Compelling, fast paced, overacted, plus Megadeath.
Jeff Neumann / AP
By Jason Martin
Sports franchises are how we knight people in this country, and you're not royalty. You're a robber baron. - Sandy Benzinger
Every week, I feel like I'm repeating myself, but today it comes with a twist. Billions is very entertaining, and I enjoy the show quite a bit. The characters are larger than life and filled with inviting quirks and the necessary level of tension. This critique isn't new to this week, but it was more pronounced Sunday than at any time before on the series.
The acting talent on this show is tremendous, but the overacting taking place on an episode-by-episode basis sometimes takes me out of the action. I realize we're not supposed to take this show all that seriously. It's got melodrama, it's got sophomoric romance, real-world problems presented in the penthouse and not the fifth floor, and it's got metal, drugs, bondage, and a good bit of yelling. However, when Paul Giamatti stares someone down in the middle of a meal or a meeting, and uses threatening phrases or sounds like a lunatic, it does detract a bit from the experience.
Seriously, there were numerous occasions this week where the dialogue and its execution were way over the top and almost comically farcical. The problem comes when Billions is trying to make a cogent point but loses it in the ether of overwrought production. I don't expect it to change. I just wanted to point it out, because it was so palpably prevalent this week.
Fittingly, it was an episode featuring Mark Cuban, who is known quite well for his histrionics and overreactions.
Wendy was again doing important things, but this week she was part of a side story that showed how she views people. In assessing Elena Gabriel (Melissa Navia), she was tasked to determine whether a driven, solitary woman was the proper fit for a tech billionaire who has lofty goals, including an expedition to Mars. Her assessment ended as expected, finding a reason to recommend against Elena, despite a likability and intelligence from the young hopeful. It was that first failure, the thing that goes wrong that wasn't expected, that perked Wendy's interest.
One thing that's always likely to be true about Wendy's clients or her subjects. There's going to be something wrong with these people. Wendy Rhoades can pick the scabs off of anybody and reopen wounds ranging from paper cuts to gunshots. It makes her intriguing, but it does illustrate her innate ability, past what most expect from a regular therapist, to manipulate her way deep in the minds of powerful men and women in the private sector.
Through the discussion about Wilco, which I disagree with to some extent as Jeff Tweedy has done excellent work since the departure and later the sad death of Jay Bennett, Elena revealed she never found the creative or life connection that might have tethered her to a traditional life. Bennett overdosed in 2009, and Gabriel's belief was that he needed the band, and that even though he and Tweedy were alphas who frequently butted heads, Jay couldn't keep himself together on his own.
Incidentally, Jeff Tweedy has historically been under fire from people with whom he's worked, and may indeed be difficult to deal with as a musician. He thinks he's a genius, and has no problem telling you so. Substances certainly didn't help that situation, but for Elena Gabriel, it led her to the story and the relationship to her own life that ended up costing her the opportunity she had worked her entire life to achieve.
Well, unless she comes back twice, is rejected twice, then comes a third time. That would prove to Wendy that Elena can handle the problems that can occur in space, and at that point, the stress test would be the next result. So, Gabriel is a lab rat, and has no idea her future depends on how she reacts to bad news.
The episode builds to the final confrontation, and the first one-on-one scene between Axe and Chuck, which provides more than its share of strong moments. The best, though, is in Bobby's ability to fight his urges and follow the tutelage of his attorney, Orrin Bach, who basically told him exactly what Rhoades' attorney would ask. Sure enough, word-for-word, that's how it went down. You'd imagine Chuck would also be aware of the way the proceeding would unfold, but of the two, it was Rhoades that cracked and put himself in a potentially dangerous seat during the deposition.
Orrin Bach is a stellar attorney, and a terrible human being. Ira Schirmer is a pretty good lawyer, maybe even a good one, but he seems outclassed. The show wants us to see Chuck as an underdog in this fight. Ira pulls better women, but Orrin can keep you out of the clink.
Axe thought he had the NFL franchise, and Wags was doing the legwork (between getting a Yosemite Sam ass tattoo) to knock other potential bidders out of the running. But, Sandy Benzinger (Richard Thomas) proved to be a better and savvier adversary than ally. He was smart enough to realize The Giving Oath was merely a scam of a signature for Axelrod. It was all about the optics and a set of strategically placed photographs that existed solely to take the stink off the 9-11 revelations that destroyed Bobby's public standing last season.
Sandy is an interesting case, because on the one hand he talks very eloquently about how giving is a healing source. That earning money is nothing compared to the feeling of handing it away to someone in need. However, he's also aware of the benefits of something like The Giving Oath to HIMSELF. When Axelrod tells Taylor he understands how to use a charity, he knows of what he speaks. It's about making sure the entity benefits you as much as it does anyone else. The perfect balance between the two makes for the most effective nonprofit.
Also, it's nice to know Agent Gaad wasn't left for dead in Thailand.
Oliver Dake finally forced Bryan Connerty to take a stand, but not the one the investigator hoped to get from his top potential informant. At first, he was successful in breaking Connerty down, but by the end of the hour, Bryan had simply had enough. It's the arrested party staring at a stack of documents. The officer bluffs and says he has all sorts of evidence. Some people give in. Connerty asked to see his cards. We know Dake has intel, but how much he has in his possession, no one is sure. He's essentially been on a smart man's fishing expedition, but when mouths close, he loses his leverage.
Unfortunately for Bryan, Chuck knows he's been wined and dined by the enemy. Chuck Sr. was very busy this week, preparing the flash drive, attempting to save his son's career by any means necessary, and also trying to convince his boy to preserve himself, and to do whatever he needed to do with Lawrence Boyd to make it happen. Ultimately, they both want Bobby Axelrod, but at the current time, the deposition is in Axe's favor, as it was Chuck who stepped his wingtips into the wrong place at the wrong time.
It was another eventful episode, as there were tons of moving parts and all of them seemed to be advancing at a pretty respectable rate of speed. We didn't even talk about Marco's son and the casino idea, Kate's dad having some troubling money in offshore accounts, or much about Lara's gangster move with Mercy Squad Hydration Therapy. That was baller as hell, and was also the sliest trick she's pulled since the widow's book incident early in Season 1. This maneuver provided the episode's best line as well. There were several candidates, but when you reference The Wire, you're probably going to win.
Speaking of brilliant, Chuck using the Franklin Effect in asking for a favor to bond with someone, which is deemed stronger than doing a favor for someone, was something special. He's working Lawrence Boyd, and Axe knows when he heard from Hall and later from the man himself that he isn't a "cut off the hand" kind of guy, he's in trouble. In the back of his mind, Bobby knows anything that can hit Spartan-Ives can also end up on his doorstep. No one is dumb enough to think Chuck Rhoades doesn't have his sights on Axe Capital. He blames Axe for using his wife to enrich himself and his associates, and now he also blames him for breaking up his marriage.
This was maybe the best ending to a Billions episode in memory, as it just stops on a dime and dares you to wait seven days to see what happens next. Dude in the Megadeth shirt might now be in trouble himself, after getting the NFL news from Benzinger. Plus, how is Wags doing? Ass problems are definitely first world problems when they're self-inflicted.
LINE OF THE WEEK: This is our fuckin' corner, Stringer. - Lara Axelrod
I'm @JMartOutkick. Email me at email@example.com. Please, not rehab.