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The ‘Billions’ Stock Watch: A Tale Of Synthetic Speed And Very Bad Ideas

The ‘Billions’ Stock Watch is a weekly accounting of the action on the Showtime drama. Decisions will be made based on speculation and occasional misinformation and mysterious whims that are never fully explained to the general public. Kind of like the real stock market.

STOCK UP — Episodes about an entire office doing speed of questionable origin

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There is a long and storied history of prestige-type dramas doing episodes about an entire office doing some sort of unregulated speed together in the middle of the day. And by that, I mean it has happened twice: once in the legendary “shady doctor injects quote-unquote medicine into everyone’s butt” episode of Mad Men; and now, in an episode of Billions where everyone took an as-yet-unapproved Limitless-style pill called — in the Billions tradition of perfectly named fake products like Ice Juice and SugarVape — Vigilantrix.

What was your favorite part of the Vigilantrix debacle? Was is Axe and company almost galaxy-braining the entire company into a disastrous $3 billion loss in a play for, and I quote, minerals? Was it Mafee and Ben Kim all geeked out and giddy like a couple of puppies who got into the cold brew? Was it a tweaking Axe seeing numbers in the air around him like he was in some combination of The Matrix and A Beautiful Mind?

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All fair selections. For my $3 billion, though, it was one of two things

  • A sober Taylor showing up like an older sibling who found out their younger siblings threw a house party and trashed everything, taking a deep breath, and calmly trying to undo whatever was undoable about Axe’s brain-surge-induced play to corner the market on anything that lies under the Earth’s surface
  • New employee Rian convincing herself she could learn Spanish in one hour and then phoning what must have been a very confused Chilean government figure to deliver what amounted to an unhinged lunch order

I love these kinds of episodes. Every show should do one. Give the Stranger Things kids synthetic speed next season. Let’s get wild.

STOCK DOWN — Todd Krakow

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Todd Krakow, noted useless weasel and Secretary of the Treasury, remained only one of those by the end of the episode. He lit himself on fire during an official government meeting, shouting about corruption and whether he will or will not have it and altogether just giving a delightfully performative monologue triggered by Chuck and Sacker’s ruse about a fictional investigation he may or may not have been a focus of. The biggest takeaways here are as follows: one, Axe’s bank charter is now in deep trouble; two, I very much hope this is not the last we see of Todd Krakow.

I’ve covered this before but still, no one on television plays a weasel better than Danny Strong. The faces, the voice, the posture, all of it. Did you see him in the press conference after the meeting where he said he’s going back to “making the ca-ching machine go ca-ching”? It was tremendous. It must be so much fun to write for that character, just putting the most insufferable words you can think of into his mouth and then shouting “action.” He somehow becomes more redeemable the less redeemable he behaves. I have no idea how it works. I love him.

STOCK UP — Mike Prince

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I still haven’t figured out Mike Prince, exactly, but I do know at least three things about him:

  • He’s often positioned in poses like the one above when the “dramatic music” caption pops up on screen, which always makes me very suspicious of him and his actions, even before he makes a move that could be interpreted as a beneficent gesture or a tactic in a game of diabolical 4-D chess
  • He makes references to Wile E. Coyote, which I love
  • Every single thing he does infuriates Axe, who has now vowed to ruin him during the comedown from Vigilantrix

I like Mike Prince a lot. He’s more interesting than Axe. There’s a mystery to him. I won’t be entirely surprised if we learn he has an alter ego as a supervillain who is preparing to poison the Manhattan water supply.

STOCK UP — Shady sunglasses-wearing Dr. Louis Litt from Suits

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Chuck still needs a kidney for Senior and is testing out increasingly dubious plans to acquire one, ranging from “forcing everyone who works for him to get a blood test under false pretenses” to “shaking down a steroid cheat to get a meeting with the shadiest doctor you’ve ever seen, played by the same actor who played Louis Litt on Suits, except now he’s a huge scumbag who wears sunglasses inside only accepts cash and openly discusses buying kidneys from displaced immigrants while talking to the Attorney General of New York in the Attorney General’s actual office.”

Yes. Yes. I broke into a huge smile when I saw this unfold on my screen. It made me so happy. A SuitsBillions crossover is exactly what I need. Keep this character around for the rest of the series. Have him pop up every now and then to offer people body parts, and not just organs, feet and fingers, too. (“What size shoes do you wear? 12? Tough size to find shoes for. I can get you a pair of 10-sized feet for $9k.”) Give him Vigilantrix and let him deliver the keynote speech at a medical conference. The people deserve it.

STOCK DOWN — Artistic principles

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Big shoutout to Nico Tanner, who went from complaining about listening to a potential buyer try to interpret his art at the beginning of the episode (during the awkward dinner I’ll be discussing shortly) to curling up like a purring kitten in the metaphorical lap of a wealthy divorcée as she did exactly the thing he claimed to hate. It was all a plan set in motion by Axe before his speed adventure, for the sole purpose of torturing Wendy for the unforgivable crime of showing affection for another man who claims to have integrity.

It must be exhausting to know Axe. Like, he might just up and ruin your fun relationship through expensive and nefarious tactics that take weeks to unfold and are done only so he can prove his warped view of the world remains true. I would like to see someone smash an entire pineapple on his head, just once.

STOCK UP — Awkward dinners

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Moments from the awkward dinner at the beginning of the episode, ranked:

5. Axe fumes when Wendy rubs Nico’s extremely muscular shoulder

4. Chef Ryan shows up to serve fancy sushi and then wisely gets the hell out of there after reading the room for under three seconds

3. Me saying “Hang on… is Axe’s date.., former tennis superstar Maria Sharapova… who last appeared in season three… and whose presence at this dinner is not addressed by anyone in the moment or afterward”?

2. Wags casually mentioning to his very young date that he wants to have her help raise the child he wants to put inside her, which caused her to briefly choke, as one does in this kind of situation.

1. I’m still not over the Sharapova thing. I hope they get married. Let’s just go ahead and do it all.

STOCK UP — Telling a long story that meanders toward the point you’re trying to make

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One of my favorite things about Billions is how no one ever just says anything. They give a long speech first, about anything. Sometimes it’s wildlife, as with Taylor and the falcon metaphor last season. A lot of the time, it’s a Godfather reference. This week we had two: Chuck telling a very morbid story about a violent Sicilian women using her ex-lover’s head as a flower pot (pictured above), and Sacker telling a story about a maniac preacher who threw his pants into a fire (below).

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I’m not being sarcastic or ironic when I say I love this. I want to start talking this way. All the time. Like I’ll be in the drive-thru at Dunkin’ Donuts and the lady will ask me what I want and I’ll say “Let me tell you a little story about Jules Leotard, a one-time law student who abandoned the profession to join the circus and later invented the article of clothing that bears his name.” Forty cars behind me honking like crazy as I spin my yarn. All for a medium iced coffee. Yes, this is how I talk now. Everyone is going to hate me so much.

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