You’ve got to hand it to Billions. The show’s timing is impeccable. Just as the Olympics are getting under way in Beijing this weekend, so is Billions’ hard push to bring the Games to New York City.
The episode kicks off with the news that Mike Prince is hardly the only power player who has caught Olympic fever. A friendly meetup between Ben Kim and Mafee — the latter of whom has opened his own shop alongside Dollar Bill after the former boxing adversaries bailed on the new regime in last season’s finale — reveals that Prince had better get in line for that New York bid. Pretty much any investor with cash to burn is buying up land because, as Mafee assures Ben in the most unsettling way possible, it’s an “STD.”
A “sure thing, dude.” Sigh.
Other interested parties in this Manhattan land grab include Charles Rhoades, Sr., which is how Chuck gets wind of the billionaires’ latest quest. Further digging turns up yet another familiar name. Someone who hasn’t been seen on Billions since June 2020, when his coronavirus-referencing outburst lost him his treasury secretary position: Todd Krakow. Danny Strong’s disgraced civil servant, who still proudly hangs his Nico Tanner portrait, is on a “reputation rehab” tour, though he’s as deliciously unctuous as ever.
Chuck initially decides to make an example of Krakow, citing him for illicit real-estate activities, but since it’s early in the episode and there’s always a deal to be made, things take a slight detour. Up until now, Chuck has no idea that these land grabs are Olympics-related or that Mike Prince has the potential to become the chair of the New York City Commission. That is until Krakow spills the tea. Within seconds, Chuck, seeing another opportunity to crush Prince (“Humiliations galore,” purrs Krakow), advises Krakow to resubmit his land-purchase applications. And demands that Krakow make him head of infrastructure “so the city can benefit from all this spending.”
We know that Chuck’s gotta Chuck, but Kate Sacker is appalled with this development and certainly not buying Chuck’s promise that it’s for the “greater good.” How much longer is she going to put up with this?
Over at Michael Prince Capital, the atmosphere remains discordant. Scooter and Wags are unwittingly paired up so they can court one Colin Drache (Campbell Scott doing a pretentious continental accent), a member of the fictitious International Commission of Sport. This subplot is less about the introduction of a new character and more about how Wags and Scooter are the new Odd Couple: Almost nothing in common but absolutely entertaining whenever together. For example, Scooter quickly puts the kibosh on Wags’s intimidation tactics in favor of honoring their millennial employee’s reasonable compensation request for doing an internet scrape on Drache.
This rampant friction has seeped into every level of MPC, with Ben Kim torn between loyalty to Mafee and Dollar Bill, and to his place of business. He feels awful that Prince is going to kill his friends’ land deal, and his usual sources of support, Taylor and Wendy, aren’t doing much to ease his conscience. Wendy’s best advice is to just not tell a friend’s secret for the sake of his workplace next time, but even she knows how unhelpful that is. While she won’t admit she wishes she had joined Mafee and Dollar Bill, she admires their decision. This admission prompts Ben to implore her to speak up on behalf of their onetime colleagues. She does, but it’s not what anyone wants to hear: Wendy tells Mafee and Dollar Bill to pull out of the land deal to save their reputations. They refuse.
Meanwhile we’re introduced to the newly elected mayor, Tess Johnson (Gameela Wright), whom Prince immediately uses as a pawn for his own gain, buttering her up with the suggestion that she’s a vast improvement over her predecessor. (Prince stops short of saying the former mayor’s name rhymed with “Will Le Dlasio,” but notes that he “left office as a punch line.”) He encourages Mayor Johnson to speak out against the Manhattan-based Olympics bid, promising to build a stadium in Westchester County instead. Wait, what?
I’m a Westchester resident, by the way, and I think Charlotte York Goldenblatt can best sum up my reaction to Prince’s plan for an Olympic arena in my backyard.
