Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled iBillions/i goes into pandemic hiatus with sputtering momentum
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“The Limitless Shit” was never meant to meant to serve as a mid-season finale. That status was dictated by circumstance, namely the shutdown of television production when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Fate has decreed that this will be the last we’ll see of Billions for a while (the press notes suggest that the rest of the season will be shot in time for the show to return later this year, but take that with a grain of salt), so it’s understandable that there’s no major event or huge, shocking cliffhanger to hold us over. Understandable, but still a bit disappointing. The hour advances story arcs incrementally, as you would expect from a routine mid-season episode. Which is what this is.

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Axe, we have learned, is far more possessive of Wendy than Chuck could ever bother to be. So far, at least, Chuck has shrugged off her relationship with the artist Tanner, but the last episode ended with Axe remotely watching Tanner’s front door from dusk ‘til dawn, waiting for Wendy to emerge. “The Limitless Shit” begins with the dinner party he hastily arranged, Axe seething at the closeness between Wendy and the artist while Wags startles his young date by casually mentioning that she’s the prospective mother of his next child. Wendy may be able to justify what appears to be an ethical lapse through the technicality that Tanner isn’t an Axe Cap employee, but Axe is going to make sure he feels like just another one of his guys by the end, and corrupt the “incorruptible artist” while he’s at it.

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Having already suffered the ultimate humiliation of painting a portrait of Todd Krakow, Tanner is now subject to surprise drop-ins by the boss to inspect the work in progress, not to mention an unannounced showing of the work to the art scene elite, including a socialite who wastes no time in attracting all of Tanner’s attention. His corruption is not yet complete, but there’s little doubt it’s on Axe’s to-do list whenever the season resumes.

Frank Grillo
Frank Grillo
Photo: Jeff Neumann (Showtime)
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Other ethical questions are being raised at the New York AG’s office, where Chuck has assembled his team of law school interns to dig around in the Krakow files and find something to hang the Treasury Secretary with. A couple of the students object to the process, but the vast majority are more than happy to accompany Chuck on his fishing expedition. When they are unable to find anything, Chuck and Sacker decide that making Krakow believe he’s being investigated is almost as good as the real thing. Sure enough, the paranoia gets to Krakow in the middle of a cabinet meeting, and before you can say “you’re fired,” he’s out of a job and in no position to grease the wheels for Axe’s bank charter.

Chuck’s own struggle to be a more ethical version of himself hasn’t been much of a struggle so far, as he mostly gives in to the same impulses that have always driven him. His quest for Senior’s new kidney, however, shows that there are at least a few lines he won’t cross...at least not yet. He’s not above staging a blood drive at the office in hopes of finding a match for Senior (and speaking of crossing ethical lines, what medical professional would go along with this scheme?), but paying an undocumented girl to harvest her organs is beyond the pale. Maybe if he needed the kidney for himself, it would be a different story.

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The most entertaining, if silliest, of the week’s storylines is the one that gives the episode its title, as Victor slips Axe a new productivity drug called Vigilantrix. Sure enough, Billions goes full Limitless as we zoom in on Axe’s eyeball and numbers start to fall around him. Alas, the drug is a fraud and the big rare mineral play dreamed up by the team is a disaster barely averted by a clear-minded Taylor. It’s a good thing, too, given that Taylor’s dealing with the devil (or at least the devil of this season, Mike Prince) results in a big loss. They may or may not have gotten played by Prince, but Axe certainly sees it that way, and he’s fired up anew to destroy Prince’s life. This revelation, such as it is, was never meant to keep us hanging for months, and it’s nobody’s fault that it ended up that way. Under the circumstances, however, it can’t help but fall a little flat. We’re stuck in the endless middle, and it’s going to be more endless than most.

Stray observations

  • I don’t know this for sure, but Billions may win the prize for making the first topical reference to coronavirus. I’m guessing Krakow’s big speech was one of the last scenes shot before the shutdown.
  • There’s not much Wags this week, maybe because David Costabile makes his directorial debut with this episode.
  • Sounds like Dollar Bill hasn’t seen Midsommar. I thought these people saw everything.
  • There’s no way of knowing when the show will return or what level of coverage we’ll be giving it here when it does, but hopefully we can at least drop in and catch up on the other side.
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My debut novel Charlesgate Confidential is now available from Hard Case Crime.

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