In one of the best opening scenes in Billions, Robert and Charles, as they call each other, meet at an airport in Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands) in Iceland and set the tone for the episode. This one is all about respecting your adversary. As Grigor Andolov rightly points out one should avadversary is the one that knows about your abilities the most. And the title of the episode is a clear tribute to President Zelensky and the people of Ukraine to whose resilience and determination Russian President Vadimir Putin has had zero respect whatsoever.
So we seriously missed Robert and Charles’ niceties, didn’t we?
Chuck: I always wanted to see Vestmannaeyjar in the dark.
Axe: Best way for a newly installed U.S. attorney not to be tracked.
Chuck: And for an international fugitive not to be extradited.
Axe: Something for everyone.
It turns out that Axe has invited Chuck to Iceland to ask for a personal favor. It is a difficult matter but he is confident that Chuck can do it. And, honestly, I do not think Chuck has come all the way to Iceland just because Wendy is very persuasive but because: first he is very curious about what his long-time nemesis will ask him for, and second also because he is flattered – which becomes obvious over the episode – that Axe asks HIM for a personal favor!
We actually kind of knew that it is Grigor Andolov that Axe partnered with to provide weapons for Ukraine. And here he is in a room with Axe and a few other Russian oligarchs watching a thank you video from Zelesky aka “the Man in the Olive Drab T-Shirt” for the support they gave to Ukranian defense forces. Once the other oligarchs leave the room, Grigor sits next to Axe. He is very straightforward with his demands and threats. A number of oligarchs who are against Putin’s policies are dead (and the people Andolov mentions were all found dead in apparent suicides! Read about Menlikov and Protosenya here.)
Andolov wants to live so he wants to be as far away from the man who makes Joseph Stalin look like Joan Baez! He asks Axe to help him get back to the U.S. In return, he can get him tickets for the Bolshoi ballet or make sure he keeps walking freely in Europe. While Axe tries to downplay the threat, Andolov is very serious. So Axe is on it.
While Chuck is concerned about the reason Grigor wants to return to the US if it is for some kind of narcotics deal or to mess with the next election, Axe explains: Grigor’s wife is still in New York. She is suing for divorce on the basis of abandonment. And if Andolov cannot show up at court, the court will make default judgment for billions of dollars!
And knowing that Chuck may not want to do this personal favor for him, Axe talks about the “old combatants’ code” in the example of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, one of the biggest rivalries in the sports history. And remember Axe and Chuck likened their rivalry to that of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in Season 5 Episode 12 No Direction Home.
And now Axe is telling Chuck that when Ali was broke and needed help, Frazier hauled him into his limo and gave him a thousand dollars in cash. Yes, Axe is doing well enough to have Chuck travel on his new G800 but this one is very important – I mean this is about the man’s physical safety! More importantly, Axe adds, if Chuck helps him, he will owe Chuck a debt and will be there for him whenever Chuck needs him. And that is, ladies and gentlemen, what seals the deal right there and then. Chuck will do it but only in his own special way 🙂
Ira finds a commodity fraud case in the oil industry that they can use Andolov as an expert witness. However, bringing Andolov to the US as an expert witness is a complex federal matter that gets Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security as well as Governor Sweeney, State AG Dave Mahar and the Solicitor General De Giulio involved in it.
Chuck also finds out from Ira that Grigor’s wife has a backer – Todd Krakow, not only a billionaire hedge-funder but also the former Treasury Secretary of the United States! And as word about Andolov spreads in political circles, Chuck finds Krakow himself in his office. And it doesn’t take long for Chuck to figure out that Krakow is not only bankrolling Andolov’s wife but he is sleeping with her!
“Oksana is a very soulful woman.”
I’m still giggling!
Chuck asks help from his special advisor Paul “Triple H” Levesque an expert on “double turn” in professional wrestling! Here is his wise advice:
“You let the heel (a wrestler who portrays himself as “a villain” come in and get the heat from the crowd and then your babyface (“the fan favorite”) comes and gets the pop.”
