Billions Review: Season 2, Episode 12

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In this Oct. 14, 2015, photo provided by Showtime, actors Paul Giamatti, left, as Chuck Rhodes, and Damian Lewis as Bobby “Axe” Axelrod talk on the set of “Billion” in the Brooklyn borough of New York. At right is New York Yankees first baesman Mark Texiera. Teixeira doesn’t mind if someone accuses him of acting. For the second time in five years, the Yankees first baseman made a cameo appearance on a cable television show. Teixeira played himself on an episode of “Billions” that first aired March 13. (Jeff Neumann/Showtime via AP) Jeff Neumann AP


I’m gonna find it. Whatever it is, whatever thread you left behind, however small, the one that threatens everything you are. We both know it’s out there. You know exactly what it is. You were talking about sleepless nights. It’s what you’ll wake up thinking about in the dark – shaking, because I’m gonna find it, you know I will.

And I’m gonna pull on it and I’m gonna pull on it until your whole fucking world unravels, and when I’m done, you won’t be governor, you won’t be the U.S. Attorney…you might not even be an attorney at all. Yeah, I might go down behind all of this, but one thing is for sure, you are going to be right there next to me. – Bobby Axelrod.

Successful. That’s what I’d call Season 2 of Billions. The reason I’d deem it positive is because each episode entertained me, and I increasingly looked forward to screening it every week. With far too many shows attempting to make political statements in the wake of the election, and in the run up to the election, and in the fear before the run up to the election, Billions told an evil vs. evil story, filled it with vibrant cartoon characters, frequently gave us little to root for, but never forgot what it was.

There’s no mission here. There’s a story, a group of talented actors, and a sometimes comical intensity. Occasionally, it goes too far, or takes things to a place where credulity is completely out the window, and no one believes in the efficient tool. Here there’s always a power attachment and extra weight. Sometimes that’s a problem, because the intricacy is lost along with the intimacy, in favor of a very basic battle between two men and those caught in the crossfire of that war.

It’s not a war over money, and it’s not a war over morality, as much as Chuck Rhoades would like you to believe. This is about Wendy Rhoades, a thesis I’ve hammered home repeatedly this season. Everything these two men do emanates in some form from her. Chuck was happy to make a deal with Lawrence Boyd, another capitalist hedge fund billionaire with a questionable reputation; because Bobby Axelrod was the catch he wanted. Why?

Even with Axe as one of the more public faces, which would make a prosecution more lucrative both during and after, it comes down to “the wife.” Remember, in order to find Bobby, Chuck suggests to Dake that he track Wendy’s phone, not Lara’s. Once again, she drives everything that happens in the series, even if unwittingly, which explains why the season ends with Chuck and Wendy on the street walking into the family apartment and not Chuck and Axe talking in jail.

The moral center of Billions can be hard to spot, but I’ve come to believe it resides within Dollar Bill Stearn. Not that he’s a man of faith (on this show at least), but that he lives in truth, and out in the open. While both Chuck and Axe maneuver against one another and against other forces, Dollar Bill exists to make money and do his job. He’s diversified into dry cleaning and sports, but he’s the one character that speaks in a matter-of-fact tone to everyone else. Whenever he speaks to Taylor, he doesn’t play angel or devil. He simply speaks frankly, whether it’s handing someone a bag filled with cash or pledging his loyalty. The ultimate example of this came after the CIO decision in Sunday’s finale.

Axe named Taylor CIO, and while Stearn had campaigned for the gig not more than a half hour before, what was his reaction? “He made you CIO? That’s a good fuckin’ call. Let me know how I can help.” How many characters on this show would have said that after being passed over for a job they wanted and believed they deserved? Consider Lonnie after he watches Bryan give Sacker the good news about being named Chief of Crim. He starts filling a box. He’s out. Within Rhoades’ office, there is almost no loyalty. First, Sacker was leaving because she wasn’t given carte blanche to go after everybody and “crack fucking skulls.” Bryan Connerty was at least entertaining the idea of working with Orrin Bach. Chuck Rhoades himself was running an operation completely external of his staff.

Axe Capital isn’t a church, but I would argue that Wags is completely loyal, Taylor is nearly the same, and Bill Stearn would take a bullet for those two, as well as Bobby, and maybe even Maffee. Dollar Bill is Paulie Walnuts, he’s Silvio Dante. You almost respect him, because you feel like you know him, unlike almost anybody else on the screen. You also know you wouldn’t want to cross him, and even more so anyone he cares about.

