Since The Punisher revealed that Billy Russo was working with corrupt CIA agent Bill Rawlins, we’ve been waiting to find out exactly why this alliance exists. In episode 3, we saw that Billy was planning on leaving the service, presumably because he’d had enough of this violence himself, which in turn raised questions as to how he ended up running a private military firm. Well, “Cold Steel” aims to explain how Billy has gotten to this point. As to whether it succeeds, well, that’ll probably vary from person to person. (It didn’t totally work for me.)
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The episode begins (and ends) with Billy. “Cold Steel” opens with Billy’s morning routine, the process by which he tries to hide his violence-prone interior underneath hair gel and a tailored suit. He tries to play the cool, rich millionaire, but he’s still just as messed up as Frank and Rawlins. See: the scene in which he pays his mother a visit. His mother is bedridden, but not by natural causes; Billy keeps her sedated (or paralyzed) using drugs. It’s his way of getting payback for her discarding him, thereby forcing him to grow up in group homes, which weren’t the best environment for him. Later, he tells Dinah about his encounter with an adult predator masquerading as a Samaritan in one of the group homes when he was 11. The volunteer said he was pretty, which set off warning signs in his head, and he lashed out by hitting the guy with a bat. The man ended up breaking his arm.
The main takeaway from these peeks into Billy’s Started From the Bottom backstory is that he’ll be damned if he’ll let anyone jeopardize the successful life he’s built for himself. Unfortunately, his fight to keep Anvil is complicated by all of his personal connections. Obviously, there’s Frank, the man he considers to be his only real friend and the one who is also threatening his livelihood. Now, Billy is in a tenuous position where defending what he has means potentially killing a surrogate brother. Nevertheless, he pushes forward because Anvil is more important.
While this insight into why he’s doing what he’s doing is helpful, the show still hasn’t done a good job of explaining how Billy ended up working with Rawlins in the first place. Was he so desperate to make something of himself that teaming up with a war criminal seemed like a good option? Or are we supposed to assume that not having any sort of parental figure growing up warped his moral compass? One more option: Maybe he truly believes that working with Rawlins is for the greater good. He’s clearly a patriot. “I’m not exactly sure where I was born. But the way that I see it, even if your meth-head mother safe-havens you at a fire station in Albany, you’re still born in the greatest country in the world,” he says to Dinah at one point in the episode. (Next: Frank tries rosé for the first time)