TV Crimes and Punish(er)ment: Comic TV with Dan

Here, in 13 episodes, is everything Marvel Netflix did wrong for five years.

What’s Wrong With Billy

Other than his failure to be Jigsaw, that is.

Okay. Everything Wrong With the Billy Plot speed round!

  • Billy is wildly inconsistent. Sometimes he’s a vicious tactical mastermind, sometimes he’s a quivering wreck consumed by PTSD, and he flips back and forth on a dime depending on who he’s talking to. Maybe that’s what PTSD can, in fact, look like, and if so maybe I’m being insensitive, but I found the merry-go-round between “attempt at sympathetic Billy” and “evil mastermind Billy” kind of repetitive and frustrating, and meant “sympathetic Billy” never got any traction.
  • Frank mashed up Billy’s face so much he has amnesia, forgetting everything that happened since he and Frank were deployed in Kandahar. So he can’t remember conspiring to kill Frank’s family, who he’d loved like his own. And when he’s told that’s why his best pal Frank is suddenly (to him) trying to kill him, he immediately moves past it. It feels like digging into that betrayal, the reasons behind it, and how amnesiac Billy feels about the choices he can’t remember would have been the main reason to bring Billy back, but no, it receives almost no attention.
  • They spend a lot of time… most of the tenth episode, in fact… asking whether Frank is really better than Billy. This is, basically, clown shoe nonsense, because Frank kills out of a misguided sense of justice (and leaves more people alive than his less pleasant and more bloodthirsty fans preferred), whereas Billy kills for his own benefit. He kills people for money or because they’re inconvenient. Also, the main voice saying Frank’s just as bad as Billy is arguing in bad faith. To wit…
  • Billy’s therapist and primary booster (a waste of Supergirl alumnus Floriana Lima) is a bad, bad character. I’m told her name is Krista Dumont, but I had to look that up because her scenes were so terrible I kept tuning out. She’s horrible at her job, has no moral centre, and exists simply to turn Billy’s self-pitying monologues into dialogues, enable his worst self, then start banging him. She’s Harley Quinn without a personality (fear of windows is not a personality), so I just think of her as “Hardly Quinn.”
  • Hardly Quinn is like this because as a child, her father jumped out of a window and took her with him, and she took his side rather than learn to recognize when someone has become a danger to themselves and others, how did she get this job she is not qualified for it. We learn this in episode eleven, long past the point where we might have cared, and it doesn’t excuse any of her behaviours. Nothing about that story makes me think “Oh, that’s a good reason to be an accessory to many, many homicides.”
  • So “Are Billy and Frank that different” falls completely flat, because Hardly Quinn making the argument robs it of any credibility it might have had, but the tragedy is that this would have worked so much better with Pilgrim. Frank and Pilgrim are both soldiers of a sort, willing to kill whoever they have to for what they perceive to be a greater good, and which is the hero and which the monster depends on whose “greater good” can withstand the most scrutiny, this one writes itself. Billy doesn’t have a moral code, chases no greater good save his own wealth, so the question collapses completely with him as Frank’s opposite.
  • Billy assembles himself an army of veterans to go on a crime spree (that New York’s three super-powered defenders, four if we pretend everything actually is connected and Spider-Man exists in this universe, all choose to ignore), so the show is once again making a troubling argument that all vets are one chat over beers away from being radicalized into domestic terrorists, all because civilians be posting selfies to Instagram and whatnot. I didn’t love that last season, I don’t love it now.
  • Oh, also Billy is quite willing to set his new brothers-in-arms up to be slaughtered by Frank to prove a point, so once again “Is one of them really better than the other” has a very obvious answer. Billy’s talk of brotherhood with his new gang is very clearly all talk. He doesn’t care how many of them die if he can make Frank Castle feel bad about himself in the process. I’ll explain…
  • Billy tries to rob Frank of his belief that he’s the righteous one by pulling a Simon Phoenix* and killing three possible prostitutes and trying to convince Frank that he did it. Okay, I’m gonna say something some people are going to protest, but it’s still true… Arrow did this better. Because a) Arrowused a cop that we’d met and grown to know, not three nameless women reduced to prop corpses, and b) Prometheus actually tricked Oliver Queen into killing that cop. Much more effective, couldn’t be undone by Karen Page selling her shoes to the coroner to find the obvious holes in the lie.
  • No, you read that right, Karen Page makes a one-episode appearance that involves selling her shoes to a creepy coroner. That’s not ideal.

Sidebar: Where the fuck is Daredevil? Luke Cage was introduced on Jessica Jones, Iron Fist checked in on Luke for an episode of Luke’s show, everyone shares supporting cast members like Claire Temple, Misty Knight, Turk Barrett, and Daredevil’s Detective Mahoney, who is enough of a presence on Punisher this season he should have been an opening credits regular, but Matt Murdock never shows up anywhere but his own show, no matter how much sense it might make. Like, say, if Claire Temple found herself in a fight against the Hand or a hostage situation in Harlem, or if, say, Frank Castle was back in town dropping bodies again. Maybe that warranted a look-see, Matt. You lazy, black PJs-wearing carpet store motherf^*%%r heap of broodiness.

Now… let’s talk about the other problem with their attempts to question how righteous Frank really is.

*You know, Simon Phoenix. Wesley Snipes’ delightfully over-the-top super-terrorist character from 90s sci-fi action classic Demolition Man? Framed John Spartan for killing a bunch of hostages because the writers couldn’t envision a future where time and cause of death were things you could figure out? You get it.

Next Page: Killing is Wrong, and also Awesome

Thing they did well: Punisher as a series knows people are here for the action, and man they deliver. They may whiff some of the emotional beats and ethical dilemmas, but they deliver on the action. The final fight between Frank and Pilgrim is particularly good, especially the pause as both battered combatants take a second, after which Frank, wrapping a chain around his fist, turns to Pilgrim…

Frank: Need a minute?
Pilgrim: I was just waiting on you.

This also brings us to our next section.

Author: danny_g

Danny G, your humble host and blogger, has been working in community theatre since 1996, travelling the globe on and off since 1980, and caring more about nerd stuff than he should since before he can remember. And now he shares all of that with you.

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