Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Axe crashes the party on a transitional Billions

Damian Lewis/Showtime
Damian Lewis/Showtime
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The scales have been tilted so far in Chuck’s direction this season, Billions has to be setting us up for a big fall. He’s faced challenges, but every move he’s made has struck gold; even maneuvers made on his behalf without his knowledge (the Sandicot play) have paid off, at least so far. The one area that’s still unsettled, his marriage, shows signs of renewal (aside from that one little bit of information withheld by Wendy, but we’ll get to that later). On the other side of the tracks, Axe is spiraling, to use Chuck’s term. By the end of this episode, Chuck is riding so high and Axe is sinking so low, there can be little doubt that things are about to change dramatically. That’s just the way Billions rolls.

Let’s start with Axe, who has salvaged the Sandicot fiasco by completely screwing the town over. The symbol of this sad little victory is the cowboy statue, the “original Remington” that’s worth some money but not enough for Axe to bother selling it. It presumably means a lot to the people of Sandicot and nothing at all to Axe, but he still has it displayed in the office as a trophy of his dubious triumph. Axe won’t accept the idea that Jack Foley arranged the casino’s change of venue for any other reason but to screw him over. It must be personal, even f he can’t think of any reason it would be. Since Foley won’t agree to a one-on-one meeting, Axe tries to force one through his usual tactics: making a huge donation to an animal sanctuary on the condition that he personally present a Man of the Year award to Foley.

Foley is “The Kingmaker” of the title, and as predicted, he looks to be a pivotal figure in this season’s endgame. He’s an Albany mover and shaker whose support could be enough to make Chuck the next governor, but since Chuck failed to come through with a clerkship for Foley’s granddaughter, he instead anoints “Buffalo” Bob Sweeney, a political lifer with no real name recognition. Chuck bristles at the notion that he needs Foley’s imprimatur to achieve his ambitions and must show fealty to earn it (or, as he more elegantly puts it, “What he wanted were his balls gargled”). He chooses to take Sweeney out of the race, trying first the carrot (offering Sweeney the lieutenant governor slot) and then the stick (digging up dirt and blackmailing him). The way this unfolds is a little strange: Chuck tells Ira he can’t be the one to do the oppo research, but when Ira comes through with the goods (Sweeney sent his son to a “pray away the gay” camp), Chuck delivers it personally to his rival. Is he trying to keep a low profile or not? Or could he simply not resist twisting the knife himself?

Whatever the case, it works…or maybe it was a setup all along and Sweeney was simply the pawn, given Foley’s blessing only so the kingmaker can see what Chuck is capable of doing. Either way, Chuck gets an invite to Foley’s party, where he stoops to asking the question, “Jack, will you make me governor?” He even offers to get that clerkship with an even more prestigious judge. Consider those balls gargled. Foley’s endorsement also comes with a bonus, however: Chuck’s enemy is now Foley’s, and that means Axe.

Axe’s efforts at getting to Foley are misfires. His attempt at buying up Foley’s source of scrap iron fails, as there’s no magic number that will make the scrapyard owner sabotage his relationship with Foley. (This scene features a real clunker of an on-the-nose line when Axe says “You’re more afraid of him than you are of me.”) The Man of the Year ploy does net him a face-to-face meeting, but it only lasts long enough for Foley to let him know he values loyalty and Axe will never have his. Axe now knows Foley did someone a favor, and one bribe to a caterer (FBI cooperator Danny Margolis from back in the pilot episode) later, he knows who it was. Axe crashes the Yale Club to call Chuck out for being a daddy’s boy, but receives only mockery for his outsider status in return. He may be a billionaire, but he’ll never be one of them; the Old Boy Network will always close the door in his face. Chuck’s triumph seems total in the final scene, smoking perfectly aged cigars with the father who thinks he just might be the one “who gets to fuck ‘em all.” What comes up must come down, however, and it feels like Chuck has been riding high for long enough now.

Stray observations

  • Kate and Bryan are still working the Axelrod angle, first trying to flip the recently axed Dr. Gus, then turning to Steph Reed when he points them in her direction. Chuck tells Bryan the hands-off policy is still in place with regard to Axe, but we’ll see if the latest blowup between them has any effect on that.
  • So Chuck did go on a date with his jiu-jitsu opponent, but nothing really came of it. The same can’t be said for Wendy’s romp with the Elon Musk-alike, but while Chuck is honest about his dalliance, Wendy keeps hers a secret. No chance this ever comes back to bite her.
  • Taylor does have human emotions and proves it by getting Mafee an autographed poster of Mankind and the Undertaker.
  • Wags’ trip on the wagon is short-lived, as he’s back to drinking and lap dances (as well as a “vaportini”), even if it is partly a ploy to get a brokerage discount from Spartan Ives. He also does a little stealth marketing for the show that will take over the Billions time slot in a few weeks: “Fire walk with me.”
  • Ben Folds plays the piano at Jack Foley’s party, because Jack Foley definitely knows who Ben Folds is.
  • “Where we’re going, we need Rhoades.” Might want to work a little harder on the campaign slogan, Chuck.