This Billions review contains spoilers.
Billions Season 4 Episode 2
If the end of Billions season 3 was all about the disastrous end of several not-so-well-laid plans, then the beginning of season 4 is almost entirely focused on avenging those losses with even more complex plans. Plans for vengeance against the United States Attorney General and his underlings, as is the case for the ostracized Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), and plans for outwitting a former employee and their new benefactor, as is the sole mission of Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis).
In the premiere episode, these two former enemies conspired (separately and together) to achieve their respective goals despite a significant number of setbacks. For Rhoades, this meant crawling out from under the widening boot of his overbearing father in order to reinsert himself into the political power structures of New York City. For Axe, this entailed pulling just about every single financial favor from his sizeable purse for the ultimately purpose of sullying the work of Taylor Amber Mason (Asia Kate Dillon) and their new rival company.
The billion dollar question is: will any of this be worth it in the end?
Let’s run through who gains what, how they gain it and if it’s going to make a difference in the latest episode, “Arousal Template.” In Rhoades’s case, he manages to secure the concealed carry permit from the police commissioner for his client, thereby firmly re-establishing himself in the favors game. It’s a small matter, especially when compared to what he was able to achieve as a district attorney in previous seasons. However, the many hoops he jumped through in the premiere episode have now landed him in the commissioner’s good graces — so much so that the latter is willing to offer him some more work.
As for Axelrod, the man is on a warpath following the means Mason undertook in the premiere to beat him to winning the favor of a rather wealth Saudi sheik. Considering just how close the ethically questionable hedge fund manager is to his man Wags (David Costabile), and considering what Mason and the sheik’s men did to him (misleading him, drugging him, essentially kidnapping him), it’s no wonder Bobby is so pissed. So he does what he knows best and applies some rather intense pressure on Mason’s company, even despite the kind warning he received from their main benefactor, the Russian oligarch Grigor Andolov (John Malkovich).
Axelrod essentially goes out of his way to discourage every bank in the city, let along the region, from backing Mason Capital. This obviously puts the fledgling group in a precarious position, forcing them to secure slightly less legal means of financing from Andolov’s slightly less legal financial acquaintances. (We’re talking Russian gangsters, folks! Or, at least that’s what they look and sound like when they’re angrily throwing phones across hotel rooms.) But even that doesn’t work out, as Axelrod manages to use some more leverage to cheat said gangsters out of the money that they would have sent Mason’s way. (Hence the aforementioned angry phone-throwing.)
For an episode that’s seemingly all about arousal, it sure as hell sounds like the show’s two principal players are being satisfied in a very desirable manner. But this is Billions we’re talking about. Rhoades and Axelrod are not the only players in this game, and as soon as the showrunners start to cast their nets just that much wider, the satisfaction these two have been enjoying quickly begins to show signs of falling apart.
Axelrod’s is more figurative, in the sense that Mason ultimately forges a path (with Andolov’s help) back to the banks for the independent leverage their business requires. And sure, the arrival of a new power player, the investor Rebecca Cantu (Nina Arianda), helps Axelrod to literally assuage some of his (and her) more bodily arousals throughout the episode, but this is Bobby we’re talking about. When has he never not been calculating in what he does? There’s a much deeper, power-driven purpose to his flirtations with Cantu so far, and considering just how powerful and intelligent she is in her own right, it may not end so swimmingly for him.
As for Rhoades, his rise back up the ladder of power in New York politics seems all but certain by the episode’s end, thanks to the police commissioner’s endorsement. But that doesn’t mean that things are going just as well back home with Wendy (Maggie Siff), his dominatrix wife who also works as Axe Capital’s in-house counselor. Their relationship has always been abundantly clear, but something has changed for Wendy. Now that Chuck is re-amassing power, she isn’t as keen to lord her power over him in the bedroom. And with 10 more episodes to go, this isn’t going to be a one-off subplot. Trouble is brewing at home for the Rhoades and things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get even remotely better.
Through it all, it’s actually kind of surprising (and somewhat of a let down) that the Billions music team decided not to work the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” or “Satisfaction” into the episode. When it comes to pop music accompaniment, they’re usually always on target with their choices. So why no Stones in an episode that’s entirely devoted to its characters’ various arousal templates and whether or not they’re being satisfied?
Billions airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.