Billions on Showtime 2.04: The Oath

Boy, Billions is giving its stellar coterie of actors a lot more to do this season! While the plot has always remained tight and unpredictable, this show has always been character-driven, never more so than right at this moment.

You don’t have to read the business papers to hear the real world buzz around Preet Bharara’s recent firing as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of NY. In the fictional world of Billions, this is the very position occupied by Chuck. In Tuesday’s NYT, Andrew Ross Sorkin’s regular article Dealbook , quoted the so-called “sheriff of Wall Street” Bharara saying in another interview:

I have never said that insider trading is the crime of the century. It has not been my personal focus. It’s the focus of the press because there are a lot of wealthy people that like the reporting of it.

Indeed, in the world of Wall Street, and Billions, there is ethics and then there is the appearance of ethics. Prosecution is not always (or ever?) about beating the bad guy and scoring a victory for justice. A lot of the time it’s about beating a case that’s beatable and tantalizing to the press and the public. Sure, the practice of law is about setting precedent on good and bad, right and wrong, but a lot of the time (most of the time?) it’s about managing public perception of these lofty ideals. And it’s in the managing of perception where all the play happens. This theme runs throughout Billions, and is in particular focus in Episode 4 “The Oath.”

Something else notable for this episode: the virtual encyclopedia of pop culture references! A cynical person could snark it’s a good thing all the people of this world seem to have read the same books, seen the same movies, and listened to the same music. Writing about it was one rabbit hole after another and I can only imagine the fun from the actual writing of it.

Bobby lunches with Mark Cuban to pick his brain about doing business with the NFL. Bobby’s bid for a franchise was only slowed, not halted, in the last episode. Now he needs to know what he has to do to win. Cuban empathizes with Bobby and shares his own (real-life! ) struggles with the SEC. He offers Bobby the advice that non-establishment guys like they both are will always be under scrutiny.

We’re different, we didn’t inherit our money, we earned it calling bullshit early, often and very publicly.

Establishment bullwarks like the NFL, ironically, don’t like ostentatious shows of individual power. Sports franchises, as the “sacred trust” of the nation, like to keep it all nice and vanilla… again, ironically. Thus Axe is tasked with changing “hearts and minds today.” He takes that piece of advice to heart. As for Cuban’s other recommendation to stop fucking with the DA? No can do.

Wendy is similarly occupied in a tete-a-tete with a kazillionaire. Craig Heidecker made his billions on Earth and now he wants to aim higher. He’s planning a manned mission to Mars and he needs Wendy to suss out the candidate pilot. It’s like any regular HR screening interview with the slight difference that this will be a job that takes the right candidate out of earth’s orbit.

What’s happening in Chuck’s quarters? The AG is getting restless for results from the Boyd investigation. She did not take kindly to the news of Chuck’s non-leak of news of the investigation. How exactly did Chuck not leak, you ask? Well, you may recall from a previous episode, he simply called up a journalist to deny a rumor, which wasn’t even a rumor until he stated it was. Making up rumors for the sake of denying them, answering questions before they are even asked, all increasingly less implausible events in the halls of government circa 2017. The AG’s guy wants Chuck to get on it or he’ll be like Alan Rickman off the whatever floor in that Christmas movie everyone’s seen.

Axe starts acting on Cuban’s advice by ringing up his good friend, the third richest man in the world, one-named Benziger, played impeccably by Richard Thomas. For this post, I went to look at what else this actor has been doing and was surprised to find that he’s a New Yorker born and raised. That soothing Appalachian drawl telling us all about a lovely family in Depression Era Virginia was not his own? Color me surprised. (Like, as surprised as newbie’s are to find out that Damian is a Brit) Remember how everyone really wanted them to keep Rob Morrow on for more than one season, and they did? Well, here’s hoping they find room for Richard Thomas to come back too!

Before he answers the call from Axe, Benziger is in conference with a journalist who guesses he must be in town to get a fellow billionaire on board his grand philanthropy project, the Giving Oath, something, one can guess, is akin to the Bill Gates and Warren Buffett campaign, Giving Pledge. Interestingly Benziger calls Bobby Robert. They proceed to talk about cased meats and Bobby, of course, knows a guy.

Speaking of cased meats, Boyd has crawled back up under “his flap” such that recently cuckolded McKinnon is running dry on real evidence against his boss. Chuck shakes hands, pats his back, and equates him to the honorable Tom Doniphon in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Not a small fact of that story: Doniphon killed the bad guy, only to let mild-mannered lawyer and political aspirant Stoddard take the glory and his bride to boot. Chuck assures the very non-John Wayne-like McKinnon that all is not lost. Then he turns around and uses that poor sap as leverage to get in good with Boyd. Which brings us to a line from Liberty Valance which sort of applies to the subtext of this episode too. It’s the whole idea of myth-creation and redemption in the eyes of the public trumping any real adherence to ethics.

