Billions Season 2, Episode 10 Recap: "With Or Without You"

Photo: Jeff Neumann/Showtime.
With every passing week of watching this show I keep wondering: is their music budget a billion dollars? I mean, Bob Dylan last week, a gazillion other examples from previous weeks, and then this week a big, romantic final sequence set to “With or Without You.” This episode, of the same title as the song, focused on relationships over business (although, I guess you could argue that the two really feed off each other) and I absolutely loved it. But business before pleasure, so let’s talk about what went down on that front this week first!
Honestly, how dare this show introduce another amazing character with three episodes left of the season. Mary-Louise Parker plays Ms. Minchak, a woman hired to vet Chuck before his Albany run, and boy oh boy from the minute she’s introduce she commands every scene she’s in. For a show so full of bombast, it’s worth remembering how in control all the women seem to be in every moment they’re on screen. Parker’s subtleness plays perfectly against Chuck. You can tell her character really gets off on learning everyone’s darkest secrets, but unlike Oliver Dake’s more sadistic bloviating, she really plays it nice and simple.
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We learn the Chuck’s big secret, besides the whole BDSM thing, is that he was bullied in boarding school. Chuck at first just says he was involved in an incident. Does it make me a bully that I instantly knew the bullied kid he was talking about was him? As retaliation, he tells Minchak later, he hit the lead kid in the face with a baseball bat during a game (the guy was the catcher). Honestly, this really seems like the tip of the iceberg of “things Chuck has done that could sink a campaign.”
Another potential snag, again, is said whole BDSM thing. Honestly, give me a whole spinoff show about Mistress, just going about her day, dealing with crazy high-powered clients, respecting their fantasies in a hot and wonderful way. Her laptop got stolen (we see early in the episode), but she promises Chuck she won’t let any information about him get out, before teasing him a little by stepping on his hand. We later learn that this was Chuck’s guy who stole the laptop and Chuck gives it to Minchak, his big secret. Now, that guy went to see Mistress for three months, and it makes me laugh a little to think that he was like, not even that into it, he just wanted the laptop. And he’d come home to his partner and be like “Oh, you will not believe the day I had! These Rhoades guys are killing me.”
Speaking of “Rhoades’ schemes” let’s talk about Ice Juice really briefly. So, Axe, having a no good, very bad day, meets with Larry Boyd. See, the Spartan-Ives guys got a tip that Chuck Rhoades Sr. was putting down a pretty penny on Ice Juice and Boyd thought Axe would want to know. Axe lays out his plans for hitting Rhoades hard and covering his tracks. And like, come on guys, this is chum chum chum chum chum. Obviously, Chuck is baiting Axe in some way. I just still can’t figure out how he succeeds in this. Like, maybe he has Boyd testify that he told Axe. Maybe Boyd recorded it. But like, look at how much Boyd hates his life now. Do we really think he’d do anything to help Chuck in any way? IDK. Look, I know some of you idolize Axe and don’t want to believe this is what’s happening and to that I say: come on. I mean, maybe he’ll get away with it, maybe he’ll outsmart Chuck. But something is up!
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Axe should know better than to take this information at face value (and maybe he will think better of it eventually), but also, team Chuck this week should know better than to try to flip Taylor. I mean, they know that Taylor’s the new star at Axe, of course Taylor’s been compromised into drinking the Axe Kool-Aid. LOL, part of me is starting to think this show is a lot about the kinds of compromises people make for their bosses to like them. See: all of team Chuck.
Anyway, Bryan is instantly flubbing and awkward with Taylor and you know that he’s never gonna outsmart them. He references Ed Harris and Mitch McDeere in one sentence and Taylor calls him on using an actors name and then a character’s name to describe the movie, it should be either just actors of just characters. (Incidentally, this is a thing I do all the time, especially with Billions, you’ll never see me referring to Malin Akerman as Lara anywhere but in these recaps). Later Bryan briefly messes up pronouns, before instantly correcting himself. It’s a good way to show that however well-intentioned he is, he’s just not fast enough to get Taylor to flip.
See Taylor went to see this really nice apartment this week and honestly, who among us hasn’t contemplated doing questionably legal things for prime New York real estate? Mafee took Taylor to this $26k a month place (I started crying a little on my couch at that number). I love that they’re best friends! He said Taylor’s gonna get a huge bonus, then asked them to look over this short play Axe wanted for the auto company, Claxon, we talked about last week.
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Man, the show really spelled out what was going on here, just to let us know what Taylor was signing their name to. So, basically there is no reason to short except for that sweet insider information that Axe got from Dollar Bill. But Axe wants there to be a logical paper trail that shows a reasonable thesis for making the deal, so if they do get investigated it all seems above board. Taylor understands this and realizes there’s something else at play, and they go to Axe to tell him as much. Taylor’s willing to play ball and make the short deal seem viable. The star student remains the star student.
