Babe, everyone in the world besides you, me, and the kids is cannon fodder. – Bobby Axelrod
Billions is pure entertainment, both for better and for worse, but as of late, it’s mainly been for the better. Behind its sterling cast, the show has built from one story into many, but with the continual undercurrent of the main feud between Chuck Rhoades and Bobby Axe. What I wrote last week still proves to be true, that we want that fight, but we like to get in doses. By the end of the season, whatever the fate of Rhoades vs. Boyd, it’s going to inevitably come down to another showdown between Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti.
Just like last year, Billions has a foundation in its primary rivalry, but it’s the new additions this season that have provided the most enjoyment.
Sunday, we got a lot less Dr. Gus and a lot more Taylor, but it worked to the episode’s benefit, because Taylor is actually pretty interesting as a character. Plus, we got Taylor and Gus in a therapy session, which was tremendous. The pronoun-challenged half-robot, half-human’s backstory is one I might want to hear more about, but in general “it” working as a conduit between Bobby Axelrod’s ego and his analytical side has added something new to the proceedings. Simultaneously, Taylor is an eccentric personality, both visually and in action, which plays to the strengths of the show. Billions is willing to forego the upper crust of its drama to have fun, and not enough shows do that these days.
Add in the over-the-top alpha male persona of Dollar Bill Stearn, who was heartbroken when his seat at the Alpha Cup was given to the aforementioned Taylor, Dr. Gus, and of course Wags, and Axe Capital is just crawling with crazy individuals. The one thing that didn’t entirely mesh for me with Taylor and Axe was the description of why Taylor stopped playing poker, and live games in particular. It was explained, but it was just kind of an amorphous blob. There was a ton of dialogue during these conversations between the two, but they didn’t amount to much. It was interesting to listen to, but not particularly educational. Or, it was much more style than substance.
There’s one exception to that statement. Bobby Axe knows how to push Taylor’s buttons properly, and vice versa. If you took the Metallica out of Axelrod and simply left the calculated calculator that resides within his brain, you might have Taylor.
Although I’m pretty sure Axe knows he’s got a dick, and likes that fact.
Kate Sacker’s role continues to grow on the show, and Sunday she had a sit down with Oliver Dake, where he unsuccessfully tried to charm her, and also with her father, who basically told her to watch out for herself and make sure she’s in position to become the deputy to Chuck Rhoades’ successor in the office. We found out very early on in Billions that Kate is driven and her goal is to be the President of the United States. Hey, we have that in common, because until I was around 19, so was mine. She hasn’t really undercut anyone, yet, but you can see it building. She may have legitimately had short-term feelings for Connerty, but now she views him as a mild professional impediment she’s no longer sleeping with regularly.
Chuck and Wendy’s saga continues to be a roller coaster, as it has to serve as the personal melodrama behind all the professional maneuvering. The wife tells her husband it might be good for him to get his own place, after acknowledging he handled his son’s question adeptly the night before. Therapy isn’t working, and at the same time, there’s at least some indication that Bobby Axelrod covets Wendy Rhoades. I’m not ready to say it’s sexual, but Taylor is dead right in his assertion that everything Bobby wanted from the Alpha Cup was about proving something to her, not to Todd Krakow or anyone else in the room…including Phil Hellmuth.
It’s never good to get limited Michael Wagner content, but the meeting and chat with Lara at the bar was illuminating to how uncomfortable she appears to be in the loneliness of her day to day life, and at the same time his obliviousness to much of what the rest of the world faces. The brunette pulls him away from the table, and even when it’s time to tell Bobby the NFL isn’t a big fan of his plan to place a bid on a franchise, he does so in a way that ensures Axe will do the exact opposite. He’s a conniver of the highest degree, but he’s also one that operates seemingly without any conscience. He’s the embodiment of the hedge fund, as viewed by the left. He and Dr. Gus are Matthew McConaughey in The Wolf of Wall Street, and Dollar Bill is at least in the vicinity of an alpha version of Jamie Kennedy in Boiler Room.
As for Lara, she found a clever way to ignite her new business with Mo, and her spark arrived not a moment too soon, because she looks less happy by the episode. Wags was proud of the move she made, and her talk with him led to it. She’s been bored, she doesn’t feel useful, and Bobby has been away from home much more often as of late. Thus, she’s throwing herself full bull into the new venture, which may not provide the show’s best scenes, but gives Malin Akerman something to do for the time being. Women on Billions aren’t generally presented as secondaries, so it’s important to keep her involved, and also somewhat independent of her husband in some respects. The restaurant goes down, so there has to be a fill to that gap.
One part of the episode that might have slipped through the cracks, but informs upon the series at large, is Wendy’s observation of Todd Krakow in the waning moments of the Alpha Cup. She tells him as the night has gone on, he has become increasingly easy to read. His motives and his moves are now transparent, as are his enemies in the room. Apply that logic to Billions in totality. Bobby Axelrod and Chuck Rhoades are the only two characters in the series that have actually managed to pull the wool over both the show universe’s eyes, as well as the viewers. When Axe appeared to be relinquishing all his positions last year, there was a long play at hand. Chuck snatched his job from the jaws of a termination last week with a move no one saw coming, and originally found a way to run the Axe Capital investigation through Connerty.
The one person NEITHER has been able to fool for more than about five minutes is Wendy, which makes her above both of them in the hierarchy of the show. She’s the one both want, both need, and both seem nearly impotent without. As successful as these two men are, it’s the performance coach and dominatrix that served as the X-factor to the booms. Of everyone in Billions, she’s the most protected character on the show. Her absence has led to busts on all fronts. While her character has been uneven, particularly early in the show’s run, as of late her status at a particular time often predicts what’s to come for the other major players in the series.
Not much this week on the Connerty-Bach front, but we did have the diversion with the flight attendant, who was a bit of a smokeshow, and actually was smarter than Rhoades and his team believed her to be at the outset. She did her homework. She didn’t trade on illegal insider information, but the good cop routine worked for Bryan, and she still assisted in getting incriminating evidence on Lawrence Boyd’s extracurriculars with a friend’s wife. Now the friend becomes an ally of Chuck’s investigation, and Spartan Ives becomes a little less stable.
However, Hall is now working with Boyd, which should terrify us all. That dude is flat out frightening, and Terry Kinney has no interest in emoting in any way. If he did, he would lose all his power on screen. He just wants to do the dirty work, and he’s obviously very good at it. Ironically, his cold demeanor echoes that of David Costabile’s Rick Messer in the first season of Damages. You may know Costabile better as Mike Wagner on Billions.
Finally, the Winston Churchill books. Holy shit what a baller move that was by Axe to snag Chuck’s copies, which he somehow knew were sentimental to Rhoades. He orders his assistant to buy up every signed copy on the planet, and when he’s reminded how expensive it will be, his response is a one liner for the ages. It’s also our quote of the week.
Also, who knew Bryan Connerty was an Eric Johnson fan? I was not anticipating him jamming out to Cliffs of Dover while working at home.
LINE OF THE WEEK: Well it’s a good thing I’m a rich fucking man. – Axe
I’m @JMartOutkick. You underestimate my strengths. It’s who you are.