It surprised me how neatly much of the season finished up. Bryan didn’t leave with Bach, and instead was given a chance to help lead the Axe prosecution alongside Oliver Dake. That will allow him to wear the white hat and parade it around in a much more flamboyant fashion than he could under Rhoades. The episode gave us every reason to think Chuck and Wendy would split in that final scene, but, it’s always about what’s NOT happening in front of your eyes on Billions, and here was another example. It wasn’t a trick, but it was another piece of misdirection that worked effectively. Taylor, Wags, and Bill have Axe Cap under control, and I’d watch a spin-off featuring just those three characters.

Bobby got out of jail, but one of the two ugly portions that remain is a very shaky relationship between Axe and his wife. However, that’s basically where we stood with Chuck and his significant other at the end of last season, and if you view Billions as a seesaw, it makes sense for Chuck to be the one on the winning side for a change. The other nastiness is Chuck’s relationship with his father and his friend, Ira Schirmer. “I am done with you.” Is it possible Ira attempts to bring Chuck down during the upcoming campaign? Could Senior actually go for the throat, or were the semi-tears and the death stare enough to calm his nerves?

Chuck and Wendy are back together, at least for now, although there’s no doubt the photo of her walking out of another man’s place stung him. The marriage isn’t on the firmest of ground, but it might be time to let that story go for a while and focus elsewhere, because the writers know they can always go back to it whenever they want. Also, we could see little cracks in Season 3 here and there, just to keep it interesting. It’s a loving relationship, but it’s often also adversarial, because of the Axelrod factor. Lara and Axe are not in a good place, although it was stunning that she actually thought he was coming home to give her a hug. That sounded like code to me, but it wasn’t, and it was the latest in a series of waves building to a tsunami. She’s already left once, and she’s even talking to Bach about making sure her money and her assets are safe, and whether separation or divorce are things that she needs to consider if Bobby’s legal troubles continue to mount.

As good as Damian Lewis, Paul Giamatti, and Maggie Siff are, this season was made most by three other performers. David Costabile was just phenomenal all season, as he is in damn near anything he does. The Wags character was much richer this time around, and he approached it with gusto. Asia Kate Dillon’s Taylor Mason could be the most fascinating role on television, because of the challenges involved. It’s even difficult to write about, but the performance was stunning, and virtually every scene Taylor was in was a season highlight. Finally, there’s Kelly AuCoin, whose Dollar Bill Stearn is the smooth Mafioso that keeps Axe Capital’s business side interesting. So shady he’s respectable, like someone who would work for Mark Baum in The Big Short.

Bobby threatened Chuck, told him he would find what Rhoades was hiding, and he would use it to break him. It’s now mutually assured destruction on all sides. Chuck was willing to lose tens of millions and screw over his own family and friends to trap Axe, and now Axe tells Chuck he might go down for good, but not without his arch enemy right next to him. It would make the most sense for Billions to do all it could to push Chuck vs. Axe, and then have someone else take them both down. I see no way this series ends cleanly for either guy. I also see no reason to believe that finish is coming within the next two years. The series is on the rise, more people are taking note of it, it’s become a hit for Showtime, and it’s so immensely entertaining.

I enjoyed Season 2 much more than I expected, but from around the middle of the first year, the show has become one to pay attention to, even if it’s never going to be recognized as a top-flight drama. Many critics are reticent to write about it or even talk about it without a fake grin. I’m not one of those. It’s fun, it’s well-made, I like it, and so do many of you. So we’re going to keep talking about it. Billions knows what it is, understands what it trades in, and takes pride in providing as much of that content as possible. Though the show may be littered with misdirection in its stories, the series itself is very cut and dry.

We’re left with the Rhoades family seemingly intact, the Axelrod family seemingly not, Axe Capital in good hands, and both the Southern and Eastern Districts find themselves amidst major shakeups. Plus, Chuck running for governor with Minchak (thank god) and Foley in the mix, plus anger from daddy and Ira. It all adds up to anticipation for next year’s premiere, and rest assured, we’ll be covering it here at Outkick.

We know one thing already, and Orrin Bach said it best. “The game isn’t over,” even though Chuck had ball in hand after Axe scratched with Ice Juice. That’s just round two. Round three begins in 2018.

LINE OF THE WEEK: You can’t go to bed with Jenna Jameson and expect to wake up with Snow White. Know who you’re fucking! – George Minchak (I still haven’t quite gotten over her dress…or her accent…or her glasses. I’m only human. Plus…single.)

I’m @JMartOutkick. You jackpotted me.

Written by Jason Martin