Billions recap: 'Flaw in the Death Star'
The whole reason Axe Capital works the way it does is because of the company’s willingness to walk right up to the line of what’s legal. Sure, they cross that line from time to time, but is it really illegal if you don’t get caught? (Side note: yes it is, but that’s not the point). The cronies at Axe Capital, both the charming and the obnoxious ones, thrive by being able to follow their leads with reckless abandon. It’s why they can profit off of a space engineer dying, or a small town going bankrupt. They have no leash, or if they do, it’s a seriously long one.
That’s why Dollar Bill is so angry throughout this episode; his leash has been shortened. With Axe out of the office, he’s beholden to the whims of Ari Spyros, a man who nobody in the office seems to like. Ari’s in compliance now, and he sees his job as being on the front lines of keeping the doors of Axe Capital open. If he doesn’t keep their deals above board, he believes he’s failed. At least that’s what he tells himself. It’s more likely that he just enjoys wielding his power. So, when Dollar Bill comes to him with a short option on a pharmaceutical company that’s about to go belly-up because of a whistleblower looking to expose the animal cruelty in the labs, Ari shoots him down.
Now, maybe that wouldn’t be an issue in most cases, but Ari absolutely loves denying Bill his play. The two nearly come to blows before Wendy demands they come to her office, like she’s a school principal rounding up her unwieldy, childish students. She allows Bill and Ari to air their grievances but says they have to stop their divisive behavior. Really, though, this is a meeting, in one way or another, about Chuck and Axe. The feud between Bill and Ari is just a microcosm of that larger feud, the one Wendy is stuck between. When Wendy is seeking solace in booze and the company of Wags, you know things are bad, and that she’s being pulled in all directions.
Axe knows that feeling, too. He’s mostly managed to handle his (potentially temporary) ban on trading by working his company’s money through Victor Matteo and other outside investors, with Taylor as a front of course, but the Ice Juice problem, and impending trial, is still there. That’s not going away any time soon, even as Axe has made a few key witnesses either disappear or flip. The latest loose end he has to worry about is the doctor who helped him make the toxicant that went into the Ice Juice and led to the sabotage of the stock.
Axe and his new cronies approach the doctor and ask him about the lab slide that would have Axe’s fingerprints all over it. The doc says that he disposed of the slide immediately, just as Axe instructed. He’s not buying it though, believing that no one, not even this doctor, would give up such a potentially damaging bit of leverage. In Axe’s world, and in the world of Billions, everyone’s looking for an edge, a single advantage that can put them ahead.
“Flaw in the Death Star” essentially turns into a race against the clock, with both Axe and Chuck fighting to get the doc, and his potential evidence, on their side. Chuck’s situation is a little sticky because he has a way of tracking down the doctor, but it involves using information that he saw when he betrayed Wendy’s trust and looked at the patient notes on her computer. In Axe’s file he saw the name Donnie, one of Axe’s traders who died way back in the first season. Chuck suspects Axe would use a doctor he trusted to help with the toxicant, and believes he could get the name of said doctor from Donnie’s widow. Wendy has no words for the plan — caught, as ever, between Chuck and Axe’s own motivations. (Recap continues on next page)
Donnie’s husband isn’t too happy to see Chuck, calling him “the man who made my husband’s last days a living hell” because Chuck was focused on the trial, on making Donnie testify and wear a wire. Chuck lays out how Donnie’s doctor was bought and paid for by Axe, which means that Donnie didn’t get an experimental drug that could have given him a few more months to live. The conversation goes nowhere, the widower refusing to accept Chuck’s story.
What Chuck does get is the name of a charter school being built in Donnie’s name, and the detail that Donnie’s doctor was one of the first to donate money for the build. So, Chuck gets someone to look into the legitimacy of the school “off the books,” which is basically his sneaky way of getting the donors list. Thus, he gets the doctor’s name and sets up a clandestine nighttime meeting. He tells him that the government is clearly closing in, and that his best option would be to testify against Axe. The doc refuses, though, saying his work is too important to sacrifice in the name of nailing Axe, putting Chuck, once again, in a spot where he can’t quite secure evidence against his nemesis.
While Axe and Chuck scramble to get the doc on their side, Bryan is scrambling to prove that Chuck has been engaging in some shady business of his own. Bryan believes that Lawrence Boyd is the key to unlocking what happened. Chuck comes clean to Kate, and that leads to her representing the Southern District against Bryan. Chuck secures Boyd, getting him to name names in the Axelrod case in exchange for returning his boat that was seized by the government. Boyd gets his seabound freedom, Kate and Chuck fabricate some notes, and Bryan is once again two steps behind Chuck.
Most of this episode is about how Chuck and Axe are trying to keep ahead of just about everyone, including each other, but there’s a lot of other storylines swirling around, too. It’s difficult to tell what will become of them, and because of that there’s a good chunk of “Fault in the Death Star” that feels like setup for events later on. There’s Taylor and Oliver sharing a bond over a night of Netrunner before making love to the sounds of Echo and the Bunnymen. There’s Axe and Wags trying to set Ari straight, getting him to settle his feud with Dollar Bill. And there’s Dollar Bill being promised more trading freedom, though that doesn’t stop him from destroying Ari’s Porsche. Axe Capital seems like it’s falling apart at times, and yet their leaders (both Taylor and Axe) don’t seem too concerned.
Perhaps that’s because the trial is more important than anything. Dollar Bill’s problems might seem important to him, but if there’s no Axe Capital in the near future, there might not even be a Dollar Bill. So, when the doc wants to meet up with Axe at night because he’s changed his mind, Axe takes the meeting. He listens to the doctor’s pitch. It’s simple, really: He wants $200 million from Axe. The money he previously got he put into his foundation, into his work to cure cancer. Now, he wants some money for himself and his family.
Axe, with an always-shrewd eye, doesn’t believe the doc has suddenly had a change of heart. The pivot is too swift for his liking. He sees this as a stalling tactic, one to distract from and hide the fact that Chuck and his team have already given the doc a deal. He’s right. Chuck’s in possession of the slide, and he’s managed to get Bryan off his back.
Chuck is building a solid foundation for himself and for the case against Axelrod. The question is: How long until it all begins to crumble?