Billions premiere recap: 'Risk Management'
As with so many episode of Billions, the Showtime drama’s season 2 premiere begins with a song. This one is Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into The Fire,” pulled from his brilliant and appropriately titled 1971 record Nilsson Schmilsson. The refrain that rings throughout the opening scene is an intriguing one: “We can make each other happy.” If Billions proved anything in its first season, it’s that most of its characters are incapable of making anyone except themselves happy, and they even fail at that most of the time.
Billions is no brooding drama, though. It’s a balls-to-the-wall romp about power dynamics, ego, and the constant dick swinging that’s inherent to this world of cutthroat finance and legal cases. At the end of last season, Chuck dropped his case against Axelrod, but not until he’d shown the man that he was ready to track him for the rest of his life. Those two are on a collision course yet again, and “Risk Management” puts the wheels in motion.
Putting the wheels in motion means getting Axe Capital back up and running after Chuck tricked Axelrod into tearing up his office. More than that, though, Axelrod needs to regroup, to find a way forward for the company. Now, with a reliably smarmy Wags — this time full of snorted pills — a gender non-binary intern named Taylor, and a chilly, no nonsense chief of staff named Stephanie by his side, Axe Capital is back in business. No one’s really sure what that means, exactly, as even Axelrod says that the hedge fund industry is dying, but for now everyone’s just happy to be back at work, throwing around insults and hoping that they don’t catch Axelrod’s eye.
Meanwhile, Chuck is apparently into karate (or maybe it’s jiu-jitsu) now, though it’s hard to tell if it’s because he’s feeding his dominant side or getting off on the whole being-nearly-choked-out thing. Chuck is a complicated man, you see: a man of many appetites. At the very least, it’s going to take some serious defensive tactics to get out of his latest mess. Oliver Dake, who announces himself as being from the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and is every bit as delightfully slimy as every other character on this show, is investigating the whole Axelrod debacle. Chuck doesn’t seem too worried initially, but a late-episode reveal makes sure that his blood pressure is back up before the hour’s over.
Billions spends much of its season premiere doing the necessary plot work, catching up with characters and setting the table for events later this season. It’s not the most thrilling premiere, and the first half is especially bogged down by the necessities of checking in with all of the show’s major players, all of whom are spread out and therefore require some serious exposition to give us a sense of where they’ve been since last season’s finale. But the episode really picks up in its second half. Once we’ve reoriented ourselves — we see Wendy raking in the money as a “performance coach” while also holding down a small, private office, and we learn that the position of Head of Criminal Prosecution is up for grabs, meaning Bryan, Kate, and Lonnie will all be vying for the promotion — Billions returns to form, taking its first steps toward another showdown between Chuck and Axelrod.
NEXT: Lives of quiet desperation
Before we get to the potential of that showdown, though, it’s important to check in with the women on this show, who, lest we forget, can be gigantic a–holes on par with their male counterparts. Both Lara and Wendy are, in their own way, reasserting their dominance after a change last season. For Wendy, that means standing up to a desperate Axelrod and turning down his offer to come back to Axe Capital. For Lara, that means getting a school nurse fired… while said nurse is standing right there. So cold, and yet so much fun to watch.
As nice as it is to see Wendy out on her own, removed from Axe Capital and working to find her own path, her actions, however accidental, lead to a problem for Chuck, forcing the married-but-separated couple into a conversation. In essence: Oliver Dake is all but ready to leave behind his investigation into Chuck until he finds that on the day he suspended his case against Axelrod, his wife received $5 million from Axelrod himself. As Dake says, “It may not be a bribe, but dang if it doesn’t look like one, smell like one, and if I put my tongue on it, I bet it tastes like one, too.” Told you he’s as delightfully slimy as everyone else!
While Wags has plenty of time to try and get an account on Raya, a “Tinder for rich people,” Axelrod is ready to turn his attention back to Chuck. He’s initially ready to bring a lawsuit against him, but Orrin warns him against the negative publicity that would result. Still, Axelrod believes he won’t be safe until Chuck is out of a job, so he has to come up with something.
Chuck is never out of ideas, and before long he’s got a new plan. He meets with Orrin in the middle of the night at a racetrack in order to emphasize how serious he is about this and how much control he has over everyone around him. The new plan? Aggregate a number of lawsuits from the people Chuck has prosecuted in the past, forming what’s akin to a class action suit — strength in numbers, and all that.
As if Chuck doesn’t have enough on his plate, he arrives at a meeting with Judge DeGulio the next morning only to be served on his way in by a particularly clever third party. Moments later, while in the judges office, he gets a call from the attorney general. She wants to see him in D.C., in her office, on Thursday. That’s it. That’s the extent of the conversation, which doesn’t bode well for Chuck. He sees the writing on the wall, but surely this can’t be it for him. I’m looking forward to seeing how he weasels his way out of this one.
And really, isn’t Billions all about enjoying watching the power struggle between terrible people? “Risk Management” doesn’t always rise to the standards of previous episodes, but it is a solid start to the season. Plus, the episode has one last reveal to chew on for the next week: It looks like Dake has uncovered that it was Bryan who tipped off OPR after his private meeting with Axelrod. Chaos in the courts and dissension among the ranks? Billions is back, baby.