The downside to wrapping up your major storylines in the middle of a season is that it can take a while to get ramped back up again. In the case of Billions, the creative team appears content to take the show’s central conflict off the back burner entirely and stow it in the freezer. Instead, Chuck and Axe have each set their sights on new prey. Chuck’s animosity toward Attorney General Jock Jeffcoat has been simmering all season, but the heat gets turned up this week. Axe’s search for the titular “Icebreaker”to make a splashy investment with the fund leads him to a Special Guest Villain whose reveal had me snorting milk out of my nose. (Weirdly, I was not drinking milk at the time.)
Let’s start with Chuck, who goes missing for a huge chunk of this week’s episode. (Based on some of the press stills and plot descriptions on the official Showtime website, I have a feeling at least one Chuck scene was shifted to next week.) As the hour begins, he finds himself in the unlikely position of shooting at coyotes from the back of a pickup on Jeffcoat’s ranch in West Texas. It’s a long way to go just to get treated to a ham-handed analogy, but that’s what Jeffcoat offers Chuck. He wants the inmate charged with murdering a prison guard to be treated the same way as that coyote.
Sacker is stuck with the Lugo prosecution, which she plans to try her best to win while hoping she loses. In defiance of Jeffcoat, Chuck gives her permission to cut a 20-year plea deal, but it doesn’t matter. The case never comes to court because Lugo dies of injuries sustained on the way when, according to the guards, he tried to escape. Chuck and Sacker both want to charge the guards with murder, but it turns out Jeffcoat is flexible on the whole “eye for an eye” thing. “All lives are not equal,” he says, strongly suggesting Chuck find that the guards acted in self-defense. As Wendy puts it, Chuck has to “assassinate this motherfucker,” but whatever plan he comes up with for that will have to wait. Instead, we are treated to a return appearance by Lonnie, who gets a pure download of Chuck’s misdirected rage for his trouble.
Axe’s $20 billion fundraiser is off to a slow start, so he decides to make a deal with the devil. Revealed when he removes an Islanders hockey mask, the devil in this case turns out to be John Malkovich—if not technically reprising his Russian mobster role from Rounders, certainly close enough to provoke the aforementioned milk/nose incident. He’s Grigor Andolov, oil oligarch and organized crime figure with billions to invest. In other words, a perfect fit for this world and—as the episode works overtime to suggest—a worthy adversary for Axe. Their conversations take the form of a “who’s the bigger badass” exercise in one-upmanship, each accusing the other of pissing their pants and other such schoolyard banter. When Andolov finally decides to go with Axe Capital and announces that they absolutely cannot lose his money, the subtext is simple: Isn’t it going to be fun to watch how Axe takes this prick down?
Not everyone is on board with this move; in fact, there are signs of mutiny brewing back at the office. Wendy returns the Maserati that Axe gifted her and donates the proceeds to the foundation in an attempt to ease her conscience. This also serves as a reminder that Axe used the same peace-making move on Taylor, who definitely doesn’t see the upside in taking Andolov’s money. They attempt to sabotage the deal by proposing socially conscious investments to Andolov’s lieutenant. That doesn’t work, but behind the scenes they are putting the quant team back together, with the addition of the overconfident but now somewhat humbled applicant from a few episodes back.
There’s some effective set-up for future fireworks here, but it’s a little strange that so much is just getting started with only three episodes left in the season. I like that Billions keeps us off-balance with the duration of its plot arcs, but the price to be paid when so many of them conclude at the same time is that some momentum is inevitably lost. Can the show build up the threat posed by Andolov enough to make his eventual comeuppance satisfying? Or will he carry over to next season? The rules are out the window now, and it’s anyone’s guess how the final few episodes of the year will play out.
- The subplot about Dollar Bill’s missing lucky dollar is mildly amusing at best, but it does introduce us to a new presence at Axe Capital: Sarah Stiles as Bonnie Barella, a trader who quickly gets up to speed on the ball-busting corporate culture.
- I try to suspend my disbelief with the pop culture references, I really do, but Connerty describing Pi in his job interview with the FBI? And the interviewee getting the reference? Go home, Billions, you’re drunk.
- I will buy that Taylor has thought out their hierarchy of favorite Rush albums, however.
- The pure punchability of Todd Krakow is a testament to Danny Strong’s acting skills. Even on a show full of douchebags, there’s never any question about who’s the douchiest when he’s in the room.