It Aint Me, Babe
by Sarene Leeds | Vulture | August 18, 2023
We’re still a long way off from figuring out what Wendy Rhoades did to cause Mike Prince to break stuff last week.
By the end of “Original Sin,” the initial delight of seeing Wendy and the old Axe Cap gang practically skip off into the London night had faded into a portrait of gloom. Not surprisingly, an utterly dejected Rebel Alliance — Wendy, Wags, and Taylor — returned to the United States, as Axe refused their plea to help them bring down Mike Prince.
There was no way Axe was going to let anyone lure him back into the fold so easily, but the real tell that he’s got something huge up his sleeve was his bonkers advice to his departing colleagues: Help Prince get elected to the presidency. Axe may present as a new, Zen version of himself, but he’s also clearly still licking his wounds — which means he’s plotting something massive against his sworn enemy. So, my early prediction is he needs Prince to become president as part of his own secret takedown plan.
Whatever Axe ends up doing, I’m all in, because even in his relaxed, English county-squire mode, Damian Lewis’s return is just the shot in the arm Billions’ swan song needed. I’ve said it before: This is not Corey Stoll’s fault, but Mike Prince is not a compelling character. Bobby Axelrod is. Also not helping matters is Prince’s intentional lack of chemistry with his colleagues. The Axe scenes aren’t great because Damian Lewis is in them — they’re great because the characters of Axe, Wendy, Wags, and Taylor are all fantastic scene partners.
“Original Sin” also saw Chuck Rhoades slither his way back into his old job — no, not New York State attorney general — the one from *checks notes* seasons one to three: U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. He arrived there via typical Rhoades-ian underhanded scheming, which means it was entertaining, even though we’ve seen it all before. He, too, undoubtedly has a plan of his own to destroy Mike Prince, so now the new question is, who will succeed in this goal? Chuck? Axe? Dave Mahar? The fledgling Rebel Alliance?
It’s too soon to tell with ten episodes left.
So Wendy, Wags, and Taylor visit Axe’s new home base in the English countryside, where he now lives and works in a Downton Abbey–size castle. “Axe Global” is a modest operation, with chip-off-the-old block Gordie Axelrod heading up Daddy’s block-chain division. Though the new shop isn’t as “lean and mean” as Axe insists: He’s already doubled the $2 billion he started with. Everyone is impressed, but they overdo it on the flattery, and Axe calls bullshit: “You guys are laying this on thicker than a Carol Kaye bass line.” Understandably, he’s wary of their unannounced visit, and accuses them of gathering intel for Prince. It’s not until Wendy, Wags, and Taylor sit down with him individually that Axe accepts they really do need his help.
On the other side of the pond, Chuck is busy getting the charges against him dismissed, which he does rather quickly thanks to last week’s public-opinion shift. Poor Dave Mahar ends up the real loser in this story, though. First, the judge who dismisses Chuck’s case harshly reprimands her, then Chuck, going full asshole, insults her by calling her job, a job he previously held a handful of months earlier, “bush league.”
Meanwhile, Mike Prince spends the episode courting a hotshot campaign manager named Bradford Luke. Luke is unlike anyone Prince has ever met because he’s the one person who isn’t champing at the bit to work with him. He criticizes every other sentence out of Prince’s mouth and voices concern over the billionaire’s decision to run as an independent. In short, Prince needs to impress Luke, not the other way around, and even then, there’s no guarantee this James Carville protégé will take the job.
And as it turns out, Luke putting Michael Prince Capital through the wringer with “profitable and ethical” investments was just a red herring. (On Billions?? Never!) The real test of Prince’s presidential mettle comes later in the episode when it’s time for Luke to do a deep dive into Prince’s very open marriage.
But first, let’s unpack Chuck’s scheme-of-the-week, because it’s a fun one. Chuck meets with his longtime friend and colleague Solicitor General Adam DeGiulio at the Dead Rabbit. Just a friendly drink? Not where Chuck Rhoades is concerned. Guy wants a favor, and this time, it’s for DeGiulio to ask the president to give him his SDNY job back. When DeGiulio warns him hell will likely freeze over before the president agrees to this kind of ask, Chuck goes to plan B, which entails visiting a federal prison.
Hey! It’s former attorney general Waylon “Jock” Jeffcoat! The guy who got Chuck fired from SDNY in the first place! He’s been doing hard time since the end of season four, courtesy of a Chuck-and-pals-staged entrapment, but Chuck’s willing to let bygones be bygones if Jock agrees to his terms. Both Chuck and Jock can redeem their “besmirched” names if Jock publicly admits that he was wrong to have Chuck fired. As soon as Chuck is reinstated at his old job, he’ll have Jock released.
