Man, these guys are both legitimate lunatics. And I love it. This episode dizzyingly brought us two dastardly plans told in a series of increasingly tiny time jumps. Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the creators of Billions, also wrote Oceans 13 and many of the set pieces in tonight’s episode felt like a heist movie. Axe’s big plan to destroy Ice Juice is presented to the audience like a puzzle and as much as this approach helped to build tension, it simultaneously worked to throw viewers off the big twist, to get them swept up in the orchestration of it all. The jumps made the plan seem well-executed and slick, the holes came later. So let’s break it down.
We begin with a random scene set two weeks ago of a guy named Terry shaking down some dude who owes him money. Then there’s a jump to one week ago. It’s so smart to immediately make the audience play catchup. Wags tells Axe he can’t find a good short play to screw Chuck Rhoades Sr. (Look, I’ll just say it, Axe makes too many Godfather references.) But when Taylor comes in and says the Ice Juice money couldn’t have come from Chuck Sr. and Axe realizes that it probably came from Chuck himself it all becomes too juicy (pun intended) to pass up. Axe seeks ultimate destruction, referencing poison-tipped arrows that go through one person to kill another. “Golden Frog Poison.” Axe’s “Golden Frog Poison” is… just brazenly breaking a bunch of laws.
In the present, Chuck and Ira and Chuck Sr. are celebrating, Ira’s counting his chickens, and it’s all very, very stressful. The next day Chuck wakes up in bed with Wendy (I have a lot of questions about if they have missionary sex occasionally too but… that is for another day). He tells her that he put some money into Ice Juice and gives a big speech about knowing it was the right move. I wavered a lot in this episode with my resolve that Chuck had a plan, and here was one moment where I really felt unsure. Like, why tell Wendy? The optimistic part of me wants to believe it’s so she won’t have to lie to Axe, so the ruse is believable. But if that were the case couldn’t he just not tell her? My other theory is that Chuck did it to test her, which would suck. This feels ready to blow up next week.
But back to this week, where Wags and Axe are giddily telling Taylor to fire someone. The joy it brings them really is contagious. Sure, what they are getting excited about is taking away a person’s livelihood, but the fact that they’re doing one more thing to initiate Taylor into their club feels exciting. Axe tells Taylor that they can’t just fire based off a formula, they need to interview everyone and smartly figure out who’s actually the right person to let go.
Taylor goes to Wendy to ask for advice on firing people and she gets Taylor to confess that their dad was fired when they were in seventh grade and it really affected the family. You gotta assume a hedge fund person will land on his feet, but Asia Kate Dillion played this moment so well. It’s a scene about the little excuses you make for becoming someone you used to hate, someone you thought you’d never be. It’s such a complex moment and delivered so subtly that it’s devastating. Taylor still feels the emotion, but not as much anymore.
Ultimately, Taylor doesn’t fire the actual worst person in the company, by the algorithm’s standards, a guy nicknamed Rudy, like the movie. See, he’s sort of a source of inspiration around the office, not a genius, but a fighter, who everyone cheers for when he doesn’t get fired. Taylor sees the value in that too, so they just fire a creepy guy. Seems fine.
When Taylor leaves the office Dollar Bill gives them 250k in cash in a duffle bag, establishing that if they help him, he’ll help them. This is the only show where a duffle bag just like, automatically means a bunch of money. Like, I’m so jaded from watching this show that when Bryan confronts Taylor at their apartment I was like “He should know that’s money,” even though any normal person would think it was a gym bag. But anyway, that night Connerty appeals to Taylor’s morality again, saying he could’ve taken a job with Axe too but he wanted a clean conscious. Taylor’s just like “There are a lot of factors, stop this ‘my soul’ nonsense, I’m gonna keep working” while, you know, going into their baller apartment with their bag of money. It’d be exciting if any of our leads turned now (**cough** Lara **cough**), but loyalty seems so ingrained into all of these characters that you’d definitely need a big moment to justify it.
But anyway, back to Ice Juice. It’s the day the drink goes public (IPO day) and the stock is soaring, just doing bang up numbers. But the whole episode you know that Axe is just waiting to shoot that arrow and mess everything up. It all made me so nervous. Especially when Chuck Rhoades Sr. doubled down and bought some more stocks! All of Chuck’s blind trust, tied up in this stupid juice.
Wendy sees the guys at work betting on when the stock is going to dip for Ice Juice and she goes to warn Chuck. He’s having none of it and says he’s not pulling his money. Here again I thought “Is this all for show? What’s going on?” Is he now trying not to implicate her? IDK, I feel like their relationship might be permanently broken. But, Wendy, angry when Chuck won’t listen even after she broke her agreement to tell him, puts her money on the short! Money in, money out.
