Billions ep 12 : The Conversation

The season finale of Billions starts with a wonderful shot of Axe rising to be part of the NY landscape. He waits to give Wendy a prize for fixing him. From there the episode progresses into a series of cathartic scenes fit for a stage.



Lonnie lands back at Chambers St. with his name back on an office at the Southern District. Chuck is sending Lonnie sniffing after the Danzig cover-up. Here’s a character I hope we see more of next season. He doesn’t have Chuck’s ruthlessness, but neither does he seem to have Bryan’s idealism.

So Axe lost big last week, right? And here he is this week, suited and booted, pounding the pavement, looking to replace the big chunk of capital he lost. The fact that he’s walking the streets himself hammers home the point that Bobby Axelrod embodies the bootstrapping ethic of a man who has no time for whining and hand-wringing. Wags lugging around prospectus binders makes a nice picture. Most potential investors demand hard answers about risk, reward, return, mosaic theory, and Sharpe ratios. They aren’t satisfied with esoteric answers like:

It’s all about my why.


Axe says his why is about helping the most people he can to get rich and not lose money. He says he’s fine losing his own money in the process. A good sell. One used by a lot of salespeople. It’s not about me, it’s about you. Interesting to note that even the investors who appreciate risk are not willing to risk until the bigger fish bite first.


Axe finally reaches his limit of closed doors. Somewhere on the edge of Bryant Park, he decides to strip off the tie and jacket, drop Wags and the prospectuses, and go to the next meeting dressed in old school Axe casual.



The change in attire and attitude seem to do the trick. He delivers a strong pitch, free of any groveling, openly acknowledging the “aspersions” cast on him and his shop instead of glossing them over. He succeeds in winning over a big fish.

The growth you will have missed out on? That’s gonna eat you from the inside.


Cut to Lonnie who’s ready to bring in Bryan, Kate and the rest on the Danzig stuff. He tells them it all came from a hunch. A prom night’s promise, if you will. 😀

Courtney Bartnett’s Pedestrian at Best is a song that always make me smile when it comes on the radio. It also makes Bobby smile as he speeds along home. He gets pulled over and is ready to flash a card to dodge the ticket. The guy who pulls him over is the very same guy who gave him the get-out-of-a-ticket-free card: Police pension fund guy Raul. Raul clues Bobby in on investigation currently under way, a probe into the Danzig files.


Gears start turning, Axe confers with Orrin and Hall and confirms that only one person would have known about the payoff. Wendy. Axe sends Hall along “to gather the material”, i.e. print out some stuff.

Now, to my weathered TV watcher mind, paying off the cops seems to happen in every other show, and it never seems to be a big deal. After all, the card that Axe was ready to flash to get out of the ticket is a form of a pay-off, no? And such cards are flashed often in real life. (Aside for personal story: A friend and I made an illegal turn out of a Santa Monica parking lot once, and a cop pulled us over. My friend took the ticket, and, as he was putting his license back in his wallet, his old life guard ID popped out. The cop saw the ID and immediately said, “Dude, if you’d let me know that you were a life guard, I wouldn’t have written the ticket.” So, yeah, it happens.) Danzig had a machine gun, but he was shooting at deer on his own lawn. If the gun was registered legally, what he did was not a major infraction. Paying the cops to look the other way, to protect fragile Danzig and his family, though, seems to be the much bigger infraction. Again, just as it has done all along, the show takes something we all think is a minor mole hill and makes a mountain out of it. And, again, we have the very real disconnect between what is legal and what is the right thing to do.

Axe returns home and tells Lara about the problem, that Wendy is to blame, and to set the wheels in motion for a getaway. The wife with the golden rolodex already has the numbers for the Swiss villa guys. When she meets them she’s asked if she wants to change the kids’ names. This takes her aback and makes her realize, perhaps for the first time (?), that what her husband does is a criminal act. The villa guy says she and the kids don’t have to be affected by the criminality. Lara says they’re in it together. Like we know: ride or die.

