Billions on Showtime 2.07: Victory Lap

As much as last week’s episode of Billions was softer around the edges and showed some heart, this week’s episode, “Victory Lap”, displays the exact opposite. One hallmark of this complex show is that, since directing and writing hands are traded weekly, there’s a different feel, a sort of different emotional center, to every episode. The beauty is that, despite changing hands, the story maintains continuity and characters stay consistently true to form. In fact, there is more revealed every time we see these people, as well as more left unknown.

Sometimes my posts get written in tweets as I’m watching. 🙂 Injected pertinent ones here.

(ETA: Took out bits I got wrong about the Remington being in Marco’s hands…it’s actually safely ensconced in the Sandicot municipal building, owned by the town, seen by Bobby and Hall, both. And Rob Morrow brings such delight whenever he’s on screen that I totally forgot that he is now a judge in this season, still public servant, but higher ranked than he was last season, therefore more attentive to his public image.)

Axelrod Corner

The episode starts with Axe seeking counsel from Hall on what went wrong with the Sandicot casino deal. They pay Bruno a visit, so late at night that he comes down the stairs with a bat. Then they all visit quaking Marco who denies knowing what happened.

It’s a thing that happened, not something anyone did.

Marco blames the “Albany machine”, those invisible gears of democracy in action churning out and executing policy decisions, made by the few, having an effect on all.

As a view into how the other half can only aspire to live, we see Chef Ryan getting some servicing poolside at the Axelrod Hamptons house.

Ryan’s tattooed fellator interrupts the task at hand to ask for a tour of the house. Before that can happen, la familia barges outdoors and the Axelrod boys get an eyeful, an early lesson on the advantages afforded by deck chairs behind large Hampton estates.

Chef gets admonished for his sins, then summoned back to duty to make lunch for eight in the war room.

The full feast is laid out as Axe meets with his boys from the office to talk over options to deal with the Sandicot mess.

No casino means the municipal bonds Axe now owns will surely be defaulted upon. Ben Kim says they can’t very well raise taxes to pay for it. Bobby doesn’t want to hear what they can’t do. Dollar Bill proposes selling the debt. Neither that nor restructuring the debt would make back the $600 million spent by Axe. Wags summarizes:

This thing stinks like Billy Batts in the trunk.

(Man, what a scene that was. The Goodfella boys had just batted a guy’s head in and left him for dead in the trunk, then gone to have pasta at Pesci’s mom’s house (the mom was actually played by Scorcese’s own mom). They finish their pasta, pay their respects to Ma like good boys, then come out to find the mope in the trunk is still alive, bleeding out and needing a final two or ten gun shots to finish him off.)

Eveready whispers Austerity. (Which, incidentally, would’ve made a great alternate title for this episode…an emotional austerity, that is.) Austerity means cutting the town off at the knees, making them pay off the debt before spending anything on themselves. Dollar Bill reveals his propensity for reading the International pages by equating this plan to what Singer did in Argentina.  But Axe wants to maintain a lighter touch.

We wouldn’t be skimming cream off the top, we’d be gutting them for their organs like a Korean horror movie.

Didn’t they gut Nigeria just a couple weeks ago? So, what’s a little town in the sticks?

Eveready rattles off the town’s assets, which include a Remington worth 900K. Now, I’m hoping I won’t get in trouble for this tweet:

I’m sure I’m not the only one who recognized that statue.

Mafee tells everyone what a Remington is thanks to an “easy A” Art History class.

Taylor contributes analysis on what gutting a small town would mean.

The show didn’t mention Freakanomics, but Taylor’s speech could’ve come right out of the pages of that seminal book on cause and effect of policy decisions (whether “good” or “bad”) on the future of a community.

Axe leaves his people to think of a solution that doesn’t have to involve destroying the place.

Next we see Family Axelrod enjoying a tiki-lit barbecue on the beach, shucking oysters. Axe is distracted. On the horn with Hall, they find nothing in Marco’s connection to the casino deal. Hall contributes something, the name of the guy who made the switch for the gaming license to go to another town: Senator Joe Scolari.

Bobby and Hall trek up to the state capitol. Hall lurks in the stair case as Axe meets the Senator over his lunch of gyros. Bobby gets nowhere. This senator seems to be one of those refreshing New York liberals not impressed at all by new money dick-wagging.

