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

Billions overloads on special guest villains

Illustration for article titled Billions overloads on special guest villains
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If the back half of season three has been considerably less compelling than what has come before—and I think it has been, while still offering up some genuinely entertaining moments—it may be an unavoidable side effect of building a show around two antagonistic characters. They can’t always be coming after each other without the show lapsing into a predictable rut of narrow escapes even as it continues to postpone the inevitable final confrontation. They need new adversaries, but those can easily feel like special guest villains, particularly when played by very recognizable actors. They’re not going to be around long, but Axe and Chuck are in it for the duration. It’s hard to shake the feeling that they’re two champion prize fighters tuning up on tomato cans before stepping into the ring for their next bout.


These guest villains are colorful, though. Jock Jeffcoat is menacing in his cartoonish way, and you could argue that both the writing and Clancy Brown’s performance are too broad, but only if you haven’t been paying any attention to the Trump administration for the last year and a half. It’s no stretch at all that an Attorney General would call for a “Federal day” in which small-time state and local drug cases are taken over and prosecuted. Even the “Texas roadkill chili” stuff rings true as exactly the sort of pandering to the base a Lone Star politician would twist into a little folksy needling for the elite New York types.

Chuck’s plan to take down Jeffcoat is set into motion by a clandestine parking garage meeting with a reporter, in which the US Attorney trades information on an upcoming prosecution for dirt on the AG. It turns out Jeffcoat’s brother is a famous televangelist, and Jock himself is ten times wealthier than Chuck imagined. The team assembled to look into his finances is a small one (Sacker and Allard), and because the AG has eyes and ears everywhere, their target is Anonymous. The cloak-and-dagger stuff starts falling apart almost immediately; first Chuck blows out a tire after trying to track down a potential witness and is late for dinner with Jeffcoat and his wife, and then when the witness is taken in by the FBI, Connerty overhears the agents yapping about doing an off-the-books solid for Sacker.

David Krumholtz
David Krumholtz
Photo: Jeff Neumann (Showtime)

The swagger and effortless intimidation Clancy Brown brings to Jeffcoat as he wrangles for an invitation to a home-cooked meal (Wendy, having none of it, hires Axe’s chef for the occasion) or looms over Chuck as he grills him about his tardiness is fun to watch. The same can be said for the slovenly tics David Krumholtz brings to the role of (hold onto your hats) Frotty Anisman, Axe’s “unpalatable” alternative to quickly raising cash for the fund. Frotty is a vivid presence as he struggles with his tie and insists that Axe hug him in public if he brings in his shady Jordanian money, but at no time does he resemble anything like a serious nemesis. (Now watch him turn out to be a secret mastermind who takes over Axe Capital using...Numb3rs!)

Axe needs the cash infusion because Andolov has pulled out half of his investment to pursue another opportunity. Like Jeffcoat, Andolov possesses a certain mystique courtesy of the actor who plays him, but there’s an attempt this week to humanize him a bit beyond the caricature we were introduced to in the previous episode. We learn that he was the little boy who witnessed the rape and degradation of his mother, and the meaning of the story changes from “we never know what happens to these poor, broken unfortunates” to “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” More importantly, from Axe’s perspective, he puts his $1.5 billion back in the fund, impressed with the lack of whining that accompanied its removal.


Axe has already replaced that money, in a move that could signal the biggest threats are already in-house. His disrespect of Taylor upon his return to the office was bad enough, but nothing compared to this week’s betrayal. There is a sense in which Taylor brings heartbreak on themselves, first getting their boss to secure a high-end restaurant for Oscar’s meeting with the brains behind the latest killer app and then spilling the beans about the subject of said meeting. But if there is an element of self-sabotage here, it wouldn’t work unless Axe was so quick to pounce on a new opportunity, knowing it will destroy Taylor’s relationship. There’s a big bonus in it for them, but Taylor’s “acquiring human emotions” arc hits the I-need-a-hug stage. It’s unlikely to stop there, however, and there are two episodes left this season for Taylor to acquire a taste for the human trait Billions values above all others with the possible exception of greed: revenge.

Stray observations

  • Seriously, Frotty Anisman? Did Thomas Pynchon ghost-write this episode? At least now I know how to pronounce “frottage.”
  • Has there ever been a dumber subplot on this show than “Ben Kim finds his confidence by doing a strip-tease to ‘Hot in Herre’ in an elevator full of Kansas City squares”? He finally gets something to do and it’s...that?
  • Last week Axe got Kevin Durant to record a Happy Bar Mitzvah message, and this week he’s playing tennis with Maria Sharapova. The roster of real-life sports figures on this show is probably worthy of a listicle by now.
  • Lara shows up for less than a minute to yell at Axe. Call your agent, Malin Akerman.
  • But hey, at least Axe has buried the hatchet with Bruno the pizza man.

My debut novel Charlesgate Confidential is now available from Hard Case Crime.