Billions isn’t exactly the most subtle show on television. In fact, that’s why me and so many of us love it so much. What Billions understands is that you can get a lot out of fast-paced dialogue, high drama, and more than a few scenery-chewing performances, even though you get a lot of the same plot mechanics from one episode to another. I mention this because at the start of “The Big Ugly,” Mike Prince (Corey Stoll) is training for a marathon. He plans to run the original marathon as a way to build excitement for the Olympics before they kick off in the summer, and maybe boost his ego a bit along the way.
See, this lineup acts as a pretty obvious metaphor for the rivalry between Prince and Chuck (Paul Giamatti). Prince secured the games for New York, winning the initial sprint. But the race is not over. It’s a marathon, and Chuck is still going slow and steady, trying to find new ways to go after Prince and his billionaire pals.
Essentially, Chuck is pretty sure that Prince managed to hang the games through illegal kickbacks, but he can’t prove it. He meets with the head of the Olympic committee and tries to detail Prince’s misconduct, but even she can tell Chuck has no real evidence of wrongdoing. She says if he comes back with something more, she