By Kyle Fowle
May 17, 2020 at 10:00 PM EDT
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Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME
S5 E3
type
  • TV Show
network
  • Showtime

It's been a while since Billions checked in with Axe's kids. Ever since Axe and Laura split up, the show has been solely focused on the patriarch. But surely his children are off somewhere doing something wrong. I mean, they can't possibly be too well-adjusted, right? Thus, the beginning of this week's episode finds Gordie Axelrod attempting to set up some sort of bitcoin mining operation — I don't understand the details of bitcoin mining in any way, shape, or form, but you're stuck with me on recaps — at his prestigious preparatory school, which causes the electrical grid for the school and its surrounding area to shut down.

That little stunt gets Axe on a plane pretty quickly, but not before he starts throwing money and influence at a few problems of his own. First, he was hoping to nab some paintings by a well-respected artist, Nico Tanner, before they were officially up for grabs at a gallery, but when Axe shows up for his preview showing, he finds that Mike Prince has had a pre-preview showing and purchased the entire series. Once again, Prince has swept in and taken something Axe thought was his and his alone. So, it's time for another plan: "If you can't buy the art, but the artist." Axe buys a gorgeous loft with a ton of natural light, hoping to sway Nico into becoming a commissioned artist. Axe is willing to set him up with space, time, and money if Nico gives him exclusive rights to his next eight paintings.

He's also trying to get this bank idea rolling. Hard Bob and Todd Krakow show up to tell him that it's not going to happen; the Federal agencies aren't going to go anywhere near Axe and his corrupt, criminal past. Of course, Axe won't take no for an answer, and as he flies to the school to handle his son's problem, he scrambles for options. Perhaps he can massage state restrictions in a way he wouldn't be able to with Federal agencies? It's one thought that he has.

Once he's arrived at the school, Axe does what he always does when confronted with a problem: he tries to buy a solution. The headmaster can't be bought, though. He's leaning towards expelling Gordie, and no amount of money will change that. Axe sees this as an opportunity to teach his son a lesson. Of course, that lesson is that there's a certain cost when you make a big gambit, and the cost this time around is doing everything possible to destroy the headmaster; not exactly wholesome parenting. Axe and Wags dig deep and eventually find that a yearly million-dollar donation to the athletics department has been missing $200,000. They get Hall on the case, but it doesn't prove fruitful. The headmaster hasn't been pocketing that money, but rather diverting it into a scholarship for Syrian refugees. Hardly the smoking gun they're hoping for.

So, they go dirtier. Hall snaps pictures of the refugees living at the Headmaster's home and bribes him with the perception: them doing yard work, helping around the house. It looks like unpaid labor. That forces the headmaster not only to reinstate Gordie but also to give Axe a platform to give a speech at a school assembly, where he hits the children with the "harsh realities" of the real world. It's typical Axe, but it's also more offputting than usual. More vengeful and angry. I wonder if the show is pushing him into more unlikable territory this season and if there will be some sort of comeuppance. Axe has always been more villain than antihero, but there's typically been some semblance of humanity that allows us to not totally despise him. This season though, he's looking real villainous.

The rest of the episode is rather lackluster; in fact, much of "Beg, Bribe, Bully" is a comedown from the first two episodes. There's some good movement in terms of necessary plot, but not as many fireworks. There's Kate proving herself once again, as she finds a way for the AG's office to keep the money it's getting from a civil case — money the Governor is trying to take from them — by directing it towards a Yale Law program, the same school where Chuck just so happens to be accepting a part-time teaching position. And then there's Taylor trying to do the right thing and help a university divest its fossil fuel positions. Sara sees how the effort could create a potential boon for Taylor Mason Capital and runs the idea by Taylor. But they refuse, saying it's not the moral position they want to take. Axe Cap ends up getting that position anyway, and Sara is furious, saying that Taylor is only "half in" on this whole thing.

Like I said, not a whole lot of fireworks, but it does keep the season's feuds moving along, and it's good to know that Axe is the kind of man capable of ruining an entire generation of children with one egotistical speech.

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