Billions Season 2, Episode 7 Recap: "Victory Lap"

Photo: Courtesy of Showtime.
“Did anyone ever help us?” Lara demands as she decides what designer dress to wear in her walk-in closet while her husband debates destroying a town so he doesn’t lose a fraction of his billions. This week’s episode made me think about how some people consider their success in life to be what they “earned,” what they deserve, what they’re owed. If you put your life in enough of a vacuum then yes, maybe you can believe you’ve earned every victory, that nothing was handed to you, and maybe sometimes, it’s true that hard work is the biggest variable in your success. But also, c’mon!
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Chuck and Axe have rarely been in contact this season, but the best thing this show has done is make their storylines constantly circle each other, so that you always feel like we’re being set up for something big to happen between them. So let’s look at them separately this week, even though all roads are leading to another clash.
Axe is looking for someone to blame for the collapse of the casino deal in Sandicot. This episode is another reminder that if you’re a successful antihero on a prestige TV show you’re definitely going to screw over the small-time business owner who knew you when at some point. Sorry, Bruno.
Besides figuring out who caused the deal to go another way Axe also has to find a way to get his investment back. He convenes his favorites (nice to see Taylor at this table) and asks for solutions. Everett suggests “austerity,” which would mean gutting the town so that it pays off Axe’s notes first. Taylor says the town would pillage pension funds, cutback on its municipal workforce and that the effects would be huge (shuttering schools, cutting police manpower). It could be a potential PR nightmare. But, it seems like the only solution.
So now our team at Axe Capital has to grapple with a big question: are we the bad guys? If they look at the deals they make in the abstract maybe they can sleep with themselves at night, but this, well this is pretty immediate and close to home.
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Danzig goes to Wendy because the plan is causing him to lose sleep. Even Axe seems hesitant. Weirdly, the one person all for it is Taylor. Taylor offers, “In many ways a town is like a business.” Comparing things that aren’t businesses to businesses always makes me queasy. But Taylor’s argument is that because the leaders allowed the town to live above its means, they now have to reckon with that decision and either thrive or go under. This seems kind of out of character don’t you think? Taylor’s a pragmatist sure, but Taylor is also highly empathetic. Sure, if you look at the town as one entity you can justify this. But what about all the kids in that town who didn’t decide to live there? That just seems like something Taylor would consider. If you look at things with a wide enough lens, you can justify anything, but should you? How far are you willing to zoom out?
Wendy refuses to help Axe make his decision, but doesn’t agree with destroying this town. Danzig quits. It’s good to know that people at this firm are at least slightly considering their moral compass. Also Danzig being a free agent is probably going to come in handy for Chuck later. Just something to remember. Ultimately, Axe goes to the one person for advice whose answer we already know: Lara.
This scene was pretty pitch perfect. Lara’s so glad that Axe came to her and she clearly knows exactly what to say. But it’s kind of like what Wendy said earlier: Axe goes to people when he’s already made up his mind to help justify it. Literally anyone who’s spent three minutes with Lara knows what her opinion will be. Sure, this town reminds her of where she grew up. But who ever helped her? Who helped when collection agents were beating on her mother’s door? Of course Lara would still be upset. It’s one mentality to take as someone who got out. To never look back, to cling desperately onto the money that you earned, dammit, that you sacrificed for. To pretend that nobody helped you along the way. To know that several people didn’t help you, even if they could’ve.
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Axe and Lara cling to their riches and they cling even harder to their grudges. As not a billionaire, it’s hard to be empathetic with, but maybe I can try to be sympathetic. However, the way this is all directed makes it clear that we are meant to cringe. First we see Bruno pleading “Now that you’ve got everything they’re gonna have less than nothing.” Then Axe walks up his beautiful stairwell in his mansion and we get a pan of Lara’s enviable wardrobe (also she definitely just got a very, very expensive haircut). And then Axe drives off in his nice car and aggressively revs his engine as he yells to gut the town. Last week Lawrence Boyd asked “Is money enough?” and the answer, of course, is no.
Axe doesn’t quite figure out this episode who screwed him over, but the answer lies with “Black Jack Foley.” Which of course, is where Chuck comes in.
At the start of this episode Chuck plays football with his son in the park, making sure the one journalist who exists (lol I kid, I kid) who’s also a photographer (I kid, I kid) can get a photo of him. That’s right: our man is looking to run for office. Wendy quickly reprimands Chuck for behaving like his father and using their son as a prop.
