Billions Season Two, Episodes 7 and 8

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

You pick the right man, and then you get him the fuck out of his own way so that people can actually see him. Elections aren’t about ideas. Elections are about candidates, and candidates are about what’s in here. – Jack Foley

Someone messaged me a few days ago just to tell me how much he dislikes Chuck Rhoades. It isn’t Giamatti, it’s that character being such a sniveling scoundrel underneath the expensive suits. I replied to him that’s the entire point of the show. At various times, the audience is supposed to despise both Bobby Axelrod and Chuck Rhoades, and at others, root for them against the other. Usually there aren’t many cases where the viewer can simultaneously pull for the duo, although when both are rolling, it provides high entertainment.

Chuck Rhoades Sr. also isn’t likable, because he’s basically LaVar Ball. He claims to be doing everything for his son, but don’t think there’s not a tinge of legacy to the family name behind all this. If Chuck ends up in Albany in the mansion, do we really believe his dad isn’t going to be asking for favors for his friends, or trying to nudge into the policy arena? This guy loves power, and enjoys lording it over everyone else. Going after Axe’s casino interests may have had benefit for Chuck, but as we see in the awkward meeting in the club, it also just put sonny boy back on Big Red’s radar.

But, as has been said many times in the past, Billions isn’t a show filled with good people, or even half-decent people. Wendy ends up being the one to bone someone other than her husband first, as Chuck pulled back after a kiss from his hot jujitsu friend. Her role on the show remains intriguing mainly because of its variance. She enjoys BDSM, but she preaches morality to those she coaches. She plays on ethics, yet she’s between the sheets with a new beau while not divorced from the father of her children.

That’s why the performance session with Taylor worked so well, because listening to the young person talk about not liking lies and at least semi-caring about Maffee’s feelings as it relates to his work and performance brought to the surface the truth that Wendy might have made a gigantic mistake. She stopped “feeling,” and when she calls Taylor to offer advice about not losing that part of herself, which incidentally is similar to the advice Oliver Dake received in the church a few weeks ago, she’s talking to herself. She’s using her own secrets as a cautionary tale. Wendy closed off her brain enough to have sex and in effect cheat on Chuck, but she forgot what many do, namely that the brain will recover and the mind will eventually bring the truths into the forefront.

That chat also gave us a quote that really affected me, even if it wasn’t supposed to do so. Wendy mentioned to Taylor why people like one another. Sure, it can be common interests, but only to a point. People are often attracted to one another in various ways because they see in another what they don’t have, and want to be near to it. That can sometimes manifest itself in stuff, but more in personality traits. Being outgoing, being a confident speaker, having a good sense of humor, whatever it might be, we’re drawn to it. It’s especially true if we lack it in ourselves, because we learn and grow thanks to our differences. Similarities leave us standing in place. We might be safe, but we’re never going to be better.

Some think they want to marry themselves, but I’ve always been more Seinfeldian in my approach there. I don’t hate myself as he claimed to after dropping his girlfriend, but I want it to be interesting, and I want to be both challenged and excited by something altogether unique from me. What’s the point otherwise? If she gives me something I haven’t experienced, makes me do things I wouldn’t on my own, that’s a healthy, reciprocal connection as long as both parties are willing to embrace it. Apply that to the series, because it does explain why certain partnerships work and others deal with frequent friction and turmoil.

It’s relevant because when we stop and think, much of the mindset between Chuck and Wendy is similar, as Chuck Sr calls her a “natural born killer” that could make his son unstoppable in an election. Both manipulate, both use authoritative speech to force dominoes to fall around them, and both like it kinky. Bobby and Lara are different enough, even with plenty in common, that they can survive a rough patch far more effectively. Eventually, Axe is going to ask for her opinion, and when she gives it, he’s going to listen and go after every penny he’s owed in Sandicot. And, she’s going to fly up there to build schools and attempt to quickly mend the family reputation.

There’s a maturity to that relationship that is still lacking within the Rhoades household, and it’s why one couple lives underneath one roof. The Axelrods behave like a team, or they do when things are good, and the Rhoades’ generally walk like two soldiers on the same path, and they cross streams, step in front of the other accidentally, and end up in each other’s way. Bobby and Lara have real differences and often exist within separate circles, but as long as one isn’t ignoring the other, they’re on much more solid ground. Lara hasn’t been a happy wife this season, but when it came down to it, her husband shut up and heard her. That’s what counted.