“This is the West, sir,” he explains. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” 

So Axe is brokering the help Boyd needs to keep Chuck away, right? You know there has to be a benefit to him, or else Robert Axelrod wouldn’t be doing it. The benefit is to get something on Chuck in the bargain, of course. Axe has his man Hall propose some, shall we say, morally ambiguous solutions to Boyd. What Hall comes up with we can only guess, but suffice it to say, it’s probably not very pretty. Boyd doesn’t bite.

Back at the judicial ranch, Lonnie glories in closing big cases. Leaving him off the Boyd thing has been a blessing for him.

So, you know what else Preet Bharara and Chuck Rhoades have in common? They have both been prosecuted by their targets for going too far in their quests for justice. The case against Bharara is still in process. Bobby’s case against Chuck is trudging right along too. Chuck suffers a set-back, however, when his motion to dismiss is denied. Bobby takes this news well.

Bobby is intent on continuing a lesson learned early in his career to not only never take no for an answer but to master the alchemy necessary to transform a no into a yes. At this point in the game, Chuck is providing the “no” in reference to Bobby’s reputation which folks like the NFL are hearing loud and clear.

..unless I can make it clear he was the one crossed the line.

Fun to hear, subtle as it is, Damian getting even more New York by dropping the “who” here. Then the word “replicant” comes out of his mouth out of the blue, and you think, okay, fine, a guy who knows Highlander enough to quote it probably knows Blade Runner too.

“Attack ships on fire on the shore of Orion…all those moments.. lost.. like tears in the rain”

At the rocket hangar, Wendy does her thing via a walk and talk with astronaut Elena Gabriel. She’s shown the Shaker Room, where metals undergo stress tests to gauge their suitability for space travel. When asked why she wants to go to Mars, Elena quotes the greats, first Hamlet’s soliloquy and then Star Trek, which, in Elena’s world, may actually be the same great.

“We need breathing room.”

Meanwhile, Chuck Sr. works his own line of inquiry. He tries to get surveillance on Axe only to find the gates are firmly locked, all sentries in place. Another surveillance mission has yielded better results, however. There’s a video of Bryan talking candidly to Dake.

Bryan continues his candid talks with Dake over bad coffee and allusions to surreal monsters. The scenery is somewhat improved on another open-air meeting at Battery Park. On first glance I thought the scene must be during Fleet Week, but, no, this tall ship is there all the time.

Bobby has his sit down with Hediker over hot dogs.

Benziger relates why giving is good.

The reason nothing levers up your happiness like giving? Because it puts you back in charge of the only thing you cared about — yourself.

Chuck’s gets his weekly lesson from ju-jitsu: Know the difference between naive aggression versus effective aggression.

Bryan catches up with Kate, decidedly not in her work clothes, perhaps on a date, and tells her, that in the course of looking for stuff on Boyd, he found her father’s name in the Panama Papers. Kate plays it cool and says there’s nothing illegal about depositing money offshore. Now, I’m not one to get an actor in trouble, but one of the many splendid cast members of this show let slip in an interview, that there may be some twists this season about offshore accounts. Perhaps he (or she!) meant this bit, or perhaps it’s an even bigger thread that we need to keep following.

The gist of the scene is that the rift between once-on-now-off Kate and Bryan seems to stem from money matters. My guess is that she was fine with the imbalance in their money situation, but he wasn’t. See, there’s being poor and then there’s the guilt and insecurity that comes from not being rich….guilt because of the recurring thought (especially when you’re one of the good guys) that if only you’d worked harder or your parents had or their parents had…etc. etc. Like all privilege, wealth privilege is blind and deaf to such thoughts.

As cool as she was with Bryan, Kate sings a different tune when sharing her father’s troubles with Chuck.

Could this be a calculation to get further into Chuck’s good graces? The Head of Crim job is still up for grabs afterall. In response, Chuck shares his own Daddy issues. He seems to underestimate Chuck Sr. though.

Speaking of the vagaries of privilege: Why do the Axelrods have a mini mart in their pantry? A well-apportioned extension of the panic room, perhaps? Not bulk, mind you, but actual multiples of everything a family of four would need in case of zombie apocalypse, including, or course, some gourmet pickings from Citarella. Oh, but wait, is that tubs and tubs of Costco Kirkland brand coconut oil? I guess we found out when we first met that Taylor is a vegan. Now we know that the Axelrods are as paleo as they come.

