“I’m Keyser Soze, motherfucker!” — “Dollar” Bill Stearn
We’ve hit the sweet spot on Showtime’s Billions — the moment when everything absurd and over-the-top about it seeps to the forefront. In Episode 6, we’re forced to look it square in the face. The consternated, stylized, drinking-Heineken-tallboys-on-Metro-North dialogue becomes central to the action and the pleasure we get from watching. Billions is not a well-plotted, conceptually-involved white-collar crime drama that just happens to have some randomly cropping-up, eyebrow-raising Boiler Room lines sprinkled in. These are now just as much of a focus. Billions is now one tightly knit, roided-out-Mamet package. Out of the frying pan (that Metallica concert) and into the fire.
In our interview with them, Billions showrunners Brian Koppelman and David Levien brought up the fact that — in their experience — hedge funders really talk about themselves like kings and military generals. If we’d gotten a hint of that prior to this episode, the floodgates opened this week. Our ability to distance ourselves was drowned. The day after the feds raid Axe Capital and arrest Bill Stearn, Axe is standing on the desk doing a St. Crispin’s Day speech routine. “Those who try to bring our houses down will see their own houses fall,” he snarls, looking towards Wendy standing disapprovingly at the sidelines. Whoa, we’re meant to think, Is he talking about her house? Man, we think — as he launches into a tirade about Pearl Harbor — the bloodlust is getting real. This is Sparta!
The episode is, very unabashedly, a Preparing for War brand of TV episode, as invented by The Sopranos or maybe Dragonball Z. Mutual, clandestine preparations for a showdown are mounted, and each side is running scared, trying to seem like the stronger party. The scripting boil becomes less and less subtle, written like something out of a centuries-old stage play or John Grisham — you decide which.
“I want to build this case into a fucking guillotine …” Connerty yells. Earlier: “He knows we’re coming, and we’ll follow him to the ends of the fucking earth until he’s walking in shackles.” “I put you back together when your whole world burned,” Wendy declares to Axe, triumphantly, naked in the pool of some random bathhouse which recalls the gangster-frequented nightclub Keanu tears up in John Wick. Then, of course, Axe: “I don’t get on bended knee and pay fealty to the king; It’s not who I am, it’s not who you married.”
Everyone is stocking ammunition, and off-balance. That means the attorneys’ office is just drowning in paperwork and potential plea-bargains. The pool scene indicates that perhaps Axe’s next big play — now that the deal between Rhoades’ office and Axe Capital has fallen through — will be to use Wendy to blackmail Axe. There must have been cameras or bugs on that pool, right? Whether that happens or not — Axe: “Haha, dude, I’m getting with your wife!” — will be proof of just how straightforward Billions wants to play it from now on.