Chuck doesn’t see it as a minor victory at all. He’s slapping backs in glee at the possibility of winning real jail time for Axe. He lauds Lonnie in front of Bryan to rub it in. And he feigns ignorance at how a winner like Lonnie ended up in the Eastern district in the first place. Neither Lonnie nor Bryan buy any of it. Chuck has a sleeziness that no mere mortal like Lonnie or Bryan can ever hope to attain (even if they wanted to, which neither of them do!).

Bryan confronts Lonnie about “the tip”. Lonnie reasons: no worries, man, we can share the win. Bryan calls him a shill. Lonnie tells him to go ask Chuck and “not piss on his integrity.”

Now, for the first of the trinity (or quadruple) of the major scenes. Wendy walks into Axe’s office, all smiles, but, from Axe’s perplexed look at seeing her there, she’s come in “halfway thru the play.” Damian displays that look very unique to him, of pained boy coupled with awful, angry, maliciously dangerous man. The work Hall did at the copier comes out of the safe. Axe has Wendy’s browser history in hand. (Sure, we all do some online shopping at work: That’s what Cyber Mondays are about. But, come, come, Wendy, most of us leave the more delicate shopping for non-monitored times, no?) Axe threatens to out her tastes in the bedroom. Since he includes the DA’s office and the AG’s office as potential recipients of the info, it’s unclear whether Bobby fully gets that the leather and whips et al are also the tastes of Wendy’s husband. Bobby also has pictures from the Tepidarium. I believe that taking pictures of them sharing a bath was not his intent. Alas, no need to intend anything when your man Hall is on the job. Bobby derides Wendy in the most cruel way:

You being such a master of the subconscious, or should I say mistress… I suppose you would have known too.


Wendy shakes from anger, both at how quickly Bobby has jumped the gun and at the realization that her husband spied on her confidential papers in their own home. She’s shaken because she’s on the brink of losing them both, her work and her home.

Back at Chez Rhoades, Wendy confronts Chuck in the second of the perfectly staged scenes. They lay it all out. Chuck says she works for criminals and must accept the consequences. Wendy says the info from her computer cannot be used in court and that she will testify against dear husband should it come to that. Chuck brings up the scene he observed on the balcony, what he saw as Bobby and Wendy “cozy as a couple of teenagers sharing a cigarette after a backseat fuck.” And here’s where the tears leak from both their eyes, and, we, the audience, cannot look away from the train wreck:

I wasn’t up there because of the case, it was personal. This man, this motherfucker, is destroying our lives, he’s driving us apart, and he’s doing it deliberately.

Wendy holds up the option Chuck always had of stepped away, letting it go. Chuck makes the valid point that the only reason they’re having this conversation now is because Axe has heard about the bribery charges before anyone possibly could have and is closing ranks. So, Chuck is right, even in this private space between husband and wife, Axe is already in the room. How can he not take it personally if his own wife is in the thick of it?

HE will not let ME just walk away.

Chuck thinks Axe was behind the camera man at the BDSM place. (I think probably not, but, let’s leave that reveal for next season) Wendy is wounded that he went to the place without telling her. He says nothing happened and nothing could have happened because Wendy wasn’t there. Paul Giamatti in all Chuck’s creepiness is breaking hearts in this scene. He loves his wife, or, at least, he believes he does, which, ultimately, amounts to the same thing. He wants her and he wants to do his job. He’s lost over his inability to do both at the same time. He cries:

You prop it up. You suck in all it gives you: power, money, control.

True, true, and true. Wendy retorts:

It gives me a lot more than you do, including honesty.

Not really, Wendy.

You can lie to me about how it makes you feel, but you can’t lie to yourself.

Chuck is kicked to the curb, first to a night in his office, then to a noisy single room at the Yale Club. He cancels the investigation. Everyone knows there is no evidence, no charges that will stick. Lonnie gets his second great line of the episode (the first was “we’re about to rock like Cameo in 86”): “It’s Chinatown, Jake.” Implying that there are worlds forever walled off and impenetrable for those on the outside.