For some reason not immediately clear, Lara is hunting for the perfect sauce. She chats with her cousin about their Happy Hangover IV business (its actual name escapes me at the moment). Cousin Mo is okay downsizing in the face of competition. Lara puts a snarky kibosh on that idea. No selling small potatoes in New Jersey for this Inwood girl. The juxtaposition of her hunting for sauce while talking about the IV business makes you momentarily think: what, intravenous barbecue sauce is her custom hangover cure? Regardless, she finds what she needs in a bottle of Yellow Bird. Gotta say, Lara never looked more real than when she quotes The Wire.

Business men gangsters 

At the DA’s office we go back to optics and directing language to the lowest common denominator. We learn that, when investigated thoroughly, high-frequency trading may be prosecutable, but the fact remains that it confuses juries. Apparently, there is a sweet spot between aiming too big and being a piker, a gambler who only makes small bets. Chuck is challenging his people to find that spot, or he’s asking them to take that first loss to make room for the second wave. In either case, they’re awarded a warrant to search Boyd’s files.

At Axe Capital, we learn that Bobby does know about Lara’s business with his own employees as her clients. He seems fine with it, but, again, I think that’s going to blow eventually. You see some rumblings already with Lara standing her ground when Axe volunteers to save her from the new competition. Eventually the tough girl from the hood gets family friends to sabotage her competitors. Axe is proud.

I don’t know, Axe seems to be, pardon my French, a “don’t shit where you eat” kind of guy. There’s something off about this entire arrangement, and I sense it catching up to him soon. Bobby and Lara may think of themselves as the equally attractive, yet much more successful and happily settled version of Bonnie and Clyde, but, winter is coming. And we all remember how Bonnie and Clyde ended, right?

Wags comes in and we learn that Bobby was playing at altruism with Benziger. Kind of confusing when we saw Benziger with the journalist to now know that it was Bobby working with the journo to plant pics of him going thru the motions of committing to philanthropy. Appearances and optics. So twisty that even we, the audience, don’t see them all.

Lara can’t resist a jab at Wags overuse of her services. Speaking of trouble in paradise, what about the ethics of a medical professional sharing details of a client with his employer?

Lucky for Wags, he gets a somewhat more private reveal of an ill-gotten tattoo, first to Bobby and then to Wendy. Indeed, Wags’ misfortune may be the ice-breaker Bobby and Wendy need to start really talking again.

“We’ll come in thru the back way and take ’em by surprise”

Back to Wendy with the astronaut. Somewhat inexplicably, Elena provides Wendy an analogy for a perfect mind-meld, a perfect union between two people, in the musical harmony between Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett of Wilco. Why they are talking about this, I don’t really get, except maybe to gauge Elena’s interpersonal needs and desires? Yes, traveling to Mars and living there is bound to get lonely, right? So, okay, I guess I do get it. But, still, Elena is like 25, right? Making her born in 1992. Wilco, as Tweedy/Bennett, lasted until 2001, when Elena would’ve been nine years old. I just know when I was nine I was listening to whatever Top 40 or Classic Rock was on the radio. But, yeah, sure, kids can be precocious about music, or maybe she discovered them later.

Anyway, the song Wendy and Elena mention with the “Jesus, Don’t Cry” refrain is called “Jesus Etc.”  and comes from Wilco’s best-selling album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Great lyrics, but, this other song I found is much nicer musically, I think, and shows us what Elena was talking about.

“So I tap my glass and nod my chin / And wonder who you’ve been in rhythm with.”

Like, by all means, let’s let whatever is brewing between Bobby and Wendy brew, but the romantic fool tiny sliver of my brain could not help but think of them in the lyrics of this very pretty song. And, ultimately, despite what this scene was meant to tell us and Wendy about the astronaut, I think it put in Wendy’s mind someone with whom she used to be connected and is no longer. Whether that thought was of her husband or Bobby, or both in different ways, is yet to be determined.

As for the astronaut, Wendy somewhat cruelly nixes her suitability for the mission. She tells Heidecker that Elena needs some time in the Shaker Room. She needs to undergo real stress tests to gauge her ability to handle the challenges of space travel. Then Wendy further expands on her own career needs.

Wendy does not want to judge her patients’ suitability for the Shaker, she wants to BE the Shaker. She gets satisfaction from her work only when she’s in a position to motivate, not just analyze and categorize, tasks she says “anyone with a DSM-V and a label maker” can do.

