Billions Season 2, Episode 8 Recap: "The Kingmaker"

Photo: Courtesy of Showtime.
“Did Morgan at the front not offer you a courtesy blazer?” Shut it all down guys, we already have a winner for line of the year.
This week saw Axe and Chuck both looking for meetings with Black Jack Foley – an old money, elegant, fancy man, who may be the embodiment of some pretty outdated ways of thinking, but also throws a mean party where Ben Folds plays the piano.
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In the fallout from Sandicot, Axe gets an original Remington sculpture, the Bronco Buster. In terms of Chuck and Axe: Who is the cowboy and who is the bronco? It’s hard not to believe that this statue could be read symbolically a few ways. But what it represents for now is Axe becoming increasingly unhinged, but attempting to flex nevertheless. He’s still pissed about the casino: even now that he won’t lose a penny, even as Lara rides off in her separate private plane to head upstate for some bullshit campaign to “help the community,” even as Wags warns him he’s not seeing straight. He’s gotta know why Foley screwed him.
Axe tries to set up a meeting. It fails. Then he tries to mess with Foley’s business by going after one of his suppliers. That fails. He realizes that everyone’s more scared of Foley than they are of him. This show does a lot to build the mystique of this guy, his wide-reaching power, his infinite influences, his specific old-money courtesies and game playing.
For instance Foley isn’t upset with Chuck because his granddaughter didn’t get a clerkship, he’s “disrespected.” It’s all a dance and frankly, it’s exhausting. Because of this “disrespect” Foley plans to back Bob Sweeney for the governorship instead of Chuck. Chuck’s dad tells him this over cigars. The perfect example of the difference between Axe and Chuck is that Axe’s symbolic version of manhood is meat and Chuck’s is cigars.
Anyway, Chuck takes matters into his own hands at this point and asks Sweeney to be his Lieutenant Governor. Chuck is polling poorly upstate and could use him. But even without name recognition Sweeney thinks he’s got a pretty good shot.
This leads Chuck to Ira who’s drinking a truffle cocktail (disgusting). Chuck says he can’t conduct oppo research and Ira is all Oh yeah, it’s nasty stuff. But what Chuck actually meant is he specifically can’t do it, he needs Ira to. LOL. Game on.
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So it was at this point that I thought this episode’s main thrust was going to be a vicious indictment of NYC’s pretentious cocktail scene, because this was preceded by a scene with Wags vaping his alcohol, in the most Wags move ever. Wags and Mafee are trying to court a potential new broker now that Spartan Ives is so unstable. This of course leads the team to a club with a bunch of naked women. This show is pretty free of gratuitous tits so I’ll let this scene slide without too many eye rolls. Except for when Wags says “This is an empowering cabaret that celebrates the feminine ideal.” Eye roll. Anyway a Spartan-Ives guy is there and he takes Wags into the bathroom and… offers him a 20% reduced fee for the next two years. This was one of like three times I yelled “Kiss, Kiss” at the screen this episode and it NEVER CAME TRUE!
So maybe your favorite scene was this tits one, but I like to think we’re all better than that and our collective favorite scene is Wendy’s first therapy session with Taylor. It was just so warm and friendly and they connected so much! It gets increasingly more intimate as you can really see the two characters taking each other in, valuing the other, really seeing the person they’re looking at. It’s breathtaking.
Taylor feels guilty that Mafee is struggling as Taylor is succeeding. Mafee could’ve taken credit for their work, but he didn’t, he’s a good guy. Taylor wants to know if their guilt is useful or not. Wendy doesn’t answer yet, but says that Taylor should just do something nice for Mafee, like buy him something.
It’s funny that Taylor is so incredible at being empathetic but so bad at showing it. Man, being a human is so fucking difficult. Taylor buys Mafee a signed poster and he responds…a little weirdly. I’m worried that Taylor’s move is going to make Mafee think Taylor likes him or something, not that they were just being nice. IDK, let’s hope it doesn’t.
To close this storyline out, Wendy later doesn’t tell Chuck she slept with someone else. He tells her about a little date he went on (that we didn’t see). But she can’t work up the nerve. To be fair, this is a terrible moment, he’s about to go meet the kingmaker himself. But, it clearly speaks to the void that they’ve both allowed to grow between them. Wendy calls Taylor and through almost tears, she tells Taylor that if they ever feel themselves not feeling, come to Wendy before it’s too late.
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While we’re on non-Chuck and Axe characters, let’s talk Kate Sacker. She’s just so effing good at her job! She’s found Dr. Gus running some kind of self-help retreat and knows he’s not a real doctor and can talk. She tells Connerty who’s initially hesitant, but eventually he caves, knowing this is Chuck’s white whale. Gus basically hates Axe now, but he doesn’t have any info for them. But… he knows someone who does.
Stephanie! It’s so nice to see her again! I had hoped before that she would in some way lead to Axe’s demise. He needs to stop firing so many people! While Connerty played Gus in that interrogation scene, Kate plays Stephanie in this one. She points at a medal Stephanie got from West Point on her wall, alluding to the fact that at the end of the day, they all are proudest of working for the United States. Stephanie signed a nondisclosure agreement, but she says if there’s a subpoena she’ll talk.
