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Billions - Optimal Play - Review

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The third episode of the season is showing a change in our main players. As the first episode ended, the question was: How will these powerful men act when their right hand is cut off? The answer was given in this episode. Both Axe and Rhoades’ power has shifted. Neither man is standing on the front lines. Either for self-preservation, or because they simply can’t. They are, however, still allowing their most intimate confidantes, both who have left them either physically in the case of Wendy, or abandoned their loyalty, like Bryan affect their performance.

At the start of the episode, Wendy and Chuck attended therapy together. While it does not solve any of the problems between the two, and if fact solidifies that Chuck needs to find his own apartment, it did give the audience a much-needed view of them as a couple and as parents. This is the first time I’ve seen a flicker of hope for the two of them, or frankly cared at all about them making in through all of their problems, that as Wendy says in therapy, “[run] deep.”

Much of the world of Billions revolves around powerful men and the powerful women who do things in the background. They are treated as god-like figures whose pissing contests and testosterone-filled decisions are celebrated and accepted. This episode, that behavior was critiqued by Taylor. They were asked to join Axe at a charity poker tournament. They resisted for quite a while, not being a fan of taking people down, and coming face-to-face with those who they’ve destroyed. Axe does not accept this, and insists that Taylor come to take down Todd Krakow. Axe knows Taylor is his edge, to beat Krakow and in turn, Wendy who comes to the tournament acting as Krakow’s coach.

Taylor does beat Krakow. In fact, they destroy him. They annihilate him, and prove that while he is good, he is not as good as he thinks he is. Axe is similar, and it took not him, but someone outside of their world to peel back the facade and show the room just how weak Krakow really is. Again, Axe walked away with on top because even with Wendy gone, he can always find someone that will give him the edge. However, this time he found the edge in a person who is nothing like him. It was something that he could not understand, and he forced Taylor to go to a place that made they feel even more separate and alone. While Axe can see financial gain quite easily, without Wendy, knowing the right way to approach people is more difficult for him.

On the other side of the law, Rhoades’ team flips one of Lawrence Boyd’s employees from intel that Bryan and Kate get. There is nothing to find on Boyd professionally, so naturally, they get personal. Rhoades’ and his team are playing their own game of poker. Bryan works a flight attendant, using her obvious affection to get first on Boyd. While working on his private jet, she gets intel that he his sleeping with the wife of one of his employees. By the end of the episode, the employee, who was also a friend of Boyd’s is flipped.

Each side once felt like a family with loyalties clear. This season, loyalties seem strewn about and most characters seem to be on their own team. This was a strong episode and I look forward to see how the season develops.

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