Billions Season 3, with “A Generation Too Late,” just got real dark, folks. Not the sort of dark that takes you weeping to a fetal position when it’s done, your poor heart bleeding from the pain of it. No, this episode is the kind of dark that makes you mad, even when you thought the madness had already reached its upper limit. I don’t mean the characters have become unrecognizably hateful and ugly and you want nothing more to do with them ever. Quite the contrary. This episode instead shows you how real breathing people in technicolor reality sometimes need to go monochromatic, all black and white, when those are the only colors left available to see the world. You feel sorry for them for losing their color a bit and you know it’ll come back eventually (it always does, it has to!) For this hour, though, it’s gone, baby, gone.
Lara signs divorce papers and the deed is done just like that. Remember I caught this glimpse of sad anger in Bobby’s face in one of the previews?
Maybe it was gif’ng it out of context, or the zooming or the color adjusting, but darned if I see any of that same emotion in the actual scene. Maybe that emotion landed on the cutting room floor, a display ultimately incongruous with the rest of the scene, or, more likely, it was wishful thinking that Bobby really cares. There was some emotion there, of course. A sort of resigned, yeah, this sucks, but whaddya gonna do?
In the actual scene, the flourescent lights in the conference room couldn’t be any harsher. “It happens”? What happens Bobby? You forget about your life partner and the mother of your children the minute she becomes reluctant to sidecar along on your single-minded ride? I like to distinguish my recaps from all the others we get by the attention paid to the emotional truth of the moment. In this moment, there was little emotional truth to be had. Apparently, the marriage was nothing more than a deal gone bad, with Axe out not a nickel more than he anticipated he’d be. In fact, that’s all that really mattered in this transaction: the money of the thing.
The scene may have served to bring some life back into Lara, maybe some lingering spark driving her to again play partner in crime to Bobby’s idea of hiding away a hefty chunk of the loot for them to live on. How that plays out is anyone’s guess. Even if these two end up back together…and I’m leaning towards thinking they will (who else they got?)… they may never grow as a couple or as humans beyond slurping up more of that caviar on pizza. Though nothing wrong with that, right?
As the Axelrods dissolve their union, Chuck’s former best friend, newly poor Ira, is intent to do the opposite. Seems he’s outgrown his Tinder-ing and wants to settle down, with someone he initially found on Tinder, right? Anyway, nothing wrong with that, either, gosh knows.
Surely I’m not the first to see the similarity between truffles and a part of the male anatomy? So, it’s something more than cringe-worthy to watch Ira watch slice after slice of his metaphorical left nut fall over buttery pasta for his fiance to fork around and probably ultimately leave half eaten (because who can eat that much truffle?). Also, what restaurant announces a price out loud like that? Tellement gauche! And tells you how much you just spent like it’s a contest on who spends the most?
Lots of times, especially in this show, money stands for power, for control or for freedom. In this episode, money doesn’t aspire to such heights. Here, money stands for money.
Damian has said that he thinks up animals to go with the men he has to play. I’d venture to say that Bobby is several animals. When he’s hungry, he’s a jaguar. When he’s hunting, he’s a shark. When he’s ready to strike, he’s a viper. I like to look for faces we haven’t seen Damian do before. We’ve seen the steely gaze before, but in Bobby, it’s somewhat colder, not as overtly violent as other characters Damian has played, more glacial and determined, with not even a hint of fear. And notice the stance that thickens his neck, already thick from the times Damian said he spent building up Bobby at the gym, but even more so because of the stance. A viper about to strike is what it is.
We know that Bobby has found a nimble loophole around not being allowed to trade. In short, he’s got 2 billion of Axe Cap money, to give to whom he chooses, to trade in ways that he dictates, to benefit whomever he chooses. He is the money guy and the idea guy and the delegating guy, all while keeping his hands off the money, except for the bit that ends up his again. Illegal, maybe, but crazy brilliant too. He’s got Taylor on board and Wags, and, in this episode, he’s recruits the little fish from the hotrod place, Michael Panay, who we learn is about to lose it all and therefore has no choice but to bite.
So Panay will do the trades with the “orphaned 2 billion” and float above water with his apartment in the city, house in the Hamptons, and daughter’s horse. Who will be on the other end of the trading? The police pension fund run by Bobby’s old friend retired police Raul Gomez. Raul has to be convinced too, though, since anything near Bobby is liable to get extra scrutiny. Not beyond Axe to use grilled meat as a sensory spark and anchor to a memory of laying down some money. For agreeing, Raul will take home a piece of Bobby’s earnings.
Meanwhile over at Axe Capital, Taylor is not resting on their laurels simply babysitting Axe’s money, they are playing with it and trying to make it grow in new interesting ways. They want to try algorithmic trading and interview several candidates for the job before finally being undermined in that endeavor by Wags. Not to fret though, Taylor will develop their own algo.
