Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) and Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) started at the top. Now they’re here — sprawled in the gutter, rescuing their right-hand-men from being drugged in the quarters of a sheik. Bobby rules crippled hedge fund kingdom; Chuck, toppled from his position and expelled from his network, is now working as a self-branded “power broker” and desperately trying to salvage his reputation. Suffice to say, the season four premiere episode of Billions catches our protagonists at low points in their careers, staring up at how far up the ladder they must once again climb.
Let the Axe vs. Taylor Games begin.
In the wake of Taylor Mason’s (Asia Kate Dillon) coup, Axe Capital is gearing up for battle against its former top dog, Taylor Mason. First step: Make sure the remaining troops are loyal. After some employees, like Mafee (Dan Soder), jumped ship, all remaining Axe Cap employees have to sign stringent non-competes. Anyone who crosses battle lines is immediately fired, like poor shrimpy Rudy (Chris Carfizzi), who attended the Taylor Mason Capital picnic.
Second step: Secure those funds, baby. This episode features Axe and Taylor’s first grown-up competition for investment. Both want in from the shady Sovereign Wealth Fund, managed by an unnamed Middle Eastern country. This is a perfect distillation of the different challenges that both funds face. In order to deal with the Sovereign Wealth Fund, Taylor must present as a woman, and wears a wig and a dress. If Taylor, once so firm in their principles, will bend here, where else will they bend?
On the other hand, Axe Cap has to contend with its own worst enemy: Axe’s blustery self-confidence. Bobby sends Wags (David Costabile) to negotiate in his stead, and it’s a disastrous move; the sheik kidnaps Wags in order to lure Axe to the ornate mansion. So, the two head honchos meet. Of course, the “sheik” is really the all-powerful, all-seeing Russian: Grigor Andolov (John Malkovich), who is always bulging out of the woodwork with a terrible Russian accent. He agrees to invest with Axe Cap — on the condition that Bobby lay off on pursuing Taylor.
That’s a price too steep for Bobby to pay. While Bobby verbally agrees to Grigor’s conditions, later he and Wags starts planning another revenge plot. Instead of going after Taylor aggressively, they’ll make sure Taylor can’t make any money. Cause stagnancy, not losses. This doesn’t sound like it could cause fireworks, but it definitely will cause something.
The Taylor Mason Capital has an identity crisis.
The baby bird has left the nest. But is it flying? Jury’s still out. Taylor is positioning Taylor Mason Capital as the anti-Axe Capital. At TMC, bosses won’t surreptitiously convince their employees to do evil deeds, like Axe did. Taylor speaks with the clarity of someone who emerged from a cult.
Still, despite the enticing premise of being a virtuous hedge fund, Taylor has trouble securing talent. Things are getting desperate. They lost their best interview to Axe Capital. How will Taylor and their new COO, Sarah (Samantha Mathis), deal with their reputation problem?
Chuck Rhoades pulls strings, then pulls some more.
Remember those old Putt-Putt video games? Putt-Putt the Car would be asked to complete a task. But in order to accomplish the task, he’d have to ask a million other people for favors. The chain would get so long you’d forget what request was contingent on what request.
That, essentially, sums up what Chuck is trying to do throughout this episode. He’s flexing his muscles as a power broker on a journey that takes him knocking on the door of every powerful person for favors. A man named Mr. Brogan comes asking for a permit for a handgun (his strange reasoning: he has horses and his wife — who he calls “the kid” — likes jewelry. Clearly, the dude just wants a handgun). The only reason Chuck tries to fulfill the near-impossible task of obtaining a carry handgun permit from the police commissioner is because the pressure is on. He needs support before Jock (Clancy Brown) and Bryan (Toby Leonard Moore) squash all of his rising ambitions.
Because that's Jock's plan: Total reputation annihilation. Immediately after Bryan Connerty is sworn in as District Attorney, Jock Jeffcoat takes him aside and proclaims they’re going to spend the coming months searching for dirt in Chuck’s past, from past cases to misconducts. This will undo any of Chuck’s positioning for the soon-to-be-empty Attorney General seat. Chuck needs a high up perch in order to exact revenge – and that perch is AG.
Chuck’s handgun permit odyssey takes him throughout the power centers of New York, which he navigates in true slippery eel fashion. He gets tickets for a temple service. He calls in a favor from his new buddy, Bobby Axelrod, to move a school’s proposed location. He finally offloads that parking permit. Wendy, for once, spends her day helping Chuck instead of Bobby! Ultimately, the specifics aren’t important — though they’re fun to watch. Chuck ends his wild 24 hours by by getting that permit, and getting drunk with the police commissioner while reminiscing about “old New York."
What’s most important is seeing Chuck explore the limits of his power. Without the strength of the government behind him, how much does he actually still have? Quite a lot, it seems. Enough to get the vengeance he so craves.