You Can’t Please Everybody
by Kyle Fowle | Entertainment Weekly | May 12, 2019
Every episode of Billions, in one way or another, is about making deals, but “American Champion” is the kind of episode that pulls the heated relationships at the season’s core to the front and center, moving the battle forward in a way that feels meaningful and exciting. We get Chuck and Jock going head to head. Axe and Taylor continue their battle to undercut each other’s companies, but this time Rebecca gets caught up in it all. Add in an intriguing storyline involving Bonnie and a worker uprising, and some significant, delightful screen time for the always entertaining Spyros, and you’ve got a great outing that sets up the season’s final few episodes.
Let’s start with Chuck, who arguably makes the biggest move of the episode. He’s in a tight spot right now. Both Wendy and his father want something from him. The latter wants Chuck to take care of Jock Jeffcoat’s blocking of his development, and the former wants him to squash the medical board’s inquiry into her medical license. There’s a great scene at the top of the episode where Wendy asks Chuck to “kill” for her, and he fires back about how she’s always hated that side of him…until now, when it’s useful to her. Siff and Giamatti do great work getting under each other’s skin with pointed barbs, ones with the weight of a crumbling marriage behind them. There’s so much history behind their anger.
Luckily for Chuck, he knows a former member of the State Medical Board. Unluckily for him, it’s Ari Gilbert, the man Chuck sent to prison last season after tricking him into a crime that covered Axe’s ass, cementing their newfound fondness for one another. Unsurprisingly, Gilbert has no interest in cooperating with Chuck. When Gilbert threatens to go the other way and maybe talk to his medical board buddies about revoking Wendy’s license, Chuck threatens to lock his wife up. It’s all very heated and ultimately leads to Chuck not getting any closer to helping Wendy out.
Thankfully, his plan to help out his father has benefits for Wendy. When Chuck realizes that his father’s development site smells horrible because of the porta-potties stationed outside, a lightbulb goes off in his head. He finds out how that waste is transported, which involves a long train ride through many states, and decides it’s time to reroute that train right through Texas and into Jock’s backyard. It’s a sinister, ballsy move, made all the more satisfying when Chuck decides to give Jock a chance to mend some fences, only to be confronted with a righteous man who hates Chuck with every bone in his body.
So, Chuck reroutes the train and then concocts a hazardous leak that stops the train literally in Jock’s backyard, sending the AG’s wife to the bathroom to vomit. Jock is immediately on the phone, furious that Bryan can’t seem to handle this business with his old boss. So, Bryan meets with Chuck and says that if he moves the train and abandons his mobile voting pilot project, Jock will allow the development to move forward and spike the medical license review. It seems like a win-win, but Chuck says no. He wants more, and he wants to know why Jock is so invested in killing mobile voting. This only angers Bryan further, sending him to the infamous Dr. Gus to be “remade” at the end of the episode until he has “the right stuff.”
It’ll be interesting to see what Chuck’s final play is because his marriage is falling apart. Wendy is truly disappointed when he says she’s going to have to testify in front of the board, but part of that is simply being disappointed with herself. Either way, there’s still a lot of interesting emotional territory to dig into here, with three episodes to go. Plus, we have to eventually get some sort of final showdown between Axe and Taylor, or at least something that’s more of a death blow than what we’ve seen so far this season.
In “American Champion,” there’s a great little subplot about Bonnie organizing a worker uprising against Axe Cap’s “Flagship Fund,” which rewards higher earners on a scale far above everyone else, which is mostly a ruse for her to get on that fund herself while also apparently wanting to get into Dollar Bill’s pants—it kind of makes sense, because they’re basically the same person—but the real story here is Axe helping Rebecca with her restructuring of Saler’s. Everything looks to be going smoothly until Taylor decides to disrupt the process, buying out two board members, taking their shares, and then looking to seal majority control by pitching to the company’s biggest debt holder, Sanford Benzinger. Taylor gets a meeting with Benzinger through a perfectly-pitched meeting with his son at a nostalgia-tinged Kellog’s cereal room and seems to impress Benzinger with their understanding of how to make Saler’s into something special.
It looks like Taylor has another win until Axe manages to finagle Benzinger into a meeting with Rebecca by pissing him off and buying the Chrysler building out from under him. That brings Benzinger to Axe Cap, where Rebecca makes her pitch, Axe offers to give up his board seat to stay out of the way, and Rebecca refuses because she needs him there to help steer the ship. Benzinger, in fact, is impressed by their dynamic.
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