What exactly are the Billions writers doing with Lara Axelrod (Malin Akerman)? When we saw that Adam R. Perlman, who wrote our favorite season 2 episode, “The Kingmaker,” was credited for this episode, we prepared for the best of Billions. But somehow, every scene with Lara has come to represent the worst of Billions — despite one very brief, but very important, throwaway line.
But we’ll get to that.
When we first see Bobby (Damian Lewis) in episode 2, he looks particularly mopey. He’s scrolling through his phone. The Counting Crows are playing. He’s gazing out at the New York night from his balcony, which leads to an empty apartment. Maybe, we think, he’s considering calling Lara.
But no. Silly us. He’s got his mind on his money and his money on his mind. After a whiny call to Wendy (Maggie Siff), where he complains that he doesn’t know what to do with himself if he can’t trade, and Wendy dispenses with wise-sounding phrases like “Limits, constraints, they can be useful,” and “There’s nothing you can do to regain control at this hour,” Axe decides to ignore her advice altogether.
After a push alert on his phone signals earthquakes coming to Mozambique, Axe sets up shady after-hours meetings with shady ex-business associates — including the robotic, eager Victor (Louis Cancelmi), who is already entwined in Axe’s Ice Juice mess. Axe can’t direct trades, so it looks like he’s directing other people’s trades, and reaping the benefits by investing his own money — namely, $2 billion of Axe Capital’s funds that he’s mysteriously earmarked for himself. Apparently illegal trading just begets more illegal trading.
That is, unless Chuck (Paul Giamatti), Dake (Christopher Denham), and Bryan (Toby Leonard Moore) can get their shit together and stay on the same page. First there’s the matter of which judge will oversee the case. Orrin (Glenn Fleshler), Bryan, and Dake are on pins and needles as the courthouse wheel of fortune spins. They are assigned a fellow named Leonard Funt (Harris Yulin), and Orrin is overjoyed. Courtesy of Chuck, we find out why: “Funt is a true believer in the power of the free market… an old-school libertarian.” Clearly Chuck is going to roll up his sleeves and do a little tampering with the legal system.
Because Chuck has been such a devious DA, only recently atoning somewhat, we learn that Funt owes Chuck a favor. Later in the episode, Chuck morosely haunts a hallway where he corners Funt and demands the favor be repaid. It seems Chuck once helped his son out with an Adderall-dealing issue (boarding schools are rife with those), so Chuck is free to embark on one of those back-alley deals he’s so fond of, installing his pal Adam DeGiullo (Rob Morrow) as the judge instead. Since Funt is played by such a formidable actor, and his character is very on-brand for Billions, we hope he resurfaces later this season so someone more deserving can “get Funted.”
In a delightful scene, we meet two young finance bros who are made out of pure steel and Ivy League diplomas. The “new Halls,” as Wags (David Costabile) calls them, are Axe’s new personal investigators, and they recommend that Axe adds security wanding to his foreplay repertoire should more women show up for late-night adultery. Wags mocks the ambiguously asexual duo, assuming they love avocado toast, but one of them corrects him: “smashed spring pea toast is the new avocado toast.” Noted.
While Chuck dismantles the judicial system, upstanding Bryan reunites with Terri McCue (Susan Misner), his FBI ex-girlfriend, who playfully mocks his dedication to ping pong. It’s cute, but we have a soft spot for the flight attendant with a heart of gold and Big Law dreams. They’ve teamed up again to confront Victor’s maid, Maria Gonzalez (Annie Pisapia), one of the complicit marks who intentionally guzzled poisoned Ice Juice to crush Chuck, Charles, and Ira’s IPO dreams. Since Chuck set the whole thing up, they have Maria poisoning herself on camera, and she agrees to flip on her boss instantly.
The only problem? This brief encounter leads to Maria showing up to work a few minutes late. Victor instantly knows she’s been targeted, and gives Axe the head’s up. Axe, of course, gives his new Halls a head’s up. By the end of the episode, Maria has been swept up in an ICE raid, and finds herself, still in her maid’s uniform, standing in Guatemala instead of Greenwich. One down.
Bryan and Flirty McCue head to Margolis' (Daniel Cosgrove) house, where they find him swimming naked in his pool. Then they find him standing naked in front of them. One of the episode’s best exchanges occurs when Bryan asks Margolis if he wants to put a towel on, and Margolis says, “I’m good.” Flirty says, “You’re fair.” Margolis swipes their suspicions aside by claiming he paid off his house in a very responsible, honest way (i.e. his wife came into some money), and then gives Axe yet another head’s up.
