This Billions review contains spoilers.
Billions Season 4 Episode 9
Just because last week’s episode of Billions was titled “Fight Night” doesn’t mean that the penultimate episode of season four, “American Champion,” is without any fighting. On the contrary, the latest entry in Andrew Ross Sorkin, Brian Koppelman, and David Levien’s recently renewed Showtime series is chock-full of instigations, threats and outright villainy. This is what Billions fans have come to expect after nearly four full seasons of scenery-chewing drama, and “American Champion” doesn’t disappoint.
This is due to many things. Wendy (Maggie Siff) and Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) are still struggling to cope with there irrevocably damaged marriage. Meanwhile, Chuck and his father (Jeffrey DeMunn) find themselves in an ever-tightening vice thanks to the efforts of Bryan Connerty (Toby Leonard Moore) and his boss, Waylon ‘Jock’ Jeffcoat (Clancy Brown), who just so happens to be the attorney general. And then there’s Bobby Axelrod’s (Damian Lewis) increasingly fraught financial grappling with former employee Taylor Amber Mason (Asia Kate Dillon), which blows over into his personal life this week.
All of these things (and more) play out in “American Champion,” but the episode’s real champion is Dr. Gus (Marc Kudisch), who returns after a long absence following his firing from Axe Capital and subsequent imprisonment in season two. You may recall that Gus was hired to replace Wendy for a brief stint as Axe Cap’s in-house counselor and life coach. And unlike Wendy’s approach to her practice, which was far more cunning and manipulative than not, Gus is all about machismo. He practically bled testosterone throughout his time at Axe Cap, a trait that complimented (as much as it conflicted with) Axelrod’s own personal practices.
So why is the bad good doctor back? Because as Wendy found out in “Fight Night,” her medical license is under review by the state medical board and seeing as how she misused her access to Mason’s records to get one over her employer’s top competitor, she’s in for a load of trouble if her misdeeds are found out. Wendy needs help. She can’t do this alone, no matter what Bobby tells her in his latest round of passionate (but emotion-weary) monologuing, so she turns to Chuck. “I need the killer,” she tells him at the episode’s beginning. “You kill for yourself all the time, so go kill for me.”
She even offers it as a possible beginning for the reconstitution of their marriage, of which Chuck is weary, but the recently appointed state attorney general does what he’s asked and goes to bat for his wife. Which leads us to Dr. Gus, whom Chuck put behind bars in season two. He assumes that he can offer the prisoner something in order to get something from him — information, leverage, anything — that would help Wendy in her coming fight with the medical board. After all, Gus used to be a board member.
But that’s the thing about characters seeking help from other characters, be they friends or enemies, in the world of Billions. No matter what issue is at stake, the help almost never comes in the form initially requested — if it comes at all. In the case of Dr. Gus, it’s the latter. Not only is he not happy to see Chuck, but Chuck’s attempt to curry his favor (by mentioning how he hid away millions for his wife and kids) results in a new revelation for the visitor and the audience. Yes, Chuck successfully hid the money for Gus’s family, but then his wife divorced him and forbid the kids from visiting him in prison. So much for that favor for your wife’s defense, Chuck.
Not that it matters, because it’s this lack of help — or lack of initial action — that works as the major theme of “American Champion.” For while Chuck has been trying to seek a game-changing favor to save his wife’s medical license, Bobby has been going to bat for his billionaire girlfriend Rebecca Cantu (Nina Arianda), who spends this episode starting her first day as the CEO of a major department store chain and discovering that Mason is trying to sabotage her efforts in order to needle their ex-boss. It’s only when Axelrod realizes that he should take a step back from things and let Rebecca handle it herself, which she does brilliantly, that things work out for them both.
Inaction! Letting things happen! Winning anyways! That’s how it always works in the world of Billions, right?
Just because Chuck wasn’t able to turn Dr. Gus doesn’t mean that he’s going to stop there. On the contrary, the “killer” Wendy called for comes out and, thanks to his father’s prodding, he finally realizes what he must do. In order to save his wife and his father from ruin, Chuck must drop all pretenses (despite his own mounting scandals) and find a way to squeeze his enemies into submission. This results in a literal train of shit for Jeffcoat, whose estate backs up to a major railway. Realizing he has power over what trains run over this particular line, Chuck has a train carrying loads of waste run on it and, once it reaches Jeffcoat’s property, stops it for a mandatory surprise inspection.
Rebecca’s speech about living her own American dream may be the more fluffy source for this week’s episode title, “American Champion,” but let’s be honest. The real American champions in Billions are the ones who utilize their political and capitalist-sourced powers to their own personal advantage, no matter what it costs their enemies or, as Chuck reveals when he essentially reveals to Connerty that his wife and father’s well-being matter less to him than his ascent, friends and loved ones.