WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the second season of Marvel’s The Punisher. Read at your own risk!
In the end, Jigsaw couldn’t put himself back together. Ben Barnes’ Billy Russo died in the finale of The Punisher season 2, wordlessly gunned down by Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) once and for all. But while Frank delivered the death blow, Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah), who’d thrown Billy’s therapist-turned-lover Krista (Floriana Lima) out of her apartment window, shot him first, leaving him wounded and helpless.
All the violence resulted in Billy dying alone, sprawled out on the floor of Curtis’ (Jason R. Moore) basement, bloody and broken — and maybe, finally remorseful for all the terrible things he’s done. Or maybe not. Below, the actor dives into Billy’s long goodbye, what he thinks Billy was trying to say in his last scene, and the one regret he has from his time on the show.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you go into this season knowing that Billy would die by the end?
BEN BARNES: I didn’t, actually. [Later on] one of the guys at Marvel gave me a call and said, “This is a show about death. The Punisher is one of the more brutal, grounded shows we have, and it would be a disservice to this character to just have him fester in prison.”
So how did you feel when you were told?
It was lovely — lovely is maybe not the right word [laughs] but it was exciting to me on some level, because it’s a full story. At the beginning of the second season, this character is suffering from this fractured sense of memory, and the question was, “Is there a possibility for redemption, or do we always navigate back to those traits which have been the most destructive in our lives? Will he always be that narcissist, that psychopath that we know is inside him despite the opportunity to change things?” These were questions I would ask myself with all the scenes, and I was interested in seeing whether [death] brings him resolution or redemption.
What do you think the answer is? Do you think he found redemption?
Well, I was very keen for it to be a certain way. Weirdly what I had in my mind was that Lost In Translation whisper that Scarlett Johansson whispers to Bill Murray, that ambiguity of, “What was their connection, really, in the end?” I wanted people to feel that a bit about Frank and Billy.
But who knows what people think on the brink of death? Maybe when he sees Frank’s face, he knows that he’s done something wrong, and he would like to absolve himself in his final moments. But Frank is merciless, and he doesn’t give him that opportunity. Or, is he maybe just putting this wounded animal out of more misery? I wanted to make that dichotomy be the final moments for him.
So when it comes to his last line, did you have an idea of what Billy was about to say? Was he trying to apologize?
That was the whole point. I wanted to leave it up to people to decide for themselves… I wanted it to be whether he was gonna [apologize] or say “Whatever I’ve done, I don’t care.” Maybe there was an apology coming, and I love to think that there might’ve been, but Frank knows that it is not going to help him to hear whatever Billy has to say, and so he has to end it now.
Was that actually the last scene you shot?
Amazingly, it was. It normally does not pan out that way, so it was quite an emotional experience. I didn’t get that much opportunity to work with Jon through both seasons — I think that was my deepest regret, that if [our characters were] in a room together, there’ll be a physical fight. It’s something that we both regret. But I felt like that was a really interesting way for us to finish and maybe give us an opportunity to find something else to work on together.
You may not have had a lot of time opposite Jon, but you did get a new scene partner in Floriana. Do you think Billy truly loved Krista, or was he just so messed up that he just latched onto whoever showed him any compassion?
In my mind, with Dinah in the first season, it was a deception and it was manipulation. He might have enjoyed going to bed with her, but it was about himself. In the second season, I think they’re brought together by a mutual understanding of each other’s scars, both psychological and physical. He starts to depend on her, and then he realizes she has this Lady Macbeth, Machiavellian quality to her as well. I really think that the emblem which proves to me that he loves her were the blue flowers. And I think, if there is redemption for him, it would’ve been her.
What do you hope people take away from Billy’s arc from start to finish?
I hope that people don’t harp too much on what they expected it to be from the comic books, and I hope they really try to embrace this fresh take. What I really hope is that they ask themselves the same questions that you just asked: “What do you think he meant by that line? And what do you think his relationship with her really was in the end?” I love TV that challenges you.
And finally, did you take anything from set?
I have every script from both seasons with all my notes in them, which is not something I usually keep. Maybe one day I can give them to a charity or something. And I saw Jon this morning coming out from the gym, and he was wearing his combat boots that he wears as the Punisher. I took mine as well because they are the most comfortable things to trek in for miles. I’m putting them to good use. But, yeah… I could’ve stolen more things, really. [Laughs]
Marvel’s The Punisher season 2 is now streaming on Netflix.