Fun moments of some of the boys fearing the rise of the machines. Mafee worries he was born a generation too late and has nothing to offer to counter the machines but his goofy charm. He and Ben Kim go to Wendy to talk it out. Wendy is impatient with the boys, and insists that they will never be replaced by machines. Ultimately it’s Taylor who offers the most affirmation.
Is your mouth guard always in, chin strap always buckled? If that’s you, we’re good.
Chuck is summoned by the Attorney General to his well-appointed NY digs. We see he’s been making full use of room service on the public dime. As he tells Chuck to prosecute a kid who killed a prison guard, Jock Jeffcoat shares that he got the same liberal education Chuck did, read the same books, was taught the same Rawlsian logic that “Suppression of liberty is likely to always be irrational.” But theoretical philosophy of justice is over and academic idealism is a thing of the past.
You [dropped] the cases that didn’t fit the agenda. So now you’re free to go after the ones that do.
To justify the decision to go after an abused kid for killing his abuser, the General notes the increased media attention. Apparently, is some quarters, even fear-mongering propagandist media, or maybe especially that, must be heeded.
Case has national attention now, so attention must be paid.
Chuck tries to woo the beleaguered warden to drop the charges. She counters with:
My hands are clean, my conscience clean enough.
Nonetheless, she gives in, only to promptly lose her job for her trouble. Chuck takes the news back to shocked and disappointed Kate, who smarts at the blow, but, because she’s a smart pro at her job, comes up with the game plan.
Play racial animus.
Then, she quietly asks the question central to this episode, with and without:
Is this how it’s going to be now?
Weren’t we past this shit already? Are we still fighting the fight that was fought decades ago? Yes and no, Chuck says, and sparks the possibility of a timely refus absurde (ie the “absurd refusal” in WWII Occupied France that Germany had indeed taken over and could never be resisted)
We, the Maquisards, will mount the resistance.
Cue the Billions spin-off right here, show. Kate prosecuting the criminals, collecting evidence of wrongdoing by the full spectrum of power brokers no matter whom their agenda is aligned to, recruiting Connerty eventually, who is nothing if not a guerrilla fighter. Chuck could play middleman, surreptitiously helping the kids when he’s not forced to sip that Vichy soup. Improbable? Sure. Hopeful? Yes.
So, Ira of the shaved truffles is offered a deal by Axe over papaya juice. He tells Axe, quite convincingly, to shove his hotdog lengthwise. But, then, given the money situation with the girl fluffing his truffles, at the sight of a gratuity in the form of a diamond ring from Axe’s jewelry guy, Ira relents.
We learn this when he refuses to tell Dake and Connerty anything about Axe’s manipulation of the Ice Juice play and instead chooses to wax poetic about how Chuck “induced the sabotage.”
Dake wants none of it.
Connerty: We are in the right and wrong game.
Dake: Today, we are in the take the win and move on game.
What does Dake have to lose by outing Chuck? His princely post is it, right?
Last week the Attorney General made him repeat a racial slur about Maria Gonzalez like it was a hazing ritual into the league of true lawmen. Clearly Dake is still conflicted on what being a true lawman actually means. Here, he winces at Connerty’s reference to Donnie Brasco. (lacking the bandwidth to dig deeper to find the bottom to that one. All I remember is that Al Pacino was a boss, a violent mobster, but small time, peripheral, and sort of pathetic, and undercover Johnny Depp wore a wire to nab him. Al Pacino’s life was ruined, Johnny Depp got a medal. Maybe I remember the movie all wrong though, because I fail to see how Dake is like that kind of boss) Dake is all: Look, you folks know the only film I’ve ever seen is the Ten Commandments. So, another movie reference, really? Can any of you people stop talking about movies for five minutes? The future of the republic hangs in the balance here.
Also, note his sly bit of southern-ese. He’s from DC, right? Or is it Baltimore? Both places, if you’re born and raised there, are more Southern than any one knows. Dake delivers New Yorkerisms like “jam up” in a tone of subtle sarcasm, like he’s mimicking the locals. He doesn’t “cotton to disloyalty.” And right now, he’s loyal to Chuck.
Connerty shows his own provincial stripes as he steels himself up from a brown bag. He executes his own entrapment scenario by landing a sucker punch on Lara’s dufus cousin who played a role in the Ice Juice thing.
So, yeah, lots of bad stuff transpired here, and, but for Mafee finishing up his long night with mouth guard firmly in place, not much light. To send it all home if it wasn’t already, the show finishes with Leonard Cohen’s “You Want it Darker.”
There’s a lullaby for suffering
And a paradox to blame
But it’s written in the scriptures
And it’s not some idle claim
You want it darker
We kill the flame