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 — Chuck
One of the more delightful things about Billions is that it’s probably the only show on television that can close out an entire season with Paul Giamatti strapped into some sort of medieval torture device and leave you feeling happy for him. Chuck Rhoades is a complicated man. He does bad things but he feels shame about them, which practically makes him a saint in comparison to most of the other characters on the show. How he works out that shame in his own personal time is his business. Except when he airs it all out for the public in a press conference. Then it’s everyone’s business, I guess. Like I said, complicated man.
But make no mistake about this: Chuck won. Chuck won decisively. Every step of this season, every trap it looked like he fell into, every misstep it looked like he made, was all part of a long con to fry up Connerty and Jock like a couple strips of bacon, and it all worked perfectly. Think about this: the man re-routed a train containing literal tons of the foulest-smelling human feces in the five boroughs, sent it to Texas, had it throw on the brakes in front of his enemy’s house, and that was just one small part of his plan. It wasn’t even a full-on part, actually. It was misdirection. The poop train was a ruse. The poop train was a ruse designed to help destroy the Attorney General of the United States. Do not ever underestimate Chuck Rhoades or the lengths to which he’ll go to make a point.
(Just to be clear: Billions is probably the only show that I will allow and revel in this kind of timeline-bouncing Usual Suspects-y closing twist. On another show, it might play as both convoluted and convenient. Billions has earned this, though. The show has dealt in treachery and duplicity from Day 1 and that history gives them the leeway to take a potential hammy reveal and make it delicious. This is, unequivocally, a component. Ham should be delicious.)
Was it all perfect? No. Of course not. Nothing ever ties up neat and tidy on Billions. All this maneuvering took up the time he might have otherwise spent trying to goose Wendy’s suspension, and when another knight rode in to save the day it might have signaled the end of his marriage once and for all. I can understand why this would upset Chuck, especially in the moment, but that marriage had been circling the drain for a long time. It’s probably for the best, long-term, especially if Wendy wants the kinds of things done on her behalf that Axe can provide. We’ll discuss this more in a second.
For now, though, as far as Chuck is concerned, marital issues notwithstanding, things are right in the world. He’s thwarted his enemies (his favorite hobby), he’s already lined up a new enemy to thwart (more on this, too), and he gets to enjoy his torture harness (or not enjoy it, depending what exactly he’s looking for there).
A great day for Chuck Rhoades. We should be happy for him.
STOCK DOWN — Axe
The funny thing here is that Axe thinks he won. He’s pretty sure of it. You saw his face at the end. He thinks he brought down Taylor, he thinks Chuck is still “a useful tool,” and he thinks his move against Rebecca was just speeding up the inevitable. He’s probably ecstatic about how this played out. Plus, Wendy is sleeping in a freshly-made bed in his guest room and one of them will need a flaming katana to cut through the sexual tension in the hallway that separates them.
Let’s address those things one at a time, though. First of all, his plan to ruin Taylor took a hard left the instant he made that play to nuke Wendy’s suspension. Doing so put the nail in the Rhoades’ marriage’s coffin and was also the straw that broke Chuck’s back, to whatever degree a nail can also be a straw. The result was Chuck letting Taylor off the hook and setting in motion a renewed plot to destroy his once and now current adversary. Strikes one and two.
This brings us to the Rebecca thing and the thing where Bobby Axelrod remains a complete sociopath. Total supervillain. He was so enraged that Rebecca — his girlfriend! — made peace with his sworn enemy that he stayed up an entire night fuming about it and then sold her company out from under her. The one she dreamed about owning forever. The one that was about more than money and revenge. If Axe understood anything other than money and revenge, he could have seen that. He even did, a little, but did it all anyway as some sort of sick test. If you don’t love him at his “ruin your childhood dream through duplicitous backroom dealing that sees thousands of middle- and lower-class employees get the shaft while the board walks away with millions or billions of dollars” then you don’t deserve him at his… at his… hold on, I’ll think of a redeeming quality he has… just give me a second…………….. okay, I got nothing. What a maniac. Strike three.
Then there’s the business with Wendy. Oh, I’m sorry. Did you think the “her” at the beginning of the episode, the one Axe was making a damn near chivalrous financial transaction to assist, was referring to someone else? Perhaps a blonde businesswoman he was dating and apparently thinking about marrying? Boy oh boy, are you dumb. It was Wendy. Of course.
It was always coming to this, right? They’ve always been the mommy and daddy of Axe Cap in spirit, might as well make it official. They deserve each other at this point. Wendy broke bad for most of this season and aaaaaalmost came around, but in the end, she was very happy to skate with no consequences for the bad actions she definitely committed. She’s moving from a devious man with shame to a devious man with absolutely none and behaving as such. They’ll be a force whether the relationship gets romantic or stays platonic. But if he ends up going down, this will be the thing that does it.