Well, except that Taylor does briefly go see Bryan. He offers Taylor cookies and asks them if they’ve seen anything at Axe Capital that disturbed their sense of what is right and wrong or fair. Now, he’s obviously done some research on Taylor, Bryan should know how logical Taylor is and how Taylor will respond. But instead he’s totally caught off-guard by what I would say is a pretty easy to follow speech about a sparrow and calculating stock abstractions. Taylor best him, they realize Team Chuck doesn’t really have anything on Axe yet. It should’ve been Kate. Honestly, what a fucking tease showing Kate watch Taylor leave! I hope they saved the scene between these two for the finale. Taylor, after giving Bryan and a clear conscious a try, signs their name to the apartment and the short thesis. As they say: money over everything.
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OK, business over, now we get to the business of love. The episode begins with Axe waking to find Lara has gone, taken the kids, and left a note that simply says “You lied to me.” This obviously sends him into a tailspin. So much of this show is amazing, witty, dialogue bursting with metaphors and movie references. But let’s stop and give some credit to Damian Lewis’ eyes. So many scenes of Axe are punctuated by long shots of face as he realizes how screwed he is, how sad he is, how much he messed up.
Axe’s henchman, Hall, is trying to track Lara. She took 40k in gold bars, hasn’t used an E-Z Pass and isn’t at any of the other residences, so he doesn’t have her exact location yet. As much as we know Axe has never physically hurt Lara, all this surveillance is pretty scary. Lara’s brother says as much later. Hee tells Bobby that sometimes when women come back after running, men still repeat abusive behavior, so what he and his guys like to do is beat the abusive guy in a carpet, so he remembers it. Axe rightly says that he’s a good brother.
Other than the surveillance you’re never really worried that Lara is in trouble this episode, it’s pretty apparent that she just needs her space. But Axe most definitely is not the type of person who can give space. Like Wendy says, he fucking hates waiting. So, he leaves Lara 21 voicemail messages. We get to see each one as they devolve and they’re all brilliant in their own way. He starts out shocked asking where she is, he tells her in one that he was lying to protect her (lol), he says he’ll get rid of Wendy and remove her from their lives, then by the end he’s telling her how mad he is, yelling at her to come home, then he’s telling her he could’ve cheated on her if he wanted to (with her friends even).
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I like these messages because I think they perfectly encapsulate a truth about life. In those messages, there was one good one. He calls her and reminisces about when they first were dating, then talks about a time in Paris when they didn’t want to leave the bed, even though the iPod was playing “With or Without You” on repeat, so they listened to it the whole night. If he could’ve just isolated that one message, if he could let her know all those genuine feelings and she could feel it to, it would be perfect. But life isn’t just one message, life is the other 20 too.
Wendy’s pretty shaken by Lara leaving (Axe pulls her into a car with him to intimidate her a bit) and that gives her some time to reflect. Wendy knew exactly what she was doing when she told Lara about her deal with Axe (to that I say: shruggie emoji, but she feels badly). Wendy has a juice date with Chuck where he makes her feel better, simply by being around. She talks to Axe who tells her a story about Lara’s more compassionate side. Then finally she talks to Lara. What could be a hostile encounter is obviously filled with some much empathy instead. Lara thinks that if Wendy was gone Axe would maybe come to her to solve his pain. Then Lara asks if getting through all this anger and coming out on the other side makes you stronger. Wendy doesn’t quite know.
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While Lara and Axe’s relationship seems to be falling apart, Wendy and Chuck are in that one perfect message moment. They blow off therapy and Chuck takes her to dinner instead, surprising her with a chef they both used to love who he’s tracked down. IDK why I am so into them as a couple but when Chuck repeats to Wendy the line the chef used, “you shame the angels, you really do," oh man did I feel it.
And so did Wendy because she finally asks him to come stay. LOL well, not ask. As only this show could do the big sweeping romantic gesture set to “With or Without You” is Wendy in full gear, ordering Chuck to take his fucking clothes off while putting a collar around his neck. Aww, love.
Since this show is all about the two sides, we get a less warm homecoming at the Axelrod household. After leaving that message about how he never strayed even though he could’ve cheated all around town, Axe gets a call that Lara is back.
He tells her about part of the good message, that he was thinking a lot about the “thunderbolt” moment and their love that day (I had to look up this Godfather reference, I’m sorry). She shuts him down instantly, saying that Apollonia died in a car bomb. This very small thing is just so perfect. Because it’s such a great example of a woman (and woman character) being collateral damage to a man’s story. And Axe doesn’t even think about that. But really, that’s what Lara often is. So, it’s good that she’s finally standing up for herself.
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I love how much it speaks to each of their different fighting styles that Bobby has to call her 21 times in a day and Lara has the strength to not once check her messages. Like, girl, you are stronger than most people I know. In the end, Axe looks at her phone and deletes all the messages.
Only two episodes left guys!
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