Billions recap: Chuck and Axe throw their power around simply because they can
It’s the day of Jack Foley’s funeral here on Billions, which thankfully doesn’t mean it’s a somber day. Billions doesn’t do somber. Instead, the day sees more power moves, more backstabbing, and more personal reckoning. As the opening scene states visually, cross-cutting between Foley’s coffin being incinerated and a pizza being cooked in an oven, life must go on. One man’s death is another man’s opportunity, after all.
Chuck and Wendy are having dinner with Axe and Rebecca, and it’s still weird to see Axe and Chuck in this kind of setting, where everything is friendly. Things don’t stay friendly for long, but that’s because Wendy and Chuck are at odds. The night is still young when she rips into Chuck again for exposing the details of their sex life, and what she lays out makes a lot of sense. She says she’s no longer a blank slate, she can’t be “Wendy” and just build up from there in the way she needs to, depending on whom she’s interacting with, be it an investor or a patient. “Now they just know all of it,” she says, which is fair. But Rebecca sees it another way. She sees people so concerned with their own problems that they’ll forget about Wendy in due time. She’s got a point too, and when she agrees to give Wendy a blank slate in their relationship, Wendy finds a new friend.
This dinner isn’t just social though; it never is. Axe wants Chuck to get to work on taking down Taylor. “I want them in a cell,” he says, and clearly Chuck is taken aback. He knew he’d have to go after Taylor, but the suggestion that he do so whether they did anything illegal or not has him worried. He’s crossed lines before, but this is certainly another one to give him pause. By the end of the episode, Chuck will have bigger problems coming his way, and they’re ones he doesn’t even know about yet.
Over at Taylor Mason Capital, Taylor is panicking a bit about not having Grigor’s money. That means the firm needs a big injection of cash, but nobody is really offering up any in that size. The firm’s hired Lauren, a pickle-juice swigging deal-maker, and she says that the only fund with that kind of cash is the firefighters’ fund, the one formerly of Axe Capital. She sets up a pitch meeting for Taylor and says that success rides on them being able to like them more than they hate Axe.
Meanwhile, on his first day in office, Chuck is coming up against higher authorities. The governor has limited his powers after Jock Jeffcoat threatened to tighten the purse strings, and that means Chuck can’t do anything he’s been elected to do. He meets with his father, who always has a few ideas about how to proceed, and Chuck Sr. tells his son, after a long story about when he met Foley, to go on the offensive and send a message, to make people fear Chuck Rhoades. “Show them what you do with power,” he says.
Axe has his own meeting about power going on, this one involving one of the kids of the fathers who died in the 9/11 attacks. Axe did terrible, exploitative things after the attacks to get his business moving, but he poured money into a college fund for the children of some survivors. One of those kids, John Rice, is here now to pay back the investment and set out on his own, free of Axe’s influence. “You’re cashing me out?” asks Axe, clearly insulted. When John leaves, Axe orders Wags to find out who else was cashed out. The answer? No one.
All of the above is the setup for some big moves that change the landscape of this season, and perhaps our understanding of these characters. Most significantly, Chuck goes to work trying to get his power back. He listens to his father, and that leads him to dig up some dirt on the State Assembly, and then coerce its members to vote for him to get his powers back, thereby bypassing Jock Jeffcoat, all in exchange for burying the criminal activity. Then, he goes after Joe Scolari and more of Foley’s corrupt buddies, seemingly getting rid of the powerful people so that he can install his own lackeys in their place. He does all this at Foley’s funeral, which makes it a true power move.
The next big move is Taylor making their pitch and securing the firefighters’ fund. That’s huge and means Taylor Mason Capital can keep doing business the way it has been, and also that Taylor can help their father get into the production stage on the algorithm project. Taylor still seems obsessed with Axe, and their father notes that everything they do seems to be to prove a point and make more money than Axe. Perhaps this is where Taylor turns a corner and creates something different with their own firm.
Finally, we get to Axe. Wendy tells him that his feelings about John are ones of hurt and betrayal, but they come from his own sense that he abandoned the kid, that simply giving him money wasn’t what the kid needed. Axe seems to take that to heart and takes John on a deep sea fishing trip to try to bury the hatchet. They put their phones in the trunk of the car and head out on the ocean. It’s all so paternal and real, which means it has to be fake. There has to be a play here.
Sure enough, Axe wanted to get the truth out of John, which is that he simply doesn’t want any association with Axe, business or otherwise. Axe is steps ahead of him though. Taking the cash-out to heart, Axe put into motion a complete carpet bombing of John’s business. He has Wags, Dollar Bill, and a few others call around and ruin John’s reputation while also getting his investors to jump ship. He publishes an interview casting doubt on John’s strategy. When the two get back to the car and turn on their phones, John sees his whole business, his whole life, has been ruined. Axe has bled him of everything. It’s ruthless and coldblooded, and I wonder if it makes us see Axe in a different light. I mean, we know he’s largely a bad person, but he’s spent a lot of time battling it out with other big money dopes, so we don’t mind some shady tactics here and there. But this? It feels personal and angry, a punishment that doesn’t fit the crime.
Of course, Axe, Chuck, and Taylor aren’t the only ones making moves. Bryan and Kate and the AG’s office are looking for any way to go after Chuck, and some expedited permits on behalf of Chuck Sr. for his development plan piques their interest. The last shot of the week sees Chuck Sr. confidently telling his son about his plans for the redevelopment, all while Kate and the FBI watch from a surveillance truck. Troubles are on the way.