First things first. Apologies for not writing a recap for Season 7 Episode 8 The Owl. I was traveling in the UK last weekend to attend Damian Lewis’ music gigs in Brighton, Manchester and Leeds. And then I was in London catching Damian at a fantastic theatre event to mark the centenary celebration of Noel Coward’s first musical revue London Calling. So I missed Episode 8 and was not able to write an episode recap for the first time. That said – I watched the episode and my main take aways are as follows.
First, Chuck very rightly points out, a man with zero self-doubt should never hold a position of absolute power. Prince’s hawkish approach to nuclear conflict at The Owl is a bone-chilling sign to what kind of a president he would be.
Second, Andy knows Prince better than anyone and that the rescue mission could go wrong only if Prince wanted it to go wrong. “You wanted him off the mountain” he says. “And he’s off the damn mountain.” I would not be surprised if we saw Andy standing with the opposition against Prince in the weeks to come.
Finally, I have no idea if The Owl has been inspired by a bizarre old and rich white men in the woods kind of gathering in real life but it gives an accurate portrayal of what is wrong in American politics today: old and rich white men have disproportionate power in decision-making.
Now on to Game Theory Optimal: As someone who teaches game theory for a living, I HEART the title. It is a poker term. a player attempts to play perfect poker so that their moves cannot be exploited by their opponents. Game theory optimal incorporates mixed strategies where a player incorporates bluffs and semi-bluffs in their value bets to have a balanced game. The strategy ultimately dictates that the player makes the decision to maximize their utility. And the title is very fitting for this episode in which all our characters attempt to play their perfect game! The episode has some of the best writing this season, and gradually moves the plot to the climax of the last couple of episodes. I know we are in for a thrill ride!
As the final season brings back many of the characters we have seen over the years in the show, the opening scene of this episode brings back a number of the landmarks and restaurants that appeared in Billions paying New York City a beautiful tribute.
Hello, (former) commissioner Samsone!
Chuck has dinner with the former NYPD police commissioner at Patsy’s, a place that has been around since 1944 and where the likes of Frank Sinatra had sanctified seats.
Sansome tells Chuck that the reason he was able to climb the ranks in the police force was thanks to his ability to observe and he can tell Chuck wants to ask him a question and it is time for him to do it.
“The practice of making sure a guilty man goes down, whether the evidence exists or needs to be helped along, when no doubt exists in the minds of the arresting officers, their peers, et cetera.”
Well, Sansome knew police officers who put a bag of dope in a wife beater’s car, but he is not a fan of the method. Things may go wrong between the idea and the implementation but also one should take into consideration the damage to the person who frames someone.
And when Chuck admits that the man he is talking about is a king, a mad one, so he cannot be got with the usual methods, Sansome gives him some gold advice.
“In old days, when a king was confirmed mad, that is when his own court was ready to depose him.”
And this is exactly what I expect to happen to Mike Prince!
Damianista’s note: I was so lucky to meet Paul Giamatti on Billions set that day.
And then as I was walking back home, I randomly came across another character…
And now back to the recap.
Sansome’s advice to go find the people who are outraged by the man he is talking about sends Chuck off to the streets to think and he ends up at Wendy’s apartment door! Wendy sending Philip to Chuck in Episode 7 DMV has convinced Chuck that Wendy sees Prince the same way that he does. Chuck believes that they could work together to take Prince down. And he makes the exact same comment that I made several times in my recaps this season when Wendy asks him about the difference between and any other target (for example, Axe).
“Others of his general stature bilk society while padding their own pockets but not a one of them I have personally chased had the desire or capability to get to where his hand is on the nuclear button…”
Wendy knows deep down that she would always stop before she gives irreparable damage to Chuck. She knows Chuck would do the same for her, too. But if they work together, Wendy should enlist other people, and she is convinced that Chuck would hurt them if he had to. That is why she cannot vouch for Chuck. Even if she does, her people would still not trust him because they know the kind of things Chuck is capable of doing. Fair enough.
At her appointment with Dr. Mayer, it shows that Wendy is between a rock and a hard place. She knows that Chuck is right making an offer to work together to take down Prince, but she also knows Chuck can hurt people she cares about. As she is thinking about leaving the company, Dr. Mayer’s diagnosis of the situation is spot on.
“As you get closer to any moment of huge import, huge impact, huge challenge, the desire to flee becomes almost overwhelming.”
