HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Can you think of a better way to start the year than talking about Billions? I cannot! 🙂
As you are reading this post, I am on vacation in a far far away part of the world. I wrote this post before they announced Billions would be back on Showtime on March 17 at 9pm ET/PT and dropped this true teaser!
— Brian Koppelman (@briankoppelman) December 19, 2018
I got the exciting news on a 16-hour flight and modified my original post slightly based on a few hints from the 30-second teaser. And huge thanks go to Gingersnap for grabbing screenshots from the teaser as I was struggling with low resolution images on the flight. Hope you enjoy reading this and share your thoughts with us in the comments section!
Lady Trader, Lewisto and I were very lucky to attend Billions Season 3 Super Fan Finale Screening back in June where we saw the season finale before anyone else along with other super fans and show creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien.
Koppelman and Levien are incredibly down-to-earth people who took their time to say hi to the fans at the event, watched the season finale with us and answered our questions at the end of the screening. My question was about whether there has been any storyline they thought would go in a certain direction but ultimately went in another. Mr. Levien responded with a question:
“Do you have an opinion? You always have an opinion.”
Then they shared with us that they knew Taylor would leave Axe Capital at the end of Season 3 when they started writing the character in Season 2. On the other hand, they thought Chuck would run for the governor’s seat but then they felt it would work out better if he did not and so Chuck ended up backing Bill Sweeney in the gubernatorial elections.
Writing is such a fascinating beast and now that the Billions writers have basically reset the story, I can easily admit to Mr. Levien, for the first time, I do not have any strong opinions about the upcoming season. The fact that they can go in billions of new directions in Season 4 makes the wait extremely hard but equally thrilling. And speculation rocks until we have Billions back on TV in March. So shall we?
I always say Billions loves symmetries! And Season 3 built up, slowly and surely, to the ultimate “palace coup” that took place both at Axe Capital and the Southern District of New York. Given how badly Bobby and Chuck have treated their protégés during this season, they practically asked for what they have got. I think the old saying applies perfectly to both Axe and Chuck:
“As you sow, so shall you reap.”
Now, who can blame Taylor for what they say when Grigor Andolov wants to know why they are leaving the man who made them:
“The same reason you leave a house with a furnace leaking carbon monoxide. It’s the only way to survive.”
While I was not surprised by Taylor’s move to open their own shop, I was confused about their eyes lighting up when Axe put them back on the raise team in Season 3 Episode 11 Kompenso. My aha moment came when Axe went on stage to talk about Taylor.
All potential investors in the room hear from the king himself that Taylor is the single most effective manager he has ever seen. Could there be a better move for Taylor than this to raise millions of dollars from investors as they leave Axe Capital? As Wendy rightly suggests before the pitch, the investors are not buying trading platforms or strategies, they are buying the people who will do it right. And when Axe voluntarily portrays Taylor as the most brilliant mind around, it is only natural the investors follow them wherever they go. So Taylor walks away taking Mafee and a big chunk of the capital raised that day with them.
Axe facing Taylor at their cool Dumbo Headquarters highlights the generational gap between them.:Midtown Manhattan is the past while Dumbo is the future. And while I completely agree with Taylor that it was Axe’s actions that made it inevitable for them to leave I think they are making two major mistakes.
The first one is Taylor overvalues their youth when Axe warns them about the lack of oxygen at the peak of Everest which only a few can survive.
“Young lungs, so yeah we will.”
Taylor’s rise from intern to CEO has happened at light speed that while they are super smart and that they may have the best algorithm ever developed in hand, they still do not have enough experience in the job. Besides, it is impossible even for the most experienced to control the epsilon aka the random error. And while they ultimately managed the Tsunami disaster well, Taylor admitted to Axe that when the crisis hit they did not even know to look for the points Axe could easily connect. So Wendy is right when she recommends Axe patience. An unexpected crisis will hit Taylor’s shop sooner or later. Yet Axe does not want to wait and the exchange between him and Taylor in the season finale sets the tone for Season 4.
“You have to know that anything I do to stop you is warranted.”
“I anticipated that being your reaction. So do what you must. And I’ll defend as I have to.”
The immediate defense strategy Taylor considers is to steal Axe’s most dangerous weapon, Wendy, which in my humble opinion is their second mistake.
