Well, at long last we have come to the grand finale of ‘The Punisher’ Season 1, and while I thought the show might not have much left to do after the epic 12th episode, I was clearly wrong. This episode made it perfectly clear that Billy Russo was the main villain of the series all along, and earned that reputation by his satisfying concluding fight with Frank, and everything done leading up to that point in the episode.
So for the finale, let’s start by tracking Russo’s story. After escaping Micro’s lair and the HSL, he makes his way to ANVIL where he collects all of his money, gear, and weapons, and with a massive duffel bag on his back, makes his way out of his corporate headquarters, murdering anyone he encounters on the way out, just for the hell of it. As he walks away he activates a detonator and the building explodes, revealing that Russo wanted to leave nothing behind. His next move is to visit Curtis, who he had asked earlier in the season whether Frank was alive and now knows he was lied to. Curtis wakes up to find Billy in his room, gun in hand, though Billy gives him his word he is not there to kill Curtis, he just wants to know where Frank is. Unbeknownst to Billy, Frank had been taken earlier in the episode to the apartment of Dinah’s parents as her father is a doctor who managed to patch up all of Frank’s wounds. Frank headed out the next morning after being warned by Dinah that if she saw him again, she would arrest him.
So back at Curtis’s place, things are relatively congenial, though Billy is still holding a gun to the man, even as Curtis makes him a cup of coffee and goes through his morning routine, which includes opening the drapes in the living room to let the sun in. As he explains to Billy that he does not know where Frank is and hands him his coffee, Billy suddenly realizes exactly why Curtis opened the drapes, and drops the coffee, shoots Curtis in the arm, and take cover as Frank’s sniper bullets stream into the apartment. It ends in a standoff with a wounded Curtis bleeding out in the kitchen. Frank calls Curtis and asks him to hand the phone to Billy which he does, and they work out an arrangement to save Curtis, saying that they will meet up that night to finish things. Billy chooses the carousel where Frank’s family died as their meeting point, much to Frank’s horror. Frank allows Billy to leave, and Billy throws Curtis back his phone and tells him to call an ambulance, reminding him that he gave his word not to kill Curtis.
The episode features one of my favorite flashbacks; the one of Billy with Frank and his family near the carousel, with Billy telling them that he was named after Billy the Kid, and Frank’s daughter asking how Billy could possibly know if he was adopted (a tragic question). The scene is great because it shows how close Billy and Frank were, and that Billy really was like an uncle to the family, and if it were up to him, nothing would have happened to Frank’s family, as he had no part in their deaths….other than being aware it was going to happen and doing nothing about it in order to protect himself and preserve the life he was building, which is kind of sad and pathetic all by itself that Billy would sacrifice the lives of his friend and his family for his own vanity, something that Frank will punish him for later.
As Frank heads out to meet Billy at the carousel, Micro reconnects with his family, literally with his wife as they make love for the first time since his “death,” and it seems like they are going to be able to make things work. As for Billy, he gets to the carousel early, finding two teenagers working a food stand nearby and asking for their “help,” which we know will not be good for Frank later. Frank arrives that night to the carousel and finds those two kids tied to the ride, bleeding out, with Billy warning him that they will die if Frank does not save them, adding extra pressure to our anti-hero. At some point (this part is confusing to me) either Frank or Billy contacts Dinah and gives her the carousel location, as she gets pinged and heads out of the office, against orders (she was still in trouble for letting Frank go earlier in the episode) to find Frank and Billy. Frank and Billy battle, a gruesome shootout that devolves into a knife-fight that leaves Frank wounded, and Billy with a bullet hole in his cheek. Madani shows up but before she can do anything Billy shoots her in the head, which enrages Frank and gives him new vigor for the fight.
Of course Frank bests Billy, as we all know he would eventually, the final move being to smash Billy’s face into the mirror at the center of the carousel. Billy tells Frank to end it and kill him, but Frank (somewhat sadistically, which I suppose is part of the character) decides to let Billy live, as he would be punished in another way. And then Frank grabs Billy’s head and runs his face over the fragmented shards of the mirror, which slice through his skin and ruin his facial features, thus destroying the one thing that Billy valued above all else, his vanity. As Billy screams in terror and pain (in a scene that was frankly hard for me to watch…no pun intended), Frank continued to massacre Billy’s face, finally leaving him unconscious on the ground and then freeing the teenagers as the police arrive, making sure the kids are safe.
The series ends with the CIA and HLS people wiping Frank’s slate clean, giving him a new identity, and setting him free as a “thank you” for dealing with Rawlings and Russo, but also as a kind of payoff so he does not talk about all of the corruption in their midst with the press or the public. Madani lived, and Frank is impressed with her being able to take a bullet to the head and survive. Billy is an in a coma, his face mangled beyond repair, with everyone unsure of who he will be should he ever awakens, or what he will remember, setting the stage for his transformation into Jigsaw in ‘Punisher’ Season 2, should that occur. Micro and his family return home and start their lives again, and they invite Frank/Pete to join them for a welcome home dinner, but Frank cannot bring himself to go in, knowing that he has his own life to rebuild, and wanting David and his family to be happy without the burden of having Frank around. The final scene of the series is Frank (now Pete) at one of Curtis’s group sessions talking to the group of Vets, a stirring monologue about how he was always sure of his next move and what to do during the war, but now that it is over, he has no idea what to do next.
I don’t know if this was necessarily the best of the Marvel/ Netflix shows so far (probably still give that to ‘Jessica Jones’), but it was very timely, immensely better than ‘Iron Fist’ (which had me worried that these shows were all heading in a bad direction), and had an amazing cast, which helped salve any real issues the show had. The blood, gore, and violence may have been excessive at times, but it really hammered home the idea of guns and violence being messy, and not something as glamorous as you often see it depicted in Hollywood, with a cost in human life and misery that can be real and hard to take. I appreciate a show with something to say while still being entertaining, especially if they manage to say it without sounding really preachy about it. And I think ‘The Punisher’ managed to pull that off pretty well. Here’s hoping they manage come back for a Season 2.