Billions Season 3, Episode 4 Recap: Kill 'Em With Cruelty

Photo: Jeff Neumann/Showtime.
We’re all for the equal opportunity nudity happening on premium cable these days (see this penis moment on The Night Of, and these various penis moments on other prestige shows). But that still didn’t prepare us for the moment Charles Rhoades (Jeffrey DeMunn) decided to drop his robe in episode 4 of Billions. Good for him and everything, but not so good for poor Connerty (Toby Leonard Moore), who earned a true LOL moment from this viewer after remarking, “Why does this keep happening to me?”
Billions decided to reprise one of its favorite storytelling format by opening with a scene that actually comes after everything we’re about to see in the episode. We start with Connerty and Dake (Christopher Denham) finally sitting down with Charles for an Ice Juice deposition of sorts. They’re intent on getting Charles to admit that Chuck (Paul Giamatti) directed him to use part of his trust, making him complicit in the sabotage of the IP. Dake even uses the magic word, “immunity.”
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Charles hangs his head and offers up a devilish smirk. Cut to: three days ago.
Dake is pulling a Deep Throat, telling Chuck in a parking garage that Connerty knows about the Rhoades’ involvement in setting Axe (Damian Lewis) up. “That’s disquieting,” is what our posh DA has to say. Dake wants Bryan to focus on the conspiratorial players in Axe’s scheme, including the lab tech who dropped poison into the Ice Juice supply. But Connerty is focused on bringing down the Rhoades, so he confronts Charles in a steam room. He tells Charles he has the affidavit Ira (Ben Shenkman) signed (slipped under his door by one of the New Halls). “You must think I’m a physical moron,” Charles says. “That’s Victorian for moron.” Connerty isn’t yet authorized to offer immunity, so Charles just drops his robe and presents Connerty with his penis, for some reason.
By the time Connerty gets around to finding that lab tech, his office is empty and he’s boarded a flight for a far off land, just like Maria Gonzalez.
Meanwhile, we’re treated to a decent subplot where Wags (David Costabile) fights his way to the last prime burial plot in Manhattan. It costs $350,000, and it’s taken by the lawyer from The Wire. Obviously he’s having an affair, so Wags uses this info to blackmail him via Page Six, and ends the episode lying in his final resting place. Wags and Axe discuss longevity and seem to want to live until they’re in their 90s. We picture a 94-year-old Axe looking pretty much exactly like his Soames Forsyte character by the end of that series.
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But while he’s still young, Axe is back to one of his favorite habits: showing up in a room full of suits wearing a loose button-down shirt. This time, he’s at a World-Aid consortium event, doing his part as a board member. He’s approached by a guy named Oscar, and after some small talk about private planes and masseuses, Axe mocks him for his reputation at being bad at small talk.
Oscar is trying to persuade Axe to see the potential of “venture philanthropy,” which we semi-understand to mean investing in philanthropic companies that pledge to save the world. Oscar’s Rayveon technology company is planning on building solar panels in underserved countries. He makes a Middle Earth fantasy analogy, and Axe is way too cool for this. He’s also way too criminal to appear on the dais, despite donating $10 million to World-Aid.
While Axe is watching Inglourious Basterds and laughing at the “bear Jew,” Ailes, Axe Cap’s awkward philanthropy consultant, lets him know that the board wants to remove Axe due to his Ice Juice entanglements. “I am unconcerned with tradition,” Axe says, making us like him again. True to form, Axe meets one of the board members at the St. Regis bar and gives a speech about how everyone knows these boards are just made up of old men who waste the companies’ money on vacations and other luxuries. Board Guy explains that an oil painting above the bar shows King Cole supposedly farting under his robes, to the displeasure of his minions. “Fart in my fucking presence and your reign will meet a swift end,” Axe says, exiting the bar. Is it just us or is Damian Lewis looking especially tall and blue-eyed in this episode? Just when we’ve joined the anti-Axe train, he goes and makes an especially good burn and back we are, in his good graces.
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Axe heads to his board meeting in, of course, an unbuttoned henley shirt. After Oscar gives the board a presentation on Rayveon, Axe goes on a long, animated rant against it. The board, prompted by Axe’s suggestions, rules against him and decides to invest in Rayveon. Then they vote to remove him from the board.
Later, at an Ethiopian restaurant, Axe meets Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon) there to introduce them to Oscar. Oscar and Axe were in on the charades, and Axe had directed Axe Cap to invest in Rayveon ahead of the board’s decision. What we can’t figure out: Why would Axe reveal his hand to Taylor? Just to remind them who’s really in charge? Surely he knows they’re not interested in breaking the law? As Taylor says earlier in the episode about someone else, “his charm is a liability.” Might they be thinking the same thing about Axe right about now?
Not only is Taylor not interested in breaking the law, but they’re wearing their heart on their sleeve when it comes to Craig Heidecker (James Wolk), the Elon Musk stand-in who Wendy (Maggie Siff) slept with last season. Axe Cap bets against Heidecker’s latest venture, and the staff comes together to watch Heidecker attempt to rocket himself into space. Taylor and sweet Mafee (Dan Soder) are rooting for him to succeed, despite his success meaning a financial loss for Axe Cap. To their dismay, Heidecker’s ship explodes just seconds after launching.
Wendy sees the news on her phone while she and Chuck are crashing Charles’ Yale reunion. Chuck’s plan is to suck up to his father, drowning him in public praise while presenting him with an award, in an effort to convince him to keep his mouth shut to Dake and Connerty. “He gave me the key to the workings of the world. He handed me every advantage,” Chuck says. And we actually think it’ll work, since that’s the main lesson we’ve always seen Charles impart to his son: I gave you everything, so show some appreciation. But Charles isn’t into it. “You played those heartstrings like Orpheus,” he says. “You had the impertinence to show your weakest self.” Charles, instead, shows his true self. He talks about having sex with girls in a Yale dorm, using the word “can” to describe something that is not the bathroom. Later that night, at the bar, Chuck tells Wendy something about his father: he was never more proud of Chuck than the night he lost his virginity to a prostitute. With this in mind…
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Chuck speaks to his father in the language he understands best: money, tinged with cruelty. After meeting with Blackjack Foley (David Straitharn), and using that robotic Senator Joe Scolari to their advantage, they present Charles with two options: sell Chuck out and his upstate property near the new casino will be worthless. Stay loyal to Chuck, and they’ll continue building the casino on his land.
Charles chooses to stay rich, of course, and lies to Connerty and Dake. “Chuck was my victim, and we were both victims of Bobby Axelrod,” he says. Connerty laughably pleads with Charles to “do what’s right.” What’s right, according to Charles, is to pay Chuck a visit (complete with full mouth kiss), and let his son know how proud of him he is. You know, now that he double-crossed and blackmailed his father.

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