While Wendy may disagree with Axe at times, like she did over Taylor’s compensation, she built Axe Capital as much as Axe did and she will do whatever it takes to protect what they built together. In Axe’s words, she’s the company’s “fucking spirit animal.” And now that Taylor has single-handedly changed Wendy’s view about what to do about Taylor from “look inward” and “be patient” to “fuck them over” she may help Axe with fine-tuning Operation Destroy Taylor. And Wendy meeting Birchie at a restaurant and pushing an envelope across the desk in the teaser hint that she may be more “directly” involved in the business this season.
Season 4 teaser starts with Axe’s declaration:
“We now live in a universe split down the middle. You gotta pick sides.”
And we see him, with a Motorhead t-shirt on, telling Wendy he wants Taylor to have nothing. Well, it is not surprising he wants revenge but Axe is not free to take any action he wants to crush Taylor. And it is quite fascinating that the man who offered to take care of Axe’s “pest control” problem when Taylor fucked him over may now be Taylor’s guardian angel!
Grigor Andolov moves his money to Taylor Mason Capital because he cannot let a man who would not kill for his money keep his money. Andolov explicitly tells Axe he knows Axe will make a move against Taylor, and if his move costs Andolov his money then the two of them will meet again… and it seems they do at an airport… Is it an arranged meeting or a surprise one? And are the big guys who leave the elevator with Axe at the beginning of the teaser extra protection against Andolov or what?
By the way it is not only Andolov, is it? Taylor has been at Axe Capital long enough to know about the shady sides of the business. When the push comes to shove, would they be willing to cooperate with Bryan, the new interim US Attorney at the SDNY, to get rid of Axe? Axe should be extra careful in covering his tracks as he plots his operation.
Knowing they will have to defend their company, one of the first things Taylor seems to do is to hire a COO to help run the newly formed company as well as protect it against Axe’s aggression. So Meet Sara Hammon portrayed by Samantha Mathis!
We do not know at this point whether Taylor hires Sara only for her professional credentials or whether she has some history or experience with Axe. The presence of Hammon has the potential to add extra layers to the story. Other actors Billions has added to its ranks in Season 4 are Nina Arianda, Jade Eshete and Kevin Pollak, but we do not have any information about who their characters are in the show.
And how about the late night meeting between Axe and Taylor in the teaser? Is it Taylor who calls the meeting via face-timing Wendy?
While he is committed to destroy Taylor, Axe also needs to raise capital to rebuild The Atlantis, ahem, Axe Capital 😀 I wonder whether Axe will take bigger risks, say, in the form of Dollar Bill carrying bags full of money to people with information so they can prove to potential investors no one else can bring the returns Axe Capital can.
Dollar Bill having been upgraded to series regular and appearing in the first teaser in strange ways — leaving some “Quarantine Area” wearing a mask and then looking like spying on someone’s house — hint that he will be a major character this season.
Now, whatever strategy Axe takes to make Axe Capital great again, I am hoping he will have Bruno’s voice in his ears.
“To your beautiful family.”
Family. One thing no amount of money in the world can buy. Axe was an oblivious dad at best in Season 3. He thinks his boys should be fine since his new apartment is stocked with video games and snacks. He cancels on his children when he has to meet with the new Halls or when he feels like getting into a pissing contest with Taylor about who can stay longer in the office. Besides, the gap between Axe and Lara felt so deep throughout the season that only a miracle could bring them back together. I see that miracle in the Axelrod boys. Knowing Billions never wastes a word, (a) Gordie talking to Wendy about his parents’ separation, and (b) Lara admitting to Wendy that her boy is having some issues and he will get professional help hint to a possible family drama which could be the much needed wake-up call for Axe! I just hope he goes back to his old family man self. And until then, at least for me, Bobby Axelrod is NOT a Wilbury!
Talking about Wilbury status, Chuck Rhoades does not come across as one, either, does he? 😀 Chuck has lost the seat he could not give up on to run for the governor’s seat. And he stepped on so many toes in Season 3 that getting his seat back may prove to be a true challenge for him. No wonder we see Chuck Sr with Ira standing behind him in the teaser telling his son he needs to get on the offensive because everyone else seems to have lined up against him.
Now, it is not a huge surprise Bryan and Dake have been merciless with Chuck. Taylor’s words to Axe about what he did to make them them leave Axe Capital easily applies to how Chuck treated the two of them:
“The undercutting, the manipulation, and public and private humiliation. The lies and broken promises. All while I good soldiered and made you money.”
