I’ll be the first to admit that I have a terrible track record when it comes to Billions’ storyline predictions — which is why the show is still excellent TV. Between the excess of Angel Heart references and Wendy’s day-long primal performance coaching session, “Johnny Favorite” now has me convinced that Mike Prince made a deal with the devil and is on a course toward establishing some sort of benevolent dictatorship. Okay, “Pax Romana” were his exact words, but it’s not a good sign when a state of peace sounds downright frightening.
Now, it’s unlikely that Billions, after six seasons of realism, is going to take a hard shift into the supernatural and government overthrow, but I’ve definitely been baited: What is this secret grand plan that Prince and Scooter have up their sleeves?
Whatever it is, Prince is right to get his followers in place because this Caesar wannabe may want to beware the Ides of March (though it’s important to note he never says he wants to be “Julius Caesar”): After a restorative boys’ getaway to the Sagamore Resort on Lake George in upstate New York (I’ve had the privilege of vacationing there myself and trust me when I say that no VFX was used in the shooting of those majestic vistas), Chuck Rhoades is ready for a full-on revenge fight. But it’s also possible that Wendy could be the one masterminding Prince’s takedown.
During a monster coaching session with Prince, Wendy finally gets the billionaire to reveal, out loud, that he’s a narcissistic, power-hungry tyrant who orchestrated Chuck’s ouster as New York State Attorney General. He literally believes he’s the greatest person to exist in the past millennium, which is why he “demands” everyone in his realm respect, fear, and love him. In one of the episode’s final scenes, Wendy appears to be burning the midnight oil typing up session notes. But a brief phone call divulges her true intentions: She’s writing a book, and her session with Prince determined the content of the last chapter. We don’t know any more than that. Is it a Mike Prince tell-all? The proof Chuck needs to be reinstated as AG? We’ll have to wait and see.
I don’t want Chuck reinstated, though, because Dave Mahar has settled into her new position and it was wonderful to see, right off the bat, that she is not keeping the AG seat warm for her predecessor. During Chuck’s solemn office sendoff, she’s sympathetic to her former boss’ feelings but makes it clear she’s in charge now. Rest assured, however, that shady billionaires remain high on AG Mahar’s priority list: A prickly Kate Sacker visits Dave in her office to warn her against going after Mike Prince, but Dave is not so easily intimidated. She calls out Sacker for choreographing Chuck’s removal as AG before warning the prospective congresswoman that she is now “exactly who I want to send to prison.”
It’s been fascinating to watch Kate Sacker slowly descend into a life of moral turpitude because Dave raises a good point during their clash. Did this happen because she joined MPC? Or was it always a part of her? The answer isn’t so cut and dry, as we learn in this episode. After trying all season to get someone at MPC to hire Hall (Terry Kinney, back from his Scriberia sabbatical) for their devious needs, Wags finally convinces Sacker to dial the fixer’s number. It’s for a good cause: If her congressional run is going to happen, she needs to get ahead of the skeletons in her closet. And oh, are there skeletons.
We get a brilliant one-scene appearance by Harry Lennix as Sacker’s media mogul father, Franklin, who calmly explains to his irate daughter, without even mentioning the words “race” or “racism,” that bribery was a necessary evil for her success. When teenage Kate was in boarding school, she participated in a little campus civil disobedience. But even then, she probably didn’t understand the gravity of “consequences” that Franklin knew all too well as a Black man. While Kate received a two-week suspension, Franklin also paid off the headmaster’s mortgage, ensuring that, unlike her classmates, she didn’t have her college acceptances rescinded. From Franklin’s point of view, Kate’s stellar grades and extra-curriculars wouldn’t be enough to cushion the blow of losing her college placement. Maybe white students could recover from that kind of a setback, but Franklin wasn’t about to take that chance.
Stung by Dave’s words and believing herself to be a hypocrite, Sacker informs Wags she’s putting her congressional run on hold. She says MPC is “where I’m meant to be.” I think she may be right. Wags’ disappointing reaction is the most telling. Is he worried she’s turned to the dark side?
Speaking of Wags, his increasingly confused facial expressions are the perfect stand-in for the audience. He’s still working alongside Prince and Scooter, but he’s yet to be let in on the top-secret scheme. Toward the end of the episode, Wags observes to Scooter that Prince finally succeeded in getting the MPC staff on his side. Scooter agrees, ambiguously noting that “They’re ready.” Wags is all of us when he asks, “For what?”
Chuck’s involuntary guys’ retreat with his dad, Ira Schirmer, and Judge Adam DiGiulio (with Dr. Swerdlow making a guest appearance) doesn’t do much to drive the narrative other than remind our fallen social-justice warrior that he’s most alive when he’s engrossed in a fight. He’s not interested in resetting, rebranding, or podcasting. It’s revenge or bust for Chuck, and it takes an over-the-top MAGA-type caricature played by Matthew Lillard to help him get his groove back.
Lillard is Ronald Chestnut, humanity’s worst nightmare: The kind of asshole who loudly yammers on his phone during someone else’s sensory-deprivation experience and then starts Instagramming the second he gets into the chamber. The kind of asshole who doesn’t take no for an answer when a woman politely declines his offer of drinks later that evening. The type of asshole who knocks into a Hispanic busboy only to start spewing privilege- and racist-fueled rhetoric.
The kind of asshole who gets Chuck fired up and ready to strike back at Mike Prince. But not before he runs Chestnut’s name (his credentials somehow still work — ah, television!) and delivers yet another beautiful speech worthy of the Rhoades name. Chuck schools the on-parole Chestnut on how a hard worker like the unnamed busboy is “more American than you’ll ever be” and that he’d better walk away from this fight now. One swing at Chuck, and he’ll be back in prison, serving out his sentence for unpaid child support and embezzlement.
After receiving some rare praise from Senior, Chuck confides in Ira he knows how to go after Prince now. Chuck, like Wendy, noticed the oddity of Prince needing to be present in the Senate chamber the night of his removal. Even though Prince didn’t have to be there, his Gladiator references betrayed his hand: “He loves the blood sport,” observes Chuck. “And someone who loves the blood sport can be induced into another fight.” We don’t know what Chuck’s new plan is, but we do know it involves setting up a fight where Prince has the disadvantage.
It won’t be easy, that’s for sure because his enemy now has an entire “army” behind him. By letting the MPC crew taste “freshly slaughtered power” in the form of a Wheels Up membership and, keeping with the Roman theme, drug-and-alcohol-fueled bacchanalia at Stately Prince Manor, Mike Prince officially has the absolute loyalty of every single one of his employees.
Well, the jury’s still out on Taylor.
• The men trading war stories over evening drinks at the Sagamore was a revelatory moment for Dr. Swerdlow. Although he didn’t mention her by name, Billions is suggesting Joan Rivers died by his hand. What’s more disturbing is that it was only the “first” time Swerdlow lost his medical license.
• It was also nice to know that Senior was knocked down a few pegs in his lifetime. I enjoyed watching him squirm while recounting the end of his “King of New York” days, when a building he owned went up in flames, killing 79 people because the sprinklers and fire doors weren’t up to code.
• Hey, Billions, with your Chuck-doing-yoga-by the lake scene. Mad Men would like a word.
• Rian sleeping with Prince (after rebuffing Taylor) was a twist I didn’t see coming.