by Sarene Leeds | Vulture | May 12, 2019
The Battle of the AGs just got really interesting.
Up until now, Chuck’s rivalry with Jock Jeffcoat never came close to the level of contentiousness that made his conflict with Axe in previous seasons so compelling. But the decision to throw both Charles Senior and Wendy to the wolves in order to avoid capitulating to Jock, while hardly surprising, has succeeded in turning me into a popcorn-chomping spectator of this story line.
Putting his ego over his family is a classic Chuck move, but since none of the maneuvers he executes in “American Champion” had a chance in hell of panning out anyway, the viewer’s enjoyment lies in watching Chuck dig himself into a hole.
The New York State attorney general has a full dance card this episode, as he’s tasked with fixing not only his father’s construction-site woes, but his wife’s medical-license mess (it apparently never occurred to Chuck that, in his eternal quest for power, his loved ones would be reaching into his pockets too). As usual, it’s a ton of fun watching Chuck carry out his schemes, even though they never amount to anything.
Because he’s still holding on to whatever glimmer of hope Wendy tossed him last week regarding the state of their marriage, Chuck opts for the Billionsversion of a grand romantic gesture: making her inquest go away. Except the person Chuck approaches for insight into how best to manipulate members of the state medical board is the same patsy he put in prison to save Wendy’s hide last season. Come on, Chucky, did you really think Dr. Ari Gilbert (Seth Barrish) was going to play along when all you could offer was a promise to “work tirelessly” for his release “over time”?
This is definitely one of Chuck’s weaker ventures, but what does that matter when it’s presented via a Silence of the Lambs homage? I’d argue that Dr. Gilbert referring to himself as “Hannibal Lecter” or Paul Giamatti’s spot-on “Clarice” weren’t even necessary: The use of Chuck’s POV as he approaches Gilbert’s transparent cell wall as the incarcerated doctor waits, stock-still, in a pose identical to Anthony Hopkins’s is more than enough.
As for sorting out Senior’s obstructed real-estate project, Chuck decides to hit Jock — and his wife — where it hurts. Right in the nostrils. There is something both sad and hilarious about a man using his political clout to reroute a train loaded with excrement to one particular destination: Jock Jeffcoat’s west Texas backyard. But if a “shit train” were all it took for this feud between Chuck and Jock to end, well, we wouldn’t be getting a fifth season of Billions, would we?
At the conclusion of the episode, Connerty presents Chuck with a simple deal on behalf of the attorney general: Get the train out of west Texas and Senior may move forward with construction. Except what Chuck didn’t expect was for Connerty to reveal that there’s a record of his visit with Gilbert (seriously, Chuck, you didn’t think this would happen?) on the subject of Wendy’s tenuous future as a licensed physician. If Chuck wants his wife’s medical-board problems to go away, he has to give up the mobile-voting pilot program.
That’s a hard no for Chuck. Now that he knows the blockchain mobile-voting issue is Jock’s Achilles’ heel, he refuses to surrender to the AG’s demands — even if it comes at the expense of his father and wife. Because, like Chuck says, “some things are even more important than marriage.” Yep, power.
“American Champion” also confirms that Axe has his own Achilles’ heel: Rebecca Cantu. Watching this billionaire romance blossom over season four has been nothing short of charming, so what better time to plant the seeds of discourse? Officially, Taylor lost badly this episode: Their attempts to woo both Bonnie and a season-two enemy of Axe’s blew up in their face. But they have come away from this defeat with the most important intel yet about their former mentor: Axe is emotionally invested in Rebecca. Uh-oh, nothing’s more dangerous on Billions than — gasp! — love.
Remember Sanford Bensinger (Richard Thomas)? The billionaire who killed Axe’s shot at purchasing an NFL team? He’s now Taylor’s best bet when it comes to ruining Rebecca and Axe’s latest project, revamping an obsolete department-store chain synonymous with Rebecca’s childhood. Taylor tries luring the chain’s biggest debt holder, Sanford, over to their side but cannot compete with the inspirational team of Cantu and Axelrod. Not only does new Saler’s CEO Rebecca present a pitch that hits all the right notes in appealing to the all-American Sanford (keywords include legacy, profitability, and ice-cream fountain), but Axe offers his onetime rival his board seat as well.
It’s that last part — Axe’s supposed altruism and Rebecca’s distress over the prospect of losing her boyfriend as a business partner — that seals the deal for Sanford. Since he’s a philanthropist, he’s pleased as punch to see a “fallen man” like Axe become part of “something good,” correctly crediting Rebecca for her positive influence.
I found Taylor’s botched psyops to poach Bonnie to be a more unfortunate turn of events than the loss of Sanford Bensinger, because if they had implemented this masterful play against any other adversary, it would’ve worked magnificently. Still, Taylor should’ve known by now that Axe would sniff out their subterfuge Benedict Cumberbatch–as-Sherlock-style. Taylor has Mafee rib Axe Cap employee Mick Danzig (Nathan Darrow) during an intramural basketball game by hinting at a secret, elite employee fund. Soon enough, rumors give way to Axe Capital being the latest home of the New York City inflatable rat, and mutiny would likely come next if Axe hadn’t pieced it all together the way he always does.
If anything, Bonnie should be thanking Taylor for engaging in such Wendy Rhoades–level mind games. She’s come out of this in a better position than anyone as the newest member of Axe’s flagship fund. After all, he had to offer her something worthwhile to maintain her loyalty.
Because that’s the difference between Bonnie and her new lover, Dollar Bill: Unlike Bill, there’s no blind loyalty here. Since Axe has already realized that Taylor sees Bonnie’s potential, he’s gotta know the flagship fund was just the start when it comes to keeping her allegiance.
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