But how, how did Axe engineer something that would sink such white hot stock? Well, let’s break it down. First, he got some kinda vial of light poison that’d mess you up pretty badly if you drank it, but not kill you (he asked a doctor). Then he bribed a guy who worked in the warehouse to plant some trace amounts of this poison at work. Then he paid a bunch of people to go to different Ice Juice locations, pour the poison in their juice, drink it, throw up like crazy and be taken to the hospital cursing the product. While watching it you could get wrapped up in how extensively he thought all this out, if you’re not just disgusted. I asked my lawyer friend what the specific crimes were that Axe committed here, and she was basically just like “All of them!”
The one journalist in town gets wind of the story, it’s huge breaking news, bigger than Chipotle (ugh the lines are long again there though so, I mean, people forgive). The stock sinks low. Ira lost so much money. Chuck seems devastated, even more so when he learns that his dad invested more than he thought. LOL this was another moment where the creepy smile that Chuck Rhoades Sr. always has really made me want to punch a wall.
I had a lot of fun this episode right up until the part where Axe was “assembling his team” of people who were going to take the poison. Victor’s got a maid who he caught stealing and so he realizes that she’d be an easy target for this: drink the poison or get deported. It’s such a small moment, but I found myself suddenly crying. Because we all have our hot button things and this is mine. Fuck Axe for threatening this woman (through an associate)! I’ve always had a clear side, but at that moment it became less about an exciting game of “who’s gonna win: Axe or Chuck?” and more “Chuck has to win.” (Even though you could probably argue that Chuck would do the same thing and also he works for the government so he still might do something shitty like this) For me at least.
But man, did it seem like Bobby was gonna win. I kept checking the time to see if there was enough episode left for things to turn around. As Axe and Lara started talking, I really worried there wasn’t. Lara said Bobby is starting to look like the Bobby Axelrod she knows again. They reminisce about first meeting and have some pizza with caviar. It’s all very romantic and natural. You forget the action of the episode for a second. But then they’re trying to have sex and Lara’s just not in it. And we realize that it’s still broken, even as hard as she’s trying to forgive him. And this indicates that… maybe another shift is coming.
So last week during Wendy and Lara’s great meeting, Wendy refused to take a Lara bribe (she gets to like, 20 million) because money means too little to her and she really cares about the job. That scene really foreshadowed Chuck’s big play here. The show is called Billions, but money has never been our leads’ biggest motivator. For Axe and Chuck it’s obsession, self-righteousness, jealousy, justice, and often vengeance. So, even though I doubted, it just seemed like there was no way Chuck was into Ice Juice just for the money. ‘
Every time they showed Chuck towards the end of the episode I shouted (out loud… so like, who am I to judge crazy?) “Smile, smile now Chuck. Reveal your plan!” Yet they just kept showing him more and more devastated, until he was crying in his bedroom. And then, oh then, we hear him laugh and laugh, facing away from the camera. That’s. right. suckers. You gotta use chum to catch a shark (but also don’t catch great white sharks, they’re going extinct).
In a heist movie staple we get the “every scene from the other person’s side” montage and everything mostly clicks into place. Chuck had a secret meeting with Boyd and told him that he could make a deal and be back at home if he helped him out (off the record). That’s why Boyd told Axe about the Ice Juice investment. Then Chuck brought in OLIVER DAKE to help him in a truly amazing and out-of-left-field move. Dake’s now Interim U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District and because of that he has a bunch of FBI agents at his disposal. Chuck suggests that they go after Axelrod. He says that there are 18 Ice Juice locations in NYC and the FBI has to be at all of them. We learn that all the extras in these earlier Ice Juice scenes were actually FBI agents, gathering evidence. And Bobby, acting out of malice, did make a lot of mistakes. Even as he tried to get things not to trace back to him, that one guy literally just took the poison himself when his associate bailed (LOL). Chuck was even there when Boyd called Axe that day. So, you see, he ends the episode laughing and laughing and laughing.
There are a lot of things that still need to be answered about this whole plan. Like, how much money was actually lost? Ira still got screwed, right? Seems pretty messed up! “It this is what it takes,” Chuck told his dad in that flashback. LOL so like… did he lose all his blind trust money for real? Does he think this is gonna help him politically? He told Dake that Axe was acting out of malice, but how much of what Chuck did did Dake know? IDK (I haven’t watched the “next week on” promo yet). But you know what: send a maniac to catch one. So… Check mate? Or… Chuck mate? See you guys for the finale!
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