Billions Season 2 Episode 9 Recap: "Sic Transit Imperium"

Photo: Courtesy of Showtime.
It’s Axe’s birthday, a time for him to reflect on his life, on the man he’s become, and the man he wants to be. This show has often felt like “Billions: Full Throttle” this season in the way it packs in plot points, so it was nice that this week’s episode was more about character than momentum.
Wags got Axe a token to a luxury apocalypse bunker this week (love when the two shows I recap align so nicely) with the saying “Sic Transit Imperium” on it. (Everyone else was kind of bummed it wasn’t “Sic Transit Gloria,” right?). “So passes the empire,” seems like kind of a clueless thing to put on a token that promises that the richest of the rich get saved from the apocalypse.
But like I said, birthdays are a time to think about your future, your legacy. So this episode finds Axe setting up a charitable foundation (LOL) and weighing the kind of risks he wants to take while also worrying he doesn’t take enough risks. When Dollar Bill comes to him with some reliable, but sketchy, info about a car recall, he’s hesitant.
Now, I just want to really break down how hilarious this scene is to me. Dollar Bill brings Axe to the batting cages, showing off this kid who he has been grooming since he was 13 to be a baseball star in exchange for part of his signing bonus. Dollar Bill is saying he buys kids’ futures basically. And then he has the audacity to use a version of the “how can we really be free if we’re tied down to laws and can’t do what we want” argument on Axe.
It’s such a dumb argument that it just makes me laugh and laugh. Because what kind of mindset do you live in that you think, “man, I’m not really free, I still have to follow the laws of a civil society”? And when people make this argument it’s never a law where you’re like “Oh yeah, that’s a shitty law.” It’s never an actually oppressive law. It’s always this kind of “the world should bow to me” bullshit. Anyway, classic Billions, Dollar Bill will be Dollar Bill.
Again, Axe is right to worry about optics because Chuck is coming full throttle (I just watched the Charlie’s Angels sequel). He’s got a board with Axe’s face on it and everything, to prove that he means business. He goes to Sandicot and delivers a rousing address to the oppressed masses, vowing to take Axe down at all costs. Then he grabs a quick breakfast with Black Jack Foley who talks about getting him vetted.
Chuck thinks he has a great lead in the investigation, with Donald Thayer (a casino developer) nailed “dead to rights.” Bobby transferred a title of a car to him (Thanks Kate, for being amazing at your job). But, remember what I said about this not being a momentum episode! It doesn’t work out. Thayer’s connected to Foley. Plus, Chuck plays it out: If Thayer takes a hit and the casino goes away it still hurts Chuck with upstate voters. “Sandicot is a circle, wherever you start on that path it leads right back to you,” Foley says. So Chuck drops the Sandicot investigation.
Honestly, if I were Chuck, like Bobby, I’d be thinking, “Is this really what the rest of my life is?” Politics is such a drag! He’s just going to have to be game playing with Foley, forever? Making deals to get ahead that end up biting him in the ass or compromising on justice to help himself, forever? That sucks! How could that be worth it?
Chuck takes the “L” for this week and starts to read Kate’s interview notes with Steph (we’ll get to that) only to discover a small note about Axe going after some guy he hates by buying all these first edition Churchill books. This sends Chuck spiraling and leads Kate to say, hilariously, “I can see books are a trigger for you.” It is weird that she doesn’t realize this is about Chuck. Like, you’d think if you worked with Chuck you’d constantly be thinking “Man, I get it, you LOVE Winston Churchill, stop reading passages from his book to me.”
Chuck says the problem with Bobby is how slippery he is (he’s like a shark). You’d almost have to anticipate what he was going to do to catch him. And then, something pretty crazy happens that I honestly just hope dies like this Sandicot deal died. Chuck calls his dad about Ira’s “ice juice” business proposal. Chuck’s dad loves it, says they could make billions off of it, but also that he will have to use some of Chuck’s blind trust money.