Chuck brings in his special advisor to the meeting with the governor, the state AG and Solicitor General all of who are completely against bringing Andolov back to the US as an expert witness. And, lo and behold, they all leave the room agreeing to Chuck’s plan.
So… Grigor comes back to the US and performs in the two act play he and Chuck have written in collaboration. In the first act, Andolov takes care of personal business: He meets Krakow to give him the special gift he has brought for him: Designer-made Gossamer wings which Krakow may consider test-piloting from his 29th floor apartment window. YIKES! I am surprised that Krakow does not pee himself right there and then. Because do you know how many people have died falling from windows in Russia? It is Putin’s signature, he wants people to know who did it. I do not think he makes Stalin look like Joan Baez but he is as cruel and crazy. Anyways, Krakow gets the message. The relationship between him and the soulful Oksana is over.
Then he successfully performs in Act II that Chuck has written for him. As the FBI makes a show of arresting him in the middle of the night, Andolov responds with a bigger show in his T-Shirt with Putin riding on a bear, the national symbol of Russia! And he delivers his lines seamlessly:
“I am a citizen of the greatest nation in the history of the world, led by the greatest leader.”
Perfect. Something for everyone! Andolov is now a Kremlin favorite, and Chuck, De Giulio, Mahar and Sweeney are up there on the podium bragging about how they got Andolov who was trying to steal sensitive military technology for his country. Whaaaaaaa? I think, come election year, the governor and the state AG are safe! And Krakow? He should be grateful he is still breathing.
So Chuck’s plan has convinced even Governor Sweeney who said earlier that Krakow is his biggest donor! Isn’t it frustrating that Wall Street and lobbies, by giving millions of dollars to political campaigns, basically, hold politics hostage? Both major parties receive a lot of money from rich people and interest groups so that they owe them and promote their agendas. So, come to think of it, a fresh face, someone that is distant from both parties, who can hard question, can say things that the two major parties in the system cannot say, could be an ideal candidate.
So how about Mike Prince?
I have read comments on different social media platforms where some viewers do not understand why several characters are against Prince running as a presidential candidate. This shows me that, unfortunately, some undemocratic tendencies and practices have been normalized in American democracy. Mike Prince quoted from Hitler’s 1929 Munich speech in Episode 1 Tower of London. Mike Prince told Wendy that the founding fathers never intended to establish a democracy but a constitutional republic, and that politics in the US went downhill when politicians decided they had to listen to people in Episode 2 Original Sin. Mike Prince promised his Taiwanese business partner special trade privileges as soon as he is in the Oval office in Episode 4 Hurricane Rosie. If you think this kind of person can be the POTUS, then vote for him. I would never vote for someone that has a clear authoritarian agenda.
Yet he is determined to be the next president of the US. Prince is frustrated that the party primaries are getting all the attention and his new plan, inspired by Ross Perot in 1992, is to buy TV time from all major networks and talk to the American people directly about who he is and what he is standing for. And as he does this, his legal advisor Kate takes care of the “equal time” issue they may face. Kate basically buys ads on major TV networks in a way that if another candidate wants to buy TV time like Prince within a week, they cannot because there is no time left! I know I am repeating myself but this is something we should all think about as citizens: Money holds politics hostage in this country.
Wendy knows that if Prince gets to his speech confident, he will get what he wants in the public opinion polls. So, to demoralize him, she comes up with a project that Bradford Luke does not particularly like. In Wendy’s opinion, if Prince want to take inventory, he should ask for honest feedback from his employees at MPC. The survey obviously does not work when they do it survey with Prince and Bradford in the room since the employees naturally see this as some kind of “loyalty test.” Answers vary from Tuk’s “I don’t deserve you” (Tuk) to Dollar Bill’s “Mike, you’re a combination of Benjamin Graham and fucking Hal from Space Odyssey” to Rian’s FREE PASS.
If this was Axe, he would tell his employees that his cholesterol is high enough that they should stop buttering up his ass – like he did in Season 1 Episode 1: The Pilot. But Prince who genuinely believes he is LOVED is very happy with the survey result that Wendy needs to intervene. This is how Vietnams happen, she says, when politicians are detached from the reality. And when they repeat the survey with complete anonymity, the results are completely different varying from “He loves himself” to “Mother Teresa of Wall Street” to “He loves the smell of his own farts.”
