Inside Moves and Camouflaged Ulterior Motives
by Sean T. Collins | New York Times | September 1, 2023
Season 7, Episode 4: ‘Hurricane Rosie’
A house divided against itself cannot stand. At least, that’s the hope of Wendy and Wags. Tied for second place as the people most responsible for the multi-billion-dollar success of Axe Cap — behind only Axe himself — they have been accepted into the brain trust of Axe’s usurper, Mike Prince. He relies on their very particular sets of skills, skills acquired over very long careers. What he doesn’t know is that they’re attempting to use those same skills to take him down.
It’s an admittedly subtle attempt at an inside move on both of their parts. For Wendy, it involves advising Mike and his right-hand man, Scooter, to go through with their plan to have Scooter conduct a classical orchestra — the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, procured by Mike through a charity auction. Prince even gives him Leonard Bernstein’s baton to do it.
Unfortunately, Bradford sees the whole thing as dangerously “effete” (he initially uses a more profane term), likely to alienate voters. Sensing an opportunity to quietly undermine her boss, Wendy argues the opposite. Isn’t the Mike Prince brand all about breaking the mold? If he wants to eschew eating hot dogs at county fairs in favor of helping his buddy pull a “Tár,” who are we mere mortals to tell him no?
The thing is, she knows Bradford is right — and not just because she’s nursing a crush on the guy. She’s pushing for Mike to take the opposite course of action because Bradford is right, because she wants Mike’s presidential campaign to tank. But because she is known for encouraging her patients to take risks, her ulterior motive is completely camouflaged.
The problem Wendy faces is that Prince may be in her cross hairs, but countless other Prince Cap employees, including ones she really likes, will be caught in the crossfire if she succeeds. When she explains her dilemma to Dr. Mayer, the outside psychiatrist she and the rest of the Prince Cappers have been seeing, the doctor halts the conversation immediately, citing a conflict of interest … for just long enough to drop everyone else as patients before welcoming her back.
Dr. Mayer is down for the cause of stopping another rich strongman from sitting in the Oval Office, and that means helping Wendy be at her best. Sadly, Tuk and Ben and everyone else will just have to search ZocDoc for another mental health provider.
Wags, meanwhile, attempts to exploit a Prince weak spot of his own. When a Category 5 hurricane hits Florida, Wags uses intel gleaned from Al Roker (you’ve got to love this show) to bribe a government hurricane scientist into downgrading the storm to a Category 4, thus avoiding a ruinous payout for an insurance company in which Prince Cap is heavily invested.
While the Prince Cap team is mostly concerned with the extremely ghoulish bets they all placed on the storm’s strength, name and number of refugees generated, Prince is outraged. If Wags gets caught fudging hurricane stats in Prince’s service, Prince can kiss the presidency goodbye. (Which, as we learn at the episode’s end, was the point!) Wags is forced to issue an embarrassing mea culpa to keep the peace. Eventually, he and Wendy agree to work in concert rather than, as Wags puts it, “lone gunman” style.
But the biggest Prince hunter of them all is still out there, harpoon at the ready. Thanks to some ingenious digging around at local Gamblers Anonymous meetings by his Wags equivalent, Karl, Chuck learns of an NFT scammer whose Taiwanese billionaire father has a longstanding business relationship with Prince — so longstanding that his son is able to borrow Prince’s private jet without notice. What better way to flee the country now that his scam has collapsed?
It’s only dumb luck that lands Prince in this particular pot of hot water, as he legitimately had no idea his business partner’s son had committed any crimes or was on the plane to begin with. But once Mike asks the pilot to circle in place in order to give himself time to plot, he’s in the cover-up business — and in serious legal and political jeopardy. Not even the increasingly menacing Kate can scare the increasingly bold Chuck out of trying to nail Prince to the wall for this. Heck, not even a waterfront face-to-face between Mike and Chuck smooths anything over.
So Prince does his best to outmaneuver Chuck in the court of public opinion, which, for now at least, is the only court that matters to him. He shows up at the plane’s landing strip and oversees the surrender of the fugitive, counting on the news cameras massed at the scene to capture him in a favorable light. But now he knows Chuck is watching his every move, which has him rattled. Chuck calls that a good day’s work.
It’s world away from what Scooter calls a good day’s work. Once Prince returns, chastened, from that airport arrest, he realizes Bradford is right. Scooter can’t be allowed to take that stage. The guy takes the news with a sad-eyed grace that Prince finds harder to deal with even than outright anger. “You said you had a good day today?” Scooter asks by way of an explanation. “Then so did I.”
Imagine that: allowing your existence to be governed by the whims and needs of someone other than yourself simply because he’s cutting the checks. Good thing this is just a TV show, right?
- The writer of this episode, Lio Sigerson, expertly advances the plot with financial and legal cat-and-mouse games that also reveal and develop character. Watching it is like watching someone juggle: I understand the principles involved, but hand me those bean bags or bowling pins and they’d be on the floor in a matter of seconds.
- There’s a ferocity that’s a little worrisome to behold in the performances of Paul Giamatti, Condola Rashad and Babak Tafti as Chuck, Kate and Bradford. With Chuck on one side and Kate and Bradford on the other, you just don’t get the sense that any of these people are capable of, much less comfortable with, losing the battle in which they are presently engaged. Knowing that the fearsome Bobby Axelrod is headed back to “Billions” for a few more episodes makes the mix feel even more volatile.
- Chuck is making no secret of his goal where Prince is concerned: He comes right out and tells the billionaire that he won’t leave him alone unless he drops out of the presidential race. At least that card is on the table, even if every other card is being played close to the vest.
- “I remembered who the heck I am,” Prince tells Chuck as he explains why he has chosen his course of action. I couldn’t help but think of Axe in that moment. He might have said something similar, but he would have chosen a far stronger expletive.
- I’ve enjoyed these last couple of weeks of comparatively low-stakes scheming among the “Billions” bunch, but they raise an important point. What “Billions” needs for its final act is a bit of financial-thriller legerdemain on par with the instant-classic Season 2 episode “Golden Frog Time.” You remember: the bit where it looks as if Chuck is crying because his big plan to take Bobby down got his own father and best friend in big trouble, only for the show to reveal he’s actually laughing because that was his big plan? It remains my favorite moment of the series, not to mention a moment I would point to as a reason I love covering television for a living. It’s not the fault of “Billions” that my expectations for its conclusion are that high, but they are. I hope the show rises to the occasion.
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