Billions is back and so is our MVP series! Fun times were had awarding our Most Valuable Players for the Billions season seven premiere, but if you’re new around here, let me explain. Our series compilation, the ‘Billions MVP Fanbook,’ commemorates all those in honor of achievement for the utmost brazen, uber shameless, ultra scheming, unmatched bad asses from the episode – from sports references, music and tasty food to pop culture remarks, shocking twists and ultimate paybacks.
Let’s dive in. Here are the Billions MVP awards for Season 7, Episode 1, “Tower of London.”
Most Apt and Cracking Tune of the Episode – London Calling by the Clash. This song is one of my faves from the 80’s (yet released in 1979) and perfectly soundtracked to play in the final scene that takes place outside the Tower of London (episode title namesake). It’s the first time we see Damian Lewis as Axe since season five and we see him in none other than Damian’s homeland of London (see what I did there, all you Homeland fans). Axe is being summoned from the underworld and to test if the waters are safe and true, he sends signals through his trading style that only Mafee would recognize, as if London is calling to faraway New York. Wendy, with the help of Wags and Taylor, needs to enlist Axe to battle a foe, which is amplified in the lyrics:
“London calling to the faraway towns
Now war is declared and battle come down
London calling to the underworld
Come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls”
Badass Wardrobe – Wendy takes the award. She sets the battle tone of the entire season in just the opening scene of the first episode as she walks to work on the streets of New York in a bruised-up garb of black and blue to the fitting anthem Because I’m Awesome by the Dollyrots.
The writers and directors are telling us she’s the leader of the battle this season. I’ve cherry-picked the lyrics:
“I’ve got the new style, uh oh
And I’m walking right down your street
I’m on your speed dial, you know
The one everyone wants to meet
I’m a leader, I’m a winner, and I’m cleaner
‘Cause I’m awesome
I don’t need you ’cause I’m neato and I beat you
They say I’m gifted, uh huh
Well I’m a certified prodigy
I’m gonna own you, uh huh
I’m gonna bring you to your knees”
Wicked Easter Egg – Welcome to Area 51! Whether the writers/directors/showrunners meant to portray this or not, we see Wendy enter the building’s lobby and go up the elevator to floor 51 to Mike Prince Capital. Will MPC become more like Paradise Ranch with layers of restricted access, top secret operations, intense secrecy, classified documents and confidential informants?
Superb Pop Culture Reference – Mike Prince claimed he wants Wendy to be the “Dave Grohl to his Kurt Cobain.” Ahhh…Dave Grohl, loyal and true. I’m a HUGE Grohl fan and have followed him from drumming in Nirvana to frontman of Foo Fighters. I love everything he stands for, whether it’s music without autotune in order to create a more pure sound that’s not open to outside tampering to the countless music contributions and projects he’s been a part of. To name a few: his work with Brian May of Queen, recreation of Beatles music for a movie, playing with David Bowie and Paul McCartney. On a global scale he encourages kids and young adults to play music, whether it’s his daughter-musician Violet or participating in a drum battle with then 10-year-old YouTube drumming celebrity Nandi Bushell. Watch Dave guide Shane Hawkins (his late band member Taylor Hawkins’ son) on the drums at the MusiCares x Taylor Hawkins benefit and tribute concert in late 2022.
Dave Grohl is “my hero….”
Dave and his mother released the documentary From Cradle to Stage (2021) that explored relationships between musical artists and their mothers including Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons, Pharrell Williams, Miranda Lambert, Brandi Carlile, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Geddy Lee of Rush. Not to mention directing the documentary Sonic Highways that chronicled his band recording an album across 8 different American cities and recording studios, my favorite being the New Orleans episode where he includes such details as the segregation laws that delayed – by several years – George Wein’s founding of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
But the crème de la crème was Dave’s performance with Trombone Shorty. I even tweeted to Damian about it.
