Billions (S02E12) “Ball in Hand”

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Rather than do a recap I decided to a review of the S2 finale of Billions and share a few thoughts on Billions, in general, but I cannot start my review without doing a quick recap of the episode: Axe was arrested and the person that had the pleasure in delivering him the news was Boyd himself. How ironic, eh?

But there’s a gaping hole in Rhoades victory over Axe heading in S3: What Rhoades doesn’t realize is that Wendy is now caught up with Axe. Once a forensic sweep is conducted of all those who profited from the Ice Juice market debut and Rhoades sees that his wife also profited there will be nothing Rhoades can do to stop his wife from being dragged along with Axe. Especially, since he arranged for Brian Connerty to work under Dake in the Eastern District to oversee the prosecution of Axe. This action, by the way, paved the way for Katie Sacher’s promotion to Head of Crim, and led Lonnie Wately to quit altogether.

As much as I thoroughly enjoy Billions and all of the insights it provides into the market world one of the issues I have is that it can be way too arrogant for itself, and what I mean by that is Billions portrays the two lead characters (especially Chuck Rhoades) as these two super smart guys who know everything and can anticipate any move made before them. But the ONE thing Billions has yet to explain in its series history is the visceralness of Rhoades’s hate against Axe.

To throw away $27 million dollars?

To utterly destroy his relationship with his father?

To destroy his friendship with one of his most stalwart friends?

To risk his marriage?

The entirely of his career?

Over the apprehension of Axe?

Really, writers?

I want the writers to print the above section off, make multiple copies, distribute it in the Writers Room, stand up out of their chairs, and read it aloud. And then ask themselves the question: what kind of sense does any of this make?

For someone like Rhoades to inflict that kind of self-damage in order to gain victory over someone else that someone else better have committed a crime so serious that it would reasonable to apply Old Testament-level punishment. In the two seasons of Billions there is nothing that has happened (or has been explained) between Axe and Rhoades to such a degree that it warrants the kind of self-damage Rhoades is inflicting up himself just to put Axe behind bars.

I have to say for all Daddy Rhoades’s machinations my heart broke for him when son Rhoades asked him to sign the affidavit. Right then and there you could see the realization dawn on Daddy Rhoades’s face that his son set him up just to get at Axe. And the flippancy of son Rhoades’s approach was just cold. We all know Daddy Rhoades would do anything for his son, he just didn’t realize his son would run a spike through him to get at Axe. But the heartbreaker of the night is when Daddy Rhoades decided to cut son Rhoades out of his life. Tears came to my eyes as Daddy Rhoades through his tears choked out his declaration, and son Rhoades just dismissed his anger as if his dad were having a bad hair day. You should have seen how wide my eyes were during that exchange. That moment solidified for me that Chuck Rhoades is a despicable, vengeful, petty, snobby, little creature of a man whom I sincerely hope receives his comeuppance just because of what he did to his dad. Can you tell whom I am rooting for now?

Like I said, I love Billions but honestly, people are just not that smart in the world. I periodically think back to the scene where Brian is hosting a gaming group in the offices late at night because his apartment was too small. At first, Rhoades seems to act like he doesn’t know anything about the game, but as he about to leave he recommends a power move to Brian, then smiles and walks out as if he’s played the game for ages. Really? Brian is surprised that Rhoades seems to know the game better than he does and so are we as the viewers since all we see Rhoades playing is park chess.

No one can see that many steps ahead. Not Axe, not Rhoades, no one. And no one operates with flawless precision every, single, time. There are strategic miscalculations, often determined by emotional investment and for all the unexplained visceralness between Axe and Rhoades there should be loads of calculative mistakes between them in their pursuit in destroying one another.

It is this arrogance in writing, presenting the audience time and again with an elaborate, web of intrigues only for it to be some grand, Machiavellian set up by Rhoades in the end, if he were that smart he would have Axe in jail moons ago. Nothing wrong with a fantastic educational lineage, and I wish it were true that if one went to the most prestigious line of prepatory schools one would come out with a near robotic brain that would know everything like Rhoades is presented in Billions, but that is so, not, reality and at some point, the viewer just has to call BS.

What I want to see in S3 is honest mistakes, and a realistic portrayal of how savvy/unsavvy people really are. Right now, the show presents Axe and Rhoades as the preeminent brainiac characters and everyone else is dumber than a box of rocks (Mafee, Lara, Brian) with moments of brilliance (Dollar Bill, Lara, Brian). The sole exceptions are Wendy, Wags and Taylor, who are realistically presented as exceptionally intelligent but also emotionally flawed, which makes them THE MOST INTERESTING characters on the show that the rest of us mere mortals can relate to. Now if the writers can find that kind of balance with the rest of the cast, specifically with Axe and Rhoades that would be progress.

I swear this series is going to end with both Axe and Rhoades staring at one another out of their respective jail cells. That may not be a bad idea. That way Taylor can milk Axe Capital dry and run off into the sunset with Wendy Rhoades. Did I say that out loud?

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Best scene of the S2 finale:

Rhoades: “You need to put a trace on the wife’s phone.”

Dake: “I did.”

Rhoades: “Not his! Mine!”