Cue the next pivotal theatrical scene in this three act play. Wendy meets Bobby in his office and plays him a recording of Chuck confessing that he looked at her files. Bobby is surprised (a barely audible “what’s this?”), and he’s pleased. Wendy is not interested in Bobby’s apology. She wants all documents destroyed and she wants her bonus. Like, now. Bobby transfers five sticks to her. Then he counters her offer. How can he not? In his world, all deals have counter-offers. He wants a copy of the recording of Chuck admitting his wrong doing. Wendy won’t give up her baby daddy. She deletes the recording.



Wendy’s not done yet. She quits. She says the illegalities implicit in Axe’s operations were fine up to a point. But when she saw the lengths Axe was willing to go to hurt her after so quickly being convinced of her guilt. At this, Bobby gets a look of “Come on, girl, don’t be like that, you know you’re still my boo”. (Yes, dear reader, that’s what I heard in Damian’s microsecond-long expression…takes me longer to say it than for him to do it!) At the mention of criminality and Wendy’s culpability in it all, Bobby shifts gears into damage control “I can explain.” Not interested, Wendy walks out of Axe Capital, packs her patient files, slips into her Maserati, and speeds away, smiling. True story: letting it all go does make a woman smile, at least for a bit. Making sure she leaves with five sticks for her trouble, even more so.


Axe is not done either. He arranges a meeting with Bryan over nonna pie at Bruno’s. While Bryan’s having pizza, Chuck elicits Kate’s help in trying to find who in his office is compromised. One presumes he chooses now to look for a mole because he wants to suss out how Axe knew about the bribery case. They identify the suspect as the custodian. Chuck plants false info that they have a wire set up at Axe Capital. And, sure enough, the info makes it back to Axe, just as he’s finishing up his meeting with Bryan, who, incidentally, does not say no to the offer to join the Axe defense team.

Everyone wants to be a lion, not everyone gets the chance.

Back at Chez Axelrod, Lara and Axe meet in a walk-in safe over piles of money and sheets of gold bullion. What else is in the safe? A glock, a rifle, some art, some wine, coins: All the expected trappings of a billionaire’s storage space. Bobby tells Lara that Wendy didn’t sell him out. And that she is gone. Lara offers:

It’s for the best. She outlived her utility as the weather vane for what her husband was gonna do.

Bobby, defending his boo, counters. (Please, let me not from henceforth refer to Wendy as Bobby’s boo. For now, the term seems the most accurate way to describe the incontrovertible timelessness of their relationship)

She’s more than that, Lar.

They change the subject. Lara plans to return the goodies to the bank. Bobby suggests they keep it at home, under the proverbial mattress, as it were. Just in case.

With the news of the wire at Axe Capital, Axe and Hall proceed to tear up the joint, limb from limb. Bobby sticks his head out of his office like a paranoid turtle. He gets a bit maniacal too.

Then go deeper, all the way down.

Carpets are ripped up, walls are peeled back, floor boards pried up. There is no wire.

Cue the grand final theatrically cathartic scene of the play. Chuck saunters into the destroyed offices of Axe Capital.

I thought your kind could only come in when invited.

Did Bobby just called his arch-nemesis a vampire? It truly was a scene worthy of stage. Two grand actors, focused, fully present, wound up and poised like snakes about to strike at each other. And grand words. About the “system”, the economy, libertarianism, capitalism, right, wrong, morality, legality. And Wendy.

She’s not here either, if you’re trying to find her. We both lost her.

The arbitrariness of regulation. Ayn Rand. Taxation by prosecution.

This country was built on industry and competition, so they will always have a place for me.

Chuck says, sure, they’ll have a place, like they always have a place for the likes of Billy the Kid, Jesse James. Train robbers and crooks.

The myth is so fuckin romantic.

The beauty is that they are both right, both arguments are equally valid and defensible. For every “You throw the whole system off balance” there will always be “I make the system run.” Maybe in the friction between the two is where the real balance lives?