Common Threads – There are two. Leave it to the Billions writers to run a common theme throughout the entire run of the series. During his court appearance Chuck takes us back to season 4 when he tells the Judge, “You’re treating me like some kind of lamster!” Lamster was the title of episode 11 in season 4 when Charles Sr. was on the lam after discovering his home was bugged. Jock Jeffcoat had the FBI detain Charles Sr. so he could question him about who secured the land deal for his development project. Now, stay with me here. Why would Billions want to go out of its way to mention the word “lamster?” Because as we see in next week’s promo trailer, Jock Jeffcoat is back when Chuck visits him in prison! “Howdy partner…”
Then there’s the mafia thread we’ve seen throughout the entire series, from real to literary, and this episode is no different. First Taylor accuses Kate of getting buddy-buddy with Prince like lawyer and mobster “Cutler and Gotti.” Then Prince refers to Chuck as Eliot Ness, the American prohibition agent who helped bring down Chicago mobster Al Capone. Not to mention Sopranos, Sopranos, Sopranos, oh my…from Chuck and Dave’s clandestine meeting spot at the cemetery in the Rhoades family mausoleum, like “Uncle Junior’s doctor office” to Charles Sr. calling Chuck “Junior” at the restaurant (when has he ever done that?).
Brilliant Nickname – Award goes to Mafee for referring to his former boss as ‘Big Red’ when he spots Axe’s trading style – fast, aggressive and sure-footed. (New York Times refers to Bobby Axelrod as “a certain red-headed maniac” lol)
Uber Tricky Foreshadowing – During flashes of news bulletins we see a meteorologist forecast that hurricane Nicole made landfall in Vero Beach, FL. As we all know hurricane storms are named following an alphabetical system of order. So if storm “N” (Nicole) is about to land, the next hurricane is named “O,” “P,” and so on. And what’s on the horizon? That would be Hurricane Rosie, the title of episode 4 coming up in three weeks! Now I’m not sure “Rosie” is a literal hurricane, because it could also be a person in the Billions world. But nonetheless it’s pretty cool to see little teasers like this. But the Florida hurricane could also be a metaphor for the State’s recent political climate of anti-woke bills, anti-trans laws, abortion bans, AP Psych course ban, book bans, etc.
Overall Episode MVP – Dollar Bill, the renegade and gunslinger himself! He has the best scenes and the best lines. He’s happy “like a pig in shit” working in his bathrobe from his garage that’s set-up with a popcorn machine, a bar with a neon green Heineken sign and Napster-size speakers amongst a motorcycle and various sporting and exercise equipment. It’s evident he ‘gets his kicks, on route 66’ with his US Route 66 sign hanging on the wall. He says things like “bullshizzle” and “I gotta nail the doggie door shut” when Taylor and Philip show up, and refers to Prince as the alien “Great Gazoo.” LOL! (alien reference again, see Area 51 above). Flash forward and he’s back at MPC taping his dollar bill to the bottom of Bloomberg, changing out the bathrobe for his signature monogrammed fleece and screaming “Alright you motherfuckers! When that bell rings I’m comin’ outta the gates like I ain’t been fed for a week. Better try and stay with me or get ready to look real fuckin’ bad come comp time.”
Best Cinematography – Shoutout to Director Darren Grant. What beautiful framing of Trinity Church in the distance on Broadway when Chuck and Dave meet outside of Federal Hall on Wall Street, encircled by troopers.
Overall MVP of the Episode: Chuck Rhoades. In the blink of an eye, Chuck initiates a PR campaign that restores his reputation as “man of the people.” I really think Chuck himself wrote both the newspaper article and Porter’s monologue to the State AG Dave Mahar. And overnight he becomes a folk hero.
All networks report about him, students are protesting for his release in front of the State AG offices, and moreover there’s support pouring in from the likes of Warren, Sanders and AOC! Even the White House is paying attention! And his kids are very happy to be seen with him in public now.
Genius Geopolitical Gainer: Bobby Axelrod. It turns out Bobby is also on his way to become a folk hero of sorts!
