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.)
PREVIOUSLY: The Punisher recap: ‘Crosshairs’
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)
Personal connections are also complicating matters for Frank and David. When the feed in the Lieberman home goes out, David sends Frank to check on his family. It turns out Sarah simply disconnected the internet in order to punish her son. Alone in the house together, Sarah and Frank share a few glasses of rosé. “That is good s—,” says Frank in one his funniest moments on the show to date. The tension builds between these two, and they end up sharing a kiss as Frank gets ready to leave — and David sees it go down, because by this point, Frank has turned the internet back on.
When Frank returns to the lair, he finds David drunkenly staring at a frozen frame of that kiss. From there, the two get drunk together in one of the most humanizing scenes of the show. Their conversation — which covers everything from how they met the women they love, to sex, to, unfortunately, David’s penis size — is poignantly self-pitying. Unfortunately, the paranoia of their present reality ruins this drunken peace when David, desperate to return to his family, realizes they should work with Dinah to put Rawlins behind bars. No, that’s the last thing Frank wants because revenge must be had, so he knocks out David, and the next morning he makes two things clear: First, they aren’t going to Madani. Second, he has no romantic interest in Sarah. Thank god the show decided not to go the love triangle route, because that would’ve ruined one of the show’s best relationships and would’ve felt super out of place amid everything else going on in the show.
Sarah calls Frank again and asks him to come by because she found a knife on Zach and is worried he’s planning on hurting someone. So Frank heads over there for a chat with Zach, and of course, David watches it. Look, Frank is the last person I’d want talking to me when I’m upset, but somehow Frank gets through to Zach, who breaks down in his arms about how much pain he’s in and how he doesn’t have any more friends. This leads to Frank and Zach later playing football in the street. David, who watched it all go down, gives in to his fatherly instinct and shows up on the block to see his son, but Frank forces him to leave before Zach sees him. Overall, this is what I would call a filler plot.
Meanwhile, Dinah and Sam finally take advantage of that bug in Dinah’s office by making it sound like they’re about to catch Frank using an informant. Billy and Rawlins overhear and put a plan of their own in motion to intercept Frank before Homeland Security gets to him. However, when Billy and his team show at the meeting place, they come face to face with a bunch of Homeland Security agents, and a firefight ensues. Sam eventually corners Billy and unmasks him, but Billy gets the upper hand and guts him to death. Thankfully, the show doesn’t expect us to care that much about Sam’s death, which is good since he’s been nothing more than comic relief since the show began. What’s more important is how much this death affects Dinah, especially since the man responsible is the one she calls to comfort her and who ends up washing Sam’s blood off of her in a chilling and messed up final shot.
While this episode had some interesting character moments, specifically Frank and David’s drunken bonding, everything else felt like inconsequential filler, like the series is in a holding pattern before it can get to the really exciting stuff. More importantly, there was no Lewis in this episode, either, which definitely didn’t help.