Thus, Wendy adds working for Heidecker to the ever-increasing lists of jobs she refuses. But not before offering Heidecker some free analysis on why he wants to leave earth and/or why he prefers the company of hairless 21 year old girls.

Bruno’s nephew Marco comes back as we knew he would for his long-awaited sit-down with Axe. Basically, he wants Axe to pour money into his economically distressed upstate NY shithole of a town, Sandicot (a fictional name). In return, Marco’s got an in with the governor’s office and hopes to develop casinos that would be very lucrative for Axe in the long run. Anyone smell Atlantic City with this idea?

Anyway, Bobby listens attentively and then sends Taylor off on the project of determining if it’s a good bet, and, more importantly, whether investment in a down and out town would provide the white-washing his marred reputation needs.

At historic literary gentleman’s club, Lotos Club, Chuck ingratiates himself to Boyd by practicing the Franklin Effect of begging a favor from your rival, a psychological trick that works, but, I expect could also backfire into condescending insincerity, depending on who you practice it with. Boyd starts off quoting Roy Cohn, prosecutor of suspected spies and would-be spies during McCarthy’s Red Scare.

I don’t write polite letters, I don’t plea bargain, I like to fight.

Chuck brushes that aside and basically asks Boyd, “if I can’t have you, then who can I have?” Boyd takes the bait and suggests Chuck could have one of his mid-level guys who are already under investigation for compliance. They hash out a win-win situation of Chuck getting to prosecute a winnable case and Boyd getting to munificently fire the guy after six months. Thus McKinnon is made worm’s meat. The meeting ends on a macaroon.

When Bobby learns of this deal, his side-eye can only mean one thing: he doesn’t like it.

Now comes time for Chuck to prepare for the deposition with Bobby. He and lawyer Ira go over strategy, and Ira wants to be the one to sing “Bomaye” at the Rumble in the Jungle. This alludes to the historic Ali v. Foreman fight. Ali’s fans chanted a Lingala phrase meaning “Kill him.”

As for the actual rumble between Chuck and Bobby, I sense it requires a post all its own and this has gotten way too long as it is. Let me just leave you with my lovingly gif’ed from scratch highlights of a true tour de force of a scene.

44 thoughts on “Billions on Showtime 2.04: The Oath”

  1. I love this recap! And yes, that showdown btw Axe and Chuck is it’s own post. Only Billions can make a 10 minutes scene capable of making a 2000+ word post!!

    I like your take on the parallel of Chuck and what is currently going on with Bharara, and the appearance of ethics on Wall Street. PB says that insider trading is not the crime of the century; which is true since even the Supreme Court hasn’t come down on a true definition of insider trading. However, he made sure he went after as many “insider traders” he could, and made sure he had nice big press conferences to announce it. Yes, he did get a few pelts, but the big scalps he never got, and it was not for a lack of trying, it’s because there was never anything truly there, and he knew it. Just more press so he could advance his political career down the line. Even now, just days after he is fired, there is already talk of which political seat he will run for: NYC mayor, NY gov or maybe a Senate seat. it’s never about true justice with Chuck or PB, it’s about propping themselves up for the advancement of their careers.

    I’m glad you got a lot more of the pop culture references than I did and thank you for the links. I did feel a bit lost while watching it. I understand why the writers do it, but I did feel this week was a bit overdone. Just my opinion. But then again, I know that a lot of people don’t get the heavy metal and financial references straight away that I recognize.

    1. Thanks Lady!
      I know you have a personal stake in the world of finance, but as someone who doesn’t get any closer to it than reading the Business pages and headlines, I’m seeing Bharara as someone who, perhaps, the current administration believed to be corruptible, and was let go in the end when he wasn’t. They had agreed to keep him, knowing how firm a handle, a non-partisan grip even, he has on his district. But, a switch was pulled somewhere and he was asked to resign. Of course, not resigning when asked and waiting to be fired was a power play by him, but, I gotta say, if I were ever in that position I would have done the same thing. Anyway, it’s not the last we hear his name, of that I’m pretty certain. Of course he’s on a political trajectory. He wouldn’t have been DA if he weren’t. 🙂 But, isn’t even that about having more power to do good? ie if you’re so inclined. I mean having ambition is not in and of itself a negative trait.
      My point about pulling that quote from him was to show that even he knows it’s about appearance of crime, not actual crime…and that justice is often about the appearance of justice, not the real thing. Ultimately, in the public eye, it makes no difference. It’s a philosophical conundrum really: is there actual good independent of what we perceive as good? Gotta go back to school and not let my mind wander to achieve any real insight into those questions, if that’s even possible.
      Ditto about the encyclopedias one needs to read to get this episode. Definitely a post-internet phenomena, this style of writing. Where would be if we didn’t have all this at the tips of our fingertips? Imagine going to a library and asking a librarian to look up all these references and make contextual sense of them? Sounds like a rip-roaringly funny episode of some sci-fi thing that goes back in time. Not just one episode actually, but weeks of episodes for the work that librarian would have to do. 🙂
      Not a metal-head myself but I grew up among them. I was jamming right along to the opening chords of Peace Sells. Aptly used music for that particular scene in this particular episode.