Prince is in the mindset where Wendy wants him now. He thinks his own people can lie to him and mock him. He feels like Lex Luthor, the super villain that hates Superman! Well, there exist some physical similarities…
One person Wendy could not anticipate intervening is Andy. She shows up and wakes Prince, who is still talking about how much he was loved by his team members at Indiana A&M, from his sweet dreams with her strong words.
“If we’re really taking inventory, some of them hated your guts. Until you led them to some wins… Then they loved you. Team was all about you. Always. You always had the ball, made your shots or dished it. They had to learn that path to glory ran through you.”
When the couple arrives at the studio for Prince’s talk, Prince is grateful to Wendy for putting him back together while Andy says that she, Andy, collected the pieces Wendy kicked across the floor and put him back together. Hmmm. Well, I remember Lara did not like Wendy much, either 🙂 This is a relationship to keep an eye on as the one between Wendy and Bradford Luke. Bradford seems to finally become a true believer in Wendy’s abilities and there is a bond forming between them.
As Prince makes his anticipated TV speech separating himself from the parties and the broken system and trends on social media platforms and pundits on both sides singing his praises, one unhappy viewer is Chuck. And Prince makes him think of the man who now owes him a favor.
Chuck thanks Axe for making him better and sharper in their rivalry. He adds that some day soon Axe should expect an ask from him… I cannot wait for Axe’s BIG return in a few weeks!
One storyline that has not been compelling for me this week is that of Kate’s. And this hints that the story is way more complex than it seems.
When Wendy says they need to get rid of Kate since she is very effective in helping Prince, Wags takes on the responsibility to convince Kate that it staying at MPC would not work in her favor if she still planned to run for Congress. Since Mike is running as an independent candidate, why would the two major parties nominate Kate, someone so close to Prince?
Kate is not naive. And she is smart as hell. There is NO WAY Kate has not thought about this or other potential scenarios. And if she is still staying, she has a plan. And here is what I believe Kate’s plan is: Kate already knows about Prince and his shady ways, his untaxed billions in crypto, and I think her plan is to take down Prince as a presidential candidate, become a public hero, and both parties knocking on her door to ask her to be their nominee for Congress. Yet, Kate does not know about Wendy, Wags and Taylor plotting to take down Prince and so she chooses to play dumb with Wags and brings in a list of attorneys as her replacement to Prince and Scooter. She also talks to her dad for them to go over her plans which I believe her dad is involved in.
Mr. Sacker tells Kate about Donna Summer who made him go broke as a music manager but also made everyone answer his calls because he was working with Donna. And when he tells Kate to stay at MPC, I don’t think he tries to tell her that she will win if she stayed close to Prince but she will win if she stick to her plan: Both parties will be after her if Kate takes down Prince as a presidential candidate. I am now convinced Kate will be an essential character in taking down Prince and I think she may recruit Bryan to help her.
Food for thought: I keep going back to Wendy telling Wags at the end of Episode 4 that they have to do it like in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.
I love the book and the original movie. In Murder on the Orient Express, 12 people coordinate to murder a man who hurt so many people in the past. And since every word and reference used in Billions has a purpose, I am wondering whether 12 people will coordinate to take down Prince in the series finale.
So let us count: Wendy, Wags, Taylor, Chuck, Ira, Dave make 6. Axe will join them so we have 7. Kate, and if she recruits Bryan for the cause, we have 9. As a bond forming between them, I would not be surprised if Wendy did have Bradford Luke as an ally at some point and it makes 10. And more importantly, one of the dozen murderers in Murder on the Orient Express is the victim’s right-hand man! So, ladies and gentlemen, it could actually be Scooter who can join the ranks to take down Prince as well. Scooter’s face spoke volumes when Prince came to his office to say he could not allow him to conduct the NY Philharmonic in Episode 4 Hurricane Rosie. And I am positive this is not the first time Prince disappointed Scooter. And if Philip joins his uncle, we have 12 right there to take down Prince. What say you?