First, there’s Damian again delivering the perfect NY twang on “ScoLAri.” Then, there’s the canned cheese on his delivery of this:

I’m here as an investor in New York state meeting with one of its finest representatives.

Axe Capital’s communications department has worked up an ad spot pushing the idea that Sandicot itself is the bad buy in all this. The ad sells the idea that defaulting on its debt will lead downstream to losses by nice hardworking folks relying on their pensions for retirements. Never mind that the medium, the boat that carries it all downstream, is an investment firm with plenty of cash lying around. The campaign employs the brilliant technique of pitting victim against victim, leaving the middleman free and clear. It’s an “astroturf campaign” to:

Make it look like the area is getting a bail out not a death sentence.

Danzig speaks his conscience, saying that Axe can make up the money relatively easily, their investors may not even feel a blip and they’re hardly “down to eating cat food.” That is, the ad is a blatant lie.

Communications lady says folks of Sandicot will obviously, “cry poor…play the victim card.” They need to be reminded there are other poor victims. Even when Axe Capital is decidedly NOT a victim? Danzig asks. Ben Kim agrees. Danzig proposes eating the loss for now and then helping the town pay it back by investing in its infrastructure.

Taylor has been chomping at the bit to contribute to the discussion. It’s unfair sure, but let’s treat the town like a business, Taylor asserts. And businesses who don’t spend within their means cannot always expect some agency to swoop in and save their ass. Only problem with this analogy is, of course, that a town is paying for its hospitals, schools and a police force. A town has human beings to support. A corporation is responsible for its people too, but, unlike a town, a corporation has the added freedom to waste money on helicopter rides and lattes. Towns, even those run over with corruption, rarely have that luxury. Neither Taylor nor the script acknowledge this fault in the analogy. Taylor insists: the town did it to itself, and must pay the consequences. A testament to how well-read all these folks are, we get the intersection of Taleb and Darwinism. Taylor’s thesis: The town is an organism, which like all organisms must adapt or die. It’s only natural. This argument is the last word.

Become anti-fragile, or die.

Hall has the name Foley on his lips as he tells Bobby who’s controlling the governor. Bobby, of course, knows the name. Color me delighted we’ve already seen the coup they achieved in casting for this name that everyone in New York state knows. For this viewer who appreciates the 40+ set of actors, they could’ve kept Foley’s identity hidden for even longer, adding to the “whoa” element of the reveal: David Strathairn. We learn more about the infamous Foley. Steel, oil and railroad money, Axe says. First Western businessman into Russia after the wall fell, Hall adds.

Family goes all the way back to Tweed.

You don’t know NY politics if you don’t know Boss Tweed. The art of political cartooning started with this scandal, I vaguely recall from 11th grade civics class on Long Island.

Suffice it to say, Foley controls a lot of NY politics. Hall rightly identifies Foley as the impetus behind the casino shifting to another town. Interesting in this scene is that Hall is on the phone outside some dumpsters and behind him are two homeless people having a meal on the curb. This show doesn’t go to such images often enough, IMO.

Bobby visits Boyd in jail, where, disappointingly, no one is wearing orange on visiting day. Seems a minimum-security sort of establishment, despite the mild scuffle just outside their window. Bobby has come to share news of Sandicot going south, and pick Boyd’s brain on Foley. He confesses the only way out is “pretty grisly”, to which Boyd, apparently an aficionado in the Spanish Inquisition says:

Playing Torquemada is never fun.

Boyd tells Bobby what he already knows about Foley: he has the power of Influence. Then Boyd offers more advice on what Bobby is planning for the town:

Everyone’s a Libertarian until it’s their town that’s dying.

A sentiment penned pre-November if there ever was one. Now, we know too well that dying towns, against all better instincts, seem to want things moved even further to the right.

Wendy at Axe

Wendy’s settled in nicely back at work. Danzig is on the hot seat, revealing more of his general mental instability by invoking conspiracy theories of hacking. The fears only cover the more acute nausea he feels over gutting a town. Wendy makes the connection and further links in the chaos wrought by Axe Cap:

Axe Cap is the agent of chaos…You have to take action. Fighting for those people and fighting for yourself are one and the same.

