Maggie Siff
Photo: Jeff Neumann (Showtime)

Let’s start with the ending, which is both unexpected and inevitable, as well as the most tantalizing set-up for the second half of the season imaginable. The roadrunner and the coyote are forced to team up to save their own asses, and it promises to be a good time for all. It will be temporary, sure; they’ll grudgingly stick together just long enough to extract themselves from the current sticky situation before turning their guns on each other once again. This is no startling new narrative idea—it’s been dubbed the “Enemy Mine” trope—but it’s always a kick when Superman is forced to team up Lex Luthor (the difference here being that neither Chuck nor Axe is the hero). So yes, the ending of “The Third Ortolan” is great, but the path the episode takes to get there is a little rockier.

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When Chuck got his hands on the incriminating slide last week, it appeared he held all the cards. It was a bit jarring, then, to see him resorting to paying off an operative to plant the evidence in Axe’s home. Chuck’s plans usually have a little more finesse to them, which is the first clue that this one isn’t going to work out. The question is, why would he have settled on this method in the first place? True, his office isn’t prosecuting the case, and there’s no way Connerty would have accepted this evidence from Chuck. But surely Chuck and Dake could have worked something out, leaving Connerty out of the loop until absolutely necessary and feeding him a story omitting Chuck’s involvement entirely.

Speaking of Connerty, has he really always been such a naif? Positioning him as the show’s moral compass is one thing, but it strains credulity that he’s risen as far as he has while still being a babe in the woods. His performance at the dismissal hearing is a complete disaster, and he further alienates the judge by giving up on their back-door meeting too easily. Somehow it’s perfect that the lifeline he’s thrown comes from Spyros, fresh from preening in the face of Chuck’s attempt to coerce him to turn on Axe. (“You want me to be a cuckoo bird! I’m a golden eagle!”) Having dug up evidence of Wendy’s Ice Juice shorting, Spyros goes “full LeCarre” in delivering it to Connerty, mistakenly believing this will further endear him to Axe. Not the case!

Toby Leonard Moore, Paul Giamatti
Photo: Jeff Neumann (Showtime)

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Axe’s loyalty to Wendy is something Billions viewers have had to take on faith since the beginning, but it’s still a hard sell. Yes, we saw last season that no other shrink has the magic touch to keep Axe Capital humming along at maximum efficiency. It’s fine that Axe feels he owes her, but to this extent? That he’s willing to take a plea when his lawyer is almost certain the case is about to be tossed for lack of evidence? I’m not entirely clear on how that would help Wendy, anyway, given Connerty’s righteous need to take down Chuck. No, the only real reason for Axe to feel he’s up against the wall is out of plot necessity—to set up that moment when the elevator door opens and he sees Chuck standing there with Wendy.

For once, it’s Wendy who has gotten the pep talk, from Black Jack Foley: when there’s no play to be made, “break the fuckin’ stick.” She’s the only one who can mediate Chuck and Axe, even if she has to put up with the usual insult-slinging and dick-measuring first. Even then, the matter isn’t settled until Chuck takes a walk through Axe’s labyrinthine bachelor pad, ostensibly looking for the bathroom. As he keeps rounding corners into new and more opulent rooms, the temptation to plant the slide is overwhelming. He doesn’t do it, though. Axe wants “transparency” and that’s exactly what he gets. It’s a giddy cliffhanger. and I can hardly wait to see how it all plays out.

Stray observations

  • “The Third Ortolan” refers to the scene in which Axe and Wags chow down on a French delicacy while wearing napkins on their heads. (More scenes with Axe and Wag wearing napkins on their heads, please. I laughed both times tonight.) The first ortolan is bliss, the second is gluttony, and the third? Whatever lies beyond gluttony, which is where most of these characters reside.
  • By contrast, Foley and Chuck dig into some pig’s ears. No head napkins required.
  • Billions is a show where every character knows exactly where and when to find any other character in order to ambush them. It happens at least three times in this episode alone (Chuck and Spyros, Chuck and Connerty, Axe and Lara). I dunno, last I heard New York was a pretty big city, but I guess all these people are real creatures of habit.
  • Oscar shows up at Axe Cap with candy, just to keep Taylor company while they’re working on the algorithm. The only word for this couple is adorkable.
  • Surely Axe’s building has security cameras that would have captured Chuck’s arrival, so planting the slide himself would have been a non-starter anyway, right?

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