OK so, maybe to anyone who is super business-minded this scene made a lot of sense, but I honestly didn’t get what was happening. Because if what I think was happening was happening, this seems insane to me. So, what I think is Chuck’s trying to slyly get involved with this business, somehow let Bobby know, have Bobby make a play against it, and then trap him. But how? And also, wouldn’t he lose a lot of money? And wouldn’t he be screwing over his friend Ira? And, like Sandicot, couldn’t it all come back to hurt him in the long run? Is all that worth catching Bobby? There’s nothing illegal about having grudges, right? So the illegal thing would really just be the entrapment. IDK you guys, maybe I read this scene completely wrong, but I hate it. I hate wherever it is leading which is probably just to Chuck screwing himself (again).
But whatever, this is next week’s problem, because this week I’m out on being team Chuck and just fully in on being always and forever #TeamKate. Kate’s just hustling constantly, looking for new leads and ways into the case, doing everything to get on Chuck’s good side. Like I’ve said from week one, she should get the promotion! #TeamKate forever.
But the show also set a trap for her this week that makes me nervous. Stephanie gives Kate what seems like a pretty good lead with Victor, who clearly knows all the illegal stuff Axe does, but obviously the firm’s crazy past with Dollar Bill makes that a road they don’t really want to go down. Then Stephanie says to try Taylor, Axe’s new favorite employee. Ugh no! Obviously Taylor will be loyal (I mean, we all know they will be a series regular next season!)
Taylor will be loyal because, like Wags says this week, Taylor’s “one of us now.” Axe tells Taylor the story of how he got where he is with the moral, “You get one life, so do it all.” Even I, a cynic, couldn’t help but feel a little bit inspired. So as the FBI snaps photos of Taylor getting on a private plane (the only way they could go to both Axe’s party and their sister’s wedding), I knew that Taylor turning would be unlikely. As we see Taylor and their friends enjoy the perks of the plane, that grin of realization on their face, I knew Taylor turning was virtually impossible.
Still it would be so nice to get a Kate/Taylor scene. One of the benefits of having such a deep cast is that there are all these new ways to play characters against each other. See: the incredible Lara/Chuck phone call.
I’m so used to Lara going into situations and throwing around her influence, dominating people, showing that she’s the boss. Is it weird that this phone call just felt nice? It was just two people whose spouses are friends (and coworkers) trying to nicely smooth things over, without seeming to be pushy. It was so small, but kind of wonderful. Lara wants Wendy to come to Axe’s party (Lara’s dedication to marking the occasion was also endearing). Chuck tells Wendy to go, not to think she shouldn’t because of him.
I guess I should’ve known that this show would do me right, but honestly, how amazing is it that we might be building to Lara’s big turn. She goes to talk to Wendy at the party and discovers that it was Wendy’s idea, not Axe’s, that they not have therapy sessions anymore. As sincerely as they played this moment, it’s clear that Wendy knew that she was revealing something to Lara here. Otherwise, why would she make such a point of asserting that it was her idea? So Lara knows she was lied to, even she can be cannon fodder, and Axe is nowhere to be found.
That’s because Axe is meeting with Victor to discuss bringing him on as a “researcher” of sorts, I guess is how I’d put it. He’ll follow the money, bring the info to Axe, and work away from the office. This seems like a definite recipe for disaster. But Victor does seem genuinely thrilled to be back working for Axe. And again, the more imminent problem brewing at the end of the episode is obviously Lara being betrayed.
Axe thinks he’s a cowboy and that means Axe is always looking out for number one. So he drives up to outside the party, tells Lara to get in the car, and they go to the racetrack. What’s great about this is that the people at the party, who have bought into the myth of Axe, really believe in his outlaw status. Dollar Bill thinks not showing up to your own party is a badass move. But, how much of an outlaw can he honestly be? He owns property (lots of it)! He got married. He had kids. Even if he wears cool band t-shirts and swears a lot and gets his rocks of on betting big, he’s still part of the system.
And his wife just wanted to throw him a nice party! And she told him how important it was! And he didn’t care. He doesn’t even acknowledge how upset she looks!
So as we end at the racetracks, a reminder of Bobby’s past, we linger on Lara’s face, stunned, upset, and unsure. It’s the last thing we see. As always it was a great song choice.
I feel myself counting my chickens, getting giddy with excitement for a Lara/Chuck team up. So for now I’ll just hope it happens! Because honestly, how great would that be?
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