Snowflakes and Secret Alliances
by Kyle McGovern | Newsweek | May 24, 2020
Episode Four: Opportunity Zone
To celebrate the show’s compelling brand of absurdity, we’re keeping track of the most Billions-y things that happen on Billions this season. For highlights from the latest episode, brace yourselves and head below.
A Lot of “Snowflake” Talk This Week!
Well, this is a bummer: Season 5’s fourth episode features more than a few swipes at so-called “snowflakes.” The first comes early, during a sit-down between Axe and Asia Kate Dillon’s Taylor Mason, the latter of whom has been feeling off their game all season long and is currently at odds with Axe over the way he pounced at a recent oil deal. (Gonna be real: The specifics of the oil subplot are a little beyond us.) Maggie Siff’s Wendy calls Axe into her office to speak with Taylor and clear the air. He opens with a charmer: “I’m sorry, Taylor, that you’re in snowflake-mode.” That’s one!
Then we check in with Chuck as he’s teaching his first class at Yale Law. He immediately makes it clear that he won’t suffer any fools—if you’re called on and unprepared, you’ll be asked to leave the class for that day, and if you miss two classes, you’ll be forced to take the entire course again. This proves triggering for Chuck’s students. One young woman speaks up and says, “This isn’t how it’s done now. We’re here to learn together, not to be shamed.” The other students—who are also clearly in “snowflake-mode”—murmur some support, and it looks as though Chuck’s going to have a revolt on his first day.
Luckily, Julianna Margulies has joined the cast this episode, as a sociology professor who’s an admirer of Chuck’s and who is sitting in on the class. She interjects and basically tells the whole class to get over themselves and not shrink from the demands of Chuck’s teaching style. And to make sure the cross-generational finger-wagging isn’t lost on anyone, she begins her talking-to by saying, “Holy s**t, guys—and, yeah, ‘guys.’ I’m calling all of you ‘guys’—men, women, enbies.” That’s two! (Also, side note: Chuck and Margulies’ character are definitely vibing, and something’s gonna happen between the two of them before the season’s out.)
This next case isn’t quite as explicit as those first two examples, but we’re counting it because the message of the scene is pretty similar to what Margulies’ character says to Chuck’s class. So, you’ll remember that Frank Grillo’s playing a visual artist named Nico Tanner who’s working on commission for Axe. Except he’s not doing much work because he’s struggling with inspiration for his next paintings. Wendy, being a performance coach and all, pays Tanner a visit to see what’s up. After she stares him down a bit, he explains that normally, his process involves walking around New York City until he feels “special,” like he’s the only person in the world who can translate what’s in his head to a canvas.
“Ever since I signed the contract and I agreed to the commission,” Tanner says, “the walks are getting longer and ‘special’ doesn’t seem to be around.”
The show doesn’t appear to be as dismissive of Tanner’s dilemma, but still: He wants to feel special and unique, like a… you get the picture. Wendy quickly connects Tanner’s blockage to a fear of disappointing Axe, and tells him to close his eyes and visualize being successful with this project. She then instructs him to “go create the f**king painting.” When he says that her advice sounds like b.s., she claps back, “Well, your excuses kinda sound like bulls**t to me, pal.” That’s three!
To be fair, it feels as though the show’s writers do have some empathy for Tanner’s crisis of confidence, and Axe is supposed to sound like a jerk when he makes his “snowflake” remark to Taylor. That scene in the classroom, though—that just seems a touch too cranky, like it was written by Andy Rooney. It’s a minor miracle that Margulies somehow stopped herself from saying the words, “You kids today.” Of course, by getting so rankled from all of this, we probably sound like we’re in “snowflake-mode” ourselves.
There Are a Ton of Secret Alliances Being Formed
Since we went long on the “snowflake” thing (which, again, typical of us), we’ll keep the rest of this week’s items relatively short.
Just know that Axe spends much of this episode trying to win the chance to develop an “Opportunity Zone” in Yonkers, where he grew up. He seems to see the initiative as a way to give back to the place that helped make him who he is, and to support an underserved community. To make sure his proposal is a success (and to ward off his omnipresent rival, Corey Stoll’s Michael Prince), Axe is looking for an African-American businessman to join forces with; he finds a partner in Harry Lennix’s Frank Sacker, father to Condola Rashad’s Kate Sacker, who is Chuck’s protégé. We’re sure that won’t get messy later in the season.
Meanwhile, Chuck is aware that Axe and Mike Prince are competing for the “Opportunity Zone,” and he suggests that he and Prince team up to bring Axe down. Chuck figures that if Prince announces a donation to the city of Yonkers, regardless of how the “Opportunity Zone” situation shakes out, Axe will be drawn out into doing something illegal to one-up his competitor, like bribing the folks who decide on the future of the “Opportunity Zone.” Prince declines, though, and says he doesn’t want to stoop to the sort of tactics he’d use in the past. Still, we wouldn’t be surprised if these two end up working together at some point.
The most intriguing alliance comes near the end of the episode, though. Taylor proposes that they and Wendy essentially form a rogue shop within Axe’s shop—an “impact fund” that could actually become bigger than Axe Cap. The two of them convinced Axe’s truly awful oil guy to take his company in a greener direction, so why shouldn’t they see what else they can manage?
Wags Wants to Father a New Child
David Costabile’s Wags has been spiraling—even for him—ever since the season’s second episode, when he realized that he failed “the Chris Rock Test,” and that one of his daughters is working as a stripper. Since then, Axe’s lieutenant has been trying to track down all of his kids and get to know them better—and, by extension, get to know himself better as both a father and a man. It hasn’t been going well! Wags has been spending time with his oldest son, who is really into Jesus and insists on baptizing Wags to usher him into a life guided by faith.
The Holy Water didn’t take, apparently, because Wags decides that the best thing for him to do is to give it another shot from the ground up. That’s right, he wants to father a brand new child with a woman he’s never met before. He just has to find her, which means Wags is going on the apps. Twenty-something women throughout the tristate area, beware.
Chuck Sr. Demonstrates Why He Shouldn’t Speak in Public Anymore
To close, we’ll leave you with some public remarks made by Jeffrey DeMunn’s Chuck Sr. As part of his plan to lure Axe into breaking the law to score the “Opportunity Zone,” Chuck asks his dear ol’ dad to put himself in the mix for the project. Axe doesn’t take the bait and, even worse, Chuck Sr. is allowed to discuss communities of color in front of a microphone.
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