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Having the upper hand is a temporary condition on a table-turning Billions

Michael Rispoli, Paul Giamatti
Photo: Jeff Neumann (Showtime)
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Regular readers of these reviews know that their track record of predicting Billions plot developments is not the best. Having said that, I will take credit for foreseeing that “Chekhov’s gun permit,” introduced in the season premiere, would go off eventually. Sadly, a dog pays the price, as a trigger-happy Brogan hears a ruckus at his door during a storm and panics, putting a fatal bullet in a neighbor’s prize Belgain Malinois. Brogan calls in Chuck, his “Michael Clayton,” to fix a situation that could blow back on both of them as well as Police Commissioner Richie Sansome (who deftly dodges all of Chuck’s attempts to make this a “we” problem). A deal is cut, with the neighbor getting a cash settlement and a new puppy, but when the opportunity arises for the injured party to extort a little more money for his trouble, he jumps at it. It’s just one of many attempts at turning the tables in “Infinite Game.”


In fact, the tables are turning so rapidly in this episode, they’re practically spinning; that’s what makes for an infinite game. From the description of the forthcoming book of that name by Simon Sinek: “In infinite games, like business or politics or life itself, the players come and go, the rules are changeable, and there is no defined endpoint. There are no winners or losers in an infinite game; there is only ahead and behind.” You practically need a scorecard to keep track of who’s ahead and who’s behind this week, but you better have an eraser because it’s always changing.

In the case of the dead dog, Chuck regains the upper hand by asserting his power. The dog-owner attempted to extort the New York attorney general in front of a witness, so he better take the puppy and smile if he doesn’t want to go to jail. When Todd Krakow gets the news that Chuck is coming after him for his Cayman Island dealings, he makes the best move he can see on the board: he goes to Chuck’s arch-nemesis Bobby Axelrod for help. Axe extracts Krakower’s help in securing the assistance of a government official named “Hard Bob” Beaufort, who can help make Taylor’s life miserable. But Axe has no intention of helping Krakower—at least, not in the way the slimy Treasury Secretary had envisioned. He’s buddies with Chuck now, for as long as that’s convenient, which it proves to be in this case. Chuck is willing to cut him a deal, but he wants help lining up a bank that will work with Senior on his Elysium Fields project. When he gives Senior the good news, the FBI is listening. And the table keeps on spinning.

Clancy Brown, Danny Strong
Photo: Jeff Neumann (Showtime)

The way Krakower gets tipped off to Chuck’s interest makes for one of those scenes that purely encapsulates the essence of Billions. He’s taking a leak when Jock Jeffcoat enters the bathroom and, despite the plethora of available urinals, selects the one right next to Krakower. The immediate visual gag, with Clancy Brown towering over Danny Strong, is supplemented by Krakower’s observation that the nickname “Jock” did not derive from Jeffcoat’s athletic prowess. Isn’t every Billions scene about who in the room has the biggest dick (whether or not they’re literally penis-equipped)? This one just makes it as blunt and explicit as possible without subjecting us to the visual evidence. Need I even mention that Jock leaves the restroom without washing his hands?


The most head-spinning who’s-playing-who scenario in the episode concerns Axe’s ongoing war with Taylor. Wendy has taken on a pivotal role for reasons she may not fully understand; loyalty to Axe and the company that employs her aren’t enough to justify the trampling of her personal ethics over the past couple of episodes. She gets so caught up in it, she makes the mistake of underestimating Taylor, who figures out Wendy is full of shit when she talks about being disillusioned enough with Axe Cap to leave it. By then, the damage is done. Axe’s first strike (having Rebecca invest in Douglas Mason’s tech project and then buying her out) misses, but the backup plan has Taylor faced with losing the firefighters’ fund if they don’t turn the tech over to the defense department for an eight percent return on investment.

Taylor knows they’ve been put in this bind by Axe and Wendy, and makes the most Taylor choice possible by running the numbers and cutting their father loose. But they insist this was the plan all along; it was a test that Douglas failed by putting his own ambitions ahead of his child’s best interests. This could be Taylor’s self-justification after the fact, but it feels true. They hoped for a better outcome, but didn’t expect it.


Are all of the relationships on Billions purely transactional? It’s hard to view the love affair between Axe and Rebecca through rose-tinted glasses, simply because neither of them got where they are today without using every single relationship to their advantage. Sure, they enjoy each other’s company, but Axe hasn’t been shy about asking her for favors, and it’s hard to believe she isn’t running some kind of game on him that will be revealed soon. Viewers might be tempted to give Axe points for his reversal on Bruno, buying out the pizza business and letting him go enjoy retirement in Florida. But Axe is riding high at the moment and can afford to be magnanimous. When his fortunes take a turn, as they inevitably will, don’t be so certain Bruno’s dreams of walking the beach and going to the track will come true. On Billions, the tables can always turn again.

Stray observations

  • On the home front, Wendy is considering selling the house that now holds bad memories for her. This comes as some surprise to Chuck, who hasn’t been consulted in the matter. He tries to sway her with a heartfelt telling of a traumatic childhood memory involving his father throwing a pancake-based tantrum, tarnishing the one pleasant experience he recalls from youth: waking up to the smell of his mother cooking breakfast. Likewise, the beckoning aroma of a cooling apple pie that greets Chuck on returning home is fouled by the revelation that it’s simply there to create a homey atmosphere for potential buyers. No pie for Chuck.
  • Mafee grows a pair and shows up at Axe Cap to read Wendy the riot act. Dollar Bill and the gang come to her defense, but it’s clear his words have had an effect when Wendy breaks down during her evening run.
  • Noah Emmerich’s appearance as Freddie Aquafino was so fleeting, I assumed he must have directed the episode (as he’s done in the past). But no, Laurie Collyer helmed this one. 

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About the author

Scott Von Doviak

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