by Sean T. Collins | New York Times | June 14, 2020
Season 5, Episode 7: ‘The Limitless Sh*t’
Bobby Axelrod can see the Matrix. Or whatever the moneymaking equivalent of the Matrix would be.
After popping a barely legal brain enhancement pill called Vigilantix, provided by Axe Cap’s resident dark-arts practitioner Victor Mateo, Bobby is convinced that both he and any of his employees who have taken this dubious drug are thinking five, 15, 50 steps ahead of their competitors. As stock-ticker numbers fly across the screen, his eyes glow as blue as the Night King’s from “Game of Thrones,” as if he had literal superpowers. And he is focusing those powers on a single goal: Corner the rare-minerals market by investing in meteor harvesting.
It takes all the argumentative power of his protégé turned rival turned partner, Taylor Mason, to convince him of the truth: This get-rich-quick scheme will shoot a $3 billion hole in the company’s bottom line. Didn’t he realize that if meteors become an abundant source of precious minerals, those minerals will become … not so precious anymore? It’s simple supply and demand, and thanks to Victor’s little pink pills, blue-eyed Bobby’s vision was too clouded to see it.
Directed by David Costabile (who plays Wags) from a script by Emily Hornsby and the co-showrunners Brian Koppelman and David Levien, this episode of “Billions” is replete with punchy plotlines and payoffs. Schemes are cooked up and pulled off in rapid-fire succession, ending with a declaration of all-out war. Thanks to a Covid-19-necessitated hiatus, the episode stands as an ersatz season finale, and as such it stands tall.
Let’s circle back to Taylor, for instance. Taylor Mason Carbon starts the episode in a bind, as a company in which the firm has invested reveals that the tin it uses to build cheap solar panels has been sourced from the conflict-ravaged Congo. As impact investors, they have both a moral and a financial imperative to change directions, and pronto.
So too does their fellow investor Mike Prince. He may be Bobby Axelrod’s latest bête noire, but he’s also a potential ally in the effort to right this particular ship.
With Lauren and Wendy in tow, Taylor makes the pilgrimage to Prince, where their two teams are to collaborate on a plan of action. Mike makes the call against a slow transition to a more ethical source of tin, on the grounds that eating a few quarters of losses is a small price to pay for what they would otherwise lose in reputation. He even offers to buy Taylor Mason Carbon out of their position should they prefer it. Both Taylor and Wendy feel he’s being honest with them, so they volunteer to stay aboard and back Prince’s rapid-transition plan.
Only a few scant hours pass between when Taylor saves Bobby’s bacon on the meteor-mineral play and when Taylor divulges the partnership with Prince. To say it goes over like a lead balloon would be to insult lead balloons. Axe, and his right-hand man Wags, are convinced Prince has played Taylor, that the whole partnership was concocted to put a multiquarter loss on Axe Cap’s balance sheet. Quoting “The Godfather” (of course), Axe and Wags vow to go to the mattresses, declaring all-out war on Prince and anything he holds dear. No Vigilantix-derived mania here: He means what he says.
And it’s hardly the first time he has gone to war in this episode. Over the course of this season, Axe has seemed increasingly unable to bear Wendy’s relationship with the Michalengelo to his Medici, Nico Tanner. After a cringingly awkward dinner date involving Wendy, Tanner, the real-life tennis star Maria Sharapova, Wags and … well, the intended mother of Wags’s children, Axe unilaterally holds a viewing party in Tanner’s studio, allowing a bunch of real-life “appearing as themselves” bigwigs (C. C. Sabathia, sports fans!) to browse the artist’s latest works.
When an attractive socialite catches Tanner’s attention, Axe’s plan becomes clear. He wants to shatter the illusion of integrity for Wendy, showing her that her new beau is just as corruptible by money, power and influence — and not to mention sex — as anyone else. It’s an ugly power play to pull on someone Bobby has considered a peer and partner for years. But by this point we know him too well to put any amount of ugliness past him.
The same is almost true of our relationship with Chuck Rhoades. Some of the New York attorney general’s ends seem to justify their means well enough, as when he sends his Yale Law students on a fishing expedition for evidence against the unctuous treasury secretary Todd Krakow. When half the class bails and the other half fails, he heeds his lieutenant Kate Sacker’s advice and ushers Krakow to his own undoing. By simply hinting that an investigation into his wrongdoings might be underway, he causes Krakow to torpedo his own career, getting him bounced out of the cabinet within 24 hours. Fortunately for those of us who hold out hope for the fate of Chuck’s soul, there are still some measures he won’t stoop to in order to get the job done.
Sure, he’ll drum up a fake blood drive in the attorney general’s office in order to see whether any of his employees are viable donors for his ailing father, whose failing kidneys currently constitute a death sentence. But that’s really just a workaround for his original plan: tapping the sketchy fitness impresario Pete Decker (Scott Cohen) and his mind-boggling sleazy friend Dr. Swerlow (Rick Hoffman) for help in beating the tests that prove his old man isn’t a fit donation recipient — and in finding a black-market donor source, should it come to that.
Chuck ultimately stops short of agreeing to harvest a kidney from an undocumented child in federal custody, as Dr. Swerlow proposes. But when he has danced right up to that line, would it surprise anyone if, eventually, he marched right over it?
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