In the case against Axe Capital, the only loose end left for Chuck is his father
Billions knows how to use time jumps and flashbacks better than most shows. The trick is that the show understands when to use them for maximum effect. “Golden Frog Time” might be the best example of the craft, but “Hell of a Ride” certainly ranks up there. The episode begins with Dake and Connerty offering Chuck Sr. full immunity in exchange for testimony against his son. They, or Connerty more specifically, want to know, on the record, that Chuck directed his father to use his trust money to invest in Ice Juice, therefore luring Axe into a trap before purposely sabotaging the IPO.
Then, the episode flashes back to three days earlier. It’s a wonderful setup, immediately establishing the stakes of the episode. What’s even more intriguing is that there’s truly no way to know what Chuck Sr. will do. We assume Chuck Jr. will find a way to sneak out of harm’s way, but considering how much the father hates the son in this moment, there’s no guarantee. Plus, Connerty is feeling more and more betrayed by his boss and mentor, and that means he’s seriously driven to combat his corruption.
Three days earlier, we see Chuck meeting with Dake in a parking garage, because that’s where all clandestine meetings are held (you’ve all seen All The President’s Men, right?). Dake, who’s extremely loyal to Chuck after getting the position on the case, tips him off about Connerty’s plans to interview Chuck Sr. at some point. There’s not much he can do at the moment, but now he’s in the know, and the Southern District continues to splinter.
Chuck does have some semblance of a plan though. It’s the day before the 25th reunion of the Yale graduating class, and that means it’s also the day before the anniversary for those that graduated 50 years ago. In other words, the Chucks will both be at Yale, and Jr. believes it’s his chance to perhaps get his father back on his good side. They’ve had no reconciliation up until this point, but with Connerty making moves, Chuck Jr. hopes to get out ahead of any potential disaster.
While the Chucks battle it out, “Hell of a Ride” takes some time to tell a more lighthearted story about Wags. Well, it’s about as lighthearted as you can get with a story about dying and cemetery plots, that is. You see, Wags has his sights set on a $350,000 burial plot in Manhattan, the last of its kind apparently. He can’t imagine a better place to be laid to rest, which makes it all the more painful when a sleazy personal injury lawyer manages to snag the plot before he does.
Is Billions ever better than when it’s pitting two complete sleazeballs against each other? We don’t need that in every episode, but I’m a sucker for these one-off stories where Wags or Axe gets to flaunt their arrogance in pursuit of something that seems rather meaningless. Wags, of course, eventually gets his burial plot, and all he has to do is get Axe’s “ninjas” (those guys monitoring his trading and such) to do a little digging on the lawyer and expose an affair. Wags knows that everybody in this world has a closet full of skeletons; all he has to do is channel his inner Randy Travis and get to digging up those bones.
While Wags secures his final resting place, Axe is trying to find his own way to influence the new “venture philanthropy” of Axe Capital. When a friend of his pitches him at a fundraiser, saying that the energy non-profit World Aid should own the company, Rayveon, that supplies solar panels for their charity work in Africa, a little light bulb appears above Axe’s head. He tells Taylor to find a way to buy into Rayveon, and since he sits on the board of World Aid, he believes he can influence them to buy the company, sending the stock through the roof.
The problem is, Axe still doesn’t understand that he’s damaged goods. His impending trial means that nobody wants to work with him, and the board is eager to vote him out. He doesn’t know how to get the board of World Aid to vote his way when he’s being ousted. That’s where Wendy comes in. She gives him a piece of advice that could change his trajectory for the whole season.
That little bit of advice is rather simple: She tells him not to ignore who he is now, who he’s perceived to be by other people. In other words, the stink of his trial isn’t washing off any time soon, so how does he makes moves in spite of that? Well, as Axe puts it, he embraces his toxicity. When he meets with the board of World Aid, he tells them to stay out of the solar energy business, that this is a big move that none of them can pull off. It’s classic reverse psychology, and it works. Axe is still voted off the board, but he gets what he wants in the process. World Aid will buy Rayveon, and Axe Capital will walk away with a win.
Mixed in with Chuck trying to sway his father to his side, and Axe making a play without looking like he’s making a play, is a rather strange storyline. Craig Heidecker, the aerospace guy that Wendy had a brief fling with, is set to launch his rocket into space in the hopes of breaking a new frontier of space colonization. Taylor, and Axe Capital, bet against the success of the launch with a short on the stock. What they don’t anticipate is the rocket exploding on live TV, killing Craig.
It’s a moment that Taylor struggles to reckon with. They feel like they’re profiting off of death. There’s one other thing nagging at them, too: that perfection is unobtainable. Craig ran his tests again and again before putting his life on the line, and yet he still ended up dead. Does that mean Taylor’s strive for perfection is fruitless? Does that change how they view themselves? Time will tell, literally, as Taylor buys the same immaculate watch that Craig was wearing when he died, the one meant to be a perfect piece of machinery.
All of the Axe Capital stuff is really secondary to the main plot of this episode, which looks to tidy up the loose end that is Chuck Sr. and his involvement in the sabotage of the Ice Juice IPO. Chuck Jr. is barely staying ahead of the game, and things will only get worse if he can’t reconcile with his father. So, he attends the Yale reunion and gives a surprise speech about his old man.
Chuck lays it on thick, talking about his father’s ability to sacrifice in order to provide opportunity for his son. It’s sweet, but his father sees right through it. Chuck Sr. may agree to look after Wendy and the kids should his son end up going to jail, but he’s hardly ready to forgive Chuck for what he did.
So, Chuck does the only thing he can do, and forces his father to refuse any sort of testimony by making some shady moves. After regaling Wendy with a really creepy story about losing his virginity at 14-years-old in a brothel, as organized by his uncle and his father — it was the first time his father ever said the words “I’m proud of you” — Chuck goes to see Black Jack Foley and mentions that Chuck Sr. is becoming a problem, especially in the plan to run for governor. It’s kind of hard to do that from behind bars, you know?
Foley doesn’t want to change plans, so he sets Chuck up with the State Senator. He says that the Kingsford land meant for the casino “might” have to be reassigned as a conservation area. In other words, Chuck Sr.’s land would become worthless. The older Chuck gets the message, so when he’s interviewed by Dake and Brian, he says that Ira is a liar, refusing to give up his son in exchange for full immunity. Or rather, refusing to give up a big payday on the Kingsford land in exchange for seeing his son taken down.
This feud isn’t done, though. Chuck Sr. goes to his son, kisses him on the lips, and tells him he’s proud of him for doing what he had to; those words, uttered once again at a time of extreme creepiness. There’s no love in those words, though, only malice. Chuck is only making more enemies, and at a time when he should be cleaning up the messes he’s already made.