And perhaps the biggest beauty is that such riveting drama can be delivered in the absence of sex or violence. Not to say that Billions has been prudish in any way. Just that the visceral thrills delivered by the three (or four) pivotal scenes in this drama, are usually gotten from fantastical representations of sex and/or violence, especially on cable TV. Instead, this show has succeeded in getting us all to care about the very real issues, issues up for passionate debate, as we speak, in this election year. Axe makes the ultimate analogy of his value system to historically proven American values:

When I pull a deal off the table, I leave Nagasaki behind.

Boy, how I love the sticky thread of history woven through this show. (For the kids who don’t know, the US was the first and only nation to ever use a nuclear weapon against another sovereign state when Japan refused to surrender in WWII, even though the war was already over. The US did this simply because Japan didn’t take the deal offered it.) Yes, the show has a politics. But, there’s something here for all sides to stand behind. And, of course, there’s the personal too, in Chuck’s last words:

The only enemy more dangerous than a man with unlimited resources is one with nothing to lose.


Cheers to a great first season, Billions, and here’s to many more to come!

24 thoughts on “Billions ep 12 : The Conversation”

  1. So much drama! I had my second viewing last night. That last scene is soooo fierce! It amazes me how powerful and imposing they both are, how strong their presence is, even within one another’s presence. They are matched for power.

    I felt really bad for Lara during the panic room scene. When he says “just in case”, and she realizes that this is her life. Her existence is in constant jeopardy. What a horrible burden to bear.

    I think Bryan will stay with the Dist. Attorney’s office, and I think he’s gonna turn on Chuck and get him hoisted from office. He doesn’t wanna work for Bobby, and he doesn’t wanna work for the equivalent of him at his own office. He wants honesty and integrity. And he’s gonna get it.

    1. Wow, that would be very cool to see Bryan attempt to oust Chuck! He and Lonnie could do some real damage if they joined forces…something Lonnie seems very amenable to. Loved the bigger role for Lonnie this episode and hoping he stays present at Southern next season.
      The show never intended to give us cut and dry good vs. evil either, so, I’m torn. Chuck is a sleazeball in so many ways, but he’s also very real.
      The equal footing on the power struggles is EXACTLY what makes it all so compelling to watch. Giamatti and Damian deliver equal power. As do Maggie Siff and Damian in their scenes. I could sense that Malin Akerman felt a little out of league at the beginning but, boy, she pulled it out towards the end. Her look when Lara got the suggestion to change her kids’ names was beautifully done. It’s a dream team of a cast.

  2. I do love the delicious amount of grey area this show dives into. There is right, there is wrong, but should justice really be blind? We are all just climbing and clawing to the top-do our ends justify our means? Bobby’s wealth “trickles down” in many ways, and benefits many. But is it enough? Chuck’s office keeps these guys in check, but does keeping them in check really benefit the little people at all, even? Those fines they collect don’t get directly deposited into a charity or anything, they contribute to bureaucracy. This definitely a thinking-person’s show.

    1. Absolutely. Thus all this engaging with words, words, words. Not something that would be possible to do for every show, or even most of them, sadly.

  3. What is a “boo”? It is not in my Hungarian-English dictionary. You write so well that I would hate to miss a single word.

    1. Your question makes me smile!! A boo is sort of like a girlfriend or boyfriend but in a teenager-like way. Something between a friend and a boyfriend/girlfriend. Sort of a crush that is fun, but will probably not progress to more.

    1. NYC curb appeal is Axe appeal.:) Love it! Such a sight would add appeal to many a Manhattan curb, I wager.

  4. Its a pet name, or term of endearment. Similar to honey, sweetie, baby. Usually used between a couple, but sometimes can be used platonically, in a close friendship.

    1. Right? My thoughts exactly. My first watching of this episode I was with family on vacation and every one else was watching something else and I was watching this on silent. The family was much bemused at my sporadic involuntary gasps and “sheesh”‘s at my screen. I heard “Is everything okay?” a lot. Yep, just fine. :D:D:D

  5. I know, I don’t watch TV. We don’t even have an antenna/cable/can’t get a signal on our TV. I watch amazon prime and Netflix. We had to order a showtime subscription for Billions. Which happily came with Homeland, so I could rewatch for all my writing.

