Billions recap: Emotions run high as Axe's jealousy threatens his future
At the beginning of this season, it would have been safe to assume that Chuck and Wendy's relationship was destined to be the emotional crux of the season. After all, their marriage was coming to a very public end, and it would most certainly lead to bitter fights and complications with their work. Somewhat surprisingly, there have been very few bitter fireworks when it comes to the dissolution of their union. In fact, you could critique the show's rush to clear Wendy and Chuck of each other and find romance elsewhere; perhaps Billions could have spent a little more time diving into Chuck and Wendy's heads as they moved on from one another.
Then there's the other side of the criticism coin: maybe the show should be praised for not going down the same old route that comes with every single marriage that ends on a TV show. Instead, Billions has pivoted, using the end of their marriage to explore other characters and their lives, from Axe's feelings for Wendy to Chuck's potentially healthier and more productive relationship with Catherine. Rather than roll out scene after scene of Chuck and Wendy arguing with one another, Billions has moved beyond their relationship and found new avenues of character-based storytelling.
"The Nordic Model" is an episode that's a little more "old school" Billions: Chuck and Axe go after each other, we get some twists and turns, bribery and intimidation, and then eventually, a climax brings the battle to a close (as the larger war rages on). It's twisty, fun, and funny, and the B-plots do their job moving the season's other stories forward. So with that in mind, let's dive into the main plot of the week, and then see how everything else contributes to the season's bigger narrative arc.
At the top of the episode, Axe is still struggling to get approval for his charter bank. He needs a letter of approval from the SCC, and since Spyros used to work for them, he believes he's the man for the job. Of course, this is Spyros we're talking about, so he fails spectacularly. Despite his attempts at camaraderie with the woman he used to work for, she refuses to accept that Axe is in this for the right reasons. She knows he's a vulture who only does what's best for himself, and his history of alleged criminal behavior is a red flag that's not going away.
In this episode, though, Axe has bigger worries than the SCC. Kate finds out that Danny Margolis has been storing priceless paintings for Axe in freeports to avoid taxes. When she brings this to Chuck, he immediately realizes that Axe isn't storing the originals, he's hanging them in his house, and they can catch him redhanded with tax fraud charges. That would kill his bank charter business for good, and give Chuck the satisfaction of finally landing a big blow against his rival. So, Chuck parks his guys outside Axe's apartment and even manages to get inside to see the paintings. It's a great scene, with Chuck all bluster and bravado because he knows he's got Axe cornered, spilling wine on his priceless Van Gogh just to see the man's reaction.
Chuck's fun quickly comes to an end, though when Manhattan's District Attorney Graham once again steps in and takes his criminal case. Chuck is livid, so he gets personal. Graham is currently pushing to decriminalize sex work, so Chuck goes to Catherine and asks her how to argue for the opposite. Cat, of course, supports decriminalizing sex work, but she's willing to help Chuck as long as he doesn't follow through with his threat.
Sure enough, Chuck goes full fire and fury against Graham and gets what he wants: the Axe tax fraud case back. But it's a bitter pill to swallow because Axe has outmaneuvered him. Exploiting a loophole through his family foundation, he designates the apartment as a museum, not a private residence. He also fakes bringing in the real paintings so that it looks good for the security cameras, all of which essentially shuts down Chuck's case. The lesson here would be that this endless pursuit of Axe is only harming Chuck and distracting him from more meaningful work, but it doesn't seem like he's going to learn that lesson anytime soon. So, Axe comes out on top for now, but he still doesn't have his bank.
The rest of the episode is made up of fun B-stories. The best of the bunch in Spyros' attempts at becoming part of Mensa, which leads to a lot of joking around the office, a lot of Spyros doing his typically wordy monologuing, and eventually a hilarious climax where Mafee of all people helps him get the designation. While that story is fun, the other stories have a larger bearing on the direction of this season. Namely, Wendy seems to be not only getting closer to Taylor and growing their business, but she's also fully involved with Tanner.
Both of these things distance her from Axe in some way, and Axe isn't exactly the most rational guy. He has romantic feelings for Wendy, but it's more than that. He's always considered her "property" in some ways, a part of his life that must never waver. He fails to see her autonomy; or maybe he relies on it, her ability not to be swayed by his personality, so much that he's overprotective and overbearing of her. Either way, he ends the episode watching a live feed of Tanner's apartment, staying up all night so that when Wendy leaves in the morning, he can immediately call her and let her know that he's been watching. It's yet another sign that Axe is headed off the rails this season. The question is, what's finally going to be the cause of this derailment? Unfortunately, we only have one more episode in this season cut short by COVID-19, but hopefully, next week's "midseason finale" will wrap up some stories and leave us looking forward to the back half of the season, whenever that airs.
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