While watching this episode of Billions, I felt that I was watching two separate shows about powerful people navigating a morally ambiguous, dangerous world. It was a good show — but it wasn’t quite the Billions I love, with Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) and Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) locked in a battle of wits and shady dealings. After their brokered peace, Chuck and Bobby are no longer each other’s primary enemies. On this episode, both men had new antagonists to contend with.
At Wendy’s (Maggie Siff) urging (we do love a man who listens to the smart women in his life), Chuck spends this episode pursuing a case against Attorney General Jock Jeffcoat (Clancy Brown) with all the intensity – and bursting forehead veins — he can muster. Axe, on the other hand, is sent into a spiral after Grigor Andolov (John Malkovich) decides to pull $1.5 billion of his seed money from the firm. In order to keep Axe Capital's reputation intact, Axe will have to make up for the losses.
Let’s start with Chuck’s grand mission to take his boss down spectacularly. In a shady parking lot meeting, journalist Michael Dimonda (Sam Gilroy) gives Chuck what he wants: a whopping scoop on Jock Jeffcoat. Jock’s brother is a Billy Graham-esque Evangelical pastor who also owns the networks on which his popular sermons are broadcast. He and Jock profit massively from their church. Apparently, Jock is worth hundreds of millions of dollars – far more than anyone thinks he is.
Not only is Jock secretly rich; he’s also openly heinous. Jock makes an impromptu visit to Chuck’s New York office and brings a not-so-optional suggestion with him. After passing by the “shithole” neighborhoods on the way Chuck’s office (this descriptor is reminiscent of Trump’s “shithole countries” comment), Jock wants Chuck to pursue the crimes of the poor more vehemently. Per Jock's instructions, the Southern District is to take city and state's drug cases and prosecute them.
Jock is also in the business of friendly intimidation. Jock invites himself and his wife over for dinner at the Rhoades’ that evening. When Chuck tells Wendy that the Jeffcoats are coming — and that she has to cook — she winces.
Instead of initiating Jock's plan to prosecute drug cases, Chuck recruits Kate (Condala Rashad) and Karl (Allan Harvey) to help build the case against Jock, even though it’s hella dangerous. But it’s hella worth it. Chuck discovers just how illegal Jock's actions are during a meeting with Kate’s media mogul father, Franklin (Harry Lennix). Though Kate expressly asked Chuck not go to her father for advice, Chuck knows he’s full of insider knowledge. Franklin, speaking in innuendo, says that while Jock was governor of Texas, he used his power to make sure network wires could run through half the state. Essentially, he pulled strings to build his fortune, and only will continue to.
But how did the Jeffcoats make their fortune? Kate and Karl track down Jeffcoat’s brother’s money manager, Ashley Cutler. Chuck goes to Cutler's mansion and finds that he's fled. Once the FBI tracks Cutler down (he was trying to flee to Caracas!), Chuck can dig his teeth into questioning. Essentially: Cutler is helping the brothers launder the church money, and get away without reporting the earnings. Chuck makes sure Cutler can testify that he made the Jeffcoat brothers money.
Ironic, then, that after Chuck nabs this spectacular piece of evidence against Jock, that Jock is waiting for him at his house. Wendy is sitting stiffly with Jock and his wife, having the most awkward pre-dinner conversation ever. Jock is describing the ingredients that go into “Texas roadkill chili,” and Jock’s wife naturally is full of paranoid stories about the New York subway. Instead of cooking, Wendy has employed Axe’s foxy personal chef. Chuck gets home late after getting a flat tire. Jock thinks he understands why Chuck is late. He’s building a secret case to “impress” him. Can Jock really be that obtuse?
Now, onto Axe. Axe’s giant “journey” toward finding funding this episode is really a moral quest for Axe to figure out what kind of person he is. Is he the kind of person who accepts dirty money, or he is a standup guy? Let’s see. After Andolov pulls $1.5 billion, Axe has a few options.
First option: Getting Raul (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), the head of the cop pension, to leave Pinay’s fund and invest with "the mothership," Axe Cap. Raul says no, it's too risky. Axe then tries to get the firefighter and sanitation union to invest with him, but they won’t because of Axe’s actions on 9/11. Takeaway: Axe’s name is akin to poison. The people who used to admire him — the working people of New York — now loathe him.
So, Axe jumps to the next option: Taking the money of gangsters. It is, as Axe says, "unpalatable" — but it must be done, right? Axe and Wags (David Constable) head to City Island and meet with Frotty Anisman (David Krumholtz). Frotty's nickname comes from the word “frottage,” which the new trader (with fabulous hair) explains means dry humping in public. This is not the ideal person to invest with. He slurps oysters like it’s a sex act. In a way, Frotty is like Ari Spryos in that he doesn’t know what makes him so grotesque. With teeth gritted, Axe comes this close to taking Frotty Anisman’s money, and selling off a piece of Axe Capital. Then, Frotty asks for insider knowledge about Axe’s trades. That, Axe can’t abide by. He kicks him out of the office. At this point, a perplexed Wags utters the best line of the season: “You know I love it when you move with the mystery of Yahweh, but what the fuck?"
Onto option three: Taking the money from uptight pension funds who usually wouldn’t deal with Axe Capital. But Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon) is able to spin Axe Capital into an upright company. We think the deal with this Kansas City pension fund will go through — until Ben Kim (Daniel K. Isaac) sneaks in the elevator going to the ground floor with the pension fund representatives inside. Wendy has been coaching Ben on how to build up confidence and pitch his great idea. Be more confident, she says. Do something crazy, she says. So, Ben Kim decides to strip to “It’s Getting Hot In Here” in the elevator. He enterts into a fugue state and ignores Axe's horrified utterances of his name. The Kansas people immediately turn Axe Cap down — but Ben finally feels confident enough to pitch his knowledge about a merger he learned about through contacts with rental car companies. Axe and Wags are very happy. Ben feels like one of the boys. We love Ben!
But this is isn’t enough. Axe finds one more source of income — one that might cost him personally. Oh, Ax, why can't you stop yourself? Taylor tells Axe that they went to dinner with Oscar (Mike Birbiglia) and the founder of a genome mapping technology. Axe goes behind Taylor’s back and buys 50% of the genome mapping company, thus stealing it from Oscar. Taylor is devastated. Will Taylor ever be able to forgive Axe? It doesn’t look it. We also hope this doesn't threaten the best romance on TV.
Now that his business is in order, Axe can deal with family. He arrives to Gordy’s birthday party an hour late. Lara’s sister is openly unhappy with Axe (understandably!). The big surprise? Yonkers Pizza Man is hanging out with Axe's family, cooking pizza. He and Axe seem to make up from their bad business (remember that New York town that Axe screwed over?). They clink glasses. He inspires Axe to focus on his family.
And so does Andolov. At the end of the episode, Axe attends a dinner with Andolov's family in one hell of a gold rococo room. Andolov introduces him to his mother, who seems terrified of him. As Axe figures out, Andolov was the little boy in his story from last episode; his mother was the one raped by the soldiers. We know what happened to the little boy. Andolov decides he’s not pulling his billions out, and he’s happy Axe didn’t whine.
At the end of the episode, all this family talk inspires Axe to visit his mom. Now that we think of it, we don't know much about Axe's mom at all. We hope this opens a whole new can of psychological worms, and maybe a reconciliation with Lara. It's about time Axe redeemed himself.