A recap for “The Big Ugly” almost feels redundant considering Chuck Rhoades and Dave Mahar sum up the episode themselves:
Chuck: “What’s the only thing worse than not getting what you want?”
Dave: “Getting something that you want and then having it ripped from your hands.”
Yep, Mike Prince’s American Dream of presiding over the first-ever New York City Olympics was snatched away tonight, with Chuck orchestrating one single, brutal betrayal. This was one scheme where I was heavily leaning toward Team Chuck because Prince’s pretentious behavior as some newly anointed Olympics god was really getting on my nerves. That and it was immensely satisfying to watch Andy bail on her controlling husband the second the Games relocated to Los Angeles.
The first hint that Prince cared less about New York hosting the Games and more about putting himself on a pedestal was the revelation that he was training to do the original Olympic Marathon route — solo. Between Gabrielle Reece as his coach and a sunrise TV interview with a skeptical Gayle King, Prince presents a “let’s celebrate what humans are capable of” attitude. But it just comes off as a “let’s celebrate Michael Thomas Aquinas Prince” campaign.
Chuck kicks things off this episode by going straight to the head of the International Commission of Sport, Katarina Brett, to accuse Prince of shady tactics to win the Olympics bid. But, since he still has zero proof, it means he must resort to the full Chuck Rhoades: Use every favor and ruse at his fingertips to attain results.
Dave is tasked with convincing Governor Sweeney and the governors of New York’s neighboring states to attend an interstate compact dinner. See, Chuck knows that if he goes after Prince from a state-tax angle, the rich folks who make up Prince’s cabal can just move their funds to another state. But if they can’t go to another state, then they’re screwed.
(It’s just a bummer that Chuck can’t track down proof of the actual bribery because the audience gets all the evidence it needs courtesy of a call Prince makes to Colin Drache, who is currently hiding out in some bungalow circa 1942 Casablanca.)
Meanwhile, there’s an interesting storyline building between Taylor and MPC’s new golden boy, Philip, with Rian taking a central role as the voice of reason. Taylor is building a relationship with the CEO of a new high-tech passenger airline called “Hypersonic,” and they want to secure it as the official airline of the Olympics. Prince tries passing it off to Philip, much to Taylor’s chagrin. Philip, taking the “keep your enemies closer” approach, declines Prince’s command. But considering Taylor is already operating from a disadvantage, with Prince clearly preferring Philip over them and their season-long drive to score big wins no matter the cost, it doesn’t take much to predict this Hypersonic deal is headed for disaster.
Following one meeting with its CEO, Taylor is all in on making Hypersonic the official Olympics airline. Rian, however, tells them to slow their roll because she can’t verify Hypersonic’s tech claims. Once again, Taylor refuses to listen to the facts, caring for nothing except beating Philip and coming out on top. Not helping matters is Philip, who echoes Rian’s concerns and warns Taylor that they will hurt everyone at the company if this deal fails.
Speaking of Rian, she and Wags get to share a fun little subplot that’s a huge break from the rest of the heavy narrative. Wags announces he’s moving in with Chelz (aww!), but he doesn’t want to give up his suite at the Pierre. Rian agrees to put the room under her name, with Wags reimbursing her, along with making sure Chelz isn’t a Venmo stalker. What wasn’t part of this plan was for Rian to use the suite for self-care (Cheetos, face mask, Bridesmaids) or for Wags to discover her doing so.
Fortunately, because Wags is awesome, he’s exactly what Rian needs to get through this rough patch with Taylor. She confides in him about Hypersonic and how Taylor is standing on the precipice of a huge mistake. Wags is understanding but firmly tells Rian she must have the courage to tell Taylor the deal is toxic. OMG, can I have Wags as my uncle? In gratitude, Rian offers Wags her own nugget of wisdom: Give up the suite if he wants this relationship with Chelz to last because secrets are equally toxic. In a later scene, we see that Wags does follow Rian’s advice, but his eyes suggest he’s not comfortable with his decision.
Over at the upscale restaurant Oceana, Chuck implements his plan to destroy the New York City Olympics through a complex game of smoke and mirrors. He’s privately dining with the three members of Prince’s “A team,” Todd Krakow, Bud Lazzara, and Sruthi Reddy (the engineer behind Prince’s Olympic subway express plan). Chuck explains that while the four of them enjoy their top-shelf seafood, tonight is known as “the Big Ugly” in Albany. It’s the last night of the legislative session — when all outstanding business is voted on and passed. What these billionaires don’t know is that Chuck slipped in a piece of legislation that will effectively close the carried interest loophole (as in, the loophole that’s allowed these uber-wealthy magnates to dodge taxation right and left). Krakow initially scoffs, reminding Chuck that he can’t pull this off without all other neighboring states agreeing to close the loophole as well.
That’s when Chuck “sheepishly” gets up and raises a curtain. In the main dining room, there sits Dave Mahar, Governor Sweeney, and the governors of all the surrounding states in question. Never mind that these governors are just having a lovely dinner and haven’t agreed to any loophole-closing. It’s enough to spook the billionaires into doing Chuck’s bidding, which was the whole point.
Back at the Taylor Mason Carbon offices, Rian confronts Taylor and holds firm with them about Hypersonic. She shows Taylor the evidence proving that Hypersonic’s current tech and aviation physiology causes pulmonary hypertension and embolisms. In short, investing in the company is a death sentence for MPC.
Then, a miracle happens.
Wags and Scooter crash Prince’s pre-lovemaking sesh with Andy to turn on the news, where Dave is presiding over a press conference: The New York AG’s office is officially accusing Prince and his Olympic bid team of bribery. And how are they able to do that? Proof, shmoof — Krakow, Lazzara, and Reddy agreed to support Chuck’s accusations if he promised to pull the carried-interest-loophole legislation. Within minutes, Katarina Brett releases a video statement moving the Olympic Games to Los Angeles — with new sponsors.
It’s a huge blow to Prince, obviously, both to his ego and his relationship, as Andy immediately leaves for L.A. Taylor and Rian, on the other hand, could not be more thrilled. Now Mase Carb can withdraw from the Hypersonic deal because it’s no longer the official airline of the Olympics. Philip, however, is also privy to the truth, and while he offers himself as an extra pair of hands — unloading shares, getting coffee, I’m not so sure Taylor and Rian should trust him.
In typical Billions fashion, no one really “won” this time around. Yes, Prince is visibly defeated, but even Chuck looks sad and exhausted. Because with people like this, there’s no winning or losing, just the constant game that keeps them alive.
The ones who “lost” in this episode are the people of New York. Just as Chuck makes the call to pull the carried-interest-loophole legislation, Dave encourages him to let it go to a vote anyway, pointing out it would be the “biggest wealth reform legislation since the days of FDR.” Chuck is tempted, but he can’t do it, fearing he’ll lose all future leverage if he breaks his word. My question is, when has anyone’s word ever carried that much weight on this show?
• Condola Rashad’s absence in this episode is a curiosity. Was Kate Sacker ostensibly getting started on her congressional campaign, as promised by Mike Prince once they won the Olympic bid? Now that New York has lost the Games, what happens with that subplot?
• It’s irrelevant now, but it was fun to see Wendy fangirling over Megan Rapinoe as her potential partner on the Olympics performance coaching team.
• Love how Wags’s Peloton became a clothing rack.