No joke: When I was in law school, one of my favorite classes was Securities Law, taught by a former Scalia law clerk, who began the course with the words of Gordon Gekko: “Greed is good.” I also watched a lot of CNBC at the time and fancied myself a future SEC attorney. It was a very misguided time in my life, and I feel fortunate now that the SEC rejected me for a summer internship, dashed my dreams, and left me completely disillusioned with the law, or at least with my own ability to become a lawyer.
It also left me with a fairly basic understanding of the financial transactions that underpin Showtime’s Billions, but what’s most remarkable about this series is that the transactions don’t make a lick of damn sense, but it hardly matters. You can know everything there is to know about the series from the momentum of the storyline, by who is arching their eyebrow, or by how the music is being played. Typically, the more scenery that Paul Giammati chews, the more trouble he is in, while Axe’s mood can often be determined by how unkept that one tuft of eyebrow hair is.
It’s the little things that make Billions so much fun to watch.
In this week’s episode, we don’t even need to understand the underlying transactions. It’s enough to know that Axe charms, allies with, and f**ks self-made billionaire Rebecca Cantu (Nina Arianda) in order to screw over Taylor Madison. The gambit work. He screws over Rebecca in the process, but in doing so, also makes her wealthier. He essentially exchanges that new wealth for more leverage against Madison. Rebecca comes out of the entire equation feeling screwed over by Axe, but as is often the case on Billions, screwing someone over also affords you their respect, which is to say that Axe and Rebecca will continue to be f*ck buddies for the foreseeable future, and with Lara out of the picture (and Malin Akerman reduced to a recurring role), Axe needs a new love interest. Rebecca, nevertheless, will undoubtedly continue looking for opportunities to exact her revenge on Axe. And I’m sure at some point, she will. As Billions tells it, wars in the financial world are all wars of attrition. It’s not who wins; it’s who is left standing.
That leverage against Taylor Madison had something to do with freezing out their access to banks, but ultimately, Taylor plays their own game. Zugzwang in this episode is a reference to Taylor’s situation. Zugzwang, according to Wikipedia, “is a situation found in chess and other games wherein one player is put at a disadvantage because they must make a move when they would prefer to pass and not move. The fact that the player is compelled to move means that their position will become significantly weaker.” In Taylor’s case, they are screwed if they accept the Russian mobster investors put forward by Andolov or reject them. Using some sophisticated mind games, however, Taylor ultimately torpedoes the potential investors put forward by Andolov by taking away their ability to invest, meaning that Taylor doesn’t have to make a move, after all. Taylor also frames it as the Russian mobsters’ fault, slightly pulls themself out from beneath the thumb of Andolov and convinces him to use his influence to reopen their access to the banks and screw over Axe. In other words? In the war between Axe and Taylor Madison this week, it’s a draw. Axe drew blood, but they quickly bandaged themself back up and will return next week with a bigger weapon.
Meanwhile, in Chuck Rhoades’ world, the chief of police, Richie Sansome, puts Rhoades onto Raul Gomez and the NYPD pension fund, and in doing so, potentially puts Axe in Rhoades’ crosshairs again. However, Rhoades is learning — wisely — that it’s best to work with Axe than against him. Here, the two hatch a plan that makes almost everyone a winner — Sansome will be wealthier, Gomez will escape scrutiny, Axe will reclaim the police pension fund, and Rhoades wins Sansome’s endorsement for AG. Unfortunately, there also has to be a loser, and Billions is happy to make Michael Panay the offscreen scapegoat, while that poor bastard Bryan Connerty — who is terrified that Rhoades will win the AG position and put Connerty out of a job — is left fuming and pulling his hair. We should all be rooting for Connerty — he’s the only guy on this show with an ounce of morality — but it’s so much fun to see him suffer.
All is not great for Chuck Rhoades, however, because his wife, Wendy, is feeling … I want to say, sexually unfulfilled? She has the big job, the big paycheck, and all the power, but when her husband comes home, all he wants is to be dominated. As Bonnie puts it, sometimes Wendy just wants to come home and “get railed.” However, Wendy checks in with the couple’s BDSM guide, Troy, and learns that dominating — instead of being dominated — is not in Chuck’s “arousal template,” leaving Wendy without an appropriate outlet for her own sexual needs. I am not a sex therapist, so I don’t have the first clue as to how to navigate this issue, but it may ultimately provoke Wendy to look outside the marriage to find someone who can give her the “railing” she desperately wants. Is that Axe? Is that where all of this is leading? Will the harmony between Chuck and Axe ultimately unravel over Wendy again? Because this détente between Chuck and Axe cannot last forever.
Header Image Source: Showtime