Billions Recap: Agents of Chaos


Victory Lap
Season 2 Episode 7
Editor’s Rating *****
Eric Bogosian as Lawrence Boyd and Damian Lewis as Bobby “Axe” Axelrod. Photo: Jeff Neumann/Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME

The seventh episode of this season features Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis) and Chuck Rhoades Jr. (Paul Giamatti) at major turning points in their careers. Axe has to decide how to get himself out from under a busted municipal-bond deal that relied on a casino that is now going elsewhere. The best option placed in front of him is, shall we say, morally questionable, but he didn’t really do anything wrong. Not taking the “nuclear option” available to him would cost Axe Capital a fortune. Taking it could make him look like a scavenger publicly. Meanwhile, Chuck has such political capital from the arrest of Lawrence Boyd (Eric Bogosian) that he’s being pushed to run for higher office, mostly by his father (Jeffrey DeMunn). Although he’ll need Wendy (Maggie Siff) to make that possibility a reality — and Mrs. Rhoades is tired of both powerful men in her life.

While Chuck is already working on his image with a carefully planted photo op with his son, Axe is trying to figure out exactly how the Sandicot deal blew up in his face. To do so, he shows up at Bruno’s house in the middle of the night with Hall (Terry Kinney), looking for answers. They get to the man who sold them on the deal in the first place, who denies conning them. Hall whispers something in his ear in one of the creepiest shots of the season. It feels like this guy would give up his mother he’s so scared. He didn’t do it. The deal blew up from Albany.

Chuck and Wendy’s fight from the end of last week’s episode gains a new level when Wendy discovers that Chuck used their son for a prop, just like Chuck Sr. used to use his son. She drops a major bombshell: She wants to see other people. And it turns out she has a specific person in mind: Craig Heidecker (James Wolk) the Elon Musk–esque billionaire from a few episodes ago. Later, Craig and Wendy have a tryst in a hotel room and seem to have real chemistry. She has the magic touch with powerful men who describe themselves as “restless.” We could be seeing more of him.

Long before that happens, the brain trust at Axe Capital has to figure out how to salvage the Sandicot situation. The only real idea on the table is the one that makes it hardest to sleep at night — austerity. What that basically means is that the city will have to pay back Axe Capital before they pay anyone else. Think about that on a city level. It will gut schools, city jobs, utilities, and public funds. Crime goes up. Schools will close. The police force will be cut. It has a viral effect that could go as far as to turn Sandicot into a ghost town — just so a hedge fund gets paid back. Everyone is a little uncomfortable, but Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon) seems to be the most levelheaded, recognizing that this is simply the most logical option. I love watching Dillon reflect a mind at work. They are phenomenal at displaying intelligence on screen, which is harder than you might think.

Another smart actor — Jeffrey DeMunn — gets a lot of screen time as Chuck Sr. continues to try to push his son to bigger and better things. He withdrew a golf-club membership because they didn’t allow women and that could hurt his son in a future campaign. He’s thinking that far ahead. He gives his son a key piece of advice: He can’t do this without Wendy. “You’re a good candidate,” he says. “She’d make you unstoppable.”

Wendy is back at Axe Capital trying to make Bobby’s employees unstoppable, but Mick Danzig (Nathan Darrow) is having a crisis of conscience. He’s unable to sleep, dreaming of Russian hackers destroying his portfolio. No, it’s not a Trump reference — it’s a symbol for what Axe Capital is going to do to Sandicot. Danzig is rarely aware of when his financial deals could hurt people, but not this time. Axe takes his concerns to a meeting the next day, suggesting an alternate route to saving both Axe Capital and Sandicot. Taylor shoots it down. “In many ways, a town is like a business,” they say. Would you hesitate to shut down a business in a bad financial deal? Of course not. They even suggest this a sort of evolution, quoting risk analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb: “Become antifragile or die.”

In the center of this austerity controversy, we get an interesting scene with Bryan Connerty (Toby Leonard Moore), a somewhat underdeveloped character this season. Chuck has taken Bryan to Keen’s Chophouse, which typically means a promotion, and there’s a position open for which Bryan is qualified. However, Chuck knows that Bryan called the government on him and almost got him fired. So Chuck plays tough guy, almost like a gangster, as he intimidates Bryan with talk of rats. Bryan doesn’t take it like you might expect, throwing back that Chuck was playing dirty and he had to be called out on it. Chuck agrees and asserts there will be complete transparency from now on, encouraging Bryan, again like a mobster, to be “loyal.” If he can prove his loyalty, he’ll become capo — I mean, Head of Crim.

Another interesting parallel this week: Both leads are getting closer to meeting “Blackjack” Foley. Axe learns that he scuttled the deal and Chuck is told by his dad that he has to meet with Foley to get his political blessing, only after getting his granddaughter a clerkship.

As Chuck tries to reunite with Wendy the morning after the tryst with Craig, telling her that she can work at Axe Capital, Axe continues to balance his desire to find out who screwed him on Sandicot with his need to figure out what to do next. He first goes to Boyd, in prison, who offers advice on both dealing with Foley and what to do next. He advises that handling Sandicot could change his public profile. “If they hate you enough, they will find legal grounds to fuck you,” he says. And this is the kind of deal that could lead to hatred for Axe Capital.

Finally, Axe turns to the person closest to him. After a pleading visit from Bruno, Axe asks Lara (Malin Akerman) what he should do. Her response isn’t predictable. She notes that the people of Sandicot are of the same class that they used to be. One might think that would lead to empathy, but not for Lara. She never got a handout, so why should they? “Did anyone ever help us or look out for us?” she asks. They can let the city implode, go in with charter schools, then build it up again. Gut the city to save it. Axe has a sly grin. He calls someone on his way out of town as AC/DC begins to play, ending his instructions with, “Don’t stop until we get what we’re owed.”

Other Notes

• Here’s where I usually link to an obscure music cue, so I’ll include “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You),” but you probably didn’t need help with that one (or “Sex and Candy” earlier in the episode).

• John Singleton directed this tight hour. Now a veteran filmmaker, he became the youngest man nominated for the Oscar for Best Director for Boyz N the Hood in 1994.

• Time for a bit of praise for a name you may not know — Allison Estrin. She’s the casting director on this wonderful show and it may be the best cast on TV. Every part works, from TV veterans like Rob Morrow and James Wolk to newer faces like Dan Soder and Asia Kate Dillon.

• Prediction time: I’m guessing that Axe will learn from Blackjack Foley that the Rhoades family tree put him in this current predicament, and he will respond in a way that ensures Chuck Rhoades never holds political office.

Billions Recap: Agents of Chaos