NFT Scams, Hurricane Sabotage and Minion-Hood
by Sarene Leeds | Vulture | September 1, 2023
Billions stuck us with another formulaic episode this week — no Axe; finance bros skirting the law, etc. — but at least “Hurricane Rosie” and its two main story lines are moving toward some semblance of cohesion. Chuck and Mike Prince are finally back in each other’s orbit, as Chuck tries to indict Prince after he learns the billionaire is intertwined with a Taiwanese mogul whose son is an NFT scammer. (So the whole fake Super PAC investigation from last week is on hold now, or what?) Meanwhile, with no clear plan to destroy Prince from the inside, Wags goes rogue and sabotages a hurricane categorization, making Prince look like an insurance fraudster. The problem with this particular scheme is it has Wags’s fingerprints all over it, putting Wags in a precarious position at MPC. The last thing Wendy needs is to lose her top ally, so she gives him a necessary dressing-down before they regroup.
What “Hurricane Rosie” did give us, though, was an opportunity to think more about what’s going on behind the scenes of these main-stage story lines. Well, that and a lot of Grosse Pointe Blank references. Case in point: I found myself far more affected by the Scooter conductor subplot than Chuck’s attempts to arrest Prince for aiding a global fugitive.
Prince arranges for Scooter to conduct the New York Philharmonic, with Leonard Bernstein’s baton, no less! We already know from last season that Scooter gave up his aspirations to be a conductor long ago, so this is a really big deal. But at the last minute, following Prince’s international incident entanglement — and Bradford Luke’s insistence that Prince’s affiliation with hoity-toity orchestral music — will be a major voter turnoff, the guest-conductor shot is canceled. Once again, Scooter’s dreams are snatched away because he must always be a martyr for Mike Prince. But I’m still asking “why?” on this one. What has Prince promised Scooter that he’s agreed to a life sentence of minion-hood? (Example: A shattered Scooter represses so much of his own self that after the conductor offer is rescinded, he feeds Prince this piece of cringe: “You said you had a good day today. Then so did I.”) We don’t get enough of Scooter’s backstory to understand his mind-set, but I do feel awful for him. Will this latest sacrifice loosen his resolve enough for Wendy and Wags to get him to join their side?
To be fair, I did think this orchestral-music-is-elitist subplot was a terrific commentary on the “assume all Americans are stupid” attitude that most politicians think they must adopt so they can get elected.
I’m also growing more skeptical of Dr. Mayer’s true intentions. Wendy’s new psychiatrist unloaded all her Prince Cap clients so she can help Wendy figure out how she’s going to annihilate Mike Prince? That doesn’t make her too good to be true, it makes her extremely suspicious. Especially when she invites Wendy to start naming the people at MPC she knows she’s going to hurt. Like her current in-office adversary, Bradford Luke.
Something doesn’t feel kosher about this. Then again, I’ve learned to be skeptical of everything that happens on Billions. Still, I do feel that Dr. Mayer being so amenable is a red flag. She’s got to be reporting back to someone.
The Chuck-Prince story line this week progresses and ends in conventional fashion: With Chuck and Prince each thinking they’ve “won,” even though they’ve both landed back at square one. Once Chuck finds out the previously mentioned NFT scammer hitched a ride back to Taipei on one of Prince’s jets, he has to move heaven and earth to get the plane back into U.S. airspace. Prince, in all fairness, had no idea the jet was for his Taiwanese mogul pal’s son, but he does know that Chuck is behind this latest arrest warrant, so he tries to keep the plane in the air for as long as possible.
Eventually, Prince gives Chuck what he wants, but, of course, on his terms. He orders the plane to land back in New York, and, in exchange for throwing the Scammer Son under the bus, he makes several outrageous promises to Mogul Daddy. Prince assures Mogul Daddy that, once he’s president, Scammer Son will be out of prison and fully pardoned. To sweeten the deal, he also assures Mogul Daddy of excellent Taiwan-U.S. relations, along with certain trade protections “worth billions” to Mogul Daddy personally. Even Bradford Luke gives him a look that says, “Puh-leeze don’t do that, sir.”
At the airport, Chuck’s big, sweeping arrest is upstaged by Prince’s arrival and Scammer Son’s surrender. Prince delivers an obsequious speech about the importance of obeying the law and publicly thanking Chuck for alerting him to his jet being “taken under false pretenses.” Chuck, however, isn’t fazed by all the great PR Prince will get from this incident because now Prince knows the authorities have their eyes on him.
“Hard to march toward the presidency when you’re always looking over your shoulder,” says Chuck.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!! Who knew Chuck Rhoades was such a comedian?
As for the hurricane story line, I’m always game for more Wags-ian mischief, though after this episode it’s likely been curbed for the time being. While the MPC crew eagerly watches Hurricane Rosie wreak havoc along the American South, Taylor and Philip arrive to put the kibosh on the hurricane betting (the spelling of “Rosie,” whether it reaches Category 5). If this storm is deemed a Category 5, it’s going to hurt everyone in the pocketbook because Mike Prince holds several billion dollars’ worth of catastrophe bonds issued by one of the South’s main insurance companies.
Fortunately, everyone’s investments are safe because the storm is given a Category-4 rating — all thanks to Wags chatting up Al Roker for some hurricane intel and then paying off the hurricane grader.
The trouble is, now Mike Prince looks like a “Wall Street scammer.” (Dude, that’s what happens when you keep actual Wall Street scammers like Michael Wagner on staff!) Thousands of homes across the South have been annihilated, but Prince somehow walked away from this climate-change disaster with his portfolio intact. The optics, especially for a guy running for president, are abominable, placing an unrepentant Wags in deep trouble. We now know this was exactly what Wags wanted to happen, and it was only thanks to Wendy’s rapid-fire thinking — and the fact that Prince trusts her — that Wags is still employed by MPC. She persuades Wags to accept blame for his actions, and pushes Prince to leave it at that because she can’t lose her best collaborator.
Prince then does the predictable image quick fix: Pays for the Indiana National Guard to offer relief to the people hit hardest by the hurricane. Bradford then advises that he close his ranks ASAP, or else shutting down international incidents and suspected insurance fraud will become a daily occurrence.
*taps microphone* “Um, excuse me, Mr. Luke? Hi, Sarene Leeds here, devoted Billions recapper. Yeah. International incidents and fraud are the lifeblood of these characters, and they have been for seven seasons. Good luck getting that to change …”
Now that Prince is closing his ranks even tighter, Wendy turns to her nighttime Grosse Pointe Blank screenings for guidance. Viewing herself as no different than John Cusack’s professional assassin, her big fear is how a “clean kill can turn very messy.” Wendy Q. Blank is fully aware that what lies ahead for her — and Wags, whom she corners later that night — is going to be difficult and chaotic.
Well, good. Easy and organized are boring.
I still love that Wendy is one of the few people Wags will listen to (other than Axe) — and that it doesn’t take much for Wags to agree to her terms: Get your impulses under control and let’s work together.
It sounds like a great start, but these two are going to need a lot more confidants if they really think they can topple Mike Prince. Who do you think will join the Rebel Alliance next?
• Billions’s self-awareness is almost as much fun as its constant pop-culture references: Dr. Mayer mentions to Wendy how, through treating so many Prince Cappers, “I have gotten to revisit so many fine films!”
• If you were disappointed by Al Roker’s lackluster cameo, there’s always this classic Hurricane Wilma footage (which likely inspired the episode’s own weatherman-versus-the-wind moment). And don’t forget Roker’s amusing Sharknado 2 appearance (TW: Matt Lauer also appears in the clip).
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