In the early days of the Ukraine – Russia war, when Ukraine needed Javelin anti-tanks and some other stuff, the Western governments could not provide them immediately. So Bobby structured a deal and arranged a guy, who should be Grigor Andolov, to find and deliver the actual arms. This bought our guy a lot of good will across the continent, EU and in the UK. Well, I said it before and I will say it again. Where everyone else sees a disaster, Bobby Axelrod sees opportunity. And voila!
Biggest Enigma: Kate Sacker. While I typically understand the way Billions characters think, Kate has been an enigma to me. She is typically the smartest person in the room, super careful about keeping her reputation intact, and has strong political ambitions.
Thus, given that she knows about Prince’s untaxed billions in crypto, it is hard to believe Kate stays close to Mike Prince. Could it be that she is really tempted by the access to power she will have should Prince become thee POTUS? Or could Taylor and Philip be right that Kate has formed a bond with Prince along the likes of Gotti and Cutler or Von Bulow and Dershowitz (famous defendants and criminal defense lawyers that formed a bond) in that interrogation room? Or could it be that she is working under cover to take down Prince which could pave the road big time for her political career.
The ‘No Way Jose’ Award: I am giving this unique award to Mike Prince’s presidential campaign. Prince calling Chuck “pathologic” gives me the giggles because Prince himself is a true pathological case! His God-complex makes Axe and Chuck look like humble people.
He talks about a constitutional republic in 2023 and believes that politics went wrong when politicians thought they had to listen to people! Him quoting from Hitler’s Munich speech in 1929 attests further to his dangerous dictatorial tendencies.
Creepiest Meeting Place: The Rhoades Family Mausoleum!
Well, I certainly understand Chuck prefers to meet with Dave somewhere nobody can see and hear them but still…
…how creepy it is that Chuck introduces Dave to his great grandfather Elijah, his wife Tig, grandpa Crawford and uncle Cleveland (I wonder if he’s the one who took Chuck to the prostitutes for his first sexual experience) as well as his own eternal resting place! Creepy. VERY CREEPY.
Best Shot Put Award: I hate giving anything to Mike Prince, but throwing that computer through Wendy’s glass wall and shattering it was pretty awesome (he’s still a psycho, but it was cool, in a crazy sort of way).
The Fred Flintstone Award: When Wags compares himself to a “caveman hiding from a dinosaur” the first image that popped into my head was everybody’s favorite caveman, Fred Flintstone. I could definitely see Wags in the most environmentally friendly automobile ordering that super rack of ribs!
The “It’s Good to Be King” Award: Is there any other way to welcome back The King than at the Tower of London? The site where kings would stay the night before their coronation, and also the site of many a beheading. And, having that scene shot at night, with a gorgeous background of Tower Bridge was pure magic!
Most Confused Person in the Room Award: This auspicious award I’m going to give to – Me! I did not get a chance to watch S6 in order to catch up, so I had so many questions! (I’ll get into that more on Friday “From the Trader’s Desk”) Thank goodness Damianista published her fantastic recap which filled in some of the blanks.
The TGIF Award: If you subscribe to Showtime through Paramount Plus, you get to watch the episode two days early on Friday! I think I can speak for those of us here who write our weekly posts, having that extra two days is priceless!
Best Poker Face: Wendy Rhoades
How did she do it? How did she stand across from Mike Prince and leave him thinking she was on his side? It had to be a combination of every skill she’s got. She kept a cool head, doled out some of that patented Wendy Rhoades killer observation and motivational language, and left Mike thinking he really is gonna be the guy to lead the free world. But meanwhile we all know how she REALLY felt.
And rightly so. No one who quotes a certain German dictator deserves that seat.
Team Player: Wags
Michael Wagner doesn’t strike me as a guy who plays well with others. We’ve seen him go 10 toes down with someone over sushi, fer’ chrissakes!
But this episode showed him palling around the office like the oldest of buds with Mike Prince’s right-hand man. The united front he presented seemed completely out of character for him. Who is this guy? Has Prince tamed our wildman? Or is this a situation, like with Wendy, where everyone is just playing their part?