Getting the mayor on his side was an integral part of Prince’s long game. The next day, Krakow holds a press conference announcing his partnership with High Plains Management, a.k.a. Mafee and Dollar Bill’s firm, with plans for East River real-estate development and a brand-new stadium. Not so fast, boys, because Mayor Johnson is hosting a press conference of her own, announcing she won’t allow zoning for such a stadium.
His Olympic dreams quashed, Krakow agrees to meet Prince for one of Billions’ signature Creepy Nighttime Chats by the Waterfront. A few smug barbs are traded, but ultimately, Krakow agrees to join Prince’s Olympics bid. The rift between Taylor and Mafee, however, isn’t so easily mended. Accosting Taylor at their weekly scheduled dinner, a livid Mafee tears into his erstwhile boss, accusing them of being so “devoid of human understanding” that they wouldn’t even step in when they knew High Plains Management’s bid was in trouble. (Hey, dude, Wendy tried to warn you!) But Taylor realizes Mafee has a point: You can’t be “enemies in business and friends on the outside.”
With Krakow out of the way and on his side, Prince springs his real plan on Mayor Johnson the next day: There will be a stadium in Manhattan — a sustainable and repurposable stadium, with the athletes’ village slated to become low-income housing post-Games. All built at no cost to the city by real-estate magnate Bud Lazzara. How did Prince get Lazzara on board? Why by promising Chuck’s downfall, of course! Borrowing from Krakow’s early vow to Chuck, Prince assures Lazzara that Chuck will experience “humiliations galore” if the building tycoon joins his Olympics bid.
Upon reflection, Wendy and Taylor realize they can’t just walk away from Mafee and Dollar’s Bill’s loss by pretending nothing happened. In short, their friends’ defeat — and some serious prodding from Ben Kim — has lit a spark in their damaged souls. They visit High Plains Management with both a friendly caveat and an olive branch: Stop getting too big for your britches, but in the meantime, good ol’ Spartan Ives will fund High Plains, so they don’t have to shut down. That, and Taylor and Mafee are back on for weekly dinner. Warm fuzzies galore!
By the end of the episode, Prince’s mammoth win appears to be an “STD” (eww, I can’t believe I just wrote that). But that only drives Chuck — and Billions — to pull out the heavy hitters. No, not surprise cameos. Bruce Springsteen quotes and Rolling Stones music cues. Before hijacking Prince’s Olympics press conference (is this the third one this episode? I’ve lost count) in true man-of-the-people style, Chuck recites a verse from “The Ghost of Tom Joad” as a warm-up. Then he conducts a symphony of chaos alongside Prince’s sun-dappled, High Line Olympics announcement: First, a major traffic jam, which then leads to a cacophony of sirens and car horns. Armed with nothing but a bullhorn, the street-fighting man gives a rousing speech about how the billionaires don’t care about the city’s common folk. The frustrated crowd is riled up, and Lazzara and Krakow start wondering if they should pin their billions onto such an unpopular scheme.
To paraphrase Mick and Keef, it looks like Chuck’s plan of action is to “shout and scream, kill the Prince, and rail at all his servants.”
• Anyone else notice the new MPC décor? Portraits of Nelson Mandela, Stacey Abrams, and Prince’s basketball heroes. But nothing could be more pretentious than the giant Dalai Lama portrait hanging in Prince’s office.
• The “Cat’s in the Cradle” scene between Scooter and Wags is the reason why I said earlier that they had almost nothing in common. It was a great, subtle return to the forgotten subplot about Wags’s parenting failures and the bond that Wags and Scooter have after all. Turns out Scooter put his career over his children as well, and now both men are fighting back tears when Alexa plays the Harry Chapin classic.
• I’m impressed with Chuck’s knowledge of the Purim story.
• Fun fact: “STD” included two Trading Places references (yay!!!), but only Krakow’s “Winthorpe and Billy Ray in the orange juice pit” line was from the original film. Mafee and Dollar Bill’s exclamation, “Mortimer, we’re back!” was from Coming to America.