to get it done and for now, he’s still a better ally than enemy. He hires a team of people and they head into the building, faces covered. What they’re met with is an army of Homeland officers, locked and loaded, led by none other than Dinah Madani herself.
This leads to the most epic firefight of the season, with casualties on both sides. But Billy has a lot less men than Dinah does, and one by one, they fall. Billy knows there’s no way he can fight his way out of this, so he makes a break for it with the last surviving man on his team. While Billy makes it to the stairs, his teammate gets blasted by Dinah’s shotgun. Billy doesn’t even hesitate. If he lives to meet Dinah Madani, there’s too great a risk he might give up information. Billy takes out his gun and shoots him in the head before continuing down the stairs out into the yard. He almost makes it, too, before he hears a voice scream, “Drop it!” And it came from none other than Sam.
Sam yells for him to drop the weapon and get on his knees, and Billy’s smart enough to do so, putting his hands behind his head. Sam steps closer to him and quickly removes his mask. Shock and fear mingle on his face in the seconds before Billy unsheathes a knife from his wrist and stabs him over and over again in the chest. Before he runs for it, he whispers to Sam, “Who’s pretty now?”
This scene was both shocking and heartbreaking, and only becomes more emotional when Dinah runs into the yard and sees her partner bleeding to death. She runs over to him and calls for help, trying to stop the bleeding, but it’s too late. We see him trying to tell her, trying to choke out just Billy’s name, that’s all it would take. But Billy knew exactly where to hit, and Sam dies with a look of pure heartbreak on his face. He knows what danger Dinah is in, and he can’t do anything in his final moments to save her.
It’s bad. The scene is painful and feels more than a little messed up. But it’s nothing compared to the final shots, where we see Dinah in her bathroom, trying to wash off her partner’s blood. She’s covered head to toe in it, and she’s leaving a trail of blood on the tiles, on the sink, everywhere. She sits in the bathtub, a blank look on her face…and she’s not alone. Who is there, helping her wash off the blood and comforting her, but Billy Russo himself. Billy Russo who had the same man’s blood on his hands that very day.
It’s so messed up. Cringe-worthy doesn’t even begin to describe it, but if this isn’t good TV, I don’t know what is. Though a few people called this episode more filler than anything else, I absolutely loved it. The pain, the complications…there are quite a few showdowns that they’re building up to, and I, for one, am relishing in the suspense.
The Punisher Is Currently Streaming On Netflix.