The title of this week’s Billions — “Golden Frog Time” — refers to Axe’s reference to poison-tipped arrows that he believes will go through one target and hit another. If he takes out the Ice Juice IPO, he’ll kill Chuck Rhoades, Senior and Junior. However, as we learn in this episode’s stunning final moments, Chuck Jr. is the one who’s willing to shoot arrows through both his father and friend if it means hitting Axe with a deadly projectile. The fallout from the closing revelations of “Golden Frog Time” will be catastrophic, shaping not just next week’s season finale but the future of Billions ahead. In many ways, it is the moment the show has been building toward for 23 episodes.
The episode playfully keeps viewers guessing, moving back and forth through time with title cards that read “Two Weeks Ago,” “Six Days Ago,” etc. It’s a frenetic hour that centers on the IPO of Ice Juice, a company in which Ira (Ben Shenkman), Chuck (Paul Giamatti), and Chuck Sr. (Jeffrey DeMunn) are heavily invested. Senior is house poor, so he had to dig into his son’s trust, and we soon learn that Ira sold his share in his law firm to make the investment. When the Ice Juice goes south — and we know it will because Axe (Damian Lewis) will make it so — these men will be destroyed. Or will they?
For the majority of the episode, the Ice Juice Boys are ecstatic, and there’s a tense sense of foreboding, as we know the roof is going to cave in. Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon) informs Axe and Wags (David Costabile) that the IPO seems solid, but they are confused as to how Chuck Sr. got the capital to invest. It had to be a personal loan of some sort — so Axe and Wags realize that destroying the company will destroy Chuck Sr., and probably his son too. Little do they know it’s all been a setup.
Before the rise and fall of Ice Juice, Chuck reveals to Wendy (Maggie Siff) that he’s invested in the IPO, after a “husband-and-wife booty call.” The Rhoades seem to be reuniting, but Chuck’s drastic action in this episode could derail that. It also puts Wendy in a strange but familiar position when she sees that Axe Capital has shorted the company. She goes to Chuck to warn him, but he gets defensive, pushing her away again, as he so often does when he feels his ego is threatened. She responds defensively as well, ordering Mafee (Dan Soder) to invest in the short for her, essentially making a fortune. How this will play into the next episode and next season will be intriguing, especially when we see how pissed Axe is that the Rhoades family’s bottom line wasn’t impacted as drastically as he hoped.
While the Ice Juice drama plays out, Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon) gets deeper into the power culture at Axe Capital. They have to do something most bosses dread — let people go. At first, they come to Axe with a purely analytical list of performance-based cuts, but Axe makes it clear there must be more to it. They have to interview people to assess potential as much as performance. It’s interesting that Taylor ends up saving the lowest-ranked analyst, possibly in part because he inspires the team around him as they chant his nickname, “Rudy.” (Yes, like the movie.) After meetings and consternation, Taylor makes the cuts and goes home to find Bryan (Toby Leonard Moore) waiting for them. Their name was on Klaxon, a deal that Chuck’s office is going to investigate, so Bryan senses one last chance to “turn” Taylor. It may be too late, especially after they take a duffel bag of cash from Dollar Bill (Kelly AuCoin) as a thank you for the Klaxon deal. Bill’s words in that scene feel like foreshadowing, noting that Taylor needs a pile of cash squirreled away for when things go bad. And Taylor’s name is on Ice Juice, which is about to go very bad.
Back to the Ice Juice explosion. The bell rings and the stock is off and running. The trio of Axe, Hall (Terry Kinney), and Boyd (Eric Bogosian) are on one side of the field, with Chuck, Senior, and Ira on the other. It looks like they’re both running toward the middle. Who will get there first? As the stock continues to skyrocket, Chuck Sr. invests even more. But Axe is too happy. He knows something almost no one else does.
That’s when we see Axe’s play in a series of flashbacks. Hall got a man on the inside to poison the well, dropping traces of bacteria at the plant. A series of “compromised associates” also poisoned individual bottles of Ice Juice and drank them, resulting in some pretty grotesque symptoms. Stores close, the stock plummets, and it looks like Ira and the Chucks are dead in the water. This is “spider eggs in bubble gum” and “another Chipotle.” There’s no way a company like Ice Juice can survive this disaster. The Hindenburg docks at $3.89 a share, well down from its peak above $30.
After sending her flowers earlier in the day, Axe comes home to Lara (Malin Akerman) and plays the role of conquering hero. At first, it seems to work, but it’s worth noting that she’s still distant. Something is not yet right in the Axelrod marriage.
After learning how much was lost with his friend and father, Chuck goes home and weeps. Or does he?
After a quick flashback to three weeks ago and the day Chuck took the deal to his dad, we cut to two weeks ago for the big twist. Did you wonder exactly how Boyd knew about the Ice Juice situation? The first revelation: Chuck told him. It’s all been a play, bait to reel in Axe for the final time. Working with Dake (Christopher Denham), they’ve been surveilling Axe through the entire process, monitoring his trades and interactions, including footage of the “customers” poisoning their Ice Juices. They have all of the details on the Ice Juice play and it’s the kind of thing that could send multiple people to jail. Chuck isn’t weeping. He’s laughing.
• Great music cue to open and close the show: “Even the Losers” by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.
• When the tampering is revealed, I suppose Ice Juice’s stock could bounce back. Chuck may want to tell Senior and Ira soon before they take drastic action.
• The great Karyn Kusama directed this episode. She gives it a fantastic energy, working with unique visual compositions, pacing, and performance. She’s a terrific director and she also helmed one of the season’s best episodes. See her film The Invitation as soon as possible.
• I loved the scene between Dillon and AuCoin in the parking lot because we don’t often see moments like that between supporting characters on star-heavy shows. It would have been tempting to focus solely on the major players, but the writers have turned the show into a true ensemble piece. It’s been incredibly rewarding to watch the supporting cast deepen and get richer, and it’s made for a better season than the first.
• Only one episode left! How can Axe get out of this one? Will he turn the tables on Chuck yet again or is he finally going down?