      1. Unfortunately, I believe you are right, and this isn’t the last we have heard from BP. I would be kind in saying he was mediocre at his job. Everyone handled this whole debacle most ridiculously, but that has been what we have come to expect from all politicians these days. It’s a very sad state of affairs!

        And I agree with you, if you can get into a position of power to do good, I’m all for it. I just don’t think that applies in this case to this person. He would be better off going into private practice where he can’t do anymore damage.

        it seems there is a consensus so far about the heaviness of references this week. I think we are all pretty clever here, so if we’re having trouble, I can not even imagine what others are thinking!!

  2. Fantastic post! I really love the full quotes from Liberty Valance, Blade Runner (it seems the whole back and forth between Axe and Bach was Blade Runner), Yosemite Sam and the song from Wilco, too! Apparently, there has been a social media rage about Wilco — hahaha it’s just a character telling a story. She is not even getting the job! I really find it funny that people can take TV show conversations personal 🙂 And I also thought Wilco story could work for Wendy’s relationship with both Axe and Chuck. By the way, I am with Lisa that this week was a little bit too overloaded with cultural references.

    I thought Bharara was making a political move, a strategic move, when he refused to resign, and people are already talking about which political office he will run for. Kate was right in The Pilot that the people that have Chuck’s seat go become mayors, governors. Giuliani had Chuck’s job, too! 🙂 I just think we hold these people – law people – at higher standards than we hold, for example, Bobby Axelrod; because they are dealing with Justice, a greater authority as Dake suggested in the previous episode. So when Chuck does something dirty, it looks dirtier than any dirt Bobby Axelrod does just because Chuck is the US attorney and Bobby Axelrod is the hedge-fund guy from whom we are not expecting much. He is a businessman after all. And I love how the show can play to our expectations with respect to these two people. Fascinating!

    YES! I was shocked to find Richard Thomas was born and raised in NY! :))) How come, John Boy, how come? Because he is a good actor — exactly like blue blood Damian playing blue collar characters. Last year, a very well-dressed gentleman held the door for me at a NYC restaurant called Cherche Midi as I was going out and he was coming in. I got out, and a split second later, I shouted: “Agent Gaad!” He is a true gentleman holding doors for ladies, too!

    And, having been to our NY apartment, you know which gourmet market is around the corner from us, right? 😀 I can easily say Lara has made good choices for her giant pantry!

    1. Yeah, the Wilco bruhaha is funny. I can see how people would get miffed about someone stepping on their version of history. (Closest thing to feeling that way for me is the Carrie and Brody love story, I think :))
      The writing was dense in this one for sure. Funny to see them lifting plot lines and entire speeches from the classics, not to duplicate them or present modern versions of them, but to use them as metaphors for what the characters in Billions are doing and feeling. Writers recycle the good stuff all the time, I know. But this is a bit different. Like, it’s not like a modern retelling of the Liberty Valance story, it’s using the plot/characters of that story as a way to shine a light (via metaphor) on the very different plot/characters of this story. And doing that over and over for myriad references.
      I’m still exhausted from the many rabbit holes for this post, you must tell me who Agent Gaad is, so I don’t have to look him up. 🙂

      1. I would not get offended even with Carrie and Brody love story. I just think everyone is entitled to his/her opinion. It’s fine. The world would be a boring place if everyone agreed on everything 😀

        The writing is dense. I agree with others that the episode was a bit overloaded with pop culture references. I thought you really didn’t need to know about Wilco to get that one because the whole story is, in fact, about Wendy. But you need to know a bit about Liberty Valance since Chuck likens McKinnon to John Wayne’s character in the film whom you describe perfectly in your post.