Ohmygod I can’t believe I didn’t even mention that the worst thing happened this week: Wendy sleeps with someone else. Well, the worst thing would be sleeping with Axe I guess. She sleeps with Craig Heidecker after telling Chuck they should both feel free to see other people. I don’t want to talk about this ☹ but I like that she totally does to Craig what he clearly does to all women. She lets him know she’s not looking for anything serious.
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Wendy’s a powerhouse and I’m glad Chuck’s dad really acknowledged that this week. He doesn’t think Chuck should fix his marriage because he wants Wendy standing behind him, but because with Wendy beside him he’d be unstoppable. So, when Chuck tells Wendy later that he reacted too strongly to her going back to Axe Capital and that he just wants her to be happy, this conversation with his dad is still in your head. But I think both things can be sincere at once: that he realizes they make a great team strategically and that he wants her to be happy. So, again, I’m just gonna go with it and believe they are in love. I think if they do ever get back together (which seems increasingly unlikely) the show is going to really have to show what Wendy gets from Chuck. How did they first fall in love?
This episode comes at a perfect time in our general political discourse. Because hey…look here:
Two male colleagues sharing a lunch together at a restaurant that mentors take their mentees to when they get a big promotion. Hmmmm…seems like the only way for a woman to be able to succeed in her career would be for her to also be able to share a meal with her male colleague here.
Things are finally coming to a head between Bryan and Chuck! That tape of Dake talking to Bryan has been simmering for a while and finally Chuck nails him. Although let’s just say “are you a sheep or a rat?” is a lose-lose setup. Anyway, Bryan tells Chuck the truth instantly. He made the call to begin the investigation because of what Axe told him that day upstate. Axe said that if Bryan knows Chuck is a hypocrite and still lets it happen then he knows what that makes him. Technically Axe was right. Chuck had taken things too far.
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I loved a few things about this scene, one being the great shot above and the clunk of meat on the table. This show always has great directors but John Singleton’s work in this episode is really stunning. This scene plays out like couple’s counseling, with Chuck saying all lines of communication have to be open now, complete transparency. Chuck admits to having made mistakes – “In my vigor I transgressed…” (what a great line) – but he also doesn’t want to make Bryan Head of Criminal Prosecution just yet. I mean, Bryan did betray him. So he’s leaving the position vacant. In many ways Bryan did earn his position, like he said, but also Lonnie didn’t snitch so…
Bryan meets with Orrin later – since I’m giving props to everyone this week props to the set designer and location scout for this great, great barbershop – and blows up. He’s mad because he didn’t know Axe was going to be at that meeting and Orrin got him in real trouble with his boss. “I have no mentors. Not anymore,” Bryan yells, furious that everyone is so interested in games. I know we don’t see a lot of these two together, but this scene made me inordinately sad. Orrin seems like a man you can’t really touch and he was so shaken. However, I still think a Bryan flip is on the table.
So now we’ve gotten to the moment that again ties our two leads together. Chuck reads the poll his dad had worked up and sees that he’s not polling too well upstate. But that can, of course, be fixed. He’ll get Black Jack Foley’s granddaughter a clerkship and doors will be open to him. Or, you know, what he could do is he could take down the guy who just foreclosed on a city upstate. Just a thought. So anyway, Chuck and Axe have eyes on Jack Foley. They’re forever bound.
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But before we leave let’s discuss this small, but very important scene where Chuck asks a federal judge (Adam DeGiulio) for a favor. So one thing again, here’s a business lunch about careers between two men:
Let’s talk briefly about privilege. This judge got his job because of a Chuck scheme last season, but now refuses to favor-trade with him. Sure, in this case maybe it’s not fair to give this woman a clerkship. Emma Foley has generations of wealth behind her. She’ll be fine. She shouldn’t necessarily take a job away from someone who is more qualified. But, but, but, it’s easy to have the opinion “nobody deserves favors” after you’ve benefited from a favor, judge. That’s what Chuck tells him and of course DeGiulio gets a little pissed. Sure this guy might actually be looking to do what’s right now, but I think it’s just important to point out how infuriating his reasoning is.
Again this is the ability to see with a wider lens. If you’re looking at things like this judge, you’re just trying to make things fair and just, you’re the good guy. But it’s impossible to ignore that you also benefited from the system that you are now condemning. You benefited from an unfair world and yet you now think you have a right to speechify about people earning their way. It’s the kind of thinking that keeps certain types of people in power and allows them to believe they earned it.
What I’m saying is mentors are important, business lunches are important, helping people is important, and looking at things on a macro and micro level is important. See you guys next week!
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