“Sometimes you just gotta trust people to be who they are,” Chuck tells Bryan after some nice maneuvering sets their team back on the path to victory. These are great words of wisdom for approaching life in general and also, specifically, the TV show Billions. Axe will be Axe, Chuck will be Chuck, and gosh darnnit, Wags will be Wags. For the most part I felt like this was a reliable Billions episode ( Billions will be Billions), laying the pipe for things to come. But then there was that last section! Chuck vs. Axe, in the flesh. I knew it was coming, but I still squealed with glee. If I were one of these hedge fund bros I’d make up some metaphor here about how the whole episode was foreplay for this final moment. But Chuck is probably the only one of these guys who likes foreplay. So let’s dive in.
First things first: Lara will be Lara, for better or worse. Her best asset is her ability to intimidate, so of course when another company tries to encroach on her new business she’s gonna step to them. She sees to it that the guy funding this competitive business gets arrested for aggravated pimping. Lara goes hard.
Wendy will be Wendy, reading people, deciding if people get to go to space. She’s tasked with evaluating Elena Gabriel as a candidate for the first manned mission to Mars. Elena’s a genius, an only child, and she likes Wilco. She seems very emotionally stable — even if she’s never found or looked for a partner — but, you know, Wendy has seen The Martian, and she knows Matt Damon can guarantee that in space things will go wrong and then you have to grow a potato garden to survive. And well, Wendy doesn’t think Elena has experienced enough adversity, so she says to reject Elena, and if she comes back a couple times, then maybe she’s ready. It’s nice to see Wendy going one-on-one again, but as she tells Craig Heidecker (James Wolk), who hired her, this isn’t actually the stuff she wants to be doing. She wants to connect with people, to help them work through their issues. And that leads us to Wags being Wags.
Wags got a tattoo on his butt. He doesn’t know how. I honestly could watch this scene over and over, of him telling Axe. But all his craziness lately leads him to Wendy’s doorstep. He obviously presents a fun challenge for her, so she of course agrees to help. On The Watch podcast this week they talked about how Wendy is one of the few characters on this show that doesn’t get to have a lot of campy fun with her material. Which is true. Sometimes I’m into it though, because I like that she rises above all the masculinity BS to always be the queen of her realm. But also, last season she got to at least beat up Chuck a bit, so she deserves some playfulness too. So I see Wags as her gift for being so good at her job.
This brings us to Axe, who will be Axe. Ugh, I guess I have to talk about this ridiculous scene with frickin’ Mark Cuban. We have to listen to Mark Cuban say, “They think you’re gonna be the Mark Cuban of the NFL.” Vommmmmm! How much do you think Mark Cuban paid them to add that line? Anyway, Mark Cuban does say one thing that sticks with me for the episode: he reminds Axe that he doesn’t come from money, he made his money. I refuse to look up anything about Mark Cuban’s life, but he says that makes them similar.
Axe being someone who came from nothing is maybe the only endearing thing about him to me. And that’s why I usually try to forget it. I think I’ve made my loyalties pretty clear — even though obviously I think Damian Lewis effing nails it every week in this part. But Axe being “new money” is an intrinsic part of his character and it really influenced everything that happened to throw him off his game this week.
Axe realizes offering the biggest bid isn’t gonna be enough. He needs to look good in the press. So he arranges a meeting with Sanford, who works with “The Giving Oath,” a pledge for billionaires to give huge amounts of their money to charity when they die. It’s funny to hear a guy so interested in philanthropy use the f-word so many times in his pitch. Besides leaving money for your kids, it kinda seems obvious that Axe should pledge to give his money away when he dies. But he knows what it’s like not to have money so it also makes sense that he’d never want to even imagine that again. So he doesn’t make any promises, but tips off the press about his meeting. But don’t go buying [undisclosed team name because obvs they can’t say a specific team’s name] jerseys just yet!
One of the most reliable things on this show? Chuck’s dad will be Chuck’s dad. And that means: never intentionally helpful. So Chuck’s dad has been having Bryan followed and sends Chuck a USB with video of Dake trying to blackmail Bryan. This could’ve been helpful information, except for the fact that this episode finds Bryan back on “Team Chuck.” Again, pick whatever side you want, but it is nice to see Chuck inspiring the people he works with. Bryan goes to Dake and tells him he needs to earn his salary and prove that Chuck did something wrong, or, you know, go away. Then we get this interaction:
Dake: Nearer, My God, To Thee.