This session leads her to go begrudgingly to Axe with her thoughts. He tries to swing a session from her to work out his own conflicted feelings. She stands her ground.

Instead of really doing that exploration with me, I now know you’ll just be using me to make yourself feel better about what you wanted to do in the first place.

We’ve seen the Axelrod proficiency with lying, but what a deliciously awful liar Bobby becomes when he’s opposite Wendy.

Bobby says he cares about the people, and needs to talk it out. She stands firm, and he gets belligerent.

I’m not the only putting my needs over the needs of the good people of Sandicot.

Bobby learns that Danzig has quit. He marches into Wendy’s office, interrupting a chat session with Mafee, to accuse her of influencing Danzig’s decision. Wendy tells him she’s doing her job. If he doesn’t like it, he’s free to pull their contract. Interesting that Bobby refers to his people as his “earners”, the same term Tony Soprano used to refer to his people.

Wendy at Home

Kid from White Plains, Mike Dimonda, is back on screen to facilitate a Kennedy-esque photo-op for Chuck throwing around a football with his boy. All the better to document the DA’s victory lap after taking down Boyd.

Chuck brings Kevin home to Wendy in the kitchen. They fight about Chuck using their boy as a prop. Chuck is still holding on to the offense of Wendy going back to Axe, a truth he had “to Colombo” for himself. The argument ends with a call for freedom, for them both.

Wendy wastes no time in exercising her freedom. Getting ideas from watching young love in bloom at work, she decides to call up the Mars explorer guy.

Afterwards, Mars guy wants to cuddle. She tells him his job is done and he can go.

Wendy takes the proverbial walk of shame (which it’s not, of course, for her) back home, still in the dress from the night before. Chuck walks in and wonders if he saw the babysitter get into a taxi. Wendy lies and says something like “What babysitter?”

Chuck says he had a craving for Boudin Noir and went to a boudin noir spot they shared. Couples, estranged and not, share restaurants, this we know. And we love that the Billions writers know this too, enough to bring it up often. Alas, Chuck finds that the restaurant is gone, portending the Rhoades marriage, we fear. Chuck reaches out a bit, and Wendy rewards with an extended hand, but then fake-smiles the moment down.

Rhoades at Work

Chuck Sr. insists to Junior that he is ready for his close-up. Senior had an old buddy commission a poll, to demonstrate that the public is ready for Junior’s climb upwards. When Chuck says he’s not ready, Senior whips out the photo-op he, himself, had the foresight to manage just recently.

That’s Camelot right there, don’t try to spin it, that is a picture of a man running for office.

Senior also asserts that Chuck will need the full picture with “natural born killer” Wendy standing behind him.

Kate and Lonnie share fajitas at the desk. Kate, noticing improvements in Lonnie’s wardrobe, asks if he’s shopping around for greener pastures. Lonnie’s opinion of greener pastures:

Not as hot as her profile pic.

They discuss the still vacant seat of Head of Crim. Lonnie doesn’t want to stay if Bryan gets it. Kate assures him he’s still in the running. Lonnie drops the bomb that Chuck and Bryan are enjoying mutton as they speak.

Cut to Keen’s (Not the shoe, the restaurant. One that keeps the fat on the meat? THAT I can stand behind.) where we finally get the big confrontation between boss and public servant. Here’s the big reveal of Bryan meeting with Axe at end of last season and his calling the OPR with suspicions of Chuck’s impropriety. Bryan is reprimanded and out of the running for Head of Crim, but not fired. As a symbol of his loyalty to Chuck, he orders the mutton.

Bryan visits Bach at the barbershop to confront him about setting him up to meet Axe. Offer still holds to work for Axe. A very strong scene for Toby Leonard Moore:

You acted like my rabbi, proffering wisdom, when you were working me, fucking with my head, undermining my sense of purpose.

Chuck Sr. serves Junior Eggo’s for dinner.

In the face of good news from the polls, Junior’s ready to bite and seeks advice on next steps, to which he hears:

We have to get you anointed.

Jack Foley seems to hold all the weight of folks coming into and out of office. Senior suggests getting Foley’s granddaughter a clerkship.