    This show isn’t TV, this show is art.

  6. I use Damian as a dressing doll for my husband. They have similar builds and complexions. I was like “honey, you need that.” he says “the car? heck yes!” I’m like, well the suit and coat, actually, but the car is nice as well. 🙂

    My husband’s work wardrobe was completely mimicked off of Charlie Crews. Down to his sunglasses. I always joke that Damian is his stylist.

    1. HA! I’m trying that too. I texted my husband asking about his jacket size. He’s been hiking and climbing a lot so his physique has changed considerably and for the better over the years. He can totally rock Damian’s look now. He texted back: Why? It has to do with that guy, right?

      Not sure he’ll fall for it. 🙂

      I’ve got my eye on some of the Axe sweaters I’ve found online. Why the heck not? 😀

    2. Love all this! And my husband said this morning: “I will be Axe today.” And he put on a hoodie and went to teach his class 🙂

  7. Don’t most billionaires have body guards? Does he have one lurking around usually? I guess his driver might be one. But especially with all the problems happening and people now mad at him about 9/11 he should have a body guard or two.

    Kidnapping also would be a concern for someone that rich.

    I know, it’s a TV show. Can’t put everything in.

    Has Axe really done anything that wrong? I have to go back and rewatch. Has he clearly broken the law with insider trading or is it in the gray area? I just don’t see him as a bad guy. Some of it is he is so charismatic and charming. If he was a blah schlub and grumpy or bland it would be harder to like him. Or mean to everyone. He does seem like Lance Armstrong in his drive but he doesn’t seem as overtly mean as Armstrong and trying to destroy people’s lives. He might secretly blacklist you as his wife also does to people, but he doesn’t totally destroy your reputation and threaten you. Or maybe I missed something. Or is he the charming Billy the Kid outlaw?

    Chuck seems more and more unhinged. I don’t trust someone in power who doesn’t seem in control of their impulses. He is making it too personal. Again, we need the utmost drama in a show. So reality is heightened. I don’t like Chuck. He’s scarier than Axe. Maybe they are equally scary. And I don’t like boxing or violent sports where people get killed or paralyzed. They are in a death match now. Like cage fighting.

    I think they need a little more comic relief again. It is really dark now.

    I hope a lot more shows film in NYC. I’ve already seen someone I sort of know on Billions in a tiny part. I like when friends get roles. It would be great if some got continuing roles.

    Do the Wall Street people talk about the latest Billions episode over the water cooler? Do they come in and say “Did you see it last night?” Does any of it remind them of people they know or things that have happened? Are they seeming themselves in it?

    1. Interesting points!
      Since they interviewed a bunch of billionaires in preparation and research for this show, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them do gather and talk about it. 😀
      It’s seems to be such a gray area with insider trading. Everyone needs information to make a bet, seems that the means to that information would be the thing that separates those who win at the bet and those who come in too late. So how can one win if one doesn’t try to get at the best information the fastest? The “wrongness” of it seems to vary case by case. Say a doctor who lets a patient know about a trial drug and that patient goes and invests based on that info….is that really so wrong? Axe had Dollar Bill bribe a farmer guy for info. But that farmer guy also got the money to help his sick kid. Was that really so wrong? These are the questions at the core of the show.
      This show has had more comic elements than most drama, I don’t see that changing for next season. We’ve got great comic relief with Wags and the rest of Axe’s guys, and now with Lonnie too in the DA’s office. It’s pretty smart humor too, ie the best laughs.
      As for Bobby’s security situation: good question! I have no idea if billionaires usually have bodyguards. It seems the kids would be at risk too, for kidnapping etc. I don’t see the show going in this direction, but you never know! I call out the novelty of having good engaging drama without sex or violence, but, who knows, they may decide to add more sex and more violence next year.

