First things first: I thank Showtime for releasing the season premiere early and giving me time to digest this extremely rich and loaded episode and fantasize a little bit about what may come our way. In a recent interview with CraveTV Canada, Damian hinted that the first episode is the calmest of the season. Given that this episode alone has several game changers, we are certainly in for a real treat! It’s hard to put in words but you can see below how ready I am for the thrill ride!
Well, a few minutes in and Billions sets the tone for the season: What a difference a year makes! Both Axe and Chuck have lost their sense of security. They do not look like the super heroes they used to be last season and, hey, they do not have anyone else but themselves to blame for this!
Billions has time and again shown us we, human beings, despite all our glitter and fanfare, are animals after all. It is all about survival of the fittest and we just evolve, refine, and adapt to keep our place in the fluid state of the world. And I cannot wait to see Axe and Chuck adapt, in other words, up their game, push the limits of reason and behave appallingly, to survive 😀
I expect total war this season.
We pick up only three weeks after the man with unlimited resources and the one with nothing to lose had their showdown at Axe Capital.
Given that Chuck’s last words constitute a credible threat, Axe Capital is now Fort Axe! 😀
No electronics beyond a personal phone, magnetic ID cards, turnstiles for entry and exit. And Wags performing on a cocktail of Oxycodone Acetaminophen and Dextroamphetamine tells me it has been a stressful couple of weeks at Axe Capital.
Axe is more of a nation state than ever now, complete with his own Chief of Staff Stephanie Reed (Shaunette Renee Wilson) who, he says, will be present in all conversations between Axe and any employee even when they want to “pitch the cream” to the boss at the coffee machine. Stephanie is super charismatic and focused as well as connected enough to get Wags on Raya. All she asks from him is Chatham House Rule 😀
Axe announces his strategy for the fund. Everyone has to step up their game so Axe Capital will not share the fate of the T-rexes. As Wags pushes the young analysts to come up with one Traci Lords of an idea, Mafee is lucky to have a brilliant intern, Taylor, who helps him save $10 million in a second. I cannot be not uncertain about any stock but I am not uncertain Taylor is a keeper! 😀 Taylor seems to be a wiz with numbers and we cannot wait to see more of them this season!
Now, even though it is not exactly a “fire extinguisher malfunction” we can still call the problem at Axe Capital a “malfunction.” Axe is not functioning like he used to. He has lost his sense of security.
“As long as Rhoades is in that job, I’m not safe.”
The king seems to be losing sleep over how Chuck made him rip Axe Capital apart for a bug. He summons his generals to his residence, yet another fort with security cameras everywhere. He is obsessed with getting rid of Chuck for good and insists Bach file a lawsuit against him immediately.
Well, the man who is willing to leave Nagasaki behind when he pulls a deal off the table obviously does not buy Bach’s “you can no more win a war than an earthquake.” But I applaud Billions writers for this brilliant tribute to Jeannette Rankin, the first US Congresswoman, a life long pacifist and the only member of Congress to vote against declaring war on Japan after Pearl Harbor. As a conflict scholar, I appreciate Axe saying it is easier to finish the enemy when he is at his most vulnerable. But, of course, Chuck is no ordinary enemy.
We find Chuck exactly in the same position we met him first time in Season 1: Lying on the floor! 😀 He is learning how to generate offense out of defense which, in fact, can make Chuck more dangerous this season.
Yet, at the moment, he seems to be in deep shit.
Good old Spyros informs Chuck that the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) has opened an investigation on his office’s methods and conduct concerning an aborted bribery case against Axe.
Enters Oliver Dake (Christopher Denham). As much as Dake has some Eliot Ness air about him, he is creepy. Looking like a man from a previous decade with his suit, haircut and glasses, Dake defines himself as an “octopus” that sucks up all the information he can get his hands on.
And he does! The look on Chuck’s face when he hears from Dake about the five million dollars Axe transferred to Wendy’s account the day he dropped the case against Axe is, well, priceless. I confess I did not see this coming. Game changer #1!
If “the octopus” grabs Chuck with one tentacle, he grabs Bryan with another. Dake grills Bryan about his meeting with Axe at the pizzeria. Bryan reported the meeting but Dake wants to know why he waited for a day to report it. Did he think about what to leave out and leave in? No, this is not enough to make Bryan sing.
Bart Schooner, the head of criminal prosecution at the Southern District, is leaving public service for a 7-figure salary. At his farewell party at Battery Gardens (thanks Lady Trader for the tip!) Chuck makes it clear to his three Assistant Attorneys that Schooner’s position is now within their reach. Now, I know Billions loves metaphors. But this chess game in Washington Square Park may be the BEST one yet!
Chuck, when cheated, chooses to take a constructive rather than a destructive approach and ensures that the cheater does not cheat again. He expects this kind of approach from his younger colleagues 😀 They can side with Chuck and one of them can be awarded Schooner’s job or they can side with Dake and deal with Chuck’s replacement.
Bryan asks the key question:
“How do you know he did the right thing after you left?”