Their conversation just after Bryan learns from Kate that Chuck is doing his Chuck-thing for the first time for the right reasons felt like they would give up on taking Chuck down. But would Chuck doing this particular Chuck-thing right correct all the wrong he did in the past? Even a broken clock is right two times a day after all!
Thus, it was probably not too hard for Bryan and Dake to ultimately take this opportunity to tell Chuck to drop his credentials at the desk and get the fuck out of the SDNY! And Kate is forced to cooperate when she knows she would lose her job if she stood behind Chuck. We hear Chuck saying in the teaser that all he wants is vengeance and it will be had. Yet, I do not think he is particularly pissed off with his young colleagues. Chuck’s true nemesis is Jeffcoat.
“You’ve outplayed me. And you have earned it. But don’t, even for a second, think that that smile on your face is gonna be there for very fucking long.”
The billion dollar question is HOW. Chuck has made so many enemies this season that I wonder if anyone except for his wife, his dad and his new BFF would be willing to help him. Kate is sitting close to Jeffcoat as Bryan is being sworn in as the US Attorney for the Southern District. Would she play teacher’s pet to the AG or be willing to help Chuck out behind the scenes? And how about the crowd Chuck is getting a lot of applause from? Could it be that Chuck is back in the gubernatorial race? Or is he campaigning for Sweeney?
Assuming it is the latter, if Sweeney becomes the governor of New York, would he consider appointing Chuck as the state’s new Attorney General which could give Chuck a bit more leverage in the game?
We know Chuck is a pragmatic man. He tells Ira they are even after Ira reciprocates to his Ice Juice play with an affidavit implicating Chuck in the Ice Juice investigation. And now that Chuck and Bryan are even, too; would Chuck offer Bryan to join forces and get rid of Jeffcoat?
Bryan has promised he would ultimately put Axe behind the bars for what he did. But can he do it under Jeffcoat’s watch since the AG thought Bryan’s case against Axe fell apart “like a cheap bed in a La Grange whorehouse.” Would Bryan start a personal crusade against Axe behind the scenes? Now that he is the boss, would Kate be willing to help him? More importantly, would Taylor, who knows more than a bit about how they do business at Axe Capital, and who is now trying to keep their new company safe from Axe, be willing to help him? Or would Bryan feel the urge to smoke the peace pipe with his former mentor when he realizes that the SDNY with Jeffcoat in the AG’s office is not the place he wants to be? I have two words for Bryan to help him with his decision : Jose Lugo.
I salute the Billions writers for deftly turning the story from an inter-sectoral pissing contest into an intra-sectoral and an inter-generational one. Axe and Chuck are seasoned at what they do while Taylor and Bryan are inexperienced. They are young idealists in their own right who have tried to avoid the shady games they witnessed their mentors play. And both believed in their mentors who constantly disappointed, humiliated, and ultimately suffocated them.
That said it may not take much time for Taylor and Bryan to understand that, to be able to keep their place in the world, they may need to bend and compromise. And especially when the urge to protect themselves gets the better of them, they may have the capacity to do things they never thought they ever would. It would be a total delight to see their growth and transformation in the powerful seats they occupy now.
As the pissing contest changes its form and course, I am also dying to know about the level of cooperation Axe and Chuck may have in Season 4. We see them on very friendly terms in the teaser. Well, these two brains together can move mountains. Besides, coming from two different worlds, Axe and Chuck have different kinds of resources and connections at their disposal that would make them feel stronger in their personal games. And, hey, wouldn’t it be fun to see Hall solving a personal problem for Chuck or Chuck Senior playing family therapist to Axe? 😀
The last scene in Season 3 Finale speaks volumes for what motivates Axe and Chuck.
It is not money. It is not power. It is certainly the love of the game. Both men are excited about the next challenge, you can almost feel the adrenaline flowing in their veins. And I believe THAT IS, ladies and gentlemen, why Wendy is attracted to both of them in the first place. The new world our characters live in puts Wendy in a happy place for the first time since the Billions pilot. She is back to those good old days where Chuck and Axe liked each other plenty. Yet, she may be feeling responsible for what both men have recently gone through since she told Chuck to find a way to get rid of Jeffcoat and she helped to get Taylor on the raise team. We now know Wendy can get as good as her two boys at being very bad and I cannot wait to see how she will help orchestrate Operation Take Down Jeffcoat and Operation Destroy Taylor in Season 4. Cheers!