STOCK UP — Taylor
We’ve already danced around Taylor’s situation so let’s instead take a second to re-examine the chess board as it stands currently:
- Axe thinks he’s defeated Taylor and consigned them to indentured servitude as penance
- Chuck is trying to use Taylor to ruin Axe, who may now have Wendy and her deep knowledge of Chuck’s psyche on his side
- Taylor wants to ruin both of them with what basically amounts to psychological judo
It felt weird seeing Axe and Chuck on the same team this season. This feels… better. It feels right. It’s like Ali-Frazier if the referee had secretly placed a ten-figure bet on the two of them knocking each other out at the same time and was trying to manipulate the proceedings to allow it. I have no higher praise to give.
STOCK DOWN — Bryan Connerty
The Charlie Brown of Billions got the football yanked away from him again, this time with truly disastrous personal consequences. He should have known this was coming. He should have known he was flying too close to the sun with his safe-cracking and his taint-ignoring. He just got too cocky after he outmaneuvered Chuck last season. He thought the student had become the teacher. Little did he know the teacher still had the old “engineer a months-long scheme with his father and the Treasury Secretary to take down half the Justice Department using subterfuge and hidden recording devices and a psychic-like ability to predict his enemies’ every action long before they even considered their options” trick up his sleeve. The oldest one in the book.
It’s just dawning on me that I compared Connerty to Charlie Brown and Icarus in the span of three sentences in that last paragraph. This feels… right, too. The guy absolutely cannot catch a win. Take the screencap at the top of this section, print it out in black and white, and stick it to his tombstone with bubble gum when he dies. He’ll probably screw up his own epitaph anyway.
STOCK UP — Reaching back into the familial lexicon
Some things are undeniably true and not worth arguing about. The ocean is big and wet, for one. No wiggle room there. Home runs and alley-oops are cool. That’s another one. And, as Billions reminded us this week, cussing just sounds better in Italian.
What a joy this scene was. Turns out I could watch Paul Giamatti berate someone in Italian for an almost limitless amount of time. Did I punch his whole rant into Google to translate it? I did. Did I then go to various secondary websites to get the slang phrases loosely converted to an English meaning? That too. Did the process take me down a 45-minute rabbit hole of Italian profanity when I should have been writing this recap? I don’t have to explain myself to you.
I’m still not exactly sure of everything Chuck said to Jock in Italian. It’s is a colorful and musical language and the internet does a poor job of decoding its nuances. But here’s the gist of it as far as I can tell: “You’re out of your mind, you son of a bitch. You and your whole operation are going down. Look at yourself, you fool, you sanctimonious fuckface. You shouldn’t have messed with a wild dog and now you’re fucked. Fuck you.”
I think that’s close. Please, if you speak Italian and can provide any insight here, feel free to correct me. Teach me your ways. I have much to learn.
STOCK DOWN — Rebecca
Rebecca’s story gets filed under Stock Down because it was brutal to watch her lose her dream company and her relationship in a truly cruel simultaneous blindside. I didn’t like it, in large part because I like Rebecca and in larger part because Nina Arianda rules and this might mark the end of her run on the show. Billions possibly wrote off David Straitharn, John Malkovich, and Nina Arianda in the same season, a year after blowing up James Wolk in a spaceship explosion. Billions slows down for no one.
If we’re being honest, though, and we look at this all in hindsight from the future, this could easily be filed under Stock Up. She cut Axe out of her life and made a billion dollars in the process. The first one is the bigger win. The second one ain’t awful either. Part of me hopes she uses the money to destroy him next season, possibly with Malkovich. A bigger part of me hopes she gets his face airbrushed on a dozen full-size vans and crushes with a backhoe while laughing like a maniac and then never thinks of him again.
STOCK UP — Taking one sip of a beer, getting up, leaving the full glass on the table while roughneck goons verbally accost you, and going home in a helicopter that is parked right outside the bar
STOCK DOWN — Singing opera out the window before an important meeting
I’m a huge fan of people staring out the window as the people they know they’re meeting with walk into their office. I love it. I love it even more when they start their big speech without turning around. It’s such a hilarious power move. I want to do it just once in my life before I die.
What I had not considered until watching this episode, however, was doing all of that while singing opera music. I had no opinion at all on Rudy until I saw this and now I love him. The only reason I have it listed as Stock Down is because Taylor used an as-yet-unrevealed knowledge of the opera to read duplicity into his actions. Come on, Rudy. You were so close.
STOCK UP — Krakow
I’m sorry but I love this smarmy prick.
(I’m not sorry.)