Chuck meets Adam, lately of the AG’s office, now a judge. Adam congratulates Chuck for beating the AG at her own game. Then Chuck needles for a clerkship for the wonderful new law student, Black Jack Foley’s granddaughter.

Adam is more interested in the succulent duck. Big regret of living in NY and never tasting Peking Duck. Attempted a few times, but just never managed the foresight…the places I tried always required ordering a day or more in advance. Adam’s reaction to the duck’s arrival furthers my regret that I never tasted the real deal when I could have. Rob Morrow is an actor who knows how to eat on camera.

Adam recognizes the name Foley. He claims to not engage in “back channel patronage” any more. He’s seen the light for the first time since clerking for Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He’s now careful with his own clerks. Chuck reminds him, with his own cheese-filled grin, that he wouldn’t be where he is without back channel deals. Adam says, if you want more duck, shut your trap. Then with a mouthful of duck, he encourages Chuck to go for the political life.

Fini

You can almost smell the beautiful thick vegetation (spruce, maybe?) in Bobby’s Hamptons yard. What a pretty picture!

Bruno drives up to all the high-priced vehicles in Bobby’s driveway. It’s almost as if he’s counting the price tags for each, adding them up to see if they come close to equaling the well-being of his flesh-and-blood nephew. He begs for his nephew’s town, literally with hat in hand.

Notice Bobby’s reluctance to make eye contact? He tells this man who fed him as a boy that he still gets his finder’s fee. Really, Bobby? Really???

Bobby says he’s trying his best to not destroy his nephew’s town. He feels some of the pain, briefly.

Bobby walks back into his manse, to his boys sparring each other to the death. They pause thinking he’ll ask them to stop, but he affirms their behavior with a nod and heads upstairs.

Next comes the ugliest scene to ever grace this fine show. Lara is in her skivvies in her master bedroom sized closet, holding up dresses. Her face is made up all Real Wives of Beverly Hills.

In this scene and what comes after, we see that Bobby is not only a child, he’s a mewling infant, incapable of making his own decision on anything of consequence. And like the metaphysically blinded Lear, he’s a king who tried and failed to get counsel from his conscience, the one counselor who would nurture his arrival at his own truths and decisions. AKA Wendy. Instead he finds Lady Macbeth ready and willing to tell him exactly what he must do.

There is very little left anymore of Inwood Lara, girl from the block.

She expresses resentment at never having help on the way up. Right, Lara. There were no humans attached to the rungs climbed on the way to this mansion? Lara thinks in Them vs. Us, no matter what side of the equation she’s been on. Kind of hate this wife of Bobby’s right now, not going to lie. She spits out the consolation of coming back for the re-build, building charter schools and banking the tax write-off. Bobby, the child, sees nothing. Damian plays him perfectly blind too. (Interesting how he can make his eyes full of smarts and feeling for one scene and empty of all for another, isn’t it? The writing helps, sure, but what he can do with his blueness doesn’t hurt, that’s for sure.)

He runs off to pick up Chinese for the kids while Lara continues pondering her clothing choices beneath a vicious Lady Macbeth smile.

As he drives away in his canary yellow ride, Bobby’s on the phone:

Seize all their assets… Don’t stop till we get what we’re fucking owed.

Cute how he instinctively checks his blind spot, even when clearly he’s the only one on the fucking road.

25 thoughts on “Billions on Showtime 2.07: Victory Lap”

  1. Yeah, this one got to me too. Agree completely about Lara and of course Bobby ran off for Chinese instead of Pizza as Lara originally (she has no shame) suggested. He couldn’t face Bruno. I wonder if there will be fall out for some of Lara’s brothers’ police friends and firemen friends in all of this.

  2. One of the things I truly appreciate in being part of this group is the differences we see in each episode.

    This is a great recap, with great insights, and a lot of your feelings and observations. I love reading the differences we all have on the story line and characters!

    That being said, (and you’ll see on Friday) I have almost a polar opposite view on a few things that you do!

    Our blog is so rich because of all our different points of view, and that is why we keep having records numbers!!

    1. Had a feeling you would! Looking forward to your post!
      Damianista doesn’t like to get too political on here, but sometimes it just can’t be helped, especially with a show like this.

