Even When It’s Pretty Boring, ‘Billions’ is Still Strangely Entertaining

Episode 7 finds Lara punishing the kids with clamming, and Axelrod going viral. Still, it's hard to turn away from.


Remember that Lara and Axe have kids? I had almost forgotten myself. In the latest episode of Showtime’s Billions, the two boys, whom we once saw arguing about Andrew Jackson, serve a crucial purpose. The two boys are deemed not “streetwise” enough by Lara — who, it’s still hard to believe, despite her working-class upbringing, fits that description herself. She makes them go on a supposedly hardcore camping trip, which turns out to be well-supervised and very low-stakes. More ridiculously, she forces them to go waddling around in the Southampton tide for little neck clams. The implication is: If you don’t find your food, you don’t eat (This all arose after they were rude about an omelette their chef served them).

The premise of the episode is that the boys were not perceptive enough to realize the Axelrods’ neighbor — and father of their friends — was driving them home from lasertag drunk. Lara sees this as evidence that the two little Axes don’t understand anything of life, and will be taken advantage of very soon. Quite typically, there’s a roided-out macho attitude behind this episode: Axe ultimately goes gloriously viral on YouTube after punching his neighbor out, and Giamatti swings dick with both Spiros and Connerty. Axe ultimately rescues his boys in the middle of the night from camp, feeling confident and that they’d gotten their fill of “roughin’ it” or perhaps more accurately, “slummin’ it.”

In other words, Episode 7 is a freeform meditation on the deep-seated, superego hangups of these characters. It largely backs away from the fever pitch of excitement the plot built up to in the previous episode. Remember, Axe and Wendy met naked in a pool, and Chuck pissed Axe off enough to screw all chances of a peaceful settlement to their conflict. Now, we’re worried about Axe going to trial for assault, if Wendy can get a new job, if Chuck can convince Connerty to feed him info about the case… and, essentially, how wussy the Axelrod boys are. It’s pretty silly stuff, especially that climactic close to The Pixies’ “Debaser” and Connerty’s remark that Axe Capital informant “broke faster than a Mexican condom.”

But the fact that we’re able to sit through this at all — lock in with these threads without the overarching conflicts being advanced — means that showrunners Brian Koppelman and David Levien have done something right. They’ve actually managed to make us care about these characters. On some level. Damian Lewis as Axe is, by this point, a virtuoso performance of post-Mamet machismo that deserves lauding. Wendy is rendered subtly and wryly by Maggie Siff, and Giamatti-ism is deployed in the perfect context. This Billions episode was boring as hell, but still — for whatever reason, and despite the clamming — we enjoyed it.

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