Nina Arianda
Photo: Jeff Neumann (Showtime)
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New characters are the lifeblood of a veteran series, so it’s no surprise that even with last year’s new adversaries Jock Jeffcoat and Grigor Andolov still in play, Billions has added another player as season four kicks into gear. And with Malin Akerman’s greatly reduced screen time (she has yet to appear, but will return on a recurring basis) and the dissolution of the Axelrod marriage last season, it makes sense that this new character also serve as a love interest for Axe. From the beginning of “Arousal Template,” however, Rebecca Cantu (Nina Arianda of Goliath) promises to be more than that.

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Robots are the future, but the future isn’t quite here yet judging from the demo staged for a number of potential investors, including Axe. The Robocop-esque demonstration model looks impressive enough when it punches through a door, but self-made billionaire Cantu (who rose to prominence after picking big winners on the Home Shopping Network) quickly points out a number of flaws in the tech and scares off all the other big fish—except Axe, who sees a way to screw Taylor over by convincing the bank behind the robo-inventors not to provide them capital.

Burning cash just to burn Taylor fits Axe’s revenge mode, but it’s not so well-received by the rest of the team. Not that Axe has given up sniffing out shady money-making opportunities, such as taking over half of Cantu’s interest in an industrial cleaning company just before one of his low-level employees captures evidence of a rival company’s cash kickback scam and Axe leaks it to the press. Even though it means more money for her, Cantu isn’t thrilled to be used for this scheme, especially since she and Axe have already slept together by the time she finds out. She recognizes that she may have met her match, however, and their courtship continues. Flirting via rapacious capitalism, the Billions way!

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Sarah Stiles, Maggie Siff
Photo: Jeff Neumann (Showtime)

Speaking of what happens between the sheets, a chat at Bonnie’s birthday party among actual sex-havers and also Spiros prompts Wendy to pursue a more traditional hook-up with her husband, but Chuck isn’t ready to “put away childish enthusiasms.” The title phrase comes from Troy, formerly known as Mistress, Chuck’s other BDSM playmate, who reminds Wendy that being a take-charge guy in the sack is not Chuck’s “arousal template.” Perhaps that’s the balance Chuck needs in his life if he’s going to pull off the alpha role outside the bedroom and regain his perch. But that’s as much thought as I care to devote to the Rhoades’ sex life at this time.

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Chuck sees the path to reclaiming that power: running for attorney general of New York state. To clear the way, he needs the interim AG—and Connerty’s preferred candidate—to step aside. Police commissioner Richie Sansome can deliver the endorsement Chuck needs to pull this off, but this being Billions, he needs a favor first. By now the writers have a fat Rolodex full of past characters they can spin and dip into whenever the need arises, which brings us back to NYPD pension fund administrator Raul Gomez and fund manager Michael Panay. As we are reminded when Chuck starts sniffing around, Axe installed the disgraced Panay as his puppet back when he was banned from managing funds.

It’s a turn of events that brings Chuck back into Axe’s orbit, this time without the knives out. In an episode that’s all about power plays, it’s a reminder that no bridge is ever truly burned in this world, and if two people can be of use to each other, they can work together no matter what baggage they bring to the table. Chuck gets what he wants by providing a pipeline from Sansome to Axe, giving him financial security while leaving Gomez in place at the pension. Axe gets the pension back and Panay gets the shaft.

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Taylor gets the gold star for pulling off the biggest power play of the hour. Seemingly in a bind when all banks cut them off, Taylor is nearly forced to go into business with Andolov’s gangster buddies, the Koslovs. If Taylor refuses, Andolov might pull his money, so they need to make the Koslovs say no. Taylor comes up with a solution that not only gets them out of any arrangement with the Koslovs, but also costs Axe more money. Not only that, Taylor’s steely resolve impresses Andolov enough that he agrees to pressure the banks on their behalf. I’d still bet the series ultimately comes down to Chuck vs. Axe, but Taylor is definitely making a case for being the last one standing.

Stray observations

  • My new theory about all the pop culture references comes via an old episode of The Thick Of It. All the characters on this show must be supplied with a daily download of quips and quotes to digest with their morning coffee and drop on their colleagues and adversaries throughout the day. If anything, the Billions writers have doubled down again this season, and while some of the references are amusing, they never stop being distracting.
  • Here’s a partial list from this week: Wags doing the “mark it zero” spiel from The Big Lebowski; Wendy going deep on Heat with her comparison to “McCauley throwing it all away to kill Waingro”; Rudy thinking he was Unbreakable; Andolov singing Mighty Mouse’s “here I come to save the day” line; and Taylor quoting Robert James Ritchie, who Andolov recognizes as Kid Rock.
  • Mafee learns that having the ability to help out your friends can be more blessing and curse when he gets the go-ahead to hire poor Rudy and can’t go through with it.
  • Tuk earned his “attaboy” from Ben, don’t you think?

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