The doctor adds that this instinct sometimes serves an individual. But sometimes it just stops an individual from taking the risk they really need to take.
Wendy tasks Rian with looking into an online therapy company called Mental where she is supposed to give a pep talk. She would be willing to do it only if the company did not raise any red flags. Rian gets back to her fast.
“Not full-on like Simone Biles but close.”
Mental has a good business model, major employee and patient retention, and a strong market share – all point to a healthy company worth investing in. And she goes to pitch it to Prince… hmm…
Now, me thinks if Rian really wanted to make a pitch to the boss she would not ask Ben Kim to accompany her to his office. I suspect that all Rian wants is to have Prince touch her tablet and do something with his fingerprints from which it is to get DNA. I am saying all this because I always though that one-night stand with Rian could haunt Prince somehow… And now I suspect that Rian may be carrying a little Prince in her belly! Yes, Billions has made me such a cynical person 🙂
When Wendy goes to Mental to talk about her talk, she thinks of the invitation as a smoke screen for a consulting offer. But what she hears is even better: The two founders want to offer her the CEO position since the current CO is stepping down and they think Wendy has the expertise and the vision to make the company grow, have the therapists do their job optimally and ultimately make good profits.
Inspired by the two conversations he had with Samsone and Wendy earlier, Chuck is now in the courtroom to reduce Dr. Gilbert’s sentence. And as he asks to film the doctor as he tells what exactly Chuck has done to him, believe it or not, I get Chuck’s plan right away! He has an ingenious plan to gain trust from Wendy’s partners-in-crime.
Chuck wants to make a full confession of all things he did illegally in his career, from blind trust violation of Ice Juice to the Heist with Jackie Connerty to bribing Hap Halloran with a second honeymoon for him and his wife, arranging voter suppression (in partnership with Axe) to win the AG elections and more. Chuck Senior calls it “batshit” because he does not know what his son intends to do. And only after Chuck shares his plan with Senior and Ira in private, we do not see it, they are on board with his plan.
And I wonder how many hours it takes Chuck to record the full confession because it turns out the first time he abused the power of his office was back when he was a line prosecutor!
In the meantime, Kate comes to Scooter with big news – so big that you would think Scooter would wake Prince up in the middle of the night. But he does not. Kate tells Scooter about her suspicions regarding a possible mutiny at MPC. And what Scooter offers in return is watching the recordings they make of private conversations around the office… What the fuck? Scooter say they had to take appropriate measures since they took over an adversary’s company. And I do not believe they are kind enough not to bug the bathrooms!
Scooter and Kate catch Wendy, Wags and Taylor in a corner talking about public opinion polls and getting rid of Kate because she is very effective. It turns out that Scooter was also suspicious about the trio’s UK trip that he took a picture of his Facetime with Taylor as they were sitting in front of the fire with Axe at his castle. Then he hired an expert on British architecture and antiquities to get some kind of verification. Well, I called it in my recap of Episode 2: Original Sin that Scooter might not be convinced that Taylor was sitting in front of the fireplace in their hotel lobby!
Prince gets a call from Scooter as he is taking a look at Mental which Rian shares she has found out about thanks to Wendy. And he meets his own trio at his Gramercy Park townhouse: It turns out that the expert Scooter hired has verified that “the hotel” Taylor claimed they were staying in London is actually Haddon Hall, a castle that Bobby Axelrod occupies.
This is enough for Prince to decide Wendy, Wags and Taylor are plotting with Axe – which is, at least at the moment, not true. While Kate encourages him to fire all three for cause, Bradford is more convincing in his argument that Prince would look as “a bad hirer and a worse manager” if he fired the bulk of the MPC C-suites now.
So Prince’s solution to deal with Wendy for now is to let her take the position at Mental and she gets that! She first gets the blessing of her “lost boys” in the office…
…and accepts the job offer in Dr. Mayer’s office and adds that she will also not run from what Chuck has put in front of her. She invites Taylor and Wags to her apartment and spills the beans: Wendy knows that Prince is smart and he is now letting her go to Mental so she feels more indebted to him. And when she says she is convinced that the three of them cannot take Prince down on their own, it does not take long for Taylor to understand that Wendy wants Chuck in the team. Chuck obviously has the tools to deal with Prince but neither Taylor nor Wags trust him. Besides, Wags is taken aback that Chuck has got to Wendy…
….and he abruptly leaves Wendy’s apartment to see Chuck and deliver a fantastic monologue the essence of which is that he will come for Chuck if he does anything to hurt Wendy. The exchange between the two brilliant actors is priceless!