        Hahaha! Then you are not watching The Americans. Richard Thomas played Agent Gaad: He was the FBI boss of Noah Emmerich or Agent Beeman who directed this episode of Billions! Everything is connected 🙂

        1. Ah, yes, down the Richard Thomas rabbit hole, I did see that he was in The Americans. So great when an actor you knew as a child keeps having a rich career into adulthood.
          Haha, we have another celebrity in common then. When I lived in LA I saw him hurriedly walking with loads of bags in the Glendale Galleria once. 😀 One of the many celebrities to cross paths with the common folk in LA.
          Nope, not watching The Americans. I tried, and I get the appeal at least partially due to the relevance to current events. Just that actress has rubbed me the wrong way ever since her Felicity days. Felicity was a case where I watched regularly and loved the writing and everything else, except most of the actors. 🙂

          1. OMG! I feel the same way! I never liked Kari Russell!! That is why I have never watched the Americans!

          2. I perfectly understand you cannot love a show when you cannot bring yourself to like an actor/actress in it.
            My Keri Russell = Tom Cruise. I cannot watch anything with him in it.

          3. Haha, we’re likethis when it comes to the 90’s. Never liked Jennifer Garner either, thanks to that super precious character she played on Felicity. Despite the hate, I remember scenes from that show like the back of my hand though. Funny!

  3. Can I just say this was the funniest/satirical review you’ve written to date? That’s a compliment. AND I LOVE YOU FOR IT. Was laughing so much throughout the read. e.g. We all know… “winter is coming.” LOL!!! #GOT

    Upon my Google rabbit hole research into pop culture I find myself doing after/during each #Billions episode, I was REALLY hoping the Die Hard “Nakatomi Tower” would be called Nagasaki Tower, just to bring it full circle. Alas, no. *le sigh*

    Thank you for diving deep and explaining the Doniphon fact for us because I had no clue! Now all that’s left is for Chuck to scoop up McKinnon’s wife when all is said and done. Who knows, he may be single by then.

    It does seem that Kate shared her father’s offshore account information with Chuck as a calculated move; to appear upfront about the potential conflict of interest down the road before anyone else can; so it doesn’t put her job in jeopardy.

    1. Thank you! This means a lot coming from you. I try to not be too snarky, but I must say that writing this into the wee hours was a test of patience for sure.
      Ha, Nagasaki Tower, that would’ve been hysterical. And I nearly went hunting for the floor where the Die Hard action took place and that Hans fell from…just to see if the number had any significance. Luckily I stopped myself!

  4. I’ve thought about this since the Sunday night airing of The Oath. Actually, went back and watched it two more times, but come up the same. It is this, of all the episodes so far, both this season and last, I rate this as my lowest. Sorry fans, it is the way I feel. Without JaniaJania’s recap, I would not have known what in the heck was going on most of the time. Now, I am again blaming my age and also my tastes in both music and TV/movie entertainment, but there were too many references to “things” outside of Billions that were a distraction for me. I feel Billions should be able to stand alone, as Homeland did, without the viewer needing a lot of info from other areas to follow the story line. Also, why so much time spent on the scenes with Wendy and her rocket scientist friend? It felt like they were there only to keep Wendy front and center since she is no long with either Axe or Chuck. Additionally, I would have liked more background on Steph and does her comment about Axe’s new favorite mean her or Taylor; could be either? Where did Steph come from anyway and how and why has she almost replaced Wags? Perhaps the writers should have paid a bit more attention to threads that would be appeal to a broader range of viewers than it seems they have to date. Of course, it is too late to change for this season, but one can always hope. Naturally, I am eager for each Sunday night’s offering, but frankly, it is becoming only because the it is an opportunity to see the Ginger Prince in action. Please do continue the recaps though, otherwise this old brain will be even more annoyed.

    1. I think you’ll see from my earlier comments and from Damianista’s as well, this episode was a bit heavy with the references, and we both agree with you. I like to think I know a bit about music, but I have never heard of Wilco so that whole conversation made no sense to me. I have never seen Die Hard, or The Wire, or No Country for Old Men so some of the scenes went over my head as well. You are not alone!

      1. Oh, Lady Trader, if you have not seen The Wire – you should see it immediately. Like Elise in Short Squeeze says to Axe about Citizen Kane: “Doctor’s orders.” The Wire is probably the best thing that has ever happened to TV. It is BRILLIANT. I believe Billions creators are big fans, too! But, yes, I also thought this episode was a bit too overloaded with pop culture references. I personally enjoy them, I love researching them and connect the dots, but I also perfectly understand viewers may not want to do homework for a TV show 🙂

        I have no idea about Wilco. I love jazz and classical music 😀 But, I believe, the whole Wilco thing was about how to find and keep the perfect partner which resonated with Wendy. And as JaniaJania rightly points out the story could apply to both partners, personal and professional, for Wendy. I thought it was a great metaphor. This show loves metaphors, doesn’t it?

