Advance Warning: This will be a long review. I just wanted to touch upon everything that happened in the season premiere because it sets the tone for what is to come! And you know, I just love talking about this show. Hope you bear with me – ENJOY!
Massive thanks go to Showtime for kindly releasing the Billions Season 5 Premiere at midnight Saturday which gave me ample time to watch the episode two times, sit down and write.
They are back! And I now know why Brian Koppelman has called this season the most Billions-y Billions! One episode in and my mind is spinning.
Season 5 picks up only a few months after we left our characters. And while it is a wild ride with twists and turns, the main theme in the season opener is unity or lack thereof – in marriage, in friendship and in partnership. Axe and Wags bond over a road trip as things get tribal at Axe Capital. Wendy does her best to keep the work family intact as she is trying hard to get out of her marriage. Chuck gets into a new partnership with Kate. And as the Rhoadeses seem to be heading for divorce, Billions gives us hope that love still lives here with a couple being blessed in holy matrimony in the first seconds of the season premiere.
I called it the second I saw the following picture in the first official teaser.
Chuck Sr. is getting married to Roxanne in a lavishly decorated room complete with Moet & Chandon flowing, a band singing love songs, and Chuck Senior wearing a bolo necktie!
Chuck is at a table with his minions trying to endure inappropriate jokes about his failing marriage. Thankfully, a text from Kate saying she is here gives him an opportunity to leave the table and he catches his son Kevin drinking whiskey. While the young boy tells his dad that he finds it gross, he takes another sip once he makes sure his dad is out of sight. And Kate, who is here to get Chuck’s blessing for the crypto mine take down they are planning, is anxious to see the toast! 😀
And as it is always with Billions, the most shocking thing about the wedding is not the wedding but the fact that Chuck Sr’s ex wife and Chuck’s mother is attending the wedding to see her husband of more than five decades getting ready to live “under one blanket” with a woman that could be his granddaughter?!?!
As Wendy is sitting with his ex-mother-in-law trying to figure out why the fuck she is there and all she hears from her is that Chuck, the senior that is, always told her to soldier forth, and he was right. Wendy is certainly determined to soldier forth as well but on her own terms. And while she tells her ex-mother-in-law that maybe they need to put aside what the Rhoades men say and take control over their own lives, she cannot say no to the kind dance request by the bridegroom himself.
Who knew Chuck Senior had the Rudolph Valentino moves? 😀
And he can multi-task, too! Just after a deep dip with Wendy, Chuck Sr wears his family counselor hat:
“Go get some ass if that is what you want, go get it… and then re-up with the unit.”
And he does not show mercy to Chuck who arrives to save Wendy from him:
“You had your chance, Sonny…”
Sad but true. Chuck’s obsession with Jeffcoat and obliviousness towards Wendy brought them here. And while Chuck still remembers the good old days where they would get away from the wedding like McQueen and MacGraw in The Getaway…
…Wendy is thinking more Beatty and Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde. They would talk the talk about getting away but would never do it. And everyone knows how the movie ends.
Well, it turns out Kate is right about hanging out to see the toast! Chuck makes people nervous as he refers to his unconventional speeches (Overton Window anyone?) and that he does not feel like saying nice words about his dad tonight… and as I expect him to tell the crowd the notorious Pancake Eater story, he ends up celebrating Roxanne, the bride, for being able to turn his dad into a Build-a-Bear and who goes to Build-a-Bear for his young daughter!
Meanwhile, an entirely different “blessed” event is taking place somewhere off the Alaska – Canada highway. Axe and Wags are sitting in a sweat hut at a Shamanic Retreat – experiencing Ayahuasca, a psychedelic brew that Wags calls “nature’s antidepressant.” Suddenly feeling the urge to get out and vomit turns out to be an essential part of the experience and is considered physical and spiritual cleansing. I have to add that it is inevitable to think about Damian as Henry VIII as Axe and Wags, high on Ayahuasca, talk about kings and chopping heads.
The morning finds Chuck leaving Mistress Cassie’s dungeon – probably the only place he feels home these days. And when he turns on his phone, he finds zillions of messages from Wendy talking about Kevin who did not have a good night after a bit too much whiskey!