Chuck: It is not my plan or intention. You have my word.
Wags: Rat shit. Bubonic plague ratshit. Ratshit that other rats won’t touch.”
Chuck: You’re right.
Wags: I am right. I mean, I know I am right. I’m right? You just said that?
Chuck: Yeah. So, let’s go.
And exactly as I have been expecting, Chuck generates the drive with his full confession on it at his meeting with Wendy, Wags and Taylor…
…reminding me him generating the transparency in Season 3 Episode 6 The Third Ortolan to gain Axe’s trust! Chuck obviously knows his word is ratshit to these people. And knowing that she would never use the drive against him, even if he deserves it, for the sake of their family, Chuck gives the drive to Wags to burn him if he does not do right by them. And this is, ladies and gentlemen, Chuck Rhoades’ GAME THEORY OPTIMAL. And look at Wendy, she is impressed.
Chuck’s plan is to separate Prince from his billions, the very thing that gives him power and appeal to the voters – sad but true. The thing is Wendy, Wags and Taylor have been working on this for months to no avail. And that is why Chuck wants to add someone else to their alliance who is similarly motivated and near and dear to the his new partners’ hearts. We all know who he is talking about, don’t we? The man who owes Chuck a favor 🙂 I am sure Chuck has already recruited him and I cannot wait for the king’s BIG return to kick the prince’s ass the in the last three episodes.
Yet, before Chuck could even say his name, Wendy, Wags and Taylor get a message from Prince who wants to meet them at his home. It seems Prince and his people had time to consider different scenarios about how to punish Wendy, Wag and Taylor without firing them because it would not look good for his campaign. Prince tells all three that they lose their bonus money and that he confiscates the rest of their money in the fund to avoid further disloyalty! Yet another piece of evidence that Prince thinks everything in life is about money. Oh and he will make sure they lose their reputation by filing a corporate espionage suit against them. Prince looks like a dictator getting ready to send his opponents to the torture chamber.
“Wendy, you’re lame-ducked.”
Wendy will execute her duties as CEO at Mental until after the election and then she will be fired. Because Prince is holding a majority of Mental shares through a shell company.
“Taylor, you’re done.”
Prince demotes Taylor to a figurehead at the company and he chooses to insult Wags.
“Wagner, you’ll lose your ability to confirm large trades. And small trades. And pay stubs. You can just kind of walk around shouting nonsense mantras to the traders. So for you, nothing really changes.”
In what follows is Scooter taking out the recording from Wendy’s office where Philip tells Wendy that he does not want to be a part of whatever she and Taylor are plotting! And, just with a look, he makes his nephew say he signed a waiver before he saw Wendy that day so the recording does not violate the doctor – patient privilege.
Prince probably thinks he is so smart and has cornered them all. The only thing I will say to him is who laughs last laughs best.
And as he authorizes Philip to run the show at MPC, Prince asks Scooter to get his plane ready. He is going to Haddon Hall.
Now, you may ask, having seen this episode, if I still think that Kate plans to take down Prince. My answer is yes. Kate is, exactly like Samsone, a brilliant observer, and she may have sensed something is off about Scooter when Prince is concerned. So when she comes to tell Scooter about the possible mutiny, I tend to think Kate is already working on her own plan to take down Prince and this is the kind of an offer she brings to the table for Scooter – in line with the conversation Wendy had with Philip earlier. Kate and Scooter may even want to distract Prince with the assassination plot by Wendy, Wags an Taylor as they are working on their own. I believe his own court will be ready to depose Prince. Remember, in Billions, what we do not see dictates the plot.
I am also thinking about Dr. Mayer. Why did she let everyone go to take Wendy as a patient? Out of her big heart? And if she is reporting to someone, who is that? Prince or Scooter? My hunch would be Scooter since Prince has not confronted Wendy about what she said to Mayer. Scooter may have found out about the alliance early on from Dr. Mayer and may have been playing along. And I am positive Wendy knows about it all.
In closing, I was expecting Prince to throw that computer through Wendy’s office glass this episode. It did not happen. So what is it that would take Prince over the edge? I cannot wait to see it!