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A ho-hum hour of Billions is short on endgame momentum

Asia Kate Dillon
Photo: Jeff Neumann (Showtime)
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As penultimate episodes go, it would be hard to top last year’s “Golden Frog Time,” in which Chuck pulled off the Ice Juice caper that took the first half of this season to unravel. “Kompenso” doesn’t even try to top it; it plays more like a mid-season episode, with its major storylines just starting to ramp up. The unconventional rhythm of this year’s arcs has resulted in some strong payoffs, but the fuse should be hitting the powder kegs now instead of slowly sizzling along. How can there only be one hour left?


Neither Chuck nor Axe has a particularly cataclysmic storyline this week. For Axe, it’s compensation time at the fund, which brings out the ugliest side of his Great Man of Capitalism self-view. It irks him that his lowly underlings actually want to be paid for their meager efforts, when he’s the one who really does it all. (All he sees during the comp meetings are “snapping little mouths.”) The task is particularly grueling when it comes to Taylor, who makes a great case for all they have done for Axe Cap in the past year, including torpedoing a relationship. Something in Axe just doesn’t want to give Taylor what they want—not the money ($50 million) and definitely not a spot on the raise team.

Taylor needs “forward momentum,” as we are told multiple times in this episode, and Axe has been disrespecting them since his return from exile. Taylor goes to reflect in what I have since learned is the SeaGlass carousel, “a whirling school of mechanized fish,” as the New York Times calls it. The show itself offers no real explanation for this bizarre location, but it certainly makes for an effective backdrop as Wendy pep-talks Taylor into getting what they really need from Axe. Lara, a character in search of a purpose this season, is also recruited into this mission out of self-interest as Axe Capital’s largest single investor. At least she isn’t yelling at anyone this week, although her will-they-or-won’t-they visit to Axe’s apartment holds little intrigue. Is anyone rooting for this relationship to be revived?

Paul Giamatti, Ben Shenkman
Photo: Mark Schafer (Showtime)

Chuck devotes most of his energy this week to helping an old friend. As we’ve seen so often this season, no relationship is ever truly dead and no betrayal so great that it can’t be overcome. Honestly, this is kind of a problem from a long-term dramatic standpoint. If it’s really so easy for Chuck or Axe to smooth things over after sticking the knife in someone’s back, it’s harder to get invested in those knife-sticking moments. This week it’s Ira who returns to the fold after a chance encounter with Chuck at a trendy steakhouse. Ira is married now, but it’s not going well; his new trophy wife Tyga has a scam-artist boyfriend on the side who has been draining Ira’s bank account, so recently replenished.


Driven by Ice Juice guilt, Chuck sets out to play the hero and make this right for Ira. He literally threatens to make a federal case out of it with the sleazy boyfriend, then commandeers his father’s apartment for a meeting with Tyga in order to get her to sign a post-nup and agree to leave Ira. Senior isn’t having it, though; he bursts into the meeting with all sorts of unwanted keys to long-term happiness to share, like not to bring the clap home. When Chuck and Ira reunite for another steak dinner (this time at old school Peter Luger’s - there’s symbolism here somewhere), Ira gives Chuck the insight he needs to go after Jeffcoat. Let the worst happen—in other words, get the New York state’s attorney to pursue the Texas cable case and then nail Jeffcoat for obstruction when he finds out about it and tries to stop it.

All well and good, but not really the juice (Ice Juice?) we’ve come to expect from penultimate episodes. It’s up to Taylor this week to make the big move, which comes when the quant in the basement hits on the algorithm that will magically predict everything for the rest of time. (Or something; it’s a McGuffin, so I’ll just leave it at that.) The reveal of the sign reading Taylor Mason Capital is the logical extension of everything that’s happened with Taylor since Axe came back, and the request of a meeting with Andolov is the kind of knife twist Axe will have to respect, even when he comes after Taylor guns blazing. Whether all this will be resolved in an hour or Billions leaves us hanging with a handful of cliffhangers, I wouldn’t begin to guess at this point.


Stray observations

  • Connerty’s visit with Dake raises another (nitpicky, perhaps) issue with Billions: what exactly is the time-frame on this show? We last saw Dake, what, three episodes ago? And yet here he is with a beard, comfortably ensconced as a law professor in Charlottesville, Virginia. Some storylines appear to play out in a matter of days, while others are simultaneously taking months. Shouldn’t it snow at some point in this magical New York?
  • This week’s selection from the Closet of Long-Forgotten Characters is Pete Decker, a former hedge fund manager Chuck went after back in season one. Now he’s in the fitness business, because self-reinvention is what old Billions characters do best.
  • Wags is learning Esperanto for some reason.

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About the author

Scott Von Doviak

My debut novel Charlesgate Confidential is now available from Hard Case Crime.