As Chuck arrives at Axe’s spare NYC apartment where Wendy is temporarily residing, he finds out that Wendy knows where he was and what he was doing last night. Because the BDSM stuff is the only thing for which Chuck lets himself completely go off the grid. And while Chuck tries to convince her that he is determined to change, Wendy is not buying it. The separation has convinced her they should get a divorce, and it would be great if Chuck had his office draft a public statement about their separation.
When confronted by Wendy as someone who is a prisoner of his appetites, Chuck defends himself by saying he lost his twin Northern stars – Justice and Wendy Rhoades – because he did not serve them right. But, hey, we all know who Chuck holds responsible for making him lose his bearings. Oh, and Chuck is working on it.
Kate finds out at the exact same time that we do that the crypto mine bust is all about Bobby Axelrod! They arrest the engineers at the mine for utility theft: they were using so much power for their computers and servers that the town had to go to the open market to buy more grid which drove the town’s rate up and the cost is incurred by the tax payers. Chuck knows some hedge fund magnates are involved and how about they start reviewing names alphabetically?
“Axelrod, Robert, for starters.”
Chuck does not have trouble in making the engineers sing since they are smart enough to see it is either Chuck’s way or the Highway in this room. Yes, Bobby Axelrod is one of the finance dudes involved but they never interacted with him directly. And, oh, it is the town supervisor who let them get away with the “ugly red megawatt.”
Kate asks Chuck to give her a ticket for a carousel not because she does not know the lyrics to Box Tops’ “Gimme a Ticket for an Aeroplane” but because she once again finds herself going in circles. She has moved from the US Attorney’s office to State AG office to be Chuck’s assistant – to succeed and get ready to take the first step towards being the new ‘Teddy Roosevelt”: A congressional run is in the cards for Kate next year. And she will stay with Chuck only if he lets her IN when information is concerned. As they reach a deal, me thinks this will be a delicious partnership.
While Axe and Wags are thousand of miles away riding their BMW R1250 on bumpy roads, taking in the views and getting high on ayahuasca, things are getting pretty tribal at Axe Capital. And the last incident – someone reversed the flush water in the unisex bathroom and sprayed a Mase capper?!?! WTF?!?! – urges Wendy to hold a town hall meeting.
Who do you think did THAT? I mean who reverses the water in the toilet flush to spray someone? I put my money on Dollar Bill, how about you? And hey, who else has noticed Spyros’ new haircut?
As Wendy declares it a safe space, Sara is the first to talk. As someone who went through Plebe Summer at the Naval Academy, she finds Axe cappers utterly hostile and unprofessional. And I would not believe it if I did not hear it from Ben and Tuk, but it seems the condescending attitude from the Mase Cap quants is equally unprofessional. Tensions escalate quickly and as Bill and Maffee are about to have yet another boxing match, Wendy adjourns the meeting and assigns a homework to her first graders 😀 She knows the unity will be sustainable only with the cooperation of team leaders but Axe is away and Taylor believes it’s Axe’s “Plug Uglies” who create the toxic environment in the office.
It is Lauren who provides the solution! As Wendy kindly asks Lauren, who has gossip column experience, if she could help with drafting a public statement about her separation from Chuck and make it go to the right people in the right way, she also talks to Lauren about the tribal division at the office. According to Lauren, it is fun that is lacking here. She talks about the stories she has hears about the old Axe Capital where anything could happen anytime – from eating contests and body sushi to the impromptu trips to Amsterdam for frites and space cakes (cakes made with marijuana in them) from The Bulldog. Why not make Axe Capital once again an exciting and fun workplace? Wendy is on it.
As Axe and Wags “graduate” from their Ayahuasca Retreat (filed under things that I did not know existed before Billions and you can read a personal account of a real life Ayahuasca Retreat here) they are on their bikes with 3,400 miles more to go. And as they stop to take in the beautiful views (of upstate New York masquerading as Alaska – Canada highway) Axe confides in Wags that he sees the value in ayahuasca – especially the clarity and the perspective it provides one with but he did not like what he saw.
This reminds me of Roger Sterling in Mad Men Season 5 Episode 6 Far Away Places where Roger and his wife Jane try LSD which changes their outlook on life and makes them have an honest conversation about their marriage.
Can Bobby Axelrod make a drastic change in his life?