      1. I put it in my comment to your post – and got a bit political there, too – but let me say it again here: I think this season of Billions makes the “world view” in every one of us come out at least a little bit. I see it sort of inevitable at this point. I am glad we represent a number of different opinions.

  3. I remember Damian saying at the Paley Event that there will be more “world view” in this season of Billions and I think Victory Lap is an episode that also makes the viewers’ world view to come out.

    I love the way you talk about the “ugliest scene” we have ever seen in Billions and I completely agree with every word you say there. I think the show creators wanted to give that scene all raw to us and make us feel whatever we are going to feel. And I feel rage. Lara giving more than enough ammo for Axe to go and scream into your phone and start the massacre is beyond brutal. You feel like she is Lady Macbeth. I feel like she is Marie Antoinette. Whoever she is though she is not someone I would ever engage with in my life.

    Damian killed it in this episode. He delivered the two sides of Axe perfectly. I think Axe is great when it comes to the algorithm. When there is no emotion attached.. I think he really struggles with this one because he knows exactly whom he will hurt — well, he struggles at least way more than Lara did. But, in the end, he makes up his mind and finds the justification he has been looking for in his life partner. OMG the way she is talking about taking Charter Schools to Sandicot? All for show! And taking a tax write-off, too, as if they needed it!

    Axe broke my heart big time when he broke Bruno’s heart. I have always admired Axe for having this connection to his have-not roots, but I guess he can convince himself to disconnect when business interests are concerned.

    I understand the Taleb quote “be anti-fragile or die” but I am not sure if this evolutionary argument, some kind of survival of the fittest, can be applied to a small run-down town. True, a local government is also a business, and it has to be run like a business, and I think even those governments may do some chopper rides and lattes but at the end of the day I still cannot see why the town people have to be punished for voting these people into office. And I believe, as much as he trusts them, Axe does not buy into Taylor’s argument there, either: he is more human there than Taylor who gives their argument like a robot with no emotions whatsoever (what you call them in an earlier post). Maybe that is the way you should be in that environment and I know I would never be able to do that.

    A kid that is born in a run-down town today has NO chance whatsoever, it seems he can get no sympathy even from the rich guy that came from the same place that kid is born into. I loved Boyd’s words: “Everybody is a libertarian until it is their town that is dying.” And that, in fact, sums us the shit we are in. We only care about the problem when WE have the problem.

    I love the tweets injected into the post!

    1. Maybe he meant ‘world view’ re the Nigerian currency episode. 🙂

      Yes, folks climbing up and not only forgetting where they came from, but openly abusing those places they came from, that’s a formula for the decline of a culture, IMO.

      Darwinism has been used to justify arguments for racial superiority too. (even though the theory of evolution and natural selection has NOTHING whatsoever do to with the purely social construct of race) This argument won over many people in this last election cycle, more than even the economy did. Don’t know how deep Billions will go eventually, but I’m glad they’ve gone this far with these really smart and important discussions.

      1. My notes from Paley 😀 “Damian argues we are living in this fantastic world “where despicable people are marvelous and marvelous people are despicable” which is no more true than in Billions and so the show has to have a world view, a judgment, at some point. He says some themes such as the seducing and corrupting nature of political and financial power come to fruition in this season in ways that they did not in Season 1. Brian Koppelman adds that “you pick a billionaire, idolize him, there are consequences.” Damian nails it: “Thanks. I think Donald Trump just got me killed in Season 3.”

        1. Right, I remember that. I was kidding about the comment being about Nigeria. Of course, it’s not ONLY about Nigeria. The show is clearly more topical than ever this season. Like Damian said, eventually, it had to be. Any avoidance of our harsh realities just for the sake of keeping all viewers happy is more disingenuous than even a fictional show is allowed to be.

  4. Conflicted. it’s what I have felt since watching this episode.

    Once again, you have an amazing ability to take my feelings and turn them into words. Like I have this abstract emotion bouncing around, I can’t verbalize it in any sort of way when going over the episode with my husband. Then I come read your post and I am just like “THERE ARE MY FEELS, WITH WORDS THAT MAKE SENSE INSTEAD OF SOUNDS AND FACES.”

    Bravo, as always.

