This Billionsreview contains spoilers.
Billions Season 4 Episode 3
So far, Billionsseason 4 has spent most of its energy following the intersecting stories of former rivals Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) and Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis). The ex-United States Attorney and the billionaire hedge fund manager initially buried the hatchet last season, and have since kept in constant contact in order to avenge themselves against the Attorney General’s office and analyst wunderkind Taylor Amber Mason (Asia Kate Dillon). But the Billions tide began to turn with last week’s “Arousal Template.”
Same goes for this week’s “Chickentown,” which quite literally begins with a brief selection from Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” and juxtaposing shots of Manhattan and an older farmer riding around a giant chicken coop on an electric scooter. Yes, Rhoades, Axelrod and Mason are all definitely still in this game, but so too is Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff), who finds herself questioning one of the central foundations of her and Chuck’s relationship. And then there’s “Dollar” Bill Stearn (Kelly AuCoin).
He’s one of Axe Capital’s more charismatic analysts, one of the show’s most goofy ensemble players and the source of one of this episode’s silliest subplots. Well, I say “subplot” because, like all Billions episodes, there is so muchgoing on. Not so much that it’s impossible to keep track of, but enough that unless you’re completely invested in everything that’s happening, one or more of the smaller side stories just might escape your attention. (Usually. More on this below.) As for it being a “silly” subplot, well, it’s still important enough to earn a mention in the episode’s title — but it’s still pretty silly.
“Well they blew up the chicken man in Philly last night,” Stearn sings atAxelrod in the middle of the floor. “Now they blew up his house too / Down on the boardwalk they’re getting ready for a fight.” It’s not the first time that Dollar Bill has made a scene like this in the history of Billions, and unless something staggeringly unpleasant happens to him in the course of this season (or a future season), it won’t be the last. Even so, it’s just enough to simultaneously annoy and intrigue Axelrod. “I got chicken business with you,” the would-be singer declares.
So what’s said “chicken business”? Well, remember the electronic scooter-seated gentleman from the opening shot? Turns out, he’s the “chicken man” that Dollar Bill was referencing with Springsteen’s lyrics. Why? Because he’s a poultry industry patsy who’s been put in place to help run the Arkansas Chicken Index, a major market mover whose numbers dictate nationwide prices for all chicken products. And Stearn’s super excited about this particular man because he’s pretty damn sure that he’s got a good insider tip about his activities with the index and, as a result, is certain he can make the right bet to earn some significant gains for Axe Capital.
When the Arkansas Chicken Index report is delayed, however, Stearn finds himself (at Axelrod’s insistence) hooking up with his source in order to find out how and why his tip went south. What he discovers is as grotesque as it is morbidly hilarious, and is a perfect example for why Billions is still one of the most ridiculous and, as this particular subplot has already been described, silliest shows on television right now. Unfortunately, as was mentioned earlier, Dollar Bill’s adventure is also demonstrative of one of the show’s thornier issues.
Sometimes one too many threads can be just that. The series has advanced from a singular story of oppositions, chiefly that of Rhoades versus Axelrod, to an ever-widening array of stories and side stories that pit former allies against one another and introduce entirely new players (or formerly unimportant recurring characters) into distressingly complex situations.
Stearn going on a brief sojourn in order to try and fix his latest screwup is one thing, but Wendy and Chuck’s relationship hitting a snag because she finds herself desiring something that he’s not entirely willing (or able) to give? Bryan Connerty’s (Toby Leonard Moore) efforts to try and sabotage Chuck’s attempts to regain his footing in New York’s bureaucratic power structure? Kate Sacker (Condola Rashad) getting more involved in Connerty’s power moves?
This is a lot, yet it doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the things that co-creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien, along with their writing team, are trying to accomplish this season. For the most part, they’ve had a lot of success balancing the many scales that Billions is frequently trying to utilize. But with an episode like “Chickentown,” in which every narrative nugget has been packed in almost as tightly as a poorly ventilated chicken warehouse, it doesn’t quite hit all the marks.
Or, as Axelrod puts it when he and his right hand man, Mike “Wags” Wagner (David Costabile) intervene in Stearn’s outrageous attempt to set things right, “We can’t all be right all of the time. Sometimes, you just gotta take a loss.” Though to be honest, it’s Wags’ line at this moment that really seals the deal for just how goofy this show can be, its many story offshoots notwithstanding.
“Forget it, Bill,” he says while doing his best classic movie reference impression. “It’s Chickentown.” So yes, this actually happened on the latest episode of Billions, and yes, despite the episode’s extra stuffing, it still does okay in the end.