Connerty Gains The Upper Hand
by Dana Feldman | Forbes | April 30, 2018
Showtime’s drama Billions officially hit the halfway point of its third season with the sixth episode entitled “The Third Ortolan” and honestly, the show just keeps getting better. Show creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien were not exaggerating when they said they were taking things to a whole new level this season! And, this week, Showtime announced a fourth season for the cable network’s No. 2 drama series, which averages between 4.5-to-5 million weekly viewers across platforms.
Word-of-mouth from a very loyal legion of fans has helped grow the show’s viewership season-over-season. The series grew throughout the second season on Sunday nights by more than 35% from premiere-to-finale and the third season premiere was the show’s highest-rated ever with the March 25 debut up 23% from last year.
First things first: What is an Ortolan? An Ortolan is a small Eurasian songbird that was formerly eaten as a delicacy, a practice now illegal the world over. Axe (Damian Lewis) and Wags (David Costabile) dine on these tiny birds while covering their heads with white napkins. This is done for two reasons, explains Wags: “To keep the aromas from escaping and to hide this shameful and depraved act from God.”
The Ortolan isn’t the only delicacy of questionable taste in this episode. Chuck (Paul Giamatti) and Black Jack Foley (David Strathairn) dine on pigs’ ears, paired with a zinfandel, as they discuss Chuck’s run for governor. A correlation to conscience, perhaps? “You know, every time I eat pigs’ ears, I’m reminded how alert and alive they once were…makes me feel a little bad,” Chuck says, as he rips apart the ear and takes a hearty bite. Any guilt fails to stop him from indulging. “I feel a little bad about a lot of things I do, doesn’t stop me.”
Speaking of conscience, Bryan Connerty’s is well intact. The hard-hitting litigator, portrayed brilliantly by Toby Leonard Moore, is surrounded by those able to step over the line of morality with ease. Despite constant obstacles and setbacks in his search for the truth, Connerty consistently attempts to stay on the right side of the law and remains determined to uphold justice. “One might say Connerty is the last character on the show trying to do the right thing,” Moore says. We spoke about the show overall and this episode, as Connerty is at somewhat of a crossroads. “There is an argument to be made that Connerty has the strongest moral fortitude in the world of our show, but, whether or not that’s true, the fact is that nobody can claim to be squeaky clean anymore.”
As a lawyer in the U.S. Attorney’s office, one would assume Connerty’s team would have the same sensibilities as far as justice is concerned. However, Connerty repeatedly turns to colleagues, thinking they’ll have his back, only to realize their allegiance and his are not the same. Moore maintains a great sense of humor about Connerty, noting that Chuck, Kate Sacker (Condola Rashad) and Oliver Dake (Christopher Denham) are just a few to recently let Connerty down. “It’s hurtful,” Moore says, laughing. “I realize I’m not actually Connerty, but still, as people drop off your team, it hurts! And, they’re dropping off like flies!”
The show’s popularity isn’t limited stateside, as proven time and again to Moore. “Connerty is the only character I’ve ever played where I’m given advice by people in the street! It’s happened all over the world, wherever I am,” he says, noting a recent instance on the beach in the Philippines where he was implored to quote ‘Never stop being good!’ and another at the Vatican last year when a man approached him and said he should just go work at Axe Capital. “People assume I’m Connerty, which is fine,” he laughs. “I like the character a lot!”
Connerty constantly has a look of consternation on his face and you can’t blame him. He’s in dire need of catching a break, and in this episode, he finally does. “Connerty is the only character following the rules of the law,” says Moore, adding that the look comes somewhat natural to him. “I actually have resting bitch face in real life,” he jokes, his top-notch sense of humor in stark contrast to his on-screen buttoned-up persona. He’s a self-proclaimed real-life law school drop-out. “I failed,” he admits. “I did eight plays that year. I just wasn’t doing the work; I wanted to act.” His professor suggested he follow his acting dreams and he took her advice. While simultaneously juggling law school and a plethora of plays, Moore ended up graduating with a BA Double Major in Japanese Linguistics.
Axe’s dismissal hearing is a turning point in this episode. On their way to court, Connerty tells Dake that though he has a case, he doesn’t have the evidence to win it. With only theories to go on, Connerty adds, “Not even Evel Knievel could jump the gap between what I know and what I can prove.” The Ice Juice case comes to a head when the judge only gives Connerty one week to produce compelling evidence to sustain the case against Axe, or the judge will grant Axe’s request for a dismissal. Connerty tells the judge he has reason to believe there’s been witness tampering, which is why he has no solid evidence at this time, but confirms his office is working with an operative that’s a direct link to Axe and the contaminant that sabotaged Ice Juice.
Connerty, frustrated and at a loss, takes a risk and visits the judge in his chambers. The judge imparts some wisdom: “That sensation you’re feeling, it’s known as the dip. It feels like the moment before defeat,” the judge says. “It’s actually the moment before success…You push through that dip right now, maybe you put Axelrod where he needs to be.”
Axe’s main concern is tracking down the one critical piece of evidence that could destroy him: the slide. At the end of the last episode he was finally able to get a read on the crooked doctor when he asked for money. In that instant, he knew he’d made a deal with the government. When he’s told the slide isn’t in evidence at Eastern, Axe is left with little comfort.
Chuck has really gone to the dark side, paying six figures to plant evidence against Axe. At first, the plan is to plant the slide at Axe’s penthouse. The original $100,000 doubles when the man hired to do the job realizes he has only one week and then it’s cancelled altogether when it’s realized that Axe’s residence is impenetrable. This leaves Chuck with only one dangerously pathetic option: Spyros (Stephen Kunken). In addition, the slide itself only has an 18-hour half-life at room temperature, so needless to say, time is of the essence.
As Axe Cap’s Head of Compliance, Spyros found one particular fund that made a killing shorting the Ice Juice stock. In lieu of helping Chuck, Spyros thinks he’s found the perfect way to help Axe and it involves redirecting the spotlight of the investigation off Axe and onto Wendy (Maggie Siff). This is the first time Wendy has ever made a trade during her time at Axe Cap and though exposing Wendy’s short could be good for Axe, he makes it unmistakably clear that she’s off limits. Spyros quickly realizes he’s crossed a line that’s never to be crossed. The problem is threefold: Spyros already had the NSA to look into Wendy “off the books” and he’s already given the information to Connerty. In addition, Connerty has finally convinced Dake it’s time to include Chuck in the investigation.
Axe immediately tells Wendy the feds have her Ice Juice short. Realizing she could face prison time, she grabs a burner phone from Axe, who has plenty of these on hand for such occasions, and quickly leaves the office.
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