SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for The Punisher Season 2. If you have not yet finished watching the episodes, read on at your own risk!
Over the course of two seasons of The Punisher, Ben Barnes took Billy Russo on a pretty crazy and substantial arc. After being best friends with Jon Bernthal's Frank Castle during their time in the Marines, Billy winds up being responsible for the death of Frank's family, and revenge arrives in the form of a savage beat down, resulting in a fractured memory and serious scars. Trying to put the pieces back together (like a jigsaw puzzle) he spends most of Season 2 working on his own version of a selfish and brutal redemption -- and this was something that Barnes wanted to emphasize in his performance, all the way to his final words.
To that end, in fact, the actor actually took it upon himself to change Billy Russo's last lines in the finale himself, right up until the character gets cut off by a fatal bullet from Frank Castle's gun. I learned this while recently sitting down with Ben Barnes and his Punisher co-star Amber Rose Revah, the subject coming up during a discussion of Billy's subjective view of himself as a protagonist and his final moments. Barnes explained,
Billy's final words are significant in part because you can barely make out an "I'm sorry" before Frank ends his life with a final gun shot. Given everything that happens leading up to that moment, it has an impact on the way that you ultimately see the character, because you the audience has to make a decision whether or not that apology should be taken as truth.
In Ben Barnes' opinion, it should, and a lot of the reasoning is tied up in the serious brain damage Billy Russo sustained during his bloody confrontation with Frank Castle at the end of Season 1. While Amber Rose Revah's Dinah Madani refuses to believe in his amnesia, Billy legitimately doesn't remember a lot of the horrible things he's done, and the subjective perspective offers the possibility that it's a reset button. Of course, as the actor noted, he still has some terrible instincts that he must try and calm if he wants to be a "hero," and a not-so-great motivator in the form of Floriana Lima's Dr. Krista Dumont. Said Barnes,
Continuing, Barnes acknowledged that before that point in the show other characters have told Billy what he has done and why Frank wants to kill him, but in those moments he has been in pure denial. That all changes in the final scene when The Punisher walks into the basement where Billy is bleeding, as the villain known as Jigsaw has a moment of clarity:
So what was the original line going to be? I followed up with that question, and while Ben Barnes didn't fully elaborate, the impression that I walked away with was that the character's final moments were going to be much more brief, and not give Billy a real chance to express himself. The actor said,
Looking at the scene from another perspective, obviously it's a big moment for Frank Castle, as he finally gets real revenge, but Ben Barnes also made a point of noting the important role that Dinah Madani played in his death. Like Frank, Dinah has her own vendetta against Billy -- given that he manipulated her and then shot her in the head -- and she is basically the one to kill Jigsaw before Frank delivers the final blow.
The scene where Dinah and Billy battle for the final time was another sequence that came together through a lot of deliberation and script changes, with the actors and filmmakers going as far as to actively try to fool the audience. Originally the throw-down was going to conclude with the two choking each other out at the same time, but Ben Barnes explained that changes were made so that there could be a little bit of a double reverse in the finale:
Whether or not there is a Punisher Season 3, we obviously won't be seeing Billy Russo again -- but he definitely went out with a bang. Of course, fans will still always be able to rewatch his story play out opposite Frank Castle as the episodes continue to live on Netflix.
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NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.