On the surface, the two Billions protagonists emerged from tonight’s excellent episode — written by co-showrunners Brian Koppelman and David Levien — triumphant. But the music that soundtracked “Overton Window,” specifically Bob Dylan’s “World Gone Wrong,” which opened and closed the episode, paints a less rosy picture than Chuck and Axe may evince.
At this stage of their never-ending game, the alliance between the onetime archenemies has proven to be a savvy business decision: Chuck Rhoades Jr. is the New York State attorney general-elect, and Bobby Axelrod has ostensibly destroyed Mason Capital by having Grigor Andolov — and his money — thrown out of the country.
So what happens now? Even though Axe is gloating as Andolov’s jet prepares for takeoff, it seems to me that if this were really a victory, we would’ve had a track of the Metallica or AC/DC variety closing out “Overton Window” instead of a reprisal of the Dylan tune.
I’m trying to avoid conjecture here, difficult as it is due to the episode’s time-jump and the deliberate disappearance of two vital players, Taylor and Wendy. The best way to go into next week’s episode is to first untangle the twisted web of what went down in this episode.
This week’s finance-procedural storyline propels Axe’s loathing of Andolov to untenable levels as the Russian oligarch masterminds a shutdown of Axe Cap’s digital network: a shutdown that happens right when Axe and his team need to dump all their natural gas shares before a tank in Louisiana goes up “like a bullfrog with an M80 in its ass.”
What’s so great about this subplot is how Axe and Wags return to the trenches when their predominantly millennial underlings blanch at the concept of speaking to live human beings.
Bereft of Bloomberg chat, the Axe Cap elders make voice trades on burner flip phones, their staff staring in silent awe. (And don’t overlook Gen-Xer Dollar Bill, who blows the dust off his Filofax and makes some calls himself.) When Wendy asks why everyone else is twiddling their thumbs, Ben Kim’s unfettered honesty wins the guy another “attaboy” from yours truly: “I’ve never made a voice trade in my life,” he admits. “None of us have. We don’t know how.”
But don’t mark your calendars for Wendy’s phone etiquette seminar just yet, Axe Cap traders, because your performance coach’s bandwidth has reached its limit.
Yes, Chuck won the election, though it’s never clear if it’s because of Axe’s Primary Day voter suppression or the public’s interest in his kinky sex life. The discovery that a dying-of-cancer “Black Jack” Foley (David Strathairn) was going to add Chuck to the already-crowded club of disgraced New York politicians by exposing his propensity for BDSM forces the AG candidate to either withdraw or take control of the narrative.
Chuck, of course, ignores Wendy’s concerns — she’s not comfortable going public with their lifestyle and wants her husband to quit — and allows Charles Sr. to escalate his already gargantuan greed. Just before Chuck’s about to deliver a speech of preemptive defeat (his non-diegetic walk-on music is John Mellencamp’s “Troubled Man” — I mean, come on), he flips the script and openly declares his appetite for sadomasochism.
Expertly spinning his story into an inspirational tale, Chuck plays the voters like a symphony, tossing out buzzworthy quotes like, “Wouldn’t we be better off if we didn’t let shame win?” and expressing hope that this admission will make people “more comfortable in their own skin.” Jaw-drops from Kate Sacher and Bryan Connerty aside, THIS SCHEME ACTUALLY WORKS, because Chuck used everything in his toolkit to shift the confines of the Overton window Wendy warned him about.
But as with every win on Billions, this one comes at a significant cost. For all of Chuck’s talk of his “loving wife” and her “consent” in the bedroom, Wendy gave zero consent to this public admission. This is a betrayal that I doubt they can ever come back from, and listening to Chuck’s selfish, tone-deaf defense doesn’t have me wishing for a marital reconciliation for the Rhoadses. Because the issue here is not that Chuck and Wendy engage in BDSM (which is far less taboo now than it once was) or that their kids might get teased — it’s that Chuck didn’t consider anyone but himself in his decision-making. So, Wendy’s pitch-perfect “I am done with you,” complete with that emphatic gesticulation on “done”? It’s pure Billions soap, but it’s also the correct response from a woman who did not agree to have her private life dumped onto the world’s stage.
This show knows we are champing at the bit for what’s next with Wendy, which is precisely why, after she walks out on her husband, the audience is teased with a potential alliance that could recalibrate the Billions universe permanently. Astutely preying on Wendy’s vulnerable state, Taylor FaceTimes their former colleague to offer support and a sympathetic ear. Wendy, still following the strict rules of Axe Cap (no fraternizing with the enemy!), keeps silent and hangs up.
Billions then jumps ahead 30 days, and neither Taylor nor Wendy appears for the rest of the episode. I don’t know if anything has transpired between them, but their MIA status succeeded in piquing my interest.
Now that Chuck has the AG seat, it’s time for him to settle his large bill with Axe by using his newfound authority to remove a certain Russian crime boss with a penchant for bold prints from the United States. Remember how in last week’s episode, Axe mentioned to Wags the “the next part” of his plan to hurt Taylor, and how the following scene had him conspiring with Chuck? Well, this was it: get Chuck into political office and cut Taylor off at the knees by relieving them of both their capital and their muscle.
I think the greatest achievement of “Overton Window” is how we’re only one-third of the way through the season, and I am stumped as to what’s ahead. Is this really the end of Grigor Andolov? Or did his proposition of a lawless, globe-trotting existence in the vein of “Lestat and Louis” make enough of an impression on a tempted Chuck that his reappearance is now inevitable? I’m also skeptical that kicking Andolov out of the U.S. will be the only favor Axe wants from Chuck, so I can’t wait to see what else is on his bill of services.
• I’m approaching the partnership between Taylor and Douglas with cautious optimism: I know Taylor wants a relationship with their dad — their smile when he referred to them as his “child” (not “daughter”) made my heart swell — but it’s also clear that he needs money, and that this isn’t the first aerospace proposal he’s presented to them.
• Nina Arianda’s Rebecca Cantu is a great addition to Billions. While I miss Malin Akerman’s Lara, I felt the show never knew what to do with her. I think Axe is better paired with someone like Rebecca, because she too is a billionaire who clawed her way to success from humble beginnings. It always seemed like Lara spent more time coasting on her husband’s wealth than on figuring out how to parlay her nursing background into a second career.