The ethical questions are pervasive in “Lyin’ Eyes.” Like, is it okay to put a successful company that uses forced Uyghur labor out of business only because you want to drag New York City into an ill-conceived Olympics bid and win back your estranged wife in the process? Or what about elbowing your way into doormens union negotiations, exposing the union rep’s corruption, and using that leverage to give the doormen a raise — just to get a powerful real-estate billionaire in your corner? And, most importantly, is getting to sing the Glenn Frey parts on Eagles songs worth a company betrayal?
It’s not the self-serving behavior that warrants discussion, because this is Billions. It’s what the show does. But it is interesting to note that when you pull apart the intricate steps behind Chuck’s and Prince’s individual quests for power, weirdly enough, some good comes of their machinations.
Chuck has returned to the city following last week’s upstate sabbatical (which he, naturally, insists wasn’t a sabbatical), fired up and ready to pounce on the billionaire class. He weasels his way into the hearts of Manhattan doormen, comparing them to left-behind frontline workers suffering through the worst of COVID-19 while the wealthy tenants rode out the pandemic at their vacation homes. After commandeering raise negotiations, Chuck makes an enemy of one Bud Lazzara, a real-estate magnate who takes at-home golfing lessons with Michael Breed and who doesn’t take kindly to interlopers. Strikes are threatened. Strikes happen. Strikes are called off. Lazzara puffs up his chest while comically declaring things like, “This is my city.” Chuck has the always-dependable Karl Allard obtain proof that Lazzara bribed the union rep to call off the strike. But here’s the thing: Chuck staged this scheme not because he was itching to help the working-class doormen — he needs Lazzara to owe him a favor. Someday. So Lazzara agrees to a 5 percent raise for the doormen, rather than the initially agreed-upon 2 percent, and Chuck promises not to go to the press.
Except he does, because you can’t let a good Olivia Nuzzi cameo go to waste, and because at this moment, Chuck is gloating so much he’ll burst if he doesn’t spill a little tea. “Let them try and Spitzer me,” he crows to moral compass Kate Sacker, who is all, “Yo, WTF, boss?” In a later scene, minutes before Nuzzi’s New York article is published, Sacker asks Chuck to explain why after getting Lazzara on his side, he was so quick to feed him to the wolves, so to speak. He says it sends a message to both enemies and allies that his moves can’t be anticipated. It makes sense in theory, but when Chuck elaborates that it was a lesson learned from his father, as in, the infamously traumatic “Pancake Eaters” tale, that’s when you realize once again that there is still a monster lurking beneath Chuck’s skin.
Speaking of Sacker, I’ve been waiting a long time for Condola Rashad’s character to acknowledge that she’s chafing under her boss’s tight rein. And now that Billions has shifted to more of an ensemble drama, I think she’s finally going to have her day in the sun. When Chuck mentioned “Pancake Eaters,” I knew it was a signal for Sacker to start running — both away from the state AG’s office and for Congress. She’s had her eyes on the prize for so long, and to have Chuck guilt her into staying on his payroll for his own benefit, dangling his “full-throated endorsement” as a bargaining chip, is just infuriating.
Over at Michael Prince Capital, Prince orders the team to short a prominent sportswear company while exposing its unsavory background. On the surface, this play is referred to as a “statement win”: Prince believes that by exposing Rask Sportswear’s shady practices, everyone on the newly established “Prince List” (and beyond) will get the message that MPC is an honorable shop.
At first, everything goes swimmingly. Once the word gets out, Naomi Osaka drops her sponsorship deal with Rask, and professional rock climber Alex Honnold posts a video burning his Rask gear (a clever flipping of people burning Nike merch after the brand featured Colin Kaepernick in an ad campaign). Even AOC gets in on the company’s cancellation trend with one of her signature tweet blasts (okay, Scooter made a call for that one). But nothing about this story line, not even the Olympic-size reveal at the end, could’ve been more entertaining than Wags’s role in it.
Wags messes with Prince’s play by orchestrating a buyout for the CEO of Rask Sportswear, who just happens to be his rock fantasy camp “kindred spirit.” Once that information is disclosed, more Billions-y stuff happens, but I’m choosing instead to fully immerse myself, and the next few sentences of this recap, in a David Costabile, Rock God, tribute. First of all, Costy’s got pipes. Though this shouldn’t be news to anyone who’s watched Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul. We’re also treated to not one, but two performances of “Lyin’ Eyes,” featuring Wags and Stewy Rask with their fantasy-camp rendition of the Eagles track playing over the closing credits.
But a few days at fantasy camp is a far cry from reality, so to save himself from becoming MPC’s Don Felder, Wags sacrifices his cherished spot in Stewy’s band by leaking the other nasty skeleton in Rask Sportswear’s closet: Kim Jong-un is a silent partner. Yikes.
So, yes, there was some “good” behind MPC’s choreographed implosion of Rask Sportswear, but when Taylor and Wendy deduce the truth behind Prince’s motives, that’s when we start questioning how warped things truly are. Without getting into the details (because I’m still fuzzy on them), Rask’s collapse means there is now an opportunity for New York City to host the 2028 Summer Olympics. Prince wants to be the driving force behind this bid, apparently to woo his wife, Andy (Piper Perabo), an Olympic-level sport-climbing coach, back into his heart.
I initially had the same reaction as Taylor when Prince started playing Donald Trump with the New York skyline, pointing out where all the new facilities will go, and then, in a very un-Trump-like gesture, promising to turn them into “low-income housing.” Could this be just a big romantic gesture? Or is it, as Wendy theorizes, something more sinister — an example of Prince’s narcissistic personality disorder? Does he genuinely think he’s better than everyone else and “won’t stop until he gets what he wants”? It’s not an irrational thought, especially now that Prince is fashioning himself as the great savior of post-pandemic New York.
The answer probably lies somewhere in between.
• In case you weren’t certain that Senior is a terrible parent, “Lyin’ Eyes” contains the story of how he let “feeble” swimmer Chuck nearly drown during a Martha’s Vineyard summer vacation. Heartwarming.
• Plus, who else was filled with dread when Senior promised that the rest of his life lessons were now being saved for little Willow?
• Need more David Costabile singing content? Specifically, an oral history covering his “Major Tom” karaoke performance in Breaking Bad? GQ has you covered.