Maybe one day, but not today.
Axe is determined to complete the road trip when Wags first mentions an invitation from Vanity Fair to be on the cover of their “New Decas” issue. Yet he turns 180 degrees when Wags teases that the magazine will then go with someone else for the cover – maybe Mike Prince?
And, lo and behold, Axe, with a haircut and clean shaven, enters the warehouse where the photo shoot will take place with Wags and Wendy only to find out that several other deca-billionaires are in the room! While Axe believes this photo shoot means all the people in the room are more or less equal and this is not the message he wants to convey to his investors, Wendy convinces him that his posture, the way he sets his eyes and the individual interview she will prepare him for in a 5-minute power session will make him stand out.
As they are getting ready to psychologically fuck the others so they look shaky in the photo, the guy thanks to whom Axe and Wags cut their road trip short, makes his entrance.
Meet Mike “Thomas Aquinas” Prince. Yes, really! Mike, exactly like his father and his father before him, is the namesake of the Catholic Saint according to whom charity is a true requirement for happiness, and it is the man’s last goal.
As they stand next to each other, front and center, in the photo shoot (I have to note the cameos by the magazine editor-in-chief Radhika Jones and the acclaimed photographer Mark Seliger), Axe and Prince constantly tease each other. And while Prince talks about his basketball coach at high school, being part of a team and so on, Axe sees through him, and so do I. A guy who names his annual conference after himself? Far too pretentious for my taste.
As soon as the group shoot is over, Axe gets a phone call about the crypto mine bust so he cannot stay for the interview or the individual portrait. And it is quite a surprise when Wags, Victor and Dollar Bill inform him that it is not the US attorney or the District Attorney that busted the crypto mine. It is Axe’s BFF Chuck Rhoades! As Axe tells his minions to get good lawyers for their men and make them understand they have to stand up to State AG, he gives a call to his BFF only to be able to make an appointment for tomorrow because Chuck is in the middle of something…
…actually tightening the Peruvian Necktie he has ready for Axe. Chuck enters Rent Bike NYC to find Taylor swimming in place. We find out that Chuck learnt about the crypto mine from Taylor but still does not have enough evidence to tie Axe to the mine. So he now needs Taylor to hear all the whispers at Axe Capital. While they tell Lauren, who gave them a free pass to All The Rage (a Rage Room where people break things to blow off steam) earlier in the episode that they are doing fine, it takes one quick look at Taylor’s face to understand the kind of pressure they are operating under.
Axe visits Wendy in her office to share the experience he had under ayahuasca. We find out that Axe was happy like a guy who randomly finds a $20 on the street corner for a flicker of time the day he became a billionaire. And as he gazed over his life from whatever angle he could under ayahuasca, he only saw ugliness. He does not feel like he won, and he does not know if one can win. Wendy’s diagnosis is that Axe has never let himself feel he has won thinking he may pause or stop.
“You win only when you decide you’ve won.”
Will Bobby Axelrod ever decide he has won?
Maybe one day, but not today.
As Axe gets back to his office in anticipation of seeing himself on Vanity Fair cover, the issue Helena brings is last month’s… But guess what it still has something in it that Axe wants to try!
What the fuck? So will Wags just call this woman and tell her Bobby Axelrod would love to enjoy her company?!?! Or is it even more straightforward, something like “Hi honey, Bobby Axelrod, yes, the deca-billionaire, wants to try you.” As I try to recover from this shock, I really think Axe is desperate to make himself feel happy!
It is Axe and Wags’ turn to be shocked when Vanity Fair drops its latest issue with a solo cover of Mike Prince! And not just that but Prince, in his interview with the magazine, while praising Axe as a legend, adds that the legends’ value is in the stories. Prince himself is not ready for a story yet because he is the future – an impact investor who does not invest only for profits but also for the profitability of the mankind.
And if Prince is the future, Axe is nothing but yesterday’s news! OUCH this should hurt bad that Axe looks like he can use an evening at The Rage Room! Yet, he turns down Victor’s offer to check for weaknesses in Prince’s companies. He finds Prince TBTFW – a first for Axe when another hedge-funder is concerned! But determined to beat Prince at his own home, Axe gives him a call to congratulate the “New Deca” for the solo cover as well as accepting his earlier invitation to a fireside chat at “The Mike.”