Geekiest Reference: Bobby Axelrod
A lot of the movie and pop culture references in this show go right over my head. Some are obscure but interesting enough to warrant a googling by me, and some land so close to home that I pull a Steve Rogers and find myself shouting “I understood that reference!” (See, a geeky reference inside an entry about geeky references? It’s geeky reference-ception!)
Is a joke about inception also a geeky joke? ANYHOW!
So hearing Bobby refer to himself as Han Solo, to end an already fantastic episode, was just the sort of thing my geeky heart needed. Is Bobby the stuck up, half-witted, scruffy looking nerf herder to Wendy’s Princess Leia? I’m sure he’d object to being called scruffy looking, that’s for sure 🙂
Ego Trip Award – Silver Medal – Chuck Rhoades – Dave had a plan, and Dave has shown that she knows what she’s doing. But of course no one is allowed to be more clever than Chuck, so he had to go undermine it. He is “supposed to be the one who brings Mike Prince down”! WTF?? Nice ego Chuck – how about just letting Justice prevail? No – you have to be the one who puts the nail in the coffin? Good for Sacker and everyone else who leaves – they could’ve made Chuck at least a passing protagonist if they wanted by not letting him be so comically egotistical, but they couldn’t do that. Sigh.
Ego Trip Award – Gold Medal – Mike Prince – Duh. This one is too easy -and that’s the problem. When they first introduced us to Prince in Season 5, he was a billionaire yes, and full of himself, sure. And maybe he wasn’t quite as honest with himself as Axe was “I am a monster” – but he wasn’t off the deep end like he is being portrayed now. What happened to the guy who wanted input from everyone when he took over Axe Cap to start season 6? Now he doesn’t want to hear of anything the people want to say? Everyone is beneath him? Even adversaries like Rhoades and Axe – lesser Caesars? Even Mark Cuban? They want us to hate him so bad they are making his character a caricature instead. Ease up writers – let us decide for ourselves whose team we are one. (Well, I know whose team everyone else on this site is on – but I’m thinking of the other fans out there. 🙂
Longest Tease Award – So the opening bit of Prince throwing the computer through the window into Wendy’s office is 5 months in the future. Usually when they use such a plot device the rest of the episode is used to get caught up to that point – but we are apparently nowhere near that. So how long does this prequel last? 3 episodes? 4? 5?
Most Enjoyable Return – Absolutely getting Dollar Bill back on the floor with the others is where he belongs. His character was wasted last year. But where was Spyros when Bill came back? How could he not be there? It’s as if they completely forget about the bromance those two had which was must-see-tv for the run it had. They supposedly had this great scene that was lost due to the rewrites they needed to do for COVID, and now it seems we won’t see them again together at all, which is too bad. (Honorary shout-out to Orrin Bach returning – he looks like he has slimmed down – would love to see more of him – he was a great character.)
Best Song Lists – One thing the show continues to do well is incorporate songs into their scenes that perfectly match the scene. “Renegade” for Dollar Bill, “London Calling” for Bobby – that has always been a plus for them – something I always look forward to – as well as hearing some songs I never would have heard before.
The Please Just Stop Request – Enough with the cultural references. Seriously. Every character does them now. This week it was Lucien Porter with the BB King reference. Really? This guy referencing BB King? Forced. Completely forced and unnecessary. Back when they show was finding its form it was mostly Wags who did them, and Chuck as well. And they were clever and they were funny and interesting and they worked. But now, it is seriously every scene that has them and just about every character has to deliver one. It’s as if the writers have a list of references they want to get into the show each week and so they figure out a way to get them in, whether it makes sense or is consistent with the character or not. It has completely jumped the shark for me at this point. I wish they would stop and just focus on the writing. They do so much that is so clever – I totally missed Chuck setting up that reporter on Dave initially – but when it became clear, it reminded me of how the writing is so good at having levels to it. They should keep doing that – and stop with the culture lessons – a couple a show is fine – but keep it to certain characters – make it part of their persona – it shouldn’t be part of everyone’s schtick. It’s too much and loses its luster when they do that. I don’t know that I can handle 11 more episodes of trying to figure out what these references are each time.