        1. I get what you are saying re the Wilco perfect partner convo. But couldn’t they have used the Beatles as well for that? Or the Stones? Lennon was never the same without McCartney, and vice versa. And Jagger without Richards is not the same. They could have made the same point, just used a band that most people know, and know the history of.

          Putting the Wire on my watchlist now Professor!!

          1. Okay I will play devil’s advocate and make a case for the writers: I think they needed a certain story where the Wilco analogy worked: Bennett (I still don’t know who he is) could not keep up on his own and overdosed and died. And Wilco went on but it was never the same. Beatles was disbanded. Even though Lennon and McCartney absolutely made each other better, they still kept up what they did and John died, of course, but under completely different circumstances.

            Yes, watch The Wire, it’s excellent. And it has a lot of Brits, too, as Americans: Dominic West. Idris Elba (he’s The Stringer in this week’s quote!)

          2. Love me some Idris Elba. Not only did I love him in Luther, he is part of the Marvel Universe (he’s been in the Thor movies), and he was in the last Star Trek movie!

          3. A towering presence of an actor. Didn’t know it was him in that Star Trek movie till afterwards, then, thought, of course, who else could TOWER like that. Have yet to watch Luther. Maybe sacrilege to admit in these pages, but I rather like him for the next Bond more than the other guys who may or may not be in the running for that role.;)

          4. Luther is a very gritty London detective series. I loved it, but I know some who thought it was too raw. I could see him as Bond as well, but if not, would love some Luther flims!

          5. “Lennon was never the same without McCartney” ??? Them’s fighting words, girlfriend. The Beatles were one thing, and Lennon himself was quite another. All four of them were so SO different, I thought, as they got older. It was only natural they went separate ways. But I LOVED solo Lennon. Solo McCartney was also good, but much more pop-py. I’ll meet you out back so we can duke this one out. 😀

          6. Oh snap! I didn’t know this was going to cause a rumble! In Brooklyn we usually meet at the playground to throw down, but out back is fine! 🙂

            I guess I just never liked Lennon on his own. I never liked Imagine, or any of this other solo work. Woman was OK. He just didn’t speak to me as a solo artist. I love McCartney, and have seen him many times in concert, but even his lyrics were never the same, since he didn’t have someone to push him out of his comfort zone.

            Anyway, Ringo is my favorite Beatle! How can you not love Octopus’s Garden! 🙂

          7. Isn’t it great Billions does THIS to us though? 😀 Gloves are out. GO!
            I guess everyone is sensitive about her favorite Beatle! And why not?
            If they do it with Wilco, we’ll do it with Beatles!!!
            My favorite Beatle is George. Something. <3

          8. Okay, our mutual dislike for Keri Russell can trump our very dissimilar appreciation for Lennon. This time. :/
            Lennon died on my birthday. Which is something else that endeared him to me I guess.

          9. Ditto’ing recommendation for The Wire. You have to be in a certain mindset for it and I wasn’t for a long time. I heard praise of it for years before I finally sat down to watch all of it. Really important historical series. That is to say, it touched on so many important things about life in America. The Great American TV series, akin to some of the great American novels. The poetry of it alone was really stunning at times.

          10. I have heard great things about the Wire. My partner loved it. It’s on my watchlist now!! 🙂

    2. I’m right with you on the density of this episode. And I pride myself on my knowledge of a certain generation’s worth of pop culture. The head writers of Billions are the same age as I am, and we all seem to have spent some of our lives on Long Island, plus it seems we read (or at least heard of) a lot of the same books (Ayn Rand etc.) and watched the same movies (Die Hard, Blade Runner etc.). But even given all that, I was flummoxed with a lot of the references for this episode. I guess we could have ignored all the stuff we didn’t get, but it certainly made it more fun to know. Sort of like the difference between playing checkers like an 8 year old does vs. the way the professionals sitting in parks play for money. But, in the end, understanding the references was a game of checkers. Understanding the characters and their motivations is the more fun and interesting chess game. 🙂
      Wendy’s scenes were all about her rejecting yet another job, telling us more about what she wants from her life’s work. I guess, if you’re a fan of Wendy’s like I am, it is good to see her independent of the men in her life.
      Interesting questions about Steph. To me, she’s the most weakly drawn character at this point. She seems to just be a body in the room that means compliance for Bobby. It’s the appearance of compliance, the appearance of never discussing “insider” things with his people when she is in the room. We need to see her really pulling Bobby back from a nearly illegal thing to actually understand her purpose. And would Bobby really even listen to her were it to come to that? I don’t know.
      And interesting to consider whether we would be watching were our prince not front and center. I think I would, as long as whomever else they could have possibly cast as Axe weren’t too much of a bloated scenery chewer. The stories are topical as heck in our neck of the political woods this year. And I rather like the challenge of working out the winding twisty bits. Thanks for continuing to come back and read my attempts to meet that challenge. 🙂

      1. That’s an interesting take on Wendy’s character. She is kinda one to keep him on the ‘right’ side of his own worst enemy, himself.