All this tension leads Axe to do something truly ill-advised: show up in a scene with Mark Cuban. We really thought we were done with the stiff Cuban cameos (did we learn nothing from Entourage?) but here he is again, missing his marks, not knowing his angles. Axe attempts to coax Cuban into letting him invest in something new, while they ogle shiny Porsches in an empty dealership, but Cuban isn’t interested. Axe, like Ice Juice, is poison.
Axe Cap isn’t doing so hot either. Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon), the newly installed boss, is staring at a candle in order to focus. Ben Kim (Daniel K. Isaac) alerts them that a tsunami is headed towards Brazil, and they need to act fast to short their investments in Brazilian sugar and shipping. This sets up a sort of David and Goliath debate among the hedgies: Ben (David) doesn’t want Axe Cap’s actions to kill off hard-working Brazilians’ small businesses. Dollar Bill (Goliath) doesn’t care who gets hurt, as long as Axe Cap doesn’t lose any money that day. Taylor is determined to find a middle ground, and ultimately figures out a way to take a minimal financial hit using Ben’s more benevolent approach.
As Taylor and the team shift from strategy to strategy, Axe decides to march into the offices and observe the commotion. He questions Mafee’s (Dan Soder) decision to eat lunch. Ben doesn’t know whether to sit or stand. Spyros (Stephen Kunken) yanks out his video phone so he can diligently record everything. Security removes Bobby’s computers. Dollar Bill (Kelly AuCoin) attempts to communicate to Axe in code. It’s a mess, and Axe knows it. Once he finally gets alone with Taylor, he asks them, “Why didn’t you anticipate the tsunami?” Axe did as soon as he got that Mozambique push alert. Taylor admits that they don’t have enough experience. But they’re still not going to break the rules and let Bobby in. As Wags put it, “You can’t have it appear you’re illegally meddling… especially when you’re illegally meddling.”
Amid all this useless big stick carrying, Axe is too busy to take his sons, the “princelings,” to their Little League game. While Lara sits on the bleachers, waiting for them to show up, she delivers a cringeworthy little speech to a fellow hedge fund wife after the woman makes a passive aggressive reference to the Axelrods' separation. “You think the attention you receive is deserved... When every relationship in your life reveals itself to be a trade on your husband’s net worth...you'll be hiring a PR rep the first time your Halloween costume isn't mentioned on Page Six... so consider keeping that husband.” But Lara, come on. Are you suggesting that you’re above all the favors Axe’s money has bought? The houses? The business opportunities? Maybe it’s because I don’t buy Akerman’s delivery, but I just don’t believe Lara when she ascends any kind of moral high ground.
In a stunning shot, we see the princelings arrive to their Little League game via a helicopter landing in the outfield. When Lara visits Bobby later, she reprimands him for letting the boys show up that way. He apologizes, saying he didn’t want to embarrass them. Lara replies, “They weren’t embarrassed… They didn’t know to be, which is a whole other thing.” This level of insulation from guilt or self-consciousness about money isn’t something Bobby and Lara experienced when they were young. With children born into billions, they’re raising little boys they don’t understand. This will prove to get far more interesting once the boys are teenagers, so for now, we’ll just pray for Billions season 10.
We’re left with two final showdowns, the first between Dake and new AG Waylon Jeffcoat (Clancy Brown). Dake is forced to call Jeffcoat and ask him to have the deported Maria Gonzalez brought back to the States. Jeffcoat responds with a seemingly sympathetic speech, leaving Dake hopeful, but reveals he was just quoting a movie (The Departed). Oli doesn’t watch many movies — though he does make time for an annual viewing of The Decalogue. Ultimately, Jeffcoat believes that Maria should stay in Guatemala because she was illegal anyway. Hints of a Trump cabinet continue to color this season.
Our second showdown is between Axe and Taylor, whose turn it is to stare sadly into space while the Counting Crows play. But again, we shouldn’t be fooled by the desperation in Adam Duritz’s voice. Taylor is feeling good, having made a family-friendly investment to save face in the Brazilian fiasco. Axe admits, “I was in the office because as of now, I don’t know what else to do with myself.” He parts ways with the $2 billion in play money, telling Taylor to take it. Turns out, they’ll diversify, invest in outside funds. Just like Axe was going to do, only legally. Now Taylor is Axe’s hedge.
Parting thought: During an off-the-books coaching session between Wendy and Chuck, Wendy points out that Chuck gave up everything to nail Axe. She tells Chuck that Axe would give up everything to get Chuck, too. But we’re not so sure. Is this obsession becoming more and more one-sided? Without Axe in his life, now Chuck doesn’t even have his Scrooge McDuck millions to roll around in at the end of the tunnel. Without Chuck in his life, Axe still has, well, $2 billion in play money. Hopefully Axe continues to care as much about Chuck as Chuck does about him, or else we’ll lose the crucial tension between our two leading men.