With that said, Chuck and Wendy are still going to rekindle the romance, as both ended up apologizing for their part in the blowup after Wendy went back to work for Bobby Axelrod. Of the two, however, it’s been Chuck that’s been the more upstanding between the two, which is saying something considering what we all know he’s capable of in all facets of his life. For instance, the gay conversion camp story that knocked Bob Sweeney out of the New York Governor’s race and proved to Black Jack Foley he had what it took to win.

Speaking of Foley, first off David Strathairn is terrific, and I still miss Alphas. Here he’s playing kingmaker, although we don’t exactly know where his strength came from, outside of it being multi-generational and dating back to Tammany Hall. He inherited his stroke, but he certainly knows how to wield it. He brings Axe to the “party” to decline the animal conservancy Man of the Year Award, and to dare him to come down the road and involve him in anything again. He manufactured the Sweeney story to draw Chuck into the gutter, and forced the hand of other parties to get to his desired end. Fortunes turn on his every sentence.

Billions is a show almost entirely based upon manipulation. Whether it’s shorting a stock, taking a major position to alter a number, coaching traders out of their shells, or putting pressure on informants, attorneys, or politicians for professional advancement, it’s about outsmarting the opponent. It may not be an adversary or an enemy, but a necessary sacrifice for personal benefit. Wendy is the one who gets into the psychological space, and thus she has the potential to control most of the action, but in terms of Bobby and Chuck, these two guys basically do the exact same thing every day of their lives. The only difference is the job title and the chosen profession.

When Axe realizes the Sandicot deal perished because of Chuck (even though in this case, he’s wrong), he storms into the private club. What a scene for this kind of series that doesn’t just excel at cheese, it prefers to live in Wisconsin. The characters, the settings, the dialogue, the overacting, it all plays within this universe because everyone is in on the joke. The dress code commentary as Bobby is ready to rip the heads off of everyone in a sport coat or smoking jacket is such a ridiculous piece of television, but because it’s Billions, it’s awesome.

Even more amazing is how Axelrod going after the small town puts Chuck in position to increase his poll numbers in the upstate by playing the hero defending the little guy. Everything’s coming up Rhoades, which is why the fall is going to be so much more fun to watch. If there’s one thing Chuck hasn’t handled well, it’s success. When he’s on top, he finds a way to trip down a staircase, sometimes with a ball gag in his mouth. It is going to be a glorious fall from grace, and the question is how much Axe has to do with it.

Meanwhile, in another office, Bryan Connerty deals with a question. He accepts the mutton, which was a long-winded discussion that led to Chuck drawing the information he already knew about his golden boy’s influence on the investigation that almost cost him his job. He tells Orrin Bach to screw off, which says to me he takes that offer by the end of the episode. It makes too much sense. Let’s say Rhoades does win an election, or is in position to do so, the nastiest maneuver Bobby could take is to land Connerty and turn him into a shark going after his former boss. Because Bryan seems to be following the new line of “listen to what my boss says,” there’s no way that’s going to stick. Kate Sacker ending up as head of crim makes the most sense, simply because her name hasn’t been mentioned, and both Bryan and Lonnie’s has on numerous occasions.

Maybe that’s not how it goes down, but when it comes to Billions, betting on what’s not being shown is often the best strategy. So many of the bigger moments have come from misdirection tactics, and it isn’t likely to change. We shouldn’t ever feel comfortable watching what IS happening, but instead considering what ISN’T. What I am comfortable in saying is this. I really enjoy this show for all the right and wrong reasons. I don’t care if it ever wins an award. It’s just a thrill ride, with no chill.

WAGS DRANK SOMETHING CALLED A VAPORTINI, AND IT WAS PART OF A CON JOB TO GET A BIGGER COMMITMENT FROM SPARTAN-IVES. What other show would do that in some kind of crazy strip club with excess and boobs? And in the same week, Taylor gives Maffee a framed King of the Ring 1998 event poster signed by Undertaker and Mankind. Plus, an in-home chef gets a pretty outstanding blowjob and gets caught by the people he works for. And apparently Jack Foley’s family goes back to BOSS FUCKING TWEED!

Finally, Doctor Gus and KAMIKAZE!

Billions is bat shit crazy, patently absurd and undeniably over-the-top, but it’s so very content in its own seedy, soapy skin. It’s actually admirable, and that’s why I’ve come to enjoy covering it so much.

LINE OF THE WEEK: Nobody gets to fuck ’em all. You’ve got to choose which one you want to fuck, and then fuck her good. – Chuck Sr.

I’m @JMartOutkick. Maybe in the end, I’m the one guy that does get to fuck em all.

Written by Jason Martin