While the feud between Axe and Rhoades has been brewing all season long, “Golden Frog Time” is really the first episode this season that sees them directly affecting each other with their actions in a significant way. It’s a true showdown in the world of Billions, which means that the war is fought with trading and IPOs rather than, you know, fists and weapons. It’s one of the season’s most thrilling hours, thanks in large part to a unique structure and magnificent, boisterous performances from Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis.
Everything begins with a flashback to two weeks ago. We’re in the bar where Lara has a few friends, and those friends are pressing a guy about money he owes. He says he’s willing to do anything to settle the debt, but what that entails we don’t quite know yet. Over the course of the episode though, everything starts to fall into place.
Flashback to one week ago. Wags, distraught that he has to report bad news to his boss, tells Axe that the Ice Juice IPO seems completely ready to hit the market. Despite Axe’s intention to make a short play and tank the stock, Wags doesn’t see any way to make that happen. Still, Taylor reports that Chuck Sr. is totally cash poor, with much of his money tied up in real estate, so perhaps there’s a way forward. If he didn’t have the cash to buy into Ice Juice, where did his stake come from? Only a personal loan could get that done, and that makes Axe suspicious of Rhoades.
Now we’re in the present day. It’s the night before the Ice Juice IPO goes public, and Ira, Chuck Sr., and Chuck Jr. are all celebrating. The projections put the IPO at $18 a share when the market opens, with room to skyrocket from there. Ira is so overjoyed that he shares that he’s already in the process of selling his part of the firm to his partners so he can retire a very, very rich man. To say this is shortsighted is perhaps an understatement.
Chuck has even more reason to celebrate beyond the seemingly assured success of Ice Juice. He and Wendy are reconnecting, at least on a sexual level, and that certainly bodes well for their future. She says she doesn’t want to give the kids any false hope, and Chuck admits that such a remark stings, but still, they’re finding their way back to each other, slowly but surely. The question is: Once everything hits the fan in the final moments of this episode, does their relationship change? What will Wendy think when she learns the truth? How will Chuck defend himself? More on that later.
Back at Axe Capital, as Axe buys his time before making one final play to totally tank Ice Juice, Taylor is grappling with their new responsibilities. Namely, they’re in charge of firing an analyst. Wags is ecstatic that they finally have to, as he puts it, “shank someone,” but Taylor isn’t so confident. They want to fire someone based on the numbers, but Axe wants a more personal approach. He says that he needs people who can make the numbers and explain them, that there’s more than just analytics to consider when it comes to which employees to keep on staff. It’s a message that Taylor takes to heart, and their loyalty to Axe Capital becomes increasingly fortified over the course of the episode.
The day is upon us. The market opens, and Ice Juice is off to a roaring start, hitting at over $20 a share and rising. While Bryan and Kate look into the Klaxon short from Axe Capital, hoping to find something dirty and coming across Taylor’s signature in the process, Chuck is reveling in the good news about Ice Juice. He even has new software on his computer so he can track its progress all day.
Something is amiss though. Hall is waiting on a call from Axe, and it’s clear that he’s about to drop some sort of bomb that will kill the IPO. Sure enough, he calls in the hit. He texts “Golden Frog time” to Hall, setting in motion a plan that’s been weeks in the making.
That plan involves paying off a lot of people. Essentially, after learning about Ice Juice and Chuck Sr.’s involvement from Boyd, he buys a bacteria that he then delivers to various people he knows who owe him a favor, who in turn go to people who owe them a favor and get them to put the bacteria in their newly purchased Ice Juice. The bacteria causes them to violently vomit, and as the news spreads, Ice Juice has a PR and stock nightmare on its hands. Trading is halted for the day, and the stock ends up dropping to barely $3 a share. As Ira puts it, it’s “Armageddon.” Millions of dollars lost.
What’s intriguing here is that Wendy warns Chuck about the short play, and he does nothing. She’s convinced he’s going to lose all their money — to be fair, it sure does seem that way — so when he criticizes her for not trusting him, she buys into the short play in the hopes of getting herself a payday. Mafee gets reamed out for allowing it to happen without Axe’s knowledge, and that sets up an interesting dynamic for the season finale, as Chuck, Axe, and Wendy are all tied up in this Ice Juice screwjob in one way or another.
Back at Chuck Sr.’s place, Ira and Chuck Jr. can barely comprehend their loss. When Ira learns that Chuck Sr. lost all of his son’s trust money after doubling his position early in the day, he goes to the bathroom to vomit. It’s all over for all of them. They have nothing left, and Axe has won again.
In fact, Axe is really enjoying in his win. He’s at home starting over with Lara, eating pizza with caviar because he’s that kind of rich asshole. Everything seems to be looking up for Axe… at least until he gets into the bedroom. Lara isn’t into their makeup sex, and it’s clear that he still has a long way to go to repair the damage he’s done to their relationship.
That moment with Lara is a harbinger of things to come. In a brilliant montage that closes out the episode, Billions pulls a neat trick and shows us how, through all of this, Chuck is the true winner. You see, he knew Axe would try to ruin the IPO, so he planned for it. He bribed Boyd with freedom to get him to tip Axe off about Ice Juice. He then strong-armed the AG into getting Dake hired in the Eastern district so that when Axe took the bait and went after Ice Juice, Chuck would have someone by his side to do the investigation.
For weeks, Dake and a team of agents tracked Axe’s every move, to the point of snapping pictures of his people sneaking the bacteria into their Ice Juice before consuming it. Chuck had this whole thing planned all along, and now he has Axe right where he wants him. Sure, he threw his father and Ira under the bus in the process, and there’s that business with Wendy buying into the short play, but for now, all Chuck can do is laugh. He finally has Axe in the crosshairs with serious, substantial evidence, which pretty much ensures that next week’s finale will be a confrontation for the ages.