This is what we call a commitment problem in game theory. It is hard for Chuck to convince them because he cannot make a credible promise that he will not bend the rules again.
Thus, my advise for Chuck would be to delay filling up Schooner’s position, if possible, until the end of the investigation. The assistant attorneys may be more likely to stay loyal should they believe they have a real shot for the job.
Home life is not any better for Chuck. He and Wendy are “nesting” so the kids live in the family home during the family crisis. And their situation may not be as temporary as he thinks. Wendy puts Chuck in his place when he again makes a point about Axe’s money poisoning their family life:
“I no longer have proximity to it, and you no longer have proximity to me.”
Wendy is not only determined to keep her distance from the two alphas in her life, but she is also getting better and better at showing the finger to other alphas around her. As she crushes the asshole who makes an inappropriate remark during her presentation, I wonder if this kind of sexism is rampant in the industry.
Wendy is spot-on about the SAD nature of these guys:
“The thought that someone might know you need help is worse than getting the help you need.”
Next is Mr. Krakow (Danny Strong) of Krakow Capital who starts with some smart game theory to identify Wendy’s type followed by an utterly stupid “you passed the test.” No, Wendy does not want your chocolate factory.
Yet, the ultimate finger goes to Axe when he shows up at Wendy’s new digs at 400 Madison Avenue under an assumed name. I wonder how she would react should she have known Hall reporting about her whereabouts to Axe 24/7.
No wonder Bookworm believes Bobby is the boy who does not want to grow up. As much as Bobby and Wendy have this amazing on-screen chemistry that makes one think they have a romantic past, Bobby is more of a little boy when he is with Wendy. And when the little boy does not watch his language and says “that motherfucker is trying to poach my most valuable…” Wendy delivers my favorite line of the episode:
“I am not your anything.”
I will not lie to you. I feel for Bobby at that very moment he hears these words, but then I come back to my senses: The kind of thing you did to her, Bobby… I would not forgive you in a billion years. Now, find the door, please. And no flowers, but, hey, maybe you can try “one girl is worth 20 boys” at some point 😀 Because IT IS, especially in this case. Axe has a commitment problem, too. He cannot make a credible promise to Wendy that he will not do wrong with her again.
As much as I love Bobby, someone needs to tell him Wendy is not the harness driver that would do the dance for him whenever he feels like it or Orrin Bach who shows up anywhere anytime because Axe feels like meeting… which brings us to the Yonkers Raceway where lights literally turn on and off at the move of Axe’s finger. And I give it to him that he brings his genius to convince Orrin Bach about a lawsuit against Chuck.
Axe conceives the idea at a seemingly innocuous grill party at Axelrod Residence where he brings Matt, his brother-in-law and an NYPD detective, who does not particularly like Axe after finding out about his 9/11 deals, and Raul “NYPD Pension Fund” Gomez together. Gomez shares a story from his NYPD days where numbers helped them to deal with a drug ring:
“It’s hard to defend against numbers. That is a lesson you only have to learn once.”
If Axe opens a lawsuit against Chuck, Axe will be the story. But if they go after everyone who Chuck fucked and buy up their claims then Axe will be just one in many where as Chuck will be THE STORY. Brilliant! Take a look at Bach when Axe first tells him he knows how they will get themselves a Howitzer. He seems to be sick and tired of Axe’s obsession with Chuck. Take a look at him again when Axe shares his idea about aggregating lawsuits. His eyes are lit! Mine, too! Game Changer #2!
This racetrack turns out to be the place where it all started. Bobby boy observed the men who processed information and he learnt how to bet! No wonder Lady Trader says “picking stocks is just legal gambling.” Bobby is still betting and he seems to have the upper hand at the moment while…
…the desperate US attorney is now being summoned by the Attorney General for a meeting in DC like it is not enough that he’s just been served with 127 lawsuits. One is from a certain Bobby Axelrod who makes a Bivens Claim against Chuck.
“So I am to report to her Thursday. She will greet me warmly, shake me by the hand, and then she will fire me.
Dake seems to have more than one trick up his sleeve. He catches up with Brayn as Bryan walks through the NYC Municipal Building (notice Tony Rosenthal’s 1 in 5 in the background symbolizing the interconnectedness of the five boroughs). It turns out the call that started the entire investigation was made from a cellphone in Yonkers the night Bryan met with Axe!
WOW. Game changer #3! Did Bryan make that call?
Dake tells Bryan that he knows it is him that called, but does he really know? And is he, in fact, threatening Bryan? An “either you give me Chuck, or I tell Chuck that you called and let you deal with the consequences” kind of threat?
Unless the OPR knows the exact phone number the call came from, it could be anyone from Team Axe that was tasked with making that call. My head is spinning since it could even be a plan Axe and Bach put together: Invite Bryan for a meeting, make a job offer, then use his location as a ploy to call the OPR. And have your popcorn once Chuck finds out about it and all hell breaks loose at the US attorney’s office. I am telling you, I cannot think straight when Billions is concerned.
All cards are stacked against Chuck at the moment. So, where is Chuck Sr when his son needs him? And I am not ashamed to say I missed him! 😀