Photo: Jeff Neumann
Time to kick off those boomer-rock playlists, all of you, because Billion is back.
Fourteen months after COVID-19 forced Ax Cap & Co. to join the Roys in what seemed like a never-ending hiatus, Tom Petty and the Velvet Underground are announcing the return of half of television’s favorite New Yorker money billionaires.
Let’s talk about the biggest elephant in the room first: Chuck Rhoades’ new look!
Just kidding – although I’ll get to that later. No, of course, that’s how Billion seamlessly returns in a story that was written before COVID quarantined the world a year and a half ago. Seven episodes of season five were filmed before production ceased in March 2020, with five episodes remaining. (Showtime confirms that two days of filming on episode eight, “Copenhagen,” were completed before the shutdown.) Production was finally able to resume in March of this year, and as a way to catch up, Billion shot both seasons five and six simultaneously. You’ll also notice a lot more one-on-one scenes in “Copenhagen” than in the past, possibly due to COVID security protocols.
Speaking of those one-on-one scenes, one more wrinkle to get Billion back on our screens after such a long interlude was the untimely death of Damian Lewis’ wife and Peaky Blinders star Helen McCrory, who passed away in April 2021. But thanks to a little magic on television, Yonkers hometown hero Bobby Axelrod is still able to crush his enemies despite filming some of his scenes by Lewis in the UK.
So, does COVID exist in these new episodes? Type of. We’d do well to place the action around Jan-Feb 2020: The last episode, which aired in June 2020, managed to slip in a ‘coronavirus’ mention, and there’s a telltale line of dialogue in next week’s episode. . But also, let’s not forget, as I echo the sentiments expressed in the recent Succession cover, the inhabitants of the Billion the universe is so rich that they can probably avoid being deeply affected by something as plebeian as a global pandemic anyway.
“Copenhagen” takes place, about a handful of days after “The Limitless Sh * t,” which means we’re still knee deep in most of the season’s major story arcs. A short list of things to do, if you want to:
Ax: 1. Destroy Mike Prince. 2. Turn Ax Cap into a bank.
Chuck: 1. Find daddy’s kidney. 2. Keep pushing my Dark Passenger back.
Charles Senior: 1. Get a kidney. 2. Don’t die.
Wendy: Make my brooding artist boyfriend accept his wealth, but not be corrupted by it.
Taylor: Prove to my millennials that I’m smarter and wiser than them.
However, it took a few days for Corey Stoll’s decaying deca-billionaire Mike Prince to be offered the post of ambassador to Denmark, and for Chuck and Julianna Margulies’ sociology professor Catherine Brant to have a breaking off screen (it turns out Chuck wasn’t a fan of threesomes). Whether Margulies’ departure has always been planned or linked to COVID, it presents the conclusion of Chuck’s chair at Yale in an organic way, allowing the New York attorney general to shift his energy to the third act of the season. Plus, the conscious decoupling gives Chuck a credible explanation for his change in appearance. (Okay, okay, Paul Giamatti is unrealistic by several pounds lighter and grayer than the red top, but just like Karl Allard – played by Allan Havey – kept the conversation going about removing Chuck’s goatee, U.S. too.)
Regarding the tormented romances, it seems that Wendy’s adventure with Nico Tanner has also hit a bad patch: Tanner enjoys the “freedom” of his new wealth, much to Wendy’s chagrin (quite hypocritical coming from someone). one that raked in $ 9 million bounty last year). That is, until Cameo of the Week Jason Isbell has all the Lester Bangs in his head, reminding him that he’s nothing more than a commodity for the Ax Cap brothers.
Meanwhile, poor Taylor is stuck in a hell with a poor script. They spend the episode obsessed with Rian because she, gasp, dare to have a life outside of Taylor Mason Carbon. Certainly, Rian’s act of rebellion – working in the restaurant business to stay in the inner circle of his friends – deserves a job review. Rian throwing fake tuna wraps at a Bail Project event is just bad optics for Mase Carb, as it looks like Taylor is underpaying his analyst (he’s not).
Otherwise, “Copenhagen” is a solid, albeit predictable, Billion episode, filled with many red herrings until the last ultra-twisted minutes. Chuck’s big subplot is to thwart another potential scandal: A student sidelined by the New York Attorney General’s directive to dig up dirt on now disgraced Treasury Secretary Todd Krakow threatened to decorate the internet with a photo incriminating Professor Rhoades willingly participating in suppressing voters back in his undergraduate days from Yale. If Chuck steps down from his teaching job at Yale Law School, the photo will disappear.
What sets this incident apart from the other 6,834 is that Chuck had every chance to save his own ass by his usual counterpart methods – and yet he decides not to. So even though he ultimately loses his job as an instructor (the dean uncovered the photo and Chuck’s student withdrawal from Krakow), he’s proud of himself for doing the honorable thing. Dean Allison Walker (Tawny Cypress) has the final say, however, making Chuck persona non grata in the only place he feels safe, Yale University.
Chuck also learns that sifting through the convicts he set aside as potential kidney donors is a very bad idea: upon learning that there is a perfect candidate behind bars, Chuck flees north. State, to find out, SUCKER !, Dr. Gilbert (Seth Barrish), aka Dr. Godfather, waiting for him instead. The prisoner with virgin kidneys? Don’t give them up, because Dr Gilbert is running this prison now. He subdues both his fellow inmates and prison guards to his will with something far more powerful than street drugs: world-class medical care.
But I have to say that Ax’s prepping for Axis’ double “Copenhagen” triumph was worth all the lukewarm fake outs (Scooter-as-a-stealth-gambler’s bluff was a bit meh): At the end of the episode, Ax effectively demolished Prince’s image as a nice rich man and got his banking charter – thanks to a predatory loan company he bought.
After Ax enlists all of his employees to dig into Prince’s past, Dollar Bill finds the skeleton in the closet needed to wipe out the future Ambassador: a questionable story about Prince’s now-deceased business partner, David Fells. Lucky for Ax, Fells’ bereaved mother, Brenda (Becky Ann Baker!) (And as long as he’s quietly quiet, you know, can host a MasterClass on stabbing someone in the back.)
Right before Prince scored his first billion, he tricked a Fells into selling him his stake in their business for a pittance so the future hygge mogul could claim the financial windfall for himself. Ax and Brenda take the story to one 60 minutes-esque program making a profile on Mike Prince, and before the hit play ends, Prince’s traditional Danish costume – which he arrogantly modeled at the start of the episode – is sitting in the office trash can.
Hey, maybe the ambassadorial post wasn’t meant to be anyway: Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Michael Thomas Aquinas Prince would have been a mouthful for anyone.
• Ready for my Mike Prince epiphany? It’s Mark Beaks! (Sorry, I spent the summer watching the Duck tales – Woo-oo! – restart with my 5 year old.)
• I applaud Senior’s pragmatism in appointing Wendy as his healthcare proxy. She’s level-headed enough – and dismissive enough of Senior – to pull him out of his organically inadequate misery if and when the time is right.
• It’s hard to find a phrase more from the 1980s than to describe a student council presidency as “deciding who to woo Oingo Boingo to play Spring Fling and make them not play Sun City.”