Billions Season 4, Episode 3: Why Did Dollar Bill Cross The Road?

Dollar Bill (Kelly AuCoin) needs a new hobby. Something soothing, like tai chi or pottery. Something that won’t result in his doing illegal things just to satisfy his lord and master, Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis). As his rendering of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” shows, the dude has a good voice. Go do karaoke, Bill — not sniff out information for insider trading as if it were your sole life’s mission.
As this episode proves, Bill will go to wild lengths for Bobby Axelrod. That image of Bill clutching an infected bird outside a chicken quarantine facility, ready to infect the food supply so Axe Capital doesn’t make a cent on its investment is representative of so many dynamics found in this episode: How far are these characters willing to go for one another?
For example, Wendy (Maggie Siff) is willing to act like a politician’s wife for Chuck (Paul Giamatti) – but she’s not willing to be a “sex dispensary” for him anymore, happily breaking out the S&M trunk whenever he has a tension headache. Chuck is willing to follow through with his father’s fundraising scheme in Schenectady – but only because he’s has nowhere else to turn. Taylor’s dad is pulled between admiration of his child (and their stunning accomplishments) and his stubborn allegiance to the gender binary.
This episode is full of episodes of two people (or, in the case of Axe Cap and Taylor Mason Capital, two entities) squaring off and renegotiating the terms of their relationship. The takeaway? Don’t trust anyone.
With that in mind, let’s get into some of the specific machinations.

Bobby Axelrod, 007

We might as well rename Axe Capital “The War Room,” because lately, that’s all that Axe, Wags (David Costabile), and Wendy do: Sit around and develop strategies for taking down Taylor Mason (Asia Kate Dillon). Truly, don’t they have profits to make and better things to do?
I’m almost surprised by how wholeheartedly Wendy has stooped to Axe’s Machiavellian level — but why should I expected elevated morals from Wendy? As Taylor pointed out last finale, she’s one of them – and she’s damn good at it. After all, Wendy’s the one who develops the latest tactic to attack Taylor Mason Capital: “Buy up prices on names they want to increase their sizes on, and picking tiny percentages off their profits.” These small, inexplicable losses will drive Taylor, fixated on mathematical precision, absolutely crazy.
Wendy’s right! It does drive Taylor crazy — but also makes them hyper alert. Taylor realizes Axe is behind these losses, and so is a step ahead of him during the next part of his scheme. Hall (Terry Kinney), Axe’s fixer and spy-master, installs a literal spy-glass that can take photos of Taylor’s office. But Taylor embeds an error into their wildly complex mathematical formula, which Bobby catches.
Also, who knew Bobby was this good at math? In the past, all of his trading decisions seemed to be divined through a combination of arrogance, magical intuition, and nuggets of insider information. Taylor is forcing him to use his sheer intellect, too. That brings us to an important distinction of season 4, versus all other seasons: Bobby is relishing this war, because it’s a chance to prove himself. In some ways, Taylor is a more formidable opponent than Chuck. They’re using the same tools to fight each other; they’re operating within the same system. Whoever wins is actually better at their job.
Even if Bobby is getting an adrenaline rush from it, this much can’t be denied: Their little war is exhausting and time consuming. Neither firm is able to move forward (especially Taylor, who is struggling to secure talent). Taylor, pleading with Axe to think with reason instead of revenge, asks for a truce. “Let’s not waste ourselves on each other,” they say, in one of TV’s best break-up lines. They’re both so good at what they do — and so bad for each other. Axe agrees to Taylor’s terms. He’ll invest in their company and make the street think that Taylor asked him for help.
Here, Taylor forgets one important fact: Bobby’s more snake than human. Unfortunately for Taylor, this agreement is just another step in Axe’s larger scheme. Fortunately for us thirsty audiences, this means the games will go on.

Chuck Is A Sweaty Mess

We could spend this time talking about Chuck’s attempt to thwart the journalistic process and get a damning story about his time as U.S. Attorney killed. Or, we could talk about what a sweaty mess he is. Going to go with the latter. We’re beginning to doubt that Chuck is cut out for this politician thing. He certainly won’t get anywhere without the help of his dad, Chuck Sr. (Jeffrey DeMunn) — and, as the final moments of the episode show, without Bobby Axelrod. Let that irony sink in! Let it simmer!
Chuck’s in a bad place. His allies have abandoned him. After the newspaper story fiasco, his fundraiser has been cancelled by the forever bewildered Lonnie Watley (Malachi Weir). He’s reduced to campaigning at a Michael Bolton concert in Schenectady, where no one will pose in photos with him. Chuck is literally holding himself together with a rubber band. During the Schenectady schmooze-fest, he plucks himself with a rubber band to remain alert. Ever since Wendy retired from her dominatrix duties, Chuck has had to become his own dominatrix (literally — that rubber band is emblazoned in my mind, unfortunately).
The lengths Chuck is willing to go to satisfy his father is astounding. Which is the perfect segue to another father-child relationship shown this episode. Only unlike Chuck, this kid isn’t going to budge an inch to make their father proud – or comfortable.

Taylor’s Dad Needs to Get With the Program

That scraggly guy who walks into Taylor Mason Capital at the start of the episode? Yeah, that is the uber clean-cut Taylor’s dad. He’s still stubbornly clinging to “she/her” pronouns to describe his child.
Taylor and their father don’t have much intimacy when it comes to their personal lives – but they both love math. So naturally, Taylor uses the language of math to broach the conversation about their gender identity. “You can’t bend math to your will. It doesn’t exist to satisfy you,” they say. A famous mathematician must accept his derivative had a life of its own – or walk away. Their dad must do the same. Taylor is their own person, whether or not their parent approves (or understands) their decisions. This is a parent-child impasse that has been explored everywhere from TV to the Cat Stevens song “Father and Son,” but it’s handled particularly poignantly here.
As of this episode, tides are turning for this re-capper. Once a staunch Team Bobby supporter, I may be jumping to Team Taylor. Taylor has proven that they can keep up with the game – but they’d rather just leave the game entirely. They’re not obsessed with ego and power, like Bobby. They’re not naturally ruthless. They’re just smart. Come on, Bobby. Let them be smart, and you can keep betting on chickens.

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