We gave it an A
For all of the strengths of the first season, Billions has been struggling in its sophomore season. There have certainly been moments that have stood out, from the high-stakes poker game to the addition of Asia Kate Dillon in general. But more broadly speaking, this season hasn’t managed to capture the magic of the previous year. Too many meandering stories — Wags’ descent into uselessness being the worst of the bunch — have left each episode feeling rather listless. That spark and tension between Axe and Chuck has been missing all season long. Thankfully, “Currency” is a shift in the opposite direction, a stirring, exciting episode like no other this season so far.
What’s interesting right off the bat is that “Currency” uses Wags’ character arc as a framing device. It’s interesting because Wags has been a black hole of narrative intrigue this season. He’s done nothing but get wasted, and there just isn’t that much compelling drama in watching him go off the deep end, especially as he’s not the most sympathetic character. To the show’s credit, though, the arc here plays out perfectly, even if it does seem to predict more self-destruction somewhere down the road.
So, as the episode begins, we see Wags coming to Axe Capital after apparently being absent for a while. He looks clean, together, sober. He walks right into Axe’s office and sets about giving a speech, one that seems like it’s leading up to him leaving Axe Capital behind for the benefit of his health and well-being. Axe cuts him off, though, pissed that while Wags has been off finding himself, he’s been here “fighting the battle of Thermopylae.” Axe, as always, has a flair for the dramatic.
From there, the episode flashes back to 48 hours earlier, leaving us all wondering what Wags needs to say to Axe, and also why Axe is so goddamn heated. As it turns out, he has a pretty good reason. Axe Capital made a play with Sansomic, a company releasing a new thin, glass phone set to take the market by storm. Unfortunately, the glass shatters when exposed to the heat of adhesion during the process of making the phones, forcing Sansomic to recall the huge order. The man who designed the phone jumps to his death, and Axe is left with a huge loss on his hands.
That means Axe needs a big play in order to turn this quarter around and not take a loss. Steph tells him that taking a loss is no big deal, that it happens to firms all the time, but losing isn’t in Axe’s vocabulary. So he shouts at his minions to bring him something big. Everyone plays it safe; then there’s Dollar Bill, who plays coy, telling Axe that he has an idea but that he refuses to say it in front of Steph.
While no one willingly brings a deal to Axe, he does manage to find out about one. Mafee has been sitting on something potentially huge, mostly because he’s worried the guy who has the information will end up replacing him at Axe Capital. Confronted in a bathroom stall by Axe, though, Mafee has no choice but to play ball, so he sets up a meeting with a buddy of his from another firm. The man, Everett, tells Axe about how Nigeria is on the verge of devaluing their currency, making it a huge opportunity for anyone willing to make a massive short play.