“Sic Transit Imperium” is interesting right from the “Previously On” segment. It goes way back, covering a lot of the season’s eight episodes, including Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) selling his first-edition books, the photo op that helped launch his political campaign, and the introduction of Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon). It’s always intriguing to see what’s included here, as it’s sort of an overture to what will follow in the next hour.
It’s Bobby’s birthday! What do you get a man like Axe (Damian Lewis) who literally can buy whatever he wants? His closest allies have to get creative. It starts with Wags (David Costabile) revealing that he bought his best buddy a spot on the Ark, a bunker for the end times, for the low, low cost of $360K. Wags didn’t even buy himself a spot, joking that he would rather be on the outside for the apocalypse. Much of this episode is about Axe realizing he would rather be with the marauders as well.
While Axe is planning his party, Chuck is realizing that the Sandicot deal may not be the political windfall he was anticipating. First, he tries to get to the bottom of the Austerity deal that Axe Capital is running on the town. The most important question is why Axe got involved with a potential casino deal in the first place. What did he know and when did he know it? Sacher (Condola Rashad) will try to get some details from Steph Reed (Shaunette Renée Wilson), but the key nugget of information gleaned from that conversation is not what anyone was expecting: Axe was obsessed with details, including buying up first editions to spite a rival.
There’s some lovely interplay between Axe and his three most important soldiers this week — Wags, Taylor, and “Dollar” Bill (Kelly AuCoin). It’s Bill’s turn to give Axe a birthday present, and he gives something that fits his nickname: a deal. Specifically, that deal he wanted to mention in the office but Steph’s presence wouldn’t allow. We find out it’s an auto company called Klaxon that’s about to get slammed with a recall. It could make Axe Capital a fortune — but is the risk worth it? Bill is disappointed that his outlaw buddy is so concerned about optics, saying, “If we can’t live how we want then the terrorists have already won.”
Both Axe and Chuck are worried about perception, with the hopeful governor going to meetings in Sandicot and using them for political capital. The touch of someone in the crowd screaming “Lock him up!” was a nice little nod to the HRC chants from Trump rallies — but Chuck soon learns that he won’t be locking Axe up for Sandicot. It starts with a meeting with “Black” Jack Foley (David Strathairn) and continues to a rain-soaked conversation with Thayer (Ritchie Coster), after he learns that the tough-talker was given a car by Axe. The problem is that Thayer isn’t scared in the slightest, and this leads Chuck to realize that leveraging Sandicot’s plight will not be a political gambit that ends well. Remember: Chuck Sr. (Jeffrey DeMunn) killed the Sandicot deal. How could Chuck dig deeply into situation without revealing that the casino would be in Sandicot and the Austerity deal never needed if his own father hadn’t intervened?
The third Axe Capital Musketeer this week is Taylor, who is struggling with their new lot in life. First, Taylor expresses concern over whether they need to be there at Axe’s party. Most Axe Capital employees see it as a necessary attendance, but Taylor isn’t like most employees. When they get the green light to skip the event from Axe, another issue arises in that Taylor has to get to a rehearsal dinner in Michigan for a wedding and feels hesitant about booking a private plane. Axe has a politician’s mind-set, suggesting they make a donation to charity and then grow their carbon footprint. Lewis and Dillon are so phenomenal together — each actor improving the other — that a supercut of just their scenes at the end of the year could go viral. In the end, Taylor takes the plane and enjoys their wealth. We’ll see if it changes them.
Axe is concerned about optics enough to hire someone to help him build a foundation to improve his legacy, much to Wags’s chagrin. This show has delved into the concept of philanthropy as image manipulation better than any in a very long time. Chuck is just as concerned about optics when Ira (Ben Shenkman) comes to him asking for a favor: He needs him to ask his dad to invest in something called Ice Juice. It’s Ira’s way out of the legal profession — an IPO that will make him obscenely wealthy. But Chuck can’t get involved, not even through recommending it to daddy. That’s called insider trading. And the timing couldn’t be worse for Chuck.
With all of this going on, Wendy (Maggie Siff) is at a crossroads too. After Axe sends Deb (Ilfenesh Hadera) into her office to see what she’s telling employees about Sandicot, Wendy realizes she’s not as happy as she used to be. She tells Chuck that she RSVPed no to Axe’s party, and he encourages her to go. The dialogue in this scene is interesting in that it could easily be about their marriage, with lines like “When do you keep working at it and when do you give up?” Chuck even ends up getting a call from Lara (Malin Akerman), who really hopes Wendy comes. She may regret that call.
As the Axe Capital team parties like only rich people do, Chuck learns that Axe bought his first-edition books. He’s furious, and a little jealous. When Chuck gets emotional, he acts impulsively. He takes the Ice Juice deal to dad, who reveals that he’ll need a little bit of Junior’s blind trust to make it happen. He actually says, “It’s only damaging if it gets out.” It sounds like famous last words.
The final major development this week comes when Wendy runs into Lara at the party. It’s all smiles and kisses until Lara learns that it was Wendy that set the policy that she wouldn’t work with her boss. Axe has sold this multiple times to Lara as his decision. She realizes that it was Wendy’s rule for coming back, not her husband’s. You can almost see her eyes light on fire for a second. As Wags is giving a remarkable speech about his leader — “Traders trade, lovers love, cars are meant to go” should be embroidered on Billions T-shirts — Axe skips his own party, taking Lara to Yonkers Raceway. She does not look happy.
• The “Three Soldiers of Axe” approach this week allowed for wonderful character development for David Costabile, Kelly AuCoin, and Asia Kate Dillon. I love how these characters have been more fully defined this year, offering different things to Axe and getting different things from him.
• This week’s episode closed with one of their best final song choices: “Visions of Johanna.” Not only does it have the right tone for a worried Lara, but this show has often picked closing songs with lyrical resonance, and this is no exception: “Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously / He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously.”
• It’s hard to believe there are only three episodes left. Who’s your MVP so far? I vote Dillon, with Lewis a close second. Costabile has been phenomenal too. And where do you think we’re going in the final quarter?