So now Bryan presents this to Chuck. Not Kate! Who got it! Dammit, I’m still hoping for a final pivot that sees Kate get the big promotion this season. I know it’s a long shot, but she’s so good. Anyway, all Chuck wants is to get something to hang Axe with, but he says they have to wait for the right moment. They can’t be as cavalier as last time.
We’re back to the oppo research. Turns out, Bob Sweeney sucks! I guess oppo research obviously has its dark, gritty side. And, you know, there are grey areas to a lot of shitty things that people do where you’d maybe think “Should he go down for this or is this just bad optics?” But honestly, I’m glad this show went full evil. Sweeney sent his gay son to a religious conversion camp, one of the most evil psychological things a parent could do to his gay son. So, Chuck’s got him. I’m glad they give Chuck these cut-and-dry things occasionally, where he’s just the good guy and the other guy is just a monster.
Telling Bob about the oppo research and crushing him is Chuck’s big move that sparks Foley’s interest and gets Chuck invited to the party. Axe’s big move is asking that Foley be named man of the year by the Restore the Eastern Timberwolf Conservancy. That gets him invited to the pre-party. Man this is all so Gatsby, I relished it.
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Foley is just so all about pleasantries and rules and old-school elegance and brutal, brutal gamesmanship. It’s so creepy and menacing because it all has the glaze of refinement and it fits in perfectly with the world Billions has built. Foley politely tells Axe that he has no beef with him, making it known that it was someone else he was doing a favor for. He also says that he respects Axe but “I hold to a code of loyalty which may very well be outmoded but has served me well. And to be honest, I like the way it makes me feel when I chose sides.” LOL.
Honestly, how great is that line! “I like the way it makes me feel when I chose sides.” Imagine that being the kind of thing you get off to. Imagine telling someone you’re all about power moves so delicately. God, this guy is so old-money nuts, I love it.
Regardless of how ridiculous he is, there’s clearly a pull to please him. See the scene where he meets Chuck. He makes a comment about hearing about Chuck as a baby and Chuck jokingly corrects him. Then he says the baby picture he saw had to be Chuck’s because Chuck’s dad would “never go around with photos of that bastard’s.” You guys! Chuck looks at him like “C’mon man, we live in the 21st century.” Yet even though Chuck said at the beginning of this episode that there are no kingmakers, he still ends up asking Foley to make him governor. And even after Foley agrees Chuck wants to help him out more by offering to find his granddaughter another clerkship, a better one. Man, old money power can be enticing. Or finally fulfilling the dream of your old money father can be.
This all leads to the best scene. While Chuck and his dad are congratulating themselves at the Yale Club, Axe is receiving pictures from his source inside the party (I don’t want to get into it, it’s too sad). He sees Chuck with Foley and he knows. Now, honestly, Axe should’ve guessed this. He shouldn’t have needed a picture. He was so singularly obsessed with Chuck at the beginning of the season, why didn’t he even entertain the idea that it could’ve been him? I think it’s because he thought he was on the offensive in this beautiful game of chess they’re playing. But, you gotta be aware of both your opponents offensive and defensive moves at the same time.
Axe barges into the club and yells at Rhoades for screwing him over! He says that Rhoades may have thought he nailed him, but he actually didn’t lose any money, he’s drinking the town’s milkshake [great reference for a maniac to make], he’s got that Remington. To this Chuck’s dad responds with that opening line about the blazer.
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I never understand when people are on Axe’s side, but I could see having some sympathy for him in this scene. Maybe he’s cool because he’s self-made and wears band t-shirts, but he’ll never have the kind of rich, old money pull that Chuck has. He says Chuck expended his capital by asking Foley for the Sandicot favor, but he doesn’t realize that by being born into money Chuck has an unlimited supply. For anyone else I’d think “This is bullshit and unfair and I root for the self-made guy.” But for Bobby… well, I can’t be sympathetic. So this scene was just funny to me, him realizing he got had, him flailing trying to insult Chuck’s manhood while he’s the one wearing a leather jacket in a room full of suits. Anywhere else he’d be cool. But he can’t convince these men.
So, this leads Chuck to a wonderful realization. Axe is unhinged and that means he can make a mistake. Now Chuck can kill two birds with one stone (or as his dad says “fuck everybody”). He’ll win the admiration of the people he’s polling poorly with upstate by taking down Axe, the man who’s destroying a town there.
The one person who could get in his way now is maybe Lara. I mean there’s a chance the people upstate could really like her. But also, LOL forever at that idea. I would honestly love to see a scene of just a bunch of teens yelling at Lara.
So Chuck and his dad smoke those cigars.
I leave you with this. When Chuck schools Sweeney he says, “You’ve looked at the future and where we’re going, we need Rhoades.” That’s honestly one of the better campaign lines I’ve heard. See you all next week!
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