I know I’ve praised Billions for becoming more of an ensemble drama this season, but “Rock of Eye” is a good example of the growing pains that come with this kind of decision. Now that we’re finally expanding the storylines featuring Kate Sacker, Taylor Mason, and Wendy Rhoades, and keeping Chuck Rhoades and Mike Prince (and Wags, and Scooter, etc.) busy, we end up with a bloated episode like this one. Too much plotline and character repositioning are crammed into a short period, making “Rock of Eye” an exhausting watch.
I found the Chuck and Prince narratives to be the least compelling ones this week, but that’s not a bad thing, because we know they can afford to let others steal the spotlight at this point. Prince spends most of his time dealing with the latest obstruction to his Olympics bid, which occurs when his daughter, Gail, still pissed at Daddy for using her and her sister, Liz, as pawns in his cannabis scheme last season, insults Governor Bob Sweeney to his face. Since Prince needs Sweeney’s support for the Olympics, he exerts all his energy trying to get Gail to apologize until her youthful observation solves everyone’s problems: Buffalo Bob is a sad, middle-aged man who gets butt-hurt over a Gen-Zer’s taunts. Therefore, Prince just needs to appeal to the governor’s vanity. And what better way to win over someone with thin skin than by naming the proposed Olympic Stadium after him? Don’t discount the younger generations, folks!
Still licking his wounds after losing Sacker to MPC, Chuck is determined to replace his protégée with a top-notch attorney committed to fighting for the people. He sets his sights on Daevisha “Dave” Mahar (Sakina Jaffrey), an erstwhile public defender who is now the kind of lawyer “Erin Brockovich served water to.” She’s also not afraid to compare Chuck to the absolute worst version of Rudy Giuliani (if that’s even possible). After Mahar slickly outwits Chuck in court over a predatory seafood case, the State AG does what any impressed adversary would do: He offers her a job, talking a good game about how the work is far more important than a seven-figure salary. She accepts his pitch — just as Chuck learns he’s lost Governor Sweeney over the Olympics fight. I think Chuck got the better overall deal.
The other subplot featuring the Rhoades family is way more entertaining because it stars Senior (duh!). It looks like the old man’s wandering eye has returned, leading Roxanne to kick him out. Now he’s making himself at home at his son’s brownstone and singing The Odd Couple theme. Chuck knows full well that in this case, “two divorced men cannot share an apartment without driving each other crazy.” So, he calls in the only person Senior has ever listened to, Wendy. The moment Dr. Rhoades advises her former father-in-law to steer clear of his wife, Senior starts making a beeline for his marital abode, and all is right in Brooklyn again.
This narrative also appears to be part of Wendy’s sustained storyline this season: We’ve known since the first episode that she’s been exploring a few different forms of self-improvement. Like, making-your-own ice cream therapy. Now she’s working with a Buddhist priest who is trying to teach her not to be transactional in every facet of her life. So far, Wendy isn’t doing too well with these lessons: She only agreed to get Senior out of Chuck’s house only because she felt guilty for poaching Sacker. “Don’t ruin her, Wendy,” Chuck pleads in an early scene. There is no doubt that Wendy is having an increasingly tougher time convincing herself that MPC is better than Axe Capital was. The worst part is, it hasn’t taken long for Sacker to start exhibiting questionable practices at her new job, and when Wendy calls her on it, Sacker has the perfect clapback: “I’m an attorney, Wendy, not a monk. Neither are you.” While I appreciate Wendy waking up to the despicable choices made on an everyday basis at her workplace, it’s pathetic if she thinks she’s been playing by the rules all this time.
The questionable practices involve Sacker’s decision to help Taylor hide a dubious play. I really hope we’ll see more of these two teaming up because watching the most initially moral characters on Billions slowly turn ruthless and greedy is always a fun ride. So, Taylor is going all-in on a plant-based company called Terravore — even the flatware is vegan and edible! But their behavior is raising a lot of red flags about insider trading, which is how Sacker’s interest is piqued. Eventually, Sacker corners Taylor, pressing them to at least suggest they’re working with illegal information. But instead of turning Taylor in, Sacker has an idea of her own: Create a legal-on-paper analyst report consisting entirely of Taylor’s vegan grocery shopping receipts (six years’ worth!), spinning it as “meticulous research.” The result is Taylor avoids prosecution, and I’m assuming they’re letting Sacker get a cut of the investment profits.
Sure, it’s upsetting to watch characters like Sacker and Taylor head down these darkened paths, but they really don’t have any other choice if they want to succeed at their jobs. If “Rock of Eye” is any indication, Prince is gradually turning MPC back into its cutthroat Axe Capital predecessor, just with a lot more basketball-coach-inspired wisdom nuggets. For example, Prince hires Philip Charyn (Toney Goins), a financial whiz posing as an inspiring teacher — who also happens to be Scooter’s nephew. The new kid doesn’t waste any time outdoing everyone on the floor, which doesn’t bode well for the Axe Cap/MPC lifers nervous about Prince’s upcoming capital reallocation. Philip’s arrival also reveals another complex layer to Scooter: Prince’s right-hand man once aspired to become an orchestral conductor, but he pursued money because he didn’t have any growing up. And he regrets that decision, so he doesn’t want his nephew to lose himself in the merciless world of finance.
But it’s already too late for that because on reallocation day, Prince crowns Philip as his new golden boy while imploding the once-tight clique of Ben Kim, Tuk Lal, Bonnie Barella, and Victor Matteo. The well-deserving Ben Kim is given more responsibility, but brash, albeit loyal, employee Bonnie is effectively demoted, and poor Tuk is monetarily penalized for his apprehensive trading. Bonnie storms out, leading me to believe her next stop is Dollar Bill and Mafee’s High Plains Management. Then everybody gets a brand-spanking-new pair of Air Jordans, while Prince leads his staff in a character-building exercise: Putting on their socks and shoes correctly, as a way of remembering that “every season, we start again from the beginning.”
I believe it is Charles Rhoades, Jr. in the Billions episode “Rock of Eye,” who sums up Michael Prince Capital best: “It’s worse [than Axe Cap] because it pretends to be better.”
It takes one to know one, Chuck. It takes one to know one.
• Winston’s geektastic “Fe Man” T-shirt. Tony Stark would be proud.
• So hungry for Indiana biscuits and gravy now.