This Billions review contains spoilers.
Billions Season 4 Episode 5
As last week’s “Overton Window” proved, the faster Billions chugs through an episode’s many, many plot points, the better off it is. Andrew Ross Sorkin, Brian Koppelman and David Levien’s Showtime series about the corrept machinations of New York moneymakers and politicians has almost always been chock-full of major and minor characters enacting or enduring primary and secondary storylines. So the speedier everything runs, the better.
Hence “A Proper Sendoff,” which runs a narrative marathon without breaking a sweat or taking a break from its opening shots of “Black” Jack Foley’s (David Strathairn) cremation and a baking pizza destined for a particular table. Specifically, the table shared by Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff), Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis) and Rebecca Cantu (Nina Arianda), all of whom are enjoying a double date turned strategy meeting. Bobby wants Chuck to make good on his promise to do his bidding following his state election and Chuck wants to tackle a laundry list of enemies first. Meanwhile, Wendy is still pissed off by her husband’s public revelations about their sex life, which he did in order to gain political points and avoid Foley’s penultimate attempt to bury him.
Things have worked out pretty well for Bobby and Chuck, but Wendy? Not so much. That’s not to say that anyone has actually said anything to her face, or in a public manner with her present. No one at Axe Capital has done or said anything to make Wendy feel ashamed. Then again, the company’s counselor isn’t exactly leaving her office door open or the light on, either. Being the dominant one in her and Chuck’s relationship, she now feels an uncomfortably evident sense of powerlessness. Chuck knows he did wrong by her, so he generally avoids her glare throughout the episode. Bobby, meanwhile, attempts to steer her back on track so that she can do her job at Axe Capital. Unbeknownst to either of them, it’s going to bite Bobby in the ass by the episode’s end.
Before any of that can happen, though, Billions’ original two contenders — Rhoades and Axelrod — must go their separate ways for what, in some respects, feels like an incredibly long day. For the former, this includes brushing off his former protégé, Bryan Connerty (Toby Leonard Moore), who now occupies the federal position he once held dear. Minutes after their encounter, however, it becomes abundantly clear to Rhoades that, his recent election notwithstanding, his state attorney general’s office has no real power thanks to the fed’s involvement and the late Foley’s final gut punch. The governor has all but rendered Rhoades’s office powerless.
As for Axelrod, his brief comeuppance comes in the form of John Rice (Seth Gabel), a young investor whose father worked with Bobby for a time. Rice is cashing out of Axe Capital and going it alone, a move that seems generous on the surface, but is actually tied to the younger moneymaker’s desire to get out from Axelrod’s shadow and away from his name altogether. Why? Because his late father, it turns out, told him all about Axelrod and his particularly nefarious business practices. Unfortunately for the young investor, Bobby doesn’t take well to cashing out. “Never give the money back, kid,” he tells Rice after a significantly vile power move disguised as some surrogate father/son bonding while fishing at sea.
Yes, that’s right. Axelrod, who will later remind Wendy that feelings aren’t his thing, going to incredible lengths to exact revenge against Rice just because he gave him his money back, plus interest. Mike “Wags” Wagner (David Costabile), “Dollar” Bill Stearn’s (Kelly AuCoin) and many of the other power players at Axe Capital have spent the entire day talking up an interview in which Bobby trashed Rice’s business practices in order to scare off his investors. As a result, his business has lost nearly a billion in cast — including the $100 million he gave back to Axelrod.
“Enough folksy bullshit,” Bobby declares when he breaks the news to Rice, who sees his former business partners pull out en masse once they return to land (and its large quantity of cell phone towers). “I’m bleeding out,” Rice declares. “You ruined my business. My name.” Of course, this is Bobby Axelrod we’re talking about, so that he even did any of this just to stick it to Rice isn’t all that surprising. Nor is it surprising when he leaves the kid at the marina and peels out. The only surprising thing about it all is that Koppelman and Levien managed to make the audience think that, for at least part of a single day, Axelrod could actually feel something.
At the same time — and I cannot stress the fact that all of this happens in a single day — Rhoades’s office gets the goods on a cabal of senior state senators and convinces them to veto the governor’s action against his office. Instead of enacting this plan, however, Chuck convinces the governor to turn on these senators and re-issue the state attorney general’s office its prosecutorial powers — all while the good governor prepares to deliver remarks at Foley’s funeral. Chuck then beats him to the church lectern, gives a few thinly veiled remarks about his comings and goings, and orders state officials waiting in the wings to arrest the aforementioned senators, who are all sitting in the pews.
“A Proper Sendoff” is replete with such power moves, but it practically ends with the biggest one yet. It’s not made by Axelrod or Rhoades, nor is it perpetrated by Rhoades Sr. or the federal agents who’ve been following him. Instead, this honor belongs to Wendy, who after determining what that the underlings at Axe Capital and rival Taylor Amber Mason’s (Asia Kate Dillon) company have been saying behind her back, informs Axelrod that Mason is actually quelling the dissent and has reached out to her. She also tells Bobby that she didn’t take the call, which satisfies him to the point of disinterest. Then she calls Mason back and agrees to talk, thereby setting the stage for one of Billions’ biggest betrayals yet.
Billions airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.