  8. I know this season finale is just so loaded and so is your post and in a very good way 🙂 Where should I start?

    Damian and Paul set the bar so high SO HIGH in this last episode that you are absolutely right it is all fit for the stage. I read a recent interview with Damian saying he would love to do stage with Paul, and who knows maybe this particular final scene made him think so: And it would be EPIC. But going back to the scene, it feels almost Shakespearean, doesn’t it? It’s like two warriors going head to head with some grand words. It’s like a duel, not of guns, but of words. It is crazy. These guys have given us a season finale like nothing else. Hats off!

    I LOLled about Cyber Mondays!!! Haha yes I do my whip and cuff shopping at home, not in the office, for sure! :)))) The show is giving us some food for thought — again: BDSM stuff is still not acceptable in the society. There are still certain things which we see kind of taboo. I really wonder what happens if the Southern District US attorney makes headlines with his BDSM interests? Who cares about it if he is doing his job? But I guess some people still care.

    This is the episode that I really really felt for creepy Chuck. You are right. Even with Chuck and Wendy in their house alone, Chuck can feel Axe’s presence. And he just cannot take it. Honestly, I would never let my husband have that kind of relationship with any woman. That is why I have been cutting some slack for him over the season, yet he crossed so many lines that he deserved his punishment. I am so curious if the show will pick it up where it leaves the characters or we will fast forward a little. Where will we find Chuck and Wendy? And where will we find Lara and Axe? Like I would not let my husband have a “special relationship” with another woman it feels that Lara is relieved that Wendy is gone now. But I just think Axe will not stop there and will try to win Wendy back — if not for her, for her stories 🙂 I think Axe was a robot with her when he thought she was the one to blame. And he will recover from that and see what he has done. He needs Dr Mojo… Which could bring some tension to Axelrods in addition to the fact that Lara has recently noticed: They will always be living in the shadows — with money and gold at home that would help them leave whenever necessary. That’s a challenge.

    Finally… I just love your point that the show works without much sex and violence. So true. Some reviewer was comparing Billions to Game of Thrones saying that even though it will never be GoT (Billions won’t probably be the most pirated show ever, true) it is still worth investing in this show. Yes! And, honestly, I would invest just because it is not GoT and it does not need to be, and it works perfectly without the sex and the violence GoT gives you like every 5 minutes. And, don’t get me wrong, I am a GoT fan, too, but I am also old enough to see the difference 🙂 Holliedazzle is right. This show is not TV. It is art. We are so lucky to be living in this golden age of TV!

    1. Hear, hear, partner!
      After I posted this, I happened to be flipping through my screen caps and actually saw a Cyber Monday banner on one of the printouts Makes chronological sense too, that was Wendy’s latest shopping spree, since the time of this episode seems to be around Christmas time (garlands on the banisters of the Rhoades brownstone)
      Yes, this show doesn’t really need the factors of sex and violence to make it exciting to watch. It’s making good use of cable-friendly language and that’s excitement enough

  9. I do love the gifs you do and also the descriptions “rising to be part of the NY Landscape.” What a wonderful image. The opening scene is such a lovely one and in stark contrast to Wendy leaving Axe Capital. Some fantastic home truths in this episode for everyone…Though I am still with Wendy. ‘The problem is here.” It is far too easy for Chuck to be blaming Axe.

    Holly’s raises an interesting point of Bryan staying where he is, but working against Chuck that way. So, regardless of whether he stays or goes to #TeamAxe, I now need to see him sitting on the opposite side of the table from Chuck.

    That last scene is just brilliant. I am going to miss the recaps/reviews with our different perspectives…until next season!

  10. Hola . Recien termino de ver el ultimo capitulo. En Argentina solo podemo verlo por internet y tengo q esperar varios dias por los subtitulos. Excelente show , gigante nuestro Damian y tambien Paul,. Quisiera, si no e mucha molestia, que me pasaran algunos links para encontrar peliculas viejas de Damian. Aqui no se consiguen. Gracias!!! SALUDOS DESDE EL SUR

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