This episode feels like déjà vu all over again.
The last time Chuck Rhoades was unceremoniously removed from an exalted justice position, his protégée, Kate Sacker, also played an integral role in his downfall. But even though there’s a lot that’s familiar about Chuck’s latest setback, there are some key differences: Unlike when Chuck was dismissed as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which happened in the season-three finale, we still have three more episodes to go this season. By Billions standards, Chuck could become President of the United States in that time. Okay, that may be pushing it (though I’m wondering if the White House might be the big, unspoken Mike Prince endgame), but you know Chuck’s going to bounce back in the blink of an eye, the way he always does.
The premise of “Hindenburg” is simple. Billionaires are the world’s puppeteers, and we’re all controlled by their puppet strings: Mike Prince orchestrates Chuck’s ousting as the New York State Attorney General literally because Chuck pissed him off — and because Prince has the unlimited financial capital to pay off anyone and everyone who stands in his way, including two-thirds of New York’s state Senate. The decades Chuck spent building up his political capital through glad-handing, shoulder-patting, and challah-slicing were all for naught because a few kind words at a funeral can’t pay for an upstate town’s crumbling infrastructure.
But that’s not what I’m thinking about going into these final three episodes of the season. What I want to know is, what is Kate Sacker’s objective? As of “Hindenburg,” there’s been no mention of Sacker’s supposed congressional run, which leads me to believe that once Prince lost the Olympics, his campaign-funding promises also went away. Why else would Sacker spend the episode quietly guiding Prince toward Chuck’s political destruction? It’s obvious that Prince wants revenge on Chuck — but watching Sacker do it from behind the scenes is just plain nefarious. And awesome.
I wonder if Chuck may still be the AG if he hadn’t swaggered into the New York 2028 Olympic headquarters to gloat at a wallowing Prince at the top of the episode. But then again, what fun would that be? Like Prince observes, “Chuck lives for this kind of conflict.”
Billions’ ruse of the week is, as usual, pretty darn crafty. While Prince gets to work luring Governor Sweeney (he threatens to fund Buffalo Bob’s re-election opponent unless the governor plays ball) and the necessary two-thirds state Senate majority for Chuck’s removal to his side, an intricate scheme — that isn’t revealed until the third act — is put into place. Since there needs to be evidence of Chuck’s “abuse of power” (the so-called grounds for his ejection as AG), Prince and his “brain trust” of Sacker, Scooter, and Wags create an injustice scenario so repugnant that Chuck is practically slobbering over the opportunity to go after entitled rich people again.
The scheme starts when Dave Mahar goes to an upscale, members-only club to meet with Chuck’s asset, Stuart Legere. But since she’s not a member, she’s told to wait outside until Legere arrives. While waiting, she witnesses an obnoxious finance bro walk into a gated park (clearly modeled after Gramercy Park) — and refuse entry to a young Hispanic mom because she doesn’t have a key. The whole experience puts Dave in a foul mood, but once she relays the story to Chuck, he’s fired up with a whole new purpose: To “stop structural schmuckiness.” Or, in layman’s terms, to unlock all exclusive clubs and parks in the city.
While Chuck is preoccupied with his latest fool’s errand, Prince opens his checkbook to turn the New York Senators against the State AG. Prince’s biggest challenge is Oneonta senator Clay Tharp, a “lifer” who appreciates Chuck’s small friendship gestures, like a firm handshake and pithy wishes when his wife died. But now that Prince has Governor Sweeney in his pocket, he can “persuade” Buffalo Bob to take downtown improvement funds allocated to Tharp’s district and give them to Prince himself. Suddenly, Tharp isn’t so willing to remain on Team Chuck, especially when he’s given an impossible choice: “Embrace political death” or partner up with Prince to ensure Oneonta’s redevelopment project goes through.
As soon as Tharp joins Team Prince, Chuck is summoned to Albany for an emergency state Senate session, where his future as AG hangs in the balance. It also doesn’t take long for Chuck and Dave to figure out they were set up — the members-only club meeting, the faux-Gramercy Park outrage, all of it. Then we see Scooter and Wags handing large envelopes full of cash to several familiar-looking faces, thanking them for their performances: The club host, the finance bro, the Hispanic mom, and Stuart Legere.
Oh, how the tables have turned, with Mike Prince now gliding into the Senate chamber to gloat and watch Chuck Rhoades implode. Although Chuck has his ever-loyal BFF Ira Schirmer by his side as his attorney, there is no way he’s going to pass up the opportunity to take center stage in his own defense. And there is no way Billions is passing up the opportunity for another fabulous Paul Giamatti monologue.
Chuck knows how to speak to these people, opening his speech with the understanding that his removal from office will make this group of senators “heroes.” But he also warns them that their rise in poll numbers and good press will be a short-lived boost only and that it’s a dangerous line of thinking akin to the 1937 Hindenburg catastrophe.
The now-infamous airship started out much the same way, with positive media coverage and everyone clamoring for a seat on it. The Nazi zeppelin “did what it was supposed to do, and was celebrated, in the way you all will be.” Until that is, it spectacularly crashed and burned. He implores the Senate to avoid the same fate by doing something the Hindenburg never did: reverse course.
“Boom, oh, the humanity,” says Chuck, quoting the iconic on-the-scene radio broadcast from the Hindenburg explosion. Even Prince has to admit, “Dang, he’s good.”
Chuck then switches gears, setting his sights on the man solely responsible for his precarious political future. Without mentioning Prince by name, Chuck declares that every senator in the chamber has been corrupted by a man “who owns more assets than the GDP of most countries on the planet.” It is Prince, and his gobs of money, who controls the world, because he’s been able to use his wealth to bend the halls of justice to his will.
Now, we know Chuck isn’t wrong, but we also know that his argument that he and the state senators “were elected to be the voice of the people who don’t have one of their own” is a load of bullshit. Chuck’s success was built on his own shadiness, corruption, and blue-blood family. I’m sure many of these senators were just waiting for an opportunity to get rid of this guy, and Mike Prince provided that opportunity.
Besides, now I’m interested to see what Dave Mahar will get up to in her new role as acting New York Attorney General. What are the chances she can and will remain in that position?
• Chuck: “The best way to peace is overwhelming force.” Man, Billions really has its finger on the pulse of the world’s inner monologue right now.
• Over at MPC, the Taylor-Philip rivalry is brewing, with Philip noticing that Bobby Axelrod’s successor isn’t so much Mike Prince, but Taylor Mason. After Taylor realizes Ben Kim and Tuk Lal are being poached by High Plains Management, they throw a vicious, Axe-sized tantrum, threatening severe financial ruin to Dollar Bill and Mafee if Ben and Tuk jump ship. This leads Philip to call Taylor out for revealing that they seem to be the one “nostalgic” for the old Axe Cap days more than anyone else.