It's what all the great philanthropists did, wrote their names on the ages and laundered their reputations in the process. - Sean Ayles
Billions is about bullshit. That's what's it's about. Boiling everything down that happens on the show or ever will take place before it comes to an end, it's about bullshit. Bobby Axelrod is a bullshitter, because he makes more money when he makes plays others haven't spotted yet. He's a bullshitter because he has to keep everyone at some distance, including his wife, which she finally realized in the final six minutes of this week's episode. He's a bullshitter because he sees the value in a charitable foundation in his name, simply because it involves his name. He's a bullshitter because it's about money and power, and ultimately, those worldly conceits are decided on felt tables disguised inside boardrooms.
Poker is a game, but the art of the bluff, and the skill to know when you have the best hand in the room, that's far more than parlor tricks.
Chuck Rhoades is also a bullshitter. He's playing Sacker and Connerty, making them both think they have a shot at his chair, while also keeping Lonnie close by as a third option. He's a bullshitter with his wife as well, but not with infidelity. Again, just as with Axe, it's about power and keeping certain things close to the vest. He's going after Bobby again, this time using Sandicot as his method. He's a bullshitter because he's going to let Thayer's crimes go unpunished in order to avoid his political benefactor and his father's indiscretions lead to him. He's a bullshitter because he doesn't give one damn about the town he claims to defend, except as it relates to his poll numbers in the upstate.
Interestingly, you know who ISN'T a bullshitter? Dollar Bill Stearn, who was the MVP of the week. Kelly AuCoin is awesome, first of all, and somehow fits even better in this role than he does as Pastor Tim on The Americans. Stearn is a slimy creature, but he's doing all of it in plain sight. He's a greedy alpha male who desperately wants the approval of Bobby Axelrod. He also has a good eye for business opportunities, including investing in a young baseball player and waiting for him to prosper before collecting. He was so important to this episode, and leading Axe back to Victor and reminding him what being rich means. Yeah, he's a bad guy, but on Billions, he might be the most honest one of the entire bunch.
Wendy, both a bullshitter and a bullshit detector, coached Axe's plant in a way that let him know she saw through that mild caper, and there remain many problems between the two. However, her real value came with Lara, as she told her it wasn't her husband that decided it best not to see Wendy for sessions, but Rhoades herself. At Yonkers Raceway, Lara clearly wanted no part of Bobby's right arm, or any of his loving gestures. She now knows he lied to her, and did it when she had leverage over him. He did it with a straight face, and he did it without breaking a sweat?
Because Bobby Axelrod is a bullshitter, that's why.
Is Ira a bullshitter? Not exactly, because he's on the level with Ice Juice, but he's involved with two world class slingers of bull excrement by the last name of Rhoades. Chuck Sr. knows he has to invest, and he leans on his son to make it happen. Chuck trusts his lawyer, and right now he trusts his father. When he says, "as always," you can better believe that won't be the case. There will come a time when he is diametrically opposed to his dad.
Because Chuck Rhoades is a bullshitter, that's why.
The episode as a whole wasn't the strongest of the season. It was loose in places, and tacking Thayer into it was maybe one story too many. I'd have focused more on Dollar Bill, and perhaps fleshed out Taylor's decision a bit more. The scene outside Axe Capital was solid, but we didn't get the meat from those two we could have, because the writers chose to go in extra directions. Mason does get on the plane, as we see her smiling and drinking like the excess-driven maniacs she works around. If there's any regret in the carbon footprint or the waste, it's not on that aircraft. Maybe it comes next week, or maybe Taylor is falling prey to the addictions and trappings of being rich enough to take a private jet.
There was a lack of direction in the episode at times, and though it was entertaining, it was probably the worst hour of Season 2. That's actually a semi-compliment, because it was still fun to watch. This was the first week where Billions felt like it was checking off boxes for all its characters, rather than evolving or building naturally. The show clearly had plenty it felt it needed to accomplish, and in trying to do so, a few details were lacking.
Lara's brief phone conversation with Chuck was amazing in its quantity of bullshit. It was incredible, as both were tiptoeing around facts and feelings, and even the tones of voice was artificial. But, that's as it should be, and again, it backs up the base claim of this review. Billions is about bullshit.
Wags' speech at Bobby's birthday party, an event the guest of honor didn't even attend, was blind bullshit. Mike didn't know he was spouting nonsense, because he idolizes the essence of his boss. What he said, he believed, but we all know how ridiculous that kind of hero-worship is on this show. Wags may have gotten past a tough stretch, but what he does MAKES Bobby, not the other way around. He's basically talking about himself as he speaks, but doesn't actually comprehend that there's no one without the other. Wags has to see through the bullshit first, so that Axe doesn't even step into a tainted field. And, he has to bullshit better than nearly anybody in the hedge fund.
Not the best ep, but it moved the story along. Chuck Sr. is about to make a mistake, and may have already done so. Ice Juice could work, but if it's a success, it might actually bring Chuck down in the end. Rhoades is seething now that he knows Axe went after all the Churchill first editions just to spite him, so his emotions could cause issues. And, is it possible that the wives will bring both leads to their knees? Lara being Bobby's kryptonite would be quite a twist sometime down the line. She's losing trust in him by the day, and being the scrapper that she is, he can't afford to piss her off long term.
Remember my Billions rule. Think about what's not happening, rather than concerning yourself with present events. Billions is about bullshit, and the process extends to the audience. Misdirection creates drama and eureka, and employing it correctly can addict, enthrall, and enrage us. Expect all of it as we move into the final three episodes of the season.
Sic transit imperium translates to "so passes the empire." Bobby isn't ready for that yet, and the ark may well be a scam, but eventually, everything falls. The question is how the bad guy in the Springsteen song meets justice. And how the politician trying to bring that justice loses his soul attempting to make it happen. We've got a long way to go.
LINE OF THE WEEK: The moral of the story is you get one life, so do it all. - Bobby Axelrod
I'm @JMartOutkick. I don't want to be Spitzer, so I'll fit her right in.