Billions recap: 'Victory Lap'
While Chuck contemplates a political move, Axe reckons with a moral decision.
It’s not often that Billions really gets into the ethical conundrums that come with the high-stakes feud between Chuck Rhoades and Bobby Axelrod. Sure, there’s usually a moment or two when someone mentions how a member of Axe Capital or the Southern District is maybe doing something unethical, but there’s hardly ever any further discussion or consequences. Instead, everyone forges onward, seeing every morally bankrupt decision as part of “the game.” “Victory Lap” is a little different in that it does take some time to consider how “the game” affects those who aren’t playing and who aren’t even aware that their livelihoods are wrapped up in the selfish whims of powerful people.
“Victory Lap” certainly doesn’t start with any sort of ethical conversation, instead jumping right into intimidation and anger. With the Sandicot deal dead in the water and Axe Capital on the hook to lose half-a-billion dollars because of it, Axe is looking for answers. So, he teams up with Hall and sets about finding the source of the fumbled deal. That brings them to Marco first. Axe is livid, sure that Marco screwed him over since he was the one that brought him the deal. But Marco seems just as flustered as everyone else. While Axe insists he was played — it was “careful and targeted,” he says — Marco says it was most likely an attack aimed at someone else and Axe was just unlucky.
After a fairly lengthy bl– job scene set to Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy” because why not, Axe has Hall look into Marco, and everything comes out clean. He clearly didn’t benefit from the Sandicot deal going under. He knows someone out there did — we all know that Chuck Sr. and Black Jack Foley collaborated to move the gaming license — and he won’t let Hall rest until all the connections have been made.
During a “war room” session at his house, Axe probes his team for ideas as to how to save their money, and there’s really only one: austerity. That means that technically Sandicot has to pay Axe Capital before anything else, so the firm can seize their assets; so, they could take over public property, the town hall, pension funds, and even seize a valuable work of art, all in order to offset their loss. As Taylor points out, such a move would ruin the county; schools would close and people would lose their jobs, and there’d be no money to support important community programs. More on that in a bit.
So, while Axe is scrambling to save his $500 million, what’s Chuck up to after his big win with Boyd? Well, he’s using his son as a pawn in a PR game, hoping to show off his sensitive family side in case he makes a run for office. Of course, Chuck would never admit to such morally reprehensible acts, but that’s what he’s doing. Wendy calls him on it later, and he still won’t admit that it’s a problem. Chuck may have had the high ground with Wendy at one point, but it’s clear now that they’re both doing what’s best for them individually.
What’s interesting is that with Chuck snagging that big win and putting away Boyd, the divide between him and Wendy seems to have grown, while at the same time he’s perhaps closer to his father. In a way, Chuck Sr. is replacing Wendy as his driving force, which also draws an intriguing parallel between Chuck and Wendy. In essence, Chuck always chastised Wendy for knowingly working with someone as shady as Axe, and now he’s the one knowingly playing “the game,” taking his father’s advice and trying to bribe his way into his run for office by securing an internship for the granddaughter of Black Jack Foley.
Here, we also learn a bit more about the mysterious Black Jack Foley. When Axe meets with Boyd to talk about the failed Sandicot deal, we learn that Foley is a former steel tycoon who basically owns and runs everything that has to do with backdoor political dealings. He’s an untouchable, unknowable God… and Axe wants a meeting with him. I look forward to that meeting of the minds.
While Chuck is getting a little more unethical in his bid for office, Axe is coming up against a tough moral decision. Danzig, after meeting with Wendy, tells Axe and everyone else that running Sandicot into the ground is not only morally wrong, but also a bad PR move for the firm. He can’t imagine doing this to hardworking people. For the first time ever, the people he’s screwing over are real to him, and with Axe seemingly moving toward seizing assets, Danzig quits.
“Victory Lap” boasts a lot of tense, charged scenes, from the aforementioned Danzig confrontation where Taylor ends up defending the asset seizure, to Wendy testing out her new life removed from Chuck by sleeping with Craig Heidecker (a returning James Wolk), but none is better than the scene that sees Chuck and Bryan talking ethics, justice, and process while out for lunch.
The idea behind the scene is that Chuck is taking Bryan to a specific restaurant to offer him the role of Head Of Criminal Prosecution, like so many have before him. But there’s much more going on here. Rather than offer him the job, Chuck uses the familiar setting to destabilize Bryan and confront him about the call that triggered the investigation into Chuck and the Southern District. It’s a stirring scene, with Bryan shaken but refusing to back down, criticizing Chuck for his failure to fully recuse himself. “In my vigor, I transgressed,” says Chuck, which is a line I will be stealing for whenever I do something wrong in the future.
So, after all this talk of ethics and justice and fairness, Axe is left with a decision: to seize or not to seize? He goes looking for one more opinion, and he finds one in Lara. She basically scolds him for even considering taking a partial loss. She says that she and Axe used to be just like the people in Sandicot, but “did anyone help us?” She, like Axe, believes firmly in the “bootstraps” mentality, and thinks that seizing the town’s assets and then working to help rebuild it through private philanthropy is the way to go.
It’s exactly what Axe needs to hear, a reminder of where he came from and how he managed to make himself into the man he is today. So he puts in the call to seize literally everything, hops in his fancy car, and drives off to pick up Chinese food for his kids while AC/DC rings out. It looks like Axe is back to being his old self again.