    1. Wow, what a fabulous thing to hear! Thank you so much!

      Yeah, I left this episode conflicted too. I want to like all these people, but that’s just not going to happen. And it shouldn’t really. What fun is a show when you simply “like” everyone instead of feeling passionately what they’re making you feel? Great writing, great drama, great work for Damian to churn through and process for us.

  5. another brilliant recap! I realize now how I missed the whole point of that “ugliest” scene. I was telling Damianista right after watching it that I found that scene very pornographic, which has nothing to do with Lara’s lingerie and legs. I found it way too much to the face, lacking subtlety, and did not think of it as a brilliant way of expressing a multilayered story about Lara and Axe’s situation, which apparently has led me to overlook the art of the director. And for that, I thank you and apologize the director 🙂

    1. Well, that’s kind of what I meant by ugly. It was very harshly black and white. I think Lara even held up a white dress and black dress as a further visual cue into what that scene was. John Singleton is brilliant…I loved his work. But, he may have a black and white vision of this world. And for some, it IS black and white. Folks like Axe and Lara are the blue-eyed devils Malcolm X spoke of, and they always will be, perhaps, for directors like Singleton. I can totally appreciate that viewpoint. But it is UGLY to see it. And it hurts. And there is really nothing subtle about that kind of pain. Singleton’s films similarly are very painful to watch. I think I commented on Twitter maybe that after Boyz n the Hood I couldn’t stop crying, like openly weeping, for hours after walking out of the movie theater. There was a line outside the theater waiting for the next show who probably remember the crazy brown girl ( I was in my 20’s then) weeping loudly and openly.
      Luckily, Damian can play such ugliness without flinching and without letting us flinch away. He’s been a rapist, a terrorist, and we know what he is in The Goat. He’s played hateful ugly people, un-apologetically. I mean, he doesn’t play these people, wave his magic wand to get us to like them…he plays the TRUTH of them. So much truth that you can’t look away from it. Not all actors have that ability. We’re lucky he’s in this, or else a lot of us would’ve given up on Axe already.

  6. What thoughtful comments.

    Lara: Am I wrong for thinking this couple still haven’t resolved their differences? What is she getting dressed up for? Where is she going? Is she looking for personal freedom too?

    1. Not wrong at all. I think Lara is feeling the need to make something of her own for sure. Looks like it’s date night for the Axelrods: getting take-out for the boys, dressing up. Maybe Axe will come back and get dressed to the nines too. Or maybe he’ll go in jeans and tshirt arm in arm with his overly made-up “Real Housewives” wife, just because he can.

  7. Hi everyone, I’m in catch up mode. Had to binge Twin Peaks before its 25th anniversary return.
    I’ve been able to restrain myself from reading the blog prior to watching. I’m responding to episode 4. My favorite scene is Axe putting on the Megadeth tee shirt. Rock f***in’ on Damian.
    On a side note, Wags gave a nice memorable performance in the outstanding off-Broadway production of “The Hairy Ape”. If anyone can get a ticket, do try to go. It is like being in a Salvadore Dali dream.
    I’ll catch up and try to say something that’s worth reading.

    1. Hi Joyce, How nice to hear from you! I remember you are a metal girl and your chat with Lady Trader at the Paley Event ! 😀
      I will look for a ticket for The Hairy Ape. I had no idea. I recently saw two plays directed by Billions alum — Jitney and The Price.

      Yes, please catch up, we’re looking forward to talking more about Billions.

      ps. Your fan story is coming up soon!!!

    2. Hi Joyce. Thanks for stopping by! I don’t read anything at all before watching. And even after, until I’ve written my post. Sometimes restraint is necessary!
      Yes, the Megadeth shirt…Bobby wore it well. I managed to capture a gif of that very moment (also in my post on epi4, The Oath):

      MEGADETH

      Damianista gets to the theater FAR more often than I do. I only recently started making more of an effort and investment. So much so, that I’m off to London next week. Woot!
      Catch up on your watching and come back and read more! 😀

  8. Thanks for your warm comments. It’s torture scrolling down the blog, not reading or looking at the pics. I’ll be back soon. I’m enjoying watching Wags spiral down. That could go in so many directions.
    Damianista, I hope you get to see “Hairy Ape”. FYI, it’s run is only for another few weeks.
    And what a shame JaniaJania has to go to London. Have a nice evening.

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