This Billions review contains spoilers.
Billions Season 4 Episode 4
Many professional reviewers and recappers are probably going to begin their pieces on this week’s episode of Billions with a quick, Wikipedia-provided definition of its namesake, the “Overton Window.” As they should, for the political concept developed by the late Joseph P. Overton plays a pivotal role in defining all of the increasingly heinous shit that goes down in what amounts to a single day in the tumultuous lives of rivals turned allies Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) and Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis).
We’ll come back to Overton soon enough, but until then, let’s relish in just how delightfully fun and well constructed the fourth episode of Billions Season 4 truly is. Written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, who also serve as co-showrunners, “Overton Window” follows a particular trading day that, as soon as the opening bell rings on Wall Street, all hell breaks loose. Of course, “all hell breaks loose” is a relative term for Billions, for in any given episode, tends thing to go sideways for Axelrod, Rhoades, Taylor Amber Mason (Asia Kate Dillon), Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff) or any one of the program’s other players. After all, last week’s “Chickentown” was almost entirely about “Dollar” Bill Stearn’s (Kelly AuCoin) nearly cheating his boss out of a lot of money thanks to a deceased poultry industry consultant turned hack.
So, who’s in trouble this time? Well, basically, everyone. Before trading officially begins, Rhoades reveals to Axelrod, who’s helping him to win his state attorney general election campaign, that he’s going to drop out of the race. Why? Because “Black” Jack Foley (David Strathairn), a frequent ally andcompetitor of his father Chuck Rhoades Sr. (Jeffrey DeMunn), is about to reveal some of Chuck Jr.’s dirty secrets. Specifically, Foley is threatening to go public about the delicate nature of Rhoades’s sexual relationship with his wife Wendy, a dominatrix. The pair’s love life has been on full display since Billions Season 1, but never in a way that would jeopardize either of their careers. And now that Chuck is trying to crawl back into the political spotlight, it seems he’s more than willing to lay down and expose his belly.
Axelrod, meanwhile, thinks that Chuck shouldn’t back down and even goes out of his way to compliment the man who once tried to use his office to skewer his occasionally illicit business practices. Perhaps Bobby was even thinking about spending some more of his time that day to assuage his conspirator’s concerns, but that all goes to hell as soon as he receives a tip concerning the soon-to-be volatile nature of the natural gas industry.
A tank at a plant is due to explode, thereby setting off the surrounding tanks while tanking everything and everyone in the market with ties to the industry. Cue the Axe Capital soldiers, who diligently follow their boss’s orders to quickly (but discretely) dump everything they can as soon as that opening bell rings.
Which would be great for Axelrod and friends if they weren’t suddenly the victims of a massive cyber attack. The company’s in-house network goes down. Personal laptops and phones that were tied to the Axe Capital network during the past few days are also affected, thereby rendering them utterly useless. In other words, the company is quite literally kicked off the modern grid and forced to use burner phones, personal connections and called-in favors in order to dump all of the offending shares related to the impending doom and gloom of the natural gas industry. Axelrod, his fellow investor turned romantic partner Rebecca Cantu (Nina Arianda), Dollar Bill, Mike “Wags” Wagner (David Costabile) — all of them are forced to go “old school” in order to save face.
Of course, Axe Capital’s induced mass panic is still big enough to catch Mason’s attention. Axelrod’s former employee turned business rival then begins to do the same, albeit with far more ease, in order to water down the former’s attempts to avoid tremendous losses.
All of this is business speak, for the most part, but it’s also true to what Billions has always been so very good at doing — especially in its first season: making high drama out of an otherwise boring situation. (Yes, insider trading on the open market while enduring a cyber attack from forces unknown isn’t necessarily boring, per se, but compared to the drama inherent in shows like Game of Thrones or The Handmaid’s Tale? The argument can be made.) And by placing it all within the limited timeframe of a single day, Koppelman and Levien manage to successfully eke out one of this season’s best episodes yet and, frankly, one of the show’s best in some time.
And that’s just the Axe Capital side of things. Rhoades, meanwhile, takes a hint (unfortunately or otherwise) from dear old dad and decides not to bow to Foley’s demand that he exit the race or face the consequences of public humiliation. Instead, he calls a press conference to read a statement saying that he’s exiting the election, opts out of reading his prepared remarks saying just that, and instead reveals to the world that he and Wendy “practice sadomasochism.” Politically, it puts Rhoades in an amazingly powerful position for the impending election. Personally, however, it adds a significant amount of weight to the growing wedge that already exists between him and Wendy.
Hence the “Overton Window,” which Wendy brought up while discussing Chuck’s options with him in a previous scene. She wanted to keep their private life private and, to ensure this, suggested that Rhoades step out of the race altogether. His time in office, she argued, was long since past per the concept’s definition. He, however, just couldn’t let go of the seed his father had planted (along with a little encouragement from Axelrod’s prodding) and instead decided to go full steam ahead with his plans to attain the state attorney general post. Rhoades ultimately ends up winning the position, but at what cost? Wendy sure as hell isn’t happy about it.