Billions recap: Axe and Chuck make necessary, difficult sacrifices
New enemies are on the horizon for Axe and Chuck
With the feud between Chuck Rhoades and Bobby Axelrod firmly in the past (for now), the third season of Billions had to change its course. The battle of the biggest players in their fields played out to a draw, resulting in a simple question: What would come next? With only a few episodes left in the season, Billions is beginning to answer that question. The stakes are piling up, new villains have emerged, and the show is once again finding another gear. The endgame is in sight, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
“Redemption” begins with a familiar Billions scene: the clandestine parking lot meeting. Here, Chuck meets with a reporter and offers up a lot of dirt on one of the mayoral candidates for Buffalo. That information comes with a price, though. Chuck wants everything the reporter has on Jock Jeffcoat, the Attorney General who’s become Chuck’s sworn enemy. Evidence the paper couldn’t corroborate, or rumors about Jock, Chuck wants it all.
He gets much more than he bargained for. Everybody knows that Jock is a rich man, but the reporter says that he’s worth “twenty times” what people think. The question is, how did he make all that money? The reporter plants a seed, saying that Jock likely earned some shady money through his brother, a rich televangelist back in Texas. The reporter doesn’t have all the details, but it’s enough to get Chuck moving.
Of course, he has to do so quietly. Going after your boss, who also happens to be one of the most powerful men in the country, is a dangerous game to play. Chuck has to keep his circle small, so he brings in Kate and Karl, both of whom agree to help him out and keep things on the down low. Chuck figures that something went down with the media deals that allowed Jock’s brother to broadcast his services across local TV stations, and while Kate’s father Franklin knows that business, Kate wants to keep his name out of such a potentially explosive case.
Chuck isn’t about to sit back and let his fate be determined, though. Instead, he creates his own destiny. He goes to Franklin, who willingly, if obtusely, lays out a few details about how the Jeffcoats may have made some land deals with the cable companies out in Texas. There’s still a lot to fill in, but it’s a start, and it represents Chuck finally going on the offensive after a few episodes of him simply trying to defend himself and his family.
Taking charge of one’s own life is the broad theme of the episode. “Redemption,” as the title suggests, is all about Chuck and Axe taking control again, scratching their way back to the top of the mountain. Jock kickstarts Chuck’s offensive by instituting a “Federal Day,” where the team will use federal resources to prosecute a number of low-level drug dealers in low-income housing. It’s a tremendous waste of resources, and unfairly vilifies the underprivileged, and it only fuels Chuck’s need to take Jeffcoat down.
Axe’s moment of clarity comes when Grigor pulls out half of his investment in order to make an oil deal back in Russia. That means the icebreaker money is gone, and there’s a good chance no one else will invest, screwing up Axe’s whole plan for a cap raise. Essentially, Axe needs money immediately, and that sends him scrambling. He calls up Raul and asks for union money, to no avail. He has no options, and Raul tells him it’s because he’s not adapting. He says that Axe can’t go back to his old buddies, but rather needs to change his plan of attack since the dismissal of the indictment. That plan of attack, though, comes with its own set of “unpalatable” concessions. (Recap continues on next page)
Those concessions? Handing over a portion of his company to a man named Frotty. Well, everyone calls him Frotty, a not-so-charming nickname inspired by the word frottage, meaning “the practice of touching or rubbing against the clothed body of another person in a crowd as a means of obtaining sexual gratification.” Not exactly someone you want to get into business with, in other words. But Axe seemingly has no choice. He needs Frotty’s access to Jordanian money, and in return Frotty wants a cut of Axe Capital.
Like I said though, this is an episode about people regaining control of their lives, so when Frotty changes course and asks for full transparency on any trades so that he can make money off of Axe’s moves, Axe denies him and kicks him out of the office. Wags loves the move — or, in his words, “I love it when you move with the mystery of Yahweh” — but he fails to see how Axe Capital will make up its icebreaker money.
Enter Ben Kim, who’s being pushed by Wendy to get out of his complacent, timid hole and be bold. She tells him to do something public and attention-grabbing to get over his fear of speaking up and making big plays at Axe Capital. It’s solid advice, but Ben heeds it at the wrong time. He hops into the elevator with Axe, Wags, and members of a construction union who’ve agreed to hand over their fund money to Axe Capital, solving all of Axe’s problems. Then, he cues up Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” on his phone and performs a striptease.
It’s fun for us to watch, but the straight-laced union reps don’t like it. They rescind their offer and Axe Capital is stuck again. But, Wendy’s advice pays off. Ben Kim feels free now, and he goes to Axe with a play on a merger with rental car companies that he’s spotted. It’s a massive deal, and Axe is legitimately impressed. In other words, Ben may have ruined the union meeting — and “Hot in Herre” — but he redeems himself by adapting, by becoming a new version of himself.
Becoming that new version is no easy task though. Sacrifices have to be made in order for such change to happen. For Chuck, that means hiding information from his boss, and going over Kate’s head with her father. She’s mad about it, but also sees the play. It’s one that works out, as Chuck finds his way to Ashley Cutler, a man who launders money for the Jeffcoats. Chuck has him dead to rights, so Cutler spills the beans, detailing how the Jeffcoats allowed Texas South Cable to run wires through their land in exchange for a “monster licensing fee.” That kicked off decades of fraudulent charitable donations and a whole lot of money laundering.
Axe’s sacrifice is much worse. While Chuck doesn’t have an enemy in Kate just yet, Axe might have one now in Taylor. He swoops in on a groundbreaking app that Oscar’s putting money into, getting the developer to go back on his deal and instead go with Axe’s offer of $200 million. Taylor dropped the name of the developer in Axe’s office after a dinner, and Axe saw his opportunity. He tells Taylor that they dropped the name on purpose, that he was supposed to make the move, but Taylor only sees betrayal, and the crumbling of their relationship with Oscar.
Taylor walks the streets, quiet, broken. We’ve never seen them like this before. Then, they go to Wendy, still silent, and all Taylor can do is seek out Wendy’s embrace. It’s a stirring moment because it shows us just how devastated Taylor is. Questions remain though. Are they simply mad at themselves, or is this yet another reason for them to hate Axe, especially after he killed the quant project?
New threats are looming. Chuck seems to have evidence against Jock, and Axe gets his company back in business without using Frotty or selling ownership, but it’s all a little too easy. There has to be conflict coming down the pipeline. Jock won’t go down without a fight, and Grigor, who puts his money back into Axe Capital, is a scary unknown. Once again he ends the episode in a frightening manner, revealing himself to be the young boy in his horrendous rape story from last week. He says he has a close bond with his family because of what they’ve endured, but the terrified look in his mother’s eyes during a dinner suggests we don’t yet know his true capacity for evil. That sends Axe to his own mother at the end of the episode, perhaps feeling like he’s more like Grigor than he wants to admit, especially after showing up late to his son’s birthday party. It’s a literal homecoming in an episode that sees Axe and Chuck finding their old groove again…but at what cost?