Billions recap: Axe's anger makes for an explosive midseason finale
Last week's episode of Billions ended with Axe creepily stalking Wendy and then suggesting she bring Tanner, the painter he commissioned and her new romantic partner, to a dinner. Any of us could tell this was Axe making a power move, attempting to assert his dominance over Wendy. At the beginning of this week's midseason finale — due to COVID-19, we probably won't see the back half of this season until 2021 — that dinner takes place in all of its awkward glory. Axe brings Maria Sharapova with him, and Wags is there with his new young girlfriend, who he's hoping will afford him another shot at being a father. It's all very messy, and it isn't long before Axe is making passive-aggressive comments about Tanner and rolling his eyes when Wendy puts her hands on him.
The scene is another great example of how this season is starting to push Axe in a new emotional direction. His interest in Wendy is proving to be self-destructive in a way we haven't seen with him before. And yet, this episode mostly sidelines the romantic intrigue from previous episodes, focusing instead on the moves happening with Axe Cap, the charter bank, and Chuck's attempts to finally nail Axe once and for all.
Let's start with Chuck. He decides that since Treasury Secretary Krakow is greasing the wheels for Axe's charter bank, he has no choice but to go after him. Taking him down a few pegs and limiting his power will set Axe's plan back more than a few steps. So, he has some of his brightest students go through a number of statements from the secretary to see if they can find anything damning. Some students revolt, upset about the morality of looking for a crime with no real cause. The ones who stay don't find anything useable anyway.
Luckily for Chuck, Krakow is very susceptible to persuasion. So, Chuck and Kate set him up. They meet with him and insinuate that there's a probe into alleged corruption amongst cabinet members. Chuck tells him that the only way to avoid the probe is to distance himself from the criminal behavior, loudly and clearly, so that "it makes the tape recordings." Of course, there's no probe and no recordings (though the cabinet members are definitely corrupt!). But the suggestion sends Krakow into a panic, and he unloads on the cabinet, calling it a "criminal organization." That gets him fired by the White House, which means he has no power anymore, which means Axe has lost his leverage when it comes to getting his charter bank approved. It's a small win for Chuck, but it hasn't totally killed Axe's ambitions.
Chuck spends much of the rest of the episode conflicted about helping his father get a kidney. He goes down some truly shady routes but stops short of enlisting a creepy doctor willing to buy a kidney from a child. Even that's too far for Chuck, and too far for Billions. Instead, the "doctor" works to get Charles back in shape so that he can pass the test to get on the donor list, and then Chuck will try to work his magic to get his father bumped up.
Moving over to Axe Cap, Axe is spiraling out of control. Victor comes to him with some pills that he says are the "real Limitless s---," referring to the movie of the same name and the hyper-focus and mental clarity that comes with taking the pill. Axe, fully chemically altered, asks the whole office to take the pills and start enacting a plan he has for a massive deal. It's the type of deal that spans countries and companies and will lead to Axe Cap controlling a number of mining operations.
He's impossibly excited about the potential here, as is everyone else. Then Taylor comes back to the office, in no way chemically altered, and sees what's happening: Axe is blind to what he's doing. He's caught up in the moment and about to lose $3 billion and totally nuke the market for the very minerals he'd control. It's a truly terrible move, no matter how it's sliced. Axe, despite his reservations about Taylor's motivations, listens to their advice and calls the whole thing off.
Axe thanks Taylor for the stability and clarity, but his goodwill doesn't last long. Once he learns that Taylor and Wendy's impact fund will be recording a loss for a few quarters after choosing to ride out a bumpy deal with Mike Prince, he loses it. He doesn't care to hear about the potential long term growth and profitability. He only hears Prince's name and thinks that Taylor and Wendy have been swindled into taking a bad deal and that Prince's goal was to get a quarterly loss on Axe Cap's books.
Again, the show seems to be pushing Axe into new territory. He can't conceive of Prince having any good intentions because he can't imagine himself ever having good intentions. He views everyone as an enemy operating on the same vengeful wavelength that he does. But Prince might be different. Wendy and Taylor seem to think so. That means Axe is either right about Prince's shadier motivations, or he's so deep into his own insecurities that he's sabotaging potential long term gains for a petty grudge.
It looks like Axe is finally coming unhinged and letting his ego get the best of him. He's always been able to rein himself in when his behavior threatened to damage his business. Or rather, Wendy has always been there to help him do that. Now he's threatening to push her away, and that might mean his ego will get the best of him and Axe Cap.
It's going to be a long wait to see how this all plays out, but "The Limitless Sh*t" works well as a natural stopping point for this shortened season. The war between Axe and Prince, and Axe and himself, is just heating up.