Maybe it’s because I can’t stop watching The Gilded Age, but I’m starting to see a lot of similarities between its 1882 New York City intrigue and Billions’ 2022 version. The scions of blue-blooded old-money families scorning the obscenely wealthy interlopers — now where have we heard that story before? Hell, Chuck Rhoades (our 21st-century Agnes van Rhijn stand-in) even calls the George Russell–esque Mike Prince a “robber baron” and “the enemy of all mankind,” or in Latin, “hostis humani generis.”
Chuck isn’t wrong in his episode-title assessment as Prince is barely hiding the fact that he’s buying his way toward a New York Olympics. Now Prince is dangling spanking-new, state-of-the-art subway cars in front of Governor Sweeney and the MTA, making an actual working underground-transit system the latest pawn in his quest.
So Chuck gets word of Prince’s plan to overhaul New York’s century-plus-old public-transit system via the enraged head of the Transport Workers Union. Upgraded cars mean fewer drivers, which translates to about 1,000 people out of work. Chuck and his new deputy, Dave Mahar, agree to put a stop to Prince’s gift. They start with Dave setting up a meeting with Kate Sacker, officially, to get her thoughts on unfinished cases. Unofficially, it’s an opportunity for Dave to suss out Sacker’s weak spots. We already know both these women are formidable opponents, so it’s only natural they view each other with suspicion.
Prince’s grand plan to bestow 1,000 new subway cars upon the city is a nice idea, but when the billionaire finds out it’s going to cost “backstroking Scrooge McDuck” levels of cash, he has no choice but to open the Prince List to new investors. This valuable piece of intel soon drops into Chuck’s lap via a blabby Senior.
Over at Taylor Mason Carbon, Rian is demonstrating a new app called Winch to Taylor. Winch has the capability to scrub old, problematic posts (and all corresponding comments) that cause people on Twitter to get ratioed. Rian wants to invest in Winch and use it to put a positive spin on the Olympics. Kind of like what happened to Maroon 5: “Suddenly everyone likes them, and nobody knows how it happened.” Taylor rejects the idea to a disappointed Rian, citing the app’s potential to quickly lose value.
That evening, former Mase Carb strategist — and Taylor’s ex-girlfriend — Lauren Turner, shows up unannounced at Taylor’s apartment. Lauren has an investor for the Prince List: a onetime NFL star and activist who parlayed his celebrity into the latest workout craze, the Combine. Sounds reasonable, and after one brief meeting, Lauren’s charismatic client, Leon Sherrold (Okieriete Onaodowan), is welcomed to the Prince List.
In addition to cash flow, the other big obstacle in Prince’s subway car scheme is, of course, Chuck and the Transport Workers Union. No matter how many stadiums Prince names after Governor Sweeney, there is no way Buffalo Bob can afford to lose the support of the transport workers. Sacker recommends Prince do what everyone else does: Buy off the union with an expensive retraining and job-expansion program.
Meanwhile, Chuck is distraught to hear the transport workers are signing off on the new subway cars, having been bribed with not only job retraining but also an invitation to join the Prince List. But a not-so-tiny detail turns out to be the loophole Chuck has been waiting for: The transport workers’ pensions are combined with those of several other New York City unions. Including the NYPD. As soon as Senior hands over a list of Prince List contender names, a list that includes Leon and the Combine, Chuck has his next scheme in place.
Dave, posing as a prospective Combine client, asks Leon why his financial decisions mirror those of Stephen Ross, a billionaire SoulCycle investor who got the company into hot water three years ago when he hosted a fundraiser for Donald Trump. As in, why is Leon comingling his money with that of New York City cops? This is clearly news to the workout guru, who immediately calls a meeting with Prince and his advisory board, demanding the Prince List sever ties with the NYPD or he’s leaving along with six other new investors. Prince won’t agree to those terms, so Taylor offers to fix the problem.
Taylor fixes the problem all right, and it’s painful to watch because it seems the Taylor who cared about human rights — the one who built a company on the foundation of helping, not hurting, society — has ditched every single one of their original values. They don’t even try to be understanding of Leon and Lauren’s concerns even though Lauren quite plainly points out that Leon, a Black man (and she, a Black woman), are morally opposed to investing with “state-sanctioned killers.” Lauren is visibly offended at Taylor’s willingness to invoke their white privilege in this matter — and she calls them on it.
Within 24 hours, Lauren and Leon are in crisis mode. Twitter is ablaze with accusations that Leon stole the idea of the Combine, and with his reputation and stock prices in free fall, he has no choice but to step down from the company. The mastermind behind this vicious takedown wasn’t Prince, as Chuck surmised, but Taylor, who bought Winch behind Rian’s back and used the technology in reverse. They scraped the internet to find the skeletons in Leon’s closet and used them against both Leon and Lauren, who was fired as a result.
Taylor dismisses Lauren and Leon as casualties of war while assuring Rian she’ll reap the financial benefits of the Winch purchase. Rian is too revolted by Taylor’s cruel behavior to care about the profit, making it the ideal moment for Taylor to remind her of last season’s ominous warning: “I told you what this job does to people.” It’s true, they did, but I’m with Rian when she asks, “Did you even start this job as people?” Oof.
Apparently, Leon’s neutralization wasn’t enough to keep Prince from moving forward with the subway-car purchase, probably because the episode needed a climactic showdown between newly appointed adversaries Dave and Sacker. Dave manages to kill the sale at the 11th hour by revealing that the Wisconsin-based factory producing the subway cars is owned by a Chinese company. That’s a big problem for the unions, which will only support buying American products.
Then Chuck strolls in to gloat over his victory, adding a portentous threat to an otherwise civil interaction. He cautions a livid Sacker that she’s going to end up like Prince Charles’s cherished uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten — who was killed by an IRA-planted bomb in 1979 — if she doesn’t bail on MPC. Sacker is initially spooked by his warning, but after a weak attempt to resign, she channels the anger over her first-ever defeat into a newfound drive to win.
The subway-car loss is a major setback, so Prince calls a meeting with Governor Sweeney only to find that Chuck got to Buffalo Bob first. The governor reminds Prince that subway cars or no subway cars, he’s still on the hook for $2 billion — not to the city but to the Metropolitan Transit Authority — and he can’t hide from this kind of broken promise. To save face, Prince has no choice but to donate that $2 billion to the MTA, effective immediately.
Prince, however, still closes out the episode seemingly on the winning side. He’s convinced the president of his alma mater, Indiana A&M, to join the Prince List, suggesting that robber-baron tendencies or not, he’s unstoppable. But like so many Billions episodes, the truth is not so simple, and the real winner (for now) is hiding in plain sight.
Over the strains of “Every Breath You Take” — a sharp contrast to “Synchronicity 1,” which opened the episode — Chuck explains his tactics to Dave. He knows Prince will “spend double what [he] took from him to get the win.” And that’s exactly what Chuck wants. Let Prince keep spending and fighting because eventually he’ll drain himself dry.
That, and what better way for Chuck to keep Prince in his sights than a better inside man Senior could ever hope to be? The reason Indiana A&M is joining the Prince List is its president, Stuart Legere (Chris Eigeman), is now Chuck’s latest asset. Legere will be working as Chuck’s source in exchange for the Indiana attorney general keeping quiet about Legere misappropriating state-school funds to finance his luxurious lifestyle.
• This Timeless fan is loving the addition of Sakina Jaffrey to the cast as Dave. Especially when she and Paul Giamatti pace the floor together.