Jeffrey DeMunn, Paul Giamatti/Showtime

A crisis of conscience on Billions? It feels like a little late in the game for Bobby Axelrod to be wrestling with a moral dilemma when there’s money to be made, but there’s ample reason to believe he’s doing no such thing. Or maybe there’s a little wrestling going on, a flicker of human feeling for the lives of those less fortunate than himself (a category that, let’s be honest, includes almost everyone), but there’s no question that Axe will allow himself to be talked out of doing the right thing once he’s been given the proper justification. A much thornier problem from Axe’s perspective is the PR hit he’ll take when he inevitably acts in his own self-interest…because ”Victory Lap” was never going to end in any other way than it does.

The episode title ostensibly belongs to Chuck, fresh off his triumph over Boyd and the Justice Department. It’s even the headline on the puff piece written by ever-malleable reporter Mike Dimonda after an interview and photo op conveniently conducted while Chuck is tossing the pigskin around with his son. It’s a play for good publicity so transparent anyone could see through it, so it’s no surprise that Wendy calls him on it when they see each other. Even as Chuck continues to insist he has unfinished business as the US Attorney, the wheels are already in motion for the launch of his political career. Chuck Sr. has commissioned a poll that shows numbers favorable for a gubernatorial run, albeit with soft support upstate. (In towns like Sandicot, perhaps? And how will those numbers look if it ever comes out that the candidate’s father scuttled a potentially region-saving casino?) This is Chuck at his most disingenuous, and it reveals another way he has more in common with Axe than he’d ever admit: They both like to be persuaded to do things they were always going to do anyway. That way, there’s someone else to blame if those things go awry.

His professional life may be on the upswing, but the same can’t be said for his marriage. Wendy isn’t thrilled that he used Kevin as a prop for a photo shoot, and he’s still sore about her decision to return to Axe Capital. They decide the door is now open for each of them to see other people, but Wendy is the first to take the plunge, placing a booty call to rocket man Craig Heidecker. She’d previously called him out for dating only “hairless 21-year old girls,” but he comes running when she calls and is still there in the morning, smitten and talking about a future together. She’s not having it, however, as it appears she simply needed to prove something to herself. (Although anything could have happened overnight, there’s nothing to indicate whips or dripping candles were involved. The BDSM stuff has been toned way down this season, which is largely a function of the Rhoades separation. Still, the opportunity now presents itself for Chuck to get involved with his judo partner, who already has experience grappling him between her legs.)

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As for Axe, his problems remain the same: no amount of money is enough and any loss is unacceptable. With the casino no longer bound for Sandicot, the town is set to default on the debts Axe bought up. He can either take a big loss or impose austerity measures that will shutter schools, roll back pension funds, scuttle union contracts, and force the sale of land and buildings. It will devastate the community, but stop the bleeding as far as Axe Capital is concerned. The members of his team have varying reactions: Wags doesn’t care, of course; Danzig feels so awful about the possibility, he leaves the company (at Wendy’s urging, Axe believes, although that’s not exactly the case); Taylor the Vulcan at first appears sensitive to the potential destruction, but that’s mostly because of the PR nightmare that would likely ensue. In the end, Taylor concludes that the town is like a business and brought this upon itself.

The human cost of rapacious capitalism is not something Billions concerns itself with much, as the show makes its bread and butter from rich people screwing each other. The next poor person with significant screen time will be the first; even the show’s ostensible voice of the working class, Bruno (who pleads with Axe not to hurt the people of Sandicot), got his own huge bailout from Axe back in the pilot. Throughout the episode, however, those desperate lives upstate remain an abstraction. We never see them, and while putting a face to the pain might add some dramatic weight, that’s not in the Billions playbook. We stay with Axe’s point of view as Lara sets him straight: If it’s them or us, it’s always going to be us. He has all the justification he needs to tear off in his convertible and order the seizing of all assets. We’re supposed to feel uneasy about this victory lap, but why should we? It’s just business as usual for Billions.

Stray observations

  • “Victory Lap” was directed by John Singleton (Boyz N The Hood), his first for Billions, although he’s previously helmed episodes of Empire and American Crime Story.
  • Chuck takes Bryan to lunch and gives him the ol’ it-was-you-Fredo. He decides to keep him close rather than cut him loose, but withholds the promotion for now, from both Bryan and Lonnie.
  • Eric Bogosian isn’t quite out of the picture yet, as Axe drops by the greybar hotel to get some advice on his Sandicot situation. Boyd’s words of wisdom—don’t make people hate you and give them an excuse to try to bring you down—fall on deaf ears.
  • Blackjack Foley looks to be a central figure for the back half of the season. Chuck needs his blessing to pursue higher office, while Axe learns that Foley, an old-school backroom wheeler-dealer, was behind the casino move.
  • “Hmm, no Wendy/Heidecker sex scene? Better stick Chef Ryan getting a blowjob poolside in there somewhere.” - Showtime executive notes

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