In one of the more strikingly violent scenes of Marvel’s The Punisher’s season 1 finale on Netflix, Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) smashes Billy Russo’s (Ben Barnes) face into a broken mirror and slowly drags it across the jagged cracks. “Dying’s easy,” Castle tells Russo as he repeatedly smashes his head into the mirror. “When you look at your ugly, mangled face, you’re gonna remember what you did.”
Obviously, it’s an important moment because Castle finally triumphs over Russo, the man responsible for the death of his wife and children. Yet its significance also stems from the foundation that it lays for the arrival of the iconic Punisher villain Jigsaw, whom Russo is destined to become. And when The Punisher season 2 debuts on Netflix, audiences will be presented with a radically different interpretation of the character.
“The repercussions of that final fight are definitely marked on his face,” actor Ben Barnes tells us. “They carefully tried to figure out a way to have all the specific injuries from that fight represented on Billy’s face. What kind of actual scars are left behind from that? I mean, aside from the glass, he took a bullet ricochet to the cheek. So as with all of these stories, they’ve gone for a more grounded version of what that imagery would be.”
A more realistic and less gimmicky version of Jigsaw’s physical appearance notwithstanding, showrunner Steve Lightfoot and his team also added a whole new layer to the character’s transformation. For instead of his simply sporting a jigsaw puzzle assortment of scars on his face, Russo’s brain was also shattered into several pieces — much like a puzzle that’s been pulled apart.
“It’s not necessarily about his face,” says Barnes. “It’s about the psychological, which is the way they try to approach everything this season. Even more so than last season, it’s about what’s in his head.”
He adds that for much of the first season, Russo presents himself as a suave and self-assured man who only knows success. “But now it’s been stripped away,” he says. “Now it’s about what he sees when he looks in the mirror instead of what other people see. They didn’t necessarily want it to be a horror show. It’s about something more internal than that. We don’t actually refer to the character as ‘Jigsaw.’ Instead, he very much has a jigsaw puzzle in his brain.”
As an actor, Barnes admits that the prospect of playing a psychologically fractured version of Russo is quite appealing. From the standpoint of crafting a narrative around The Punisher’s take on Jigsaw, however, it means that Lightfoot and company have more room in which to play with the character. He’s not just a villainous foil for Castle who simply wants revenge for what he did to his face. Russo is a man who doesn’t even really know who he is anymore.
“It’s like waking up and only knowing some things about yourself. It gives him this chance to reinvent who he is, but he also doesn’t necessarily have control over what he’s thinking or feeling a lot of the time,” Barnes explains. “I think that was really interesting for me, particularly because this is a character whose core drive was all this narcissism and success. He put across his most charismatic and attractive qualities first in the hopes that people would respond to them in the way that they always have. In the hope that people would do things for him and with him. Now that’s all gone. He doesn’t believe he’s that person anymore. It’s been stripped away.”
Of course, no good villain can truly operate alone, and that’s where Dr. Krista Dumont (Floriana Lima) enters the picture. Billed as “a smart, compassionate and driven psychotherapist for military veterans,” Lima’s newcomer is paired with Russo from the get-go. When speaking to us, the Supergirl alum is obviously unwilling to give away too many details about her character. What she can tell us about, however, is her relationship with the would-be Jigsaw.
“Krista is Billy’s psychotherapist,” she says. “She works with veterans and she’s done this specific kind of therapy before. When this season begins, she’s been working with Billy for several months, coaching him through all of the things that he’s been struggling with since that fight. They’re putting the puzzle back together, or at least they’re trying to, and she has specific techniques for doing it. She has some insight on how to pull out everything that he’s struggling to find.”
Although Dumont’s particular arc will expand beyond Russo’s as The Punisher season 2 story progresses, there wasn’t a whole lot that Lima could say about it at the time of the interview. Most of what she admits had to do with the character’s penchant for being “very put together” and “calculated.” As veiled in secrecy as much of this is, however, the actress stresses that “there’s a reason” for it all. She also reveals that, at least in the beginning, Dumont is on Russo’s side.
“In the beginning, she’s still learning about Billy. I don’t think she’s really coming up with an opinion, like that he’s a really dark person. She just assumes it’s some form of PTSD and tries to come up with some ideas for how to help Billy out. She’s not judging him in any way. He’s another patient with his own trauma and she’s helping him to sort out the puzzle pieces.”
If and when those puzzles pieces are sorted out, however, chances are pretty good that things aren’t going to work out too well for anyone who decides to stand in Russo’s way.
“In the beginning, he’s in a gown and he doesn’t want to look at himself. He doesn’t know if there’s anyone in the world who will listen to, or understand him. I think that’s a vulnerable, fearful position to be in,” says Barnes. “I noticed this in the first season of Daredevil with Vincent D’Onofrio’s character. The first time you see him, he’s not raging or breaking something. He’s falling deeply and sweetly in love with someone. Basically, what I’m saying is Marvel does different things with different seasons. We don’t want to repeat what we’ve already done. In The Punisher, we decided to be ambiguous about whether or not Billy is a villain, and then reveal just how bad he really is deep down. Now we get to see that ultimate side of him. Then again, maybe he’s not that bad at all. You’ll just have to wait and see.”