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Billions sets the stage for late-season fireworks

Maggie Siff, Damian Lewis
Photo: Jeff Neumann (Showtime)
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Money never sleeps, as the misbegotten sequel to Wall Street informed us, and evidently it never takes a holiday either. True to its title, “New Year’s Day” unfolds over the first day of January, traditionally reserved for hungover brunches and college bowl games. It’s unusually specific for Billions, where time is free-floating and it’s never quite clear how many days, weeks, or months have elapsed since the last episode. (Did we miss Christmas? Thanksgiving? Where did this snow come from?) Such concerns are meaningless here; time is money, and there’s never enough of either for these characters.


The episode begins on what I hope is an intentionally hilarious note, with Bono crooning “All is quiet on New Year’s Day” just as Chuck sets up a meeting with Todd Krakow for that very day because “it will be quiet.” That turns out to be wishful thinking on many fronts. The FBI is listening in on Chuck’s calls, and now Connerty knows something is afoot with Krakow, prompting him to seek an expansion of the surveillance on Chuck and Senior. A judge approves the request to bug their residences, but makes it very clear that they must stop listening if the conversation isn’t relevant or there is a lawyer present. This information will be revisited throughout the episode! It’s probably going to be important!

Before he can get to his meeting with Krakow, Chuck has to put in an appearance at a prep session for Wendy’s medical license review. The strategy is to make it clear that the Axe Cap employees counseled by Wendy were clients, not patients, therefore she was not acting in her capacity as a doctor and there is no confidentiality issue. The role-playing in this session provides another opportunity for Spyros to make an ass of himself by wearing a lab coat and stethoscope, but Chuck is impatient with the proceedings, both because he has other business to attend to and because he’s already cut a deal behind Wendy’s back. She can serve out a six-month suspension and have her record cleared in two years. Furious that Chuck would presume to make a deal more expedient for himself than for her, Wendy has no plans to back down.

Toby Leonard Moore, Michael Raymond-James
Photo: Jeff Neumann (Showtime)

These are just the latest actions by Chuck that have Wendy sizing up her marriage in comparison to her relationship with Axe, who cuts short a vacation with his kids in order to participate in the session Chuck can’t wait to leave. Billions sets the plotting and scheming aside temporarily for an extended conversation between Axe and Wendy about their shared past, specifically the post-9/11 moment when Axe realized he’d found a professional partner he could count on for the long haul. It’s a scene that’s allowed to breathe, giving Damian Lewis and Maggie Siff the opportunity to dig deeper into their characters than the hectic pace usually allows. And it’s a marked contrast to a later scene in which Wendy asks Chuck to recall the moment he knew he had to marry her. Chuck’s got nothing; there is no specific formative moment to their relationship in his mind, and Wendy gets the message loud and clear. When the time comes for Chuck and Axe to butt heads again (as they’re already starting to do in the strategy meeting), it won’t be a surprise if her loyalty is not to her husband.


In seeking a way out of her dilemma that doesn’t involve taking Chuck’s deal, Axe suggests confronting the problem straight on by going to Taylor and asking them for forgiveness and a promise not to appear at the board hearing. Taylor thinks the apology isn’t real, “merely transactional,” which describes 95 percent of human interaction on this show. Taylor agrees to skip the hearing, making sure to do it in the most patronizing and hurtful way possible, but this is not merely a show of generosity on their part. Taylor has something to protect by avoiding cross-examination too, as their extracurricular activities with Lauren are no state secret at all.

As for Chuck’s dealings with Senior and Krakow, everything is staged in such a way as to tip us off that Connerty is being set up. Maybe that’s too obvious, and the writers have a double-reverse in store, but this week’s final scene suggests otherwise. We meet another Connerty brother, Jackie, played by Michael Raymond-James of Terriers and True Blood. Given that we meet him in mid-brawl in an Irish pub, after which Bryan recruits him for a safe-cracking mission, it’s safe to say Jackie is trouble. The character’s introduction is the capper on an hour that turns the heat up on a number of simmering conflicts set to boil over in the season’s final two episodes.


Stray observations

  • Wendy gets a distraught Wags a “professional cuddler,” who hugs him until he cries loud enough for the whole office to hear. I don’t think I have anything to say about this subplot. It speaks for itself.
  • A subplot about a delivery of valuable art to Axe Cap reintroduces another face from the past: Danny Margolis, who let it all hang out by the pool, much to Connerty’s chagrin. Here he offers Axe a “free port” at which to store the art in a state of perpetual transit, thus avoiding a tax hit. I sense there’s another shoe to drop here.
  • Irish in, Irish out. The hour begins with U2 and ends with the Pogues.

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About the author

Scott Von Doviak

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