Prince takes a hit, and Taylor makes a hit job. The gamesmanship is getting expensive, in more ways than one.
There are few things on television I enjoy more than a good “Billions” fake-out. The sine qua non comes from the stellar Season 2 episode “Golden Frog Time,” in which a Chuck Rhoades who at first appears to be sobbing is actually laughing hysterically because his plan to undermine his enemy Bobby Axelrod worked like a charm. (At the expense of his best friend and his father, but still!)
The sleight-of-hand that occurs in this week’s episode isn’t nearly as momentous, but it provides that thrilling frisson nonetheless. For a moment, it looks as if Chuck has put the screws to Mike Prince’s alma mater, Indiana A&M, to prevent it from investing in his firm. How? By blackmailing the university’s endowment chair, Stuart Legere (Whit Stillman alum Chris Eigeman), who has been embezzling.
But it turns out that the opposite is true. Chuck is blackmailing Legere and the endowment into investing with Prince by threatening to expose the embezzlement. Having previously rejected his father for the role as too obvious a choice, Chuck wants an inside man who will report back on Prince’s every move, and now he has found one. The needle drop of the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” that accompanies the maneuver is no mere music cue. It’s a mission statement: No matter what Mike Prince does, the watchful eyes of Charles Rhoades Jr. will be on him, whether he knows it or not.
Why? Because Chuck really and truly seems to have gotten religion where the billionaire class is concerned. He calls Prince “a robber baron.” He denigrates Prince’s seemingly charitable donation of a new fleet of high-tech subway cars (funding for which was the purpose for reopening the exclusive Prince List to new investors, like his alma mater) as a new form of “noblesse oblige.” He characterizes Prince’s seeming benevolence as an attempt “to further his own ends, whatever they may be, while he enjoys ten thousand, a hundred thousand times” the resources of anyone ostensibly benefiting from his largess. He has deemed all billionaires “hostis humani generis,” an old designation for pirates: enemies of the entire human race.
And how will Chuck defeat Prince’s latest gambit? In large part by relying on the acumen of his new lieutenant, Dave Mahar. In a brief meeting with her predecessor, Kate Sacker, Dave discerns that speed is of the essence where Prince Cap’s plan to purchase those new subway cars is concerned. So she threatens to tie it all up in red tape related to the cars’ Chinese manufacturer — an end-run around the Transport Workers Union, which has been bought off with half a billion dollars’ worth of re-education and training for members who lose their jobs to newwer, more automated subway cars. Kate actually tenders her resignation to Mike over the gaffe, though he doesn’t accept it.
Then there’s the matter of Leon Sherald (Okieriete Onaodowan) to consider. Sherald is a football star who has started a blockbuster home fitness franchise, and he wants in on the reopened Prince List’s exclusive list of investors. It’s Taylor Mason’s former underling-slash-friend-with-benefits, Lauren (a returning Jade Eshete), who brings Sherald’s offer to the firm, despite the awkward interpersonal dynamics.
But when Sherald finds out that the public-sector pension fund to which the Transport Workers’ Union belongs also includes the New York police union, he demands Prince drop it, or he’ll nuke the list’s reputation in the all-important court of public opinion.
This is where Taylor comes in. Having been tipped off to an app that suppresses problematic social-media posts by Rian, Taylor reverse-engineers the procedure and digs up damning information about Sherald, neutralizing his ability to tank the Prince List in the process. Rian, once again, is aghast, but the firm wins the day.
In the end, Prince agrees to fund public transport, even without his futuristic Chinese subway cars. But what is the endgame here? Well, remember when Chuck talked about Prince’s “own ends, whatever they may be”? At multiple points in the episode, there are tantalizing hints that there’s a play behind the play, a maneuver by Prince for which the Olympic Games are merely a pretext.
Scooter warns Prince that his gamesmanship is getting expensive, but it’s perhaps permissible if “there’s no other way to everything you want.” Later, Prince tells Scooter “You’re know where we’re headed — you’re the only one — but when we leave to do the thing, we need to install someone who’ll run the place right.” The dialogue seems to rule out the simple matter of getting his estranged wife a plum coaching gig; it points to something larger, more secretive.
The near-term ramifications are clear enough: Scooter’s nephew Philip is being groomed for leadership. The long game, though? The thing Prince is aiming for above and beyond the Olympics? That’s anybody’s guess. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy a drama that keeps me guessing.
Until I heard them open and close this episode, I’d never really made the thematic connection between the Police songs “Synchronicity I” and “Every Breath You Take,” despite their both being on the album “Synchronicity.” The first song is a sort of mystical paranoiac fantasy that everything is connected; the latter is a stalker’s message that it’s right to be paranoid.
In this week’s “appearing as themselves” rundown, we see the Warby Parker chief executive, Neil Blumenthal; the Greenlight Capital founder, David Einhorn; the Wharton professor and TED talker Adam Grant; the dot com pioneer Seth Godin; and the philanthropist Jacqueline Novogratz as members of Prince Cap’s board.
No “Godfather” references that I spotted this go-round, but Al Pacino’s monologues in “Any Given Sunday” and “Scent of a Woman” get a (literal) shout-out from Philip. Hoo-ah!
Your pro-wrestling reference of the week: Dave threatening to pull off a Bobo Brazil “Coco Butt,” one of the most feared head butts in the art form’s history, on the Transit Workers’ Union boss Tony Plimpton (Kevin Chapman).
Important Prince Cap maneuverings to remember: Tuk begins to develop some real money-making instincts while working as Philip’s gofer; Philip refuses to be poached even after his uncle Scooter sets him up for a plum job far away from the firm.
Your latest sign that “Billions” has evolved past Bobby Axelrod: Comptroller Leah Calder (Wendie Malick) congratulates Chuck on taking down Axe, and Chuck replies that his one-time nemesis “is firmly in my rearview.” Adios, Axe.
‘Billions’ Season 6, Episode 6 Recap: I’ll Be Watching You – The New York Times