If you have been reading my recaps for some time, you know I do not see eye to eye with Axe most of the time but I give it to him that he is not fake. He is who he is and he does not pretend that he is someone else. Mike Prince, on the other hansd, comes across as totally fake! He talks about being part of a team, but then I wonder how much he has paid to make that last “s” go away from “The New Decas” so he makes the solo cover of Vanity Fair. His namesake is rolling in his grave! And I am sure they were already working on it as Prince’s right-wing man Scooter told Wags at the photo shoot that solo cover was too much attention and they did not want that… I totally agree with Axe that this guy would find a way to be proud if he carried the name of Saint Blaise the patron saint of those who suffer from throat diseases. After all, wouldn’t protection against throat diseases be good for the profitability of mankind? 😀
Wendy’s solution to the tribal conflict at Axe Capital arrives in the form of one Becky Lynch aka The Man who gives us the second “pretend we’re having an argument” moment in Billions!
The way Billions writers use of The Man’s cameo is very clever. The Man is honest about how she does not like some of the women she has to fight and sometimes needs to take a beating from because she is part of a bigger family! So it makes sense that she makes someone else look good for the sake of the whole operation. Like she just did for Wendy!
One company. One team. One family.
And that is, ladies and gentlemen, why Wendy Rhoades is the spirit animal of Axe Capital. Even Taylor is moved enough to thank Dr. Mojo for the gesture – only to hear back that maybe it is time for them to share with Axe why they are here. Yikes!
Now that they know Wendy knows they are not at Axe Capital because Axe and Chuck forced them to, the optimal play for Taylor is to come out and tell the boss they are here as Chuck’s operative. Axe is not surprised but he believes his and Taylor’s goals are aligned. Taylor needs to be here at Axe Capital to feel alive – they need that feeling when they see something no one else can see and generate profit. And once he “sees” that Taylor is IN, Axe asks them how he should deal with Chuck: Taylor’s idea is for Axe to remind Chuck that it is in his best interest to stay friends with Axe.
Chuck looks pathetic with his guacamole and chips working away on the kitchen island before a notification pops up on his screen…
…and makes him to leave an utterly ridiculous voice mail for Wendy. Get a grip, man, you were the one who took a unilateral action and made your unusual sex life public! Even though I supported it, and I still do, Wendy is the last person you can question when it comes to unilateral actions.
And later a knock on the door does not only bring Axe but also, our own Gingersnap called this, the Churchill’s WWII first editions that Axe bought along with all the first editions on the market in Season 2 Episode 4 The Oath (when the NFL said “thanks, but no thanks” to Axe’s bid to buy a football team and Chuck was the only person Axe held responsible for this!) Oh, and it seems Chuck and I have something in common: I smell books, too and my favorite smell is that of a real bookstore.
The books should remind Chuck of the days he messed with Axe but Axe prefers to personally remind him that the world was a “very hot” and a “very uncomfortable” place when they were not friends. And maybe Chuck could give a hand to keep it cool by dropping the “crypto mine” case?
Trust is the most valuable currency in Billions. I do not think Axe believes a word of what Chuck is telling him – that the best he can do is to have a civil case rather than a criminal case blah blah blah. I am not sure if Axe really trusts Taylor or just pretends that he does, either. And Chuck, whose smartest option is to have Kate on his side, honors the deal he has made with her and meets Kate at 4 Charles Prime Rib: Taylor should have informed Axe about their partnership, Axe would not personally deliver his Churchills otherwise. So they need to stay friends with Axe until the very moment they drop him.
Taylor, who is not able to live with the pressure brewing in them anymore, takes Lauren’s advice to spend an evening in the Rage Room. This hints to me that Taylor is still playing the game, their own. While their optimal play was to come out to Axe, this does not necessarily mean they will not work to take him down, with or without Chuck. They may be trying to make Axe trust them so they can have access to more information but they may also be trying to have Axe go at Chuck. And as they smash stuff with the baseball bat, the only thing that comes to my mind is Robert De Niro as Al Capone, in The Untouchables smashing the head of one of his men with a baseball bat. I wonder who Taylor has in mind as they hit left and right in the rage room.