      1. Over on the Damian Lewis Yahoo web site we used to refer to him as the Ginger Prince. Somehow it still fits. I want to add that I love the Wags character and hope the writers were not in the process of phasing him out. Also have meant to add that I love Axe’s swagger. He is able to change his own being into something else when he immerses himself in a character. Could anyone imagine Brody walking like that; or even more unlikely, William Keane? With most “stars” I see the person beneath the character, which makes me lose interest. That is never the case with Damian, Ah, but I am preaching to the choir as usual.

        1. Your comment makes me very very VERY happy, Connie!

          Most actors have this “screen persona” that they always play the same role. I don’t want to name names even though I can very easily… The movie or the show changes as well as the name of the character they play, but they are still playing the same thing. I think it’s a Hollywood trap that Damian has never been lured in, thank God! In his recent SAG-AFTRA interview, he says having a “screen persona” is too big for his small head, and I love his small head for it. It is sometimes hard to believe it is the same actor that brings you Brody, Bobby, Keane, Soames, Winters, Charlie, Henry… and that is WHY I am as big a fan I am. Good looks do not hurt but it is first and foremost his incredible range as an actor that drives my admiration for Damian. He is a TRUE chameleon. Oh, how sweet it is to preach to the choir! <3

        2. Hi Connie,
          Yes, dear, you are preaching to the choir.:) I did a post before Billions even started, based on the previews alone, of how Damian had embodied the New Yorker swagger. I titled it Swagger of a Kingpin or some such thing. It’s so true, he takes the job more seriously it seems than a lot of actors do. Or else he’s just capable of more complete transformations. Now, this season of Billions, there isn’t even an ounce left of Brody or any other character he’s ever played in Bobby. The last scene of the confrontation, which I didn’t get to write about, even that scene where he’s sort of wounded and hurt (a condition in which we saw Brody OFTEN) and he lifts his head and his eyes are hard (also something we saw with Brody but in a totally different way, his was a military hardness), and there is just a nearly invisible change where he goes from powerless to rearing to fight. It is all TOTALLY Bobby Axelrod. The way he’s able to manage such minute changes in his performance is a wonder to behold. May we all keep beholding it for years to come. Amen.

          1. Damian Lewis Yahoo Group. Have you ever used Yahoo Groups in the past? Connie knows the history much better, of course, but I understand it was pretty active for years. I have been a member for a while but there have only been a handful of messages.

  5. I’ve watched the episode 4 times now, and I laugh harder at the tattoo scene every time I watch it. I can’t even.

    Wonderful write up!

    1. Thanks Hollie! Yes, Wendy’s expression in particular cracks me up….she’s like, do I really want to see this? wait, is that what I think it is? hm, okay. 🙂

  6. The Damian Lewis Yahoo group began in September 2001, right after the initial airing of Band of Brothers began on HBO. I joined but didn’t post for about a year, being very new to that sort of thing. Never had anything to do with running it, wouldn’t know how. We spent many entries pondering his birthday, his middle name and such, since very little was known about him. Only the members from England has heard of him before I believe. It was that group that engineered the infamous knickers package for one of his birthdays. There were a couple of other groups around then. One of them was “Damian’s Dominion” – mostly photos, less conversation, but nicely run. The name of the one other group escapes me. Unhappily, the Yahoo group is pretty much a dead issue. With only a couple of entries a month, if that, right now, it is a sharp contrast to early days when we had hundreds a month, even over 2000 one month. Hard to believe now, especially since Damian was very much an unknown then. It was what I would call a conversational site and the format was very much back and forth between all of us. Sad that it has virtually disappeared!
    On a totally different subject, when I write a reply such as this, I check off the boxes that should notify me of new comments and/or posts via email, but it is not happening. Anyone know why? Thanks.

    1. Hi Connie, can you check your spam folder? Those emails may have gone there. I know it because that sometimes happens with my email account. Let’s first check that; and if you don’t receive them at all, let’s see what could be the reason.

    2. JaniaJania – Thank you for the two links. Reading now.
      Damianista – I do not know about Yahoo! groups.
      Connie – Thank you for the explanation of the Yahoo! group, which only begs another question (haha). Infamous knickers package for his birthday?

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