Bryan: Back the fuck off!
Honestly, whoever wrote that bit of dialogue deserves a billion raises! It was so perfect.
So it seems like all Chuck is really doing in this episode is sacrificing pawns (and maybe knights, too) and while that can be a good strategy, it’s starting to feel like Chuck doesn’t really have a smart plan. That is, until he meets up with Boyd. Side note: Boyd wrote a book called Steady at the Helm and then also mentions Roy Cohn so…it’s clear what we’re supposed to conclude about him (I’d insert a million eyeball emojis here if scrolling wouldn’t get annoying). Anyway, Chuck asks Boyd for something to appease everyone and Boyd offers up some midlevel guys that his compliance department flagged. It seems like a real shitty proposal but Chuck accepts it and says he’ll back down. LOL we all know where this is going.
I liked that Kate went to Chuck for advice about her dad (who she found out has money in offshore accounts, not illegal, just unsavory). Chuck says you’ve got to reach out to your dad, don’t let the disappointment stay inside. “Anyone else in the world will fuck you over… Your father is the one person you’re gonna be able to count on when it matters.” This is cut with Chuck telling his dad that he’s not gonna investigate Boyd anymore. And you know what, Chuck can count on his dad to do exactly what he knows he’ll do: and that’s tell Boyd that Chuck’s backing down from his investigation. Hahahaha! Of course! Of course Chuck is just playing his crazy dad. Then a second later Boyd starts breaking the law again. These fools! Chuck played him. McKinnon is gonna help take him down. Things are looking good.
So then we get to the big final meeting: the deposition of Axe in the Chuck lawsuit. Our opponents get ready to a Megadeath song (which I had to look up) and then Axe puts on a Megadeath shirt (so if only I’d waited like, 5 more seconds).
The lawyers try to go on the record, then Chuck takes them off it to taunt Axe. Back on, back off-the-record for Axe to get a jab in. I know that it’d get redundant, but they shoulda done this joke like, 20 more times. So the questions go as they’ve been practicing, with Axe evading the question about bribing the police instead of perjuring himself by answering. And this already seems like he’s going down the wrong road. Then Chuck’s lawyer, Ira, asks if Axe will open his books to show the concrete damages he’s incurred. Axe won’t. And then, we all know, Ira’s got him. We’ve all watched law shows. This moment was legit brilliant. Because Ira says, okay, if you aren’t claiming actual damages, “legally we call these mental or emotional damages.” Masculinity is so fragile, lol, and there’s no way Axe wants to admit that Chuck got to him. The shot of Damian Lewis looking like he’s about ready to cry because he doesn’t want to admit he was emotionally damaged is just…so satisfying. Like, you’re willing to do everything it takes to survive (including letting your friend with cancer die a few months early, including exploiting the market on 9/11) but god effing forbid you admit that someone hurt your feelings. Axe takes a break.
He goes into his office and gets a call from the giving oath guy, Sanford. He’s pissed that Axe used him to try to get the NFL team. And Sanford wanted to be able to tell Axe himself that he didn’t get it. The NFL rejected his bid. Then he says, “Sports franchises are how we knight people in this country ...” (yeah right, Oscars are how we knight people) “…and you’re not royalty, you’re a robber baron.” Yeah, so I felt bad for Axe here and I hated myself for it. Imagine being Axe and having to grapple with, “no matter how much money you offer us it will never be enough for you to belong.” Sure, it’s not in the top 20 billion problems in the world, but… IDK Damian Lewis just really sold it with how sad he looked. Also LOL FOREVER at presenting the NFL as some beacon of moral integrity.
Then Axe goes to Chuck and says that he cost him his NFL team, that’s damages. Now…sure fine, this is a good final scene. And it’s scary because that would obviously be a lot of money. But no way he could prove this in a court of law. They’d have to specifically prove that just Chuck — and not Axe’s lifetime of pissing people off and buying that effing gaudy Hamptons mansion and lying about the giving oath — was the biggest factors. It just doesn’t seem likely. I spoke to my general counsel on this and she concurred that the claim was without merit. So, let’s see if the courts of Billions agree. We’ll talk about all that casino stuff next episode!
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