Paul Giamatti
Photo: Mark Schafer (Showtime)

Well, that didn’t take long.

The Rhoades/Axelrod alliance was short-lived and brutally efficient. One conversation around the dinner table is all it takes to set into motion the events that bring the Ice Juice saga to a close. In fact, “Not You, Mr. Dake” offers so much closure it almost plays like a finale, even though we’re just over the halfway point of the season. It’s a well-constructed episode that satisfies in some ways, but it also leaves a lot on the table.

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As I mentioned in last week’s review, I was very much looking forward to the prospect of Chuck and Axe being forced to team up to save themselves and Wendy. The writers of Billions begged to differ, evidently, as Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis share a single scene this week. The plan, discussed out of Wendy’s earshot to protect her delicate sensibilities, is to pick a patsy to take the fall for Ice Juice while everyone else skates. We know who that’s going to be from the opening scene, which finds Chuck dropping in on Dr. Gilbert to discuss the plan for planting the slide in Axe’s home. (As an aside, taping it to the bottom of a ketchup bottle is a terrible idea, no? People use ketchup! Especially in a house with kids. Tape it under the horseradish or the Arm & Hammer baking soda or something else that isn’t likely to get moved anytime soon.) The punchline is that not only is Wendy on board for this, she suggests it as if it’s the biggest no-brainer in the world. This is your reminder that all of these people are terrible, aside from the few that they will force to be terrible.

Chuck justifies the framing of Dr. Gilbert as cosmic justice: the doc may not be guilty of exactly what he’s been set up for, but he’s guilty of something. He allowed Donnie Caan to die without the experimental treatment that could have prolonged his life, and he was perfectly willing to see Axe framed in exactly the same way he was, ketchup bottle and all. That this is all self-serving for Chuck is just par for the course. It’s such a thorough job of gaslighting that the doctor may no longer be sure he’s innocent by the time Chuck is through with him.

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Toby Leonard Moore, Christopher Denham
Photo: Jeff Neumann (Showtime)

“Not You, Mr. Dake” scrambles the chronology in such a fluid fashion that it’s never confusing; every piece fits into place in the script by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, as realized by director Michael Morris and the editing team. As the dismissal hearing gets underway, the plot to undermine it comes into focus. Axe’s ninjas are unable to alter the cell phone records that Connerty intends to use to nail Wendy, so Axe is forced to track down his fixer Hall, now hiding out in Nova Scotia under cover of a spectacular Beard of Sadness. Hall is able to blackmail a technician for Wendy’s service provider, because this is Billions and everyone has some dirt if you’re willing to dig for it.

One of those few non-terrible people I mentioned earlier is Mafee, the hedge fund trader with a heart of gold. Anyone with a conscience is ripe to be exploited in this world, so Wendy continues her heel turn by using his crush on her to get him to lie about the Ice Juice phone call. He can’t be bought but he is paid for anyway as Axe rewards him with a cool million in cryptocurrency. Taylor, who has been struggling with their own conscience this season, isn’t sure exactly what’s going with Mafee, but they can tell it’s not good.

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It all comes together at the hearing, presided over by the ever smug and showboating Judge DeGiulio. Connerty thinks he’s going to nail everybody, but in fact he nails nobody because the evidence evaporates right before his eyes. Judging from the troubled expression on Axe’s face as he soaks in his penthouse hot tub with three naked women, I guess we’re meant to think of this as a hollow victory. It feels that way to me, too, mostly because the prospect of Chuck and Axe scheming together is dispensed with so hastily. Or maybe it hasn’t been? There aren’t many breadcrumbs to point the way toward the remainder of the season. Connerty is back at the Southern District and pissed at everyone, Sacker included. Dake is given his walking papers (the title line is spoken by Attorney General Jeffcoat, at which point Dake sees the writing on the wall). With five episodes left, where do we go from here?

Stray observations

  • More closure: Chuck buries the hatchet with Senior by bringing him a vintage Ben Hogan golf club. What more appropriate peace offering?
  • Dake was clearly doomed once he offered that bottle of Oban to Karl Allard, who we then saw drinking from that same bottle with Chuck. A “nuanced shift in loyalty” indeed.
  • He may technically be right about everyone, but it’s hard to root for Connerty when he gets The Bad News Bears so wrong.
  • Mafee’s first name is Dudley, which is why he prefers Mafee.

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