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On a dizzying Billions, nothing is as it seems...unless it is

Paul Giamatti
Photo: Jeff Neumann (Showtime)
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This is when Billions is at its best— when seemingly dozens of plates are spinning at once, and it’s exhilarating to watch and wonder which will smash to the floor first. “Lamster” is particularly dizzying for those of us writing about the show, as I can’t begin to imagine generating a straight recap of the week’s events from my pages and pages of hastily scribbled notes. That’s because an episode like this isn’t simply about what’s happening on the screen; it’s about trying to figure out what’s really happening, and how everything we’re seeing fits into that.


That is to say there’s a heightened level of suspicion that comes with watching Billions, particular since the show’s apex two season ago, “Golden Frog Time.” It’s hard to take any of the events that unfold at face value, which is why I was so certain Chuck and his father were pulling a fast one on Connerty last week. Now I’m much less certain about that...except maybe I’m supposed to feel less certain, so that makes me even more skeptical about everything I’m seeing. It’s kind of a crazy-making way to watch a television show, but it’s also part of the fun.

So when “Lamster” opens with Senior arriving at Chuck’s place in a panic, telling his son how he discovered a bug in his home (though not exactly how he discovered it, not that Chuck wants all the details about poppers and floor sex anyway), experienced Billions viewers watch the scene on two levels. We can believe that the panic both Chuck and Senior experience is real, or we can speculate that this is a performance staged as part of a larger scheme, but until all is revealed, uncertainty remains. It’s a Schrödinger’s scene, and the episode is chock full of them.

Whatever the case, Connerty is certainly taking it at face value, and the bug’s discovery prompts him to advance the timetable on his brother’s safe-cracking job. Jackie isn’t so sure he wants to do it: “This ain’t you, bro,” he says, but there’s also the matter of not being able to steal anything from the safe once he’s gotten it open—a prospect that’s anathema to him. Connerty convinces him to do it by dredging up the memory of their late mother, an alcoholic cared for by Bryan and abandoned by Jackie. At the same time, Chuck enlists Axe to lend him an operative who can retrieve the incriminating document from the safe before anyone gets to it. It’s a close call, but the Connertys make their way out of the scene of the crime just before Hall arrives and spots the painting that hid the safe hanging slightly askew.

Samantha Mathis, Asia Kate Dillon, Jade Eshete
Photo: Jeff Neumann (Showtime)

Paranoia about characters’ motives spreads to other storylines as well, notably the machinations surrounding Saler’s and its lack of an appliance vendor. One deal falls through thanks to Taylor’s operative, who digs up dirt on the firm’s use of child slave labor. Another option arises, but Rebecca doesn’t have the cash to take it over. Axe does, however—or he will if he liquidates some of the firm’s most lucrative positions. As his employees stage an intervention, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the plan all along—a long con played by Rebecca in league with Taylor, with the goal of soaking Axe. That doesn’t appear to be the case, but Taylor does come to the rescue in a sense, as they and Rebecca form a partnership of mutual convenience. Axe doesn’t like the sound of that, nor does he appreciate being spurned after putting his company and reputation on the line, so it looks like he’s willing to burn down his relationship for a shot at taking down Taylor.

Of the major characters, only Wendy’s motivations are clear and straightforward, although her confession to the medical board still comes as a surprise to Orrin given their apparent agreement on a “silence is golden” strategy minutes earlier. Chuck is likewise baffled, unable to comprehend why Wendy would admit her misdeeds without the deal he’d secured for her. In fact, hardly anyone on the show has a clue what to make of such concepts as guilt and conscience, and while Wendy is welcomed back into the fold at Axe Cap, something has changed. When she advises Axe to widen his scope beyond retribution for Taylor, he’s not listening.


By the end of “Lamster” (a reference to Senior’s time on the lam, a half-hearted effort at best), it looks like the walls are closing in on Chuck. Jock knows he’s coming after him for election fraud, and despite Chuck’s efforts to woo Sacker back to his side of the fight, she takes everything he tells her straight to the AG in exchange for a promotion to head of the civil rights department. Senior is in custody and offered a deal if he agrees to cooperate against his son, who Jock wants to drive out of office and any sort of power. Still, there are plenty of hints that all is not what it seems. Who is “the idiot” Senior refers to on the tape? Could it be Connerty, or Jock himself? After this jam-packed hour, I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.

Stray observations

  • Sadly, it looks like I won’t be with you next week, as I’ll be traveling and Showtime almost never posts finale screeners ahead of time. Thanks to Eric Thurm for agreeing to fill in.
  • Jackie couldn’t resist stealing a pair of earrings from the safe. Surely this won’t come back to haunt his brother.
  • Lauren negotiates the best comp deal, using her relationship with Taylor to get out of deferring her payment for a year.
  • Compliance Corner with Ari Spyros would easily be the lowest-rated show on CNBC.
  • Wags line of the night: “This isn’t a fire drill. This is the Fyre Festival.”

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About the author

Scott Von Doviak

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