I have lost count of how many times Chuck has made some version of this pitch, but at least the Billions writers also seem to know how overused this tactic is. Clancy Brown’s 30-second-long belly laugh felt more like a stand-in for the fatigued Billions audience here than anything else.
Continuing Billions’ seven-season-long tour of New York’s best eateries and watering holes, Chuck then sits down to a steak dinner with DeGiulio at Peter Luger’s. It turns out “plan B” was just part of “plan A”: As soon as DeGiulio informs Chuck that the president refused his request to return to SDNY, like clockwork, Chuck’s minion, Karl Allard, walks over with a laptop. On the laptop is a video of Jock, in his prison cell, doing exactly what Chuck asked — saying, on the record, that he wrongly fired Charles Rhoades Jr. from his SDNY job.
A flabbergasted DeGiulio (come on, man, how many times has Chuck pulled this kind of shit?) is dying to know how Chuck made this happen. Apparently, all it took was a gorgeous new pair of black leather cowboy boots gifted by Chuck himself. That and, I’m assuming, assurance that Jock’s loving commentary would be for DeGiulio’s eyes only.
See, over at Karl’s table, are a couple of co–executive producers from 48 Hours (or so we’re led to believe) who are quite interested in blasting this video of a contrite Jock all over CBS. It’s ultimatum time! Either DeGiulio can go back to the president and beg him to reinstate Chuck, or the president can look like a fool for not doing so in the first place after the 48 Hours episode airs.
The ruse works: Within hours, Chuck receives a call from the president, and it’s safe to say the Jock footage never made it to air.
Back in England, Wendy, Wags, and Taylor each make their hard sells to Axe over fireside chats and glasses of Michter’s. For the most part, each one appeals to Axe’s penchant for holding grudges: How could he possibly stand back and watch Mike Prince destroy the business Axe spent years building from the ground up (and more than a few dishonest schemes along the way)?
But Axe’s final answer is, “It ain’t me, babe.” It’s not that he thinks his friends are wrong about Prince — he’s just too bitter over past losses and doesn’t want to put himself in another vulnerable position. Plus, he’s got a better idea: Why not have Wendy, Wags, and Taylor stick around and join Axe Global? Yes, it’s a pretty sweet offer, but Wags and Taylor have some even sweeter arguments against hiding away in the land of warm beer and no air-conditioning:
Taylor: All the money in the world isn’t worth a world where Mike Prince is president.
Wags: Foreign citizenship is meaningless if the U.S. government goes to shit.
Which brings me back to Axe’s head-scratching parting words: Advising his pals to help Prince get elected. (Wendy’s “WTF?” expression is simply golden.) It feels like a clue to something he’s got cooking …
Before Prince can even run, though, he and his wife, Andy, need to put on the performance of their lives for Bradford Luke. That is, prove they’re a traditional married couple. Not easy when they’re desperately trying to make the bathroom at Prince’s Manhattan mansion look lived-in by two people — and need Molly to have sex.
Even though Andy and Prince come clean early on to Luke about living apart, he isn’t fooled by their lovey-dovey act for one second. It also doesn’t take Luke long to deduce that all of Andy’s beauty products in the medicine cabinet are brand-new. The bottom line is, Luke heard a “whisper” that Andy and Prince’s marriage was an open one, and now it’s confirmed. And that means if Mr. and Mrs. Prince want to live in the White House, they need to ride the monogamy train to get there.
Never mind Luke’s double standard here: The American people can’t accept a “first couple with an arrangement”? One could argue you can’t even run for president in this country without at least one sex scandal.
This scene is a blast from the moment Luke confronts Andy and Prince about their unconventional marriage. The best touch was how Corey Stoll immediately removes his arm from around Piper Perabo’s shoulders after they’re caught. But nothing compares to their joint “I’m counting” faces: Luke asks them to create lists on their respective phones of all their sexual partners over the last five years. The way they racked their brains for names was straight out of Samantha Jones’s playbook.
Looks like that was everything Bradford Luke needed to join the Prince campaign: In front of the American flag and a picture-perfect group of diverse supporters, Mike Prince announces his candidacy for president — with his smiling wife by his side. It’s a frightening image.
Just in time for Chuck to stroll back into his former office at SDNY with his own plans to save the free world.
Now I really need to know what Axe is plotting …
• Nice Easter egg in Jock Jeffcoat’s prison cell: Jock’s bedtime reading includes a copy of Stephen King’s Different Seasons, which includes the novella The Shawshank Redemption. Clancy Brown played sadistic prison-guard captain Byron Hadley in the movie version.
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