There’s nothing like a little greed to feed the ego.
“Burn Rate” turns the spotlight on two of Billions’ more morally centered characters and demonstrates how money and power continue to be the ultimate bait. To my absolute relief, Kate Sacker has finally put herself first by joining Michael Prince Capital as lead counsel for Prince’s Olympics bid — and betraying her longtime boss, Chuck, in the process. Taylor Mason, meanwhile, receives a crash course in philanthropy: You can’t heal the planet unless you are independently rich, and a $100 million personal wealth goal isn’t going to cut it. By the end of the episode, Taylor is now dead set on hitting $1 billion, and I fear they will only become more ruthless in their quest, obliterating their intentions along the way.
Speaking of personal wealth, Billions employs a fun gimmick in this episode: Periodically, the action freezes and an itemized accounting of a character’s purchases — whether it’s the clothes they’re wearing, a Coach John Calipari speaking fee, or a zero-carbon-footprint custom yacht — flashes onscreen. Yes, it is to illustrate how disgustingly rich these people are and how much they spend (thus explaining the episode’s title, “Burn Rate”), but it’s also to measure their financial worth. Their financial worth to Mike Prince, specifically. The itemizing finally stops on a portrait of the main MPC employees, valued at a grand total of $1.5 billion. For funsies, we learn that a normal office ensemble for Wendy costs upwards of $45,000, and that’s including a $2 bracelet woven by her daughter. Taylor’s wardrobe is modest by comparison, with one exception: a $180,000 Patek Philippe watch.
There’s also a cute subplot starring my new favorite Dream Team, Wags and Scooter: They are ordered to wine and dine the shit out of Colin Drache and several International Commission of Sport advance team members, which normally someone like Wags could do in his sleep. Except, aww, he and girlfriend Chelz are trying for a baby, so directly participating in an evening at a high-end bordello in the company of 11 COVID-safe sex workers just isn’t gonna be possible. But since the New York bid falls through if Uncle Wagsy doesn’t at least, ahem, appear to, well, close his own deal, we are treated to the sweetest fake-out in Billions history: Wags pays one of the sex workers to moan his name all night long and eventually pull a Sally Albright, while he sips his green juice and awaits Chelz’s ovulation alarm.
Early on, it appears that Prince’s meeting with Governor Bob Sweeney was a waste of $70,000 (the cost of an impressive VR rendering of a Manhattan Olympic stadium and swimming arena). The New York governor is not on board with the Games coming to town and reveals that Chuck’s street-protest stunt placed public opinion at 2 percent positive. Uh-uh, not so fast, Chuck — Buffalo Bob isn’t necessarily in your corner either. A cryptic lunch meeting suggests that Sweeney is going to put both the state attorney general and deca-billionaire through their paces in the coming episodes.
The bottom line is, Prince now knows he needs “serious legal firepower” to combat the inevitable obstructions blocking him from Olympic glory, and Wags correctly points out this person should probably come from inside the government. Kate Sacker is immediately on the top of everybody’s list — not surprising, considering the episode opened with her informing Chuck that she was “approached.” The drama here is watching how meticulously Prince, with a generous assist from Wendy, plays Sacker’s trigger points to his advantage. Also working in Prince’s favor? Sacker is genuinely chafing under Chuck’s empty promises regarding her congressional campaign.
So Wendy “just happens to bump into” Sacker after a Kimberlé Crenshaw intersectionality talk at the 92nd Street Y. They bond over the groundbreaking scholar, while Wendy, with all the subtlety of a bulldozer, slips in some talk about how things are so much better over at MPC these days. She also extends an invitation for Sacker to meet Prince, along with one of her bromides about the risk of staying somewhere for too long. After conferring with Chuck, Sacker is instructed to accept Wendy’s invitation in the role of her boss’s double agent.
To no one’s shock, least of all Sacker’s, Prince offers her the Olympics lead-counsel position, reciting a gag-worthy monologue about bringing back the romance of New York once sung about by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Jay-Z, and Alicia Keys. Oh, and it would do wonders for Sacker’s congressional run. She doesn’t turn the job down, but she doesn’t accept it either. Sacker also feeds Chuck some valuable intel that will push Taylor further down a more merciless path: The Mase Carb CEO found a way to incorporate a philanthropic initiative into Prince’s Olympics bid by partnering with a sustainable company called People of the World to provide free Wi-Fi in both the five boroughs and sub-Saharan Africa. It’s a good idea, albeit impractical, making it easy for Prince to dump it when push comes to shove.
Chuck messes with Prince’s plays by trying to insert his bestie Ira Schirmer into the Olympics lead-counsel role, which no one is buying. He also kills the Wi-Fi plan by convincing Big Telecom to threaten legal action against People of the World. Chuck is exerting tons of brainpower and energy to hurt Prince, and none to keeping Sacker by his side. So when Prince creepily accosts Sacker during her nighttime jog, dangling a fully staffed campaign office prepared to start work 24 hours after New York is awarded the Olympics, the choice is obvious.
The next day, Chuck notices Kate’s desk has been cleaned out, and Ira gets an alert that his meeting with Prince has been canceled. Suddenly Chuck realizes his “chess grandmaster” moves were all for naught because he “failed to protect [his] G-ddamn queen.” It’s a palpable betrayal; not only has Chuck lost his asset, that asset is now working for his enemy. (Heh, wait until he hears that Wendy has demanded she run the New York Olympics as payment for luring Sacker to MPC.)
Also feeling the burn of betrayal is Taylor, who learns that Prince made a deal with Big Telecom to provide the Olympics’ free Wi-Fi. But now the Africa initiative is dead in the water as a result, and so is Taylor’s latest attempt to save the world. That’s when Prince lays on the hard truth in the most sickeningly self-righteous way possible. He basically tells them these kinds of initiatives are pointless unless you can provide infrastructure, and you can’t do that if you’re only “kind of rich” like Taylor. Cue the Duran Duran as an angrily motivated Taylor walks out of Prince’s office with even bigger dollar signs in their eyes.
Since Kate Sacker isn’t (really) the type to abscond in the night, we get a terrific final scene between Condola Rashad and Paul Giamatti where, unlike so many similar Billions betrayals, things remain civil, almost sympathetic. Chuck doesn’t hide his disappointment in his onetime protégée, and Sacker doesn’t hide why it was time to leave: She’s ready to be a “peer, not just an acolyte,” with Rashad adding a pitch-perfect note of steel here. But there’s nothing Chuck can say to make her change her mind because he has kept her as an afterthought for far too long. That and she could never afford the luxury car waiting to take her home if she kept working for him.
Therein lies the next wrinkle in Sacker’s skyrocketing career: Will she even want to return to public service after the Prada suits and private jets?
• Winston still wears underwear from middle school. He would, but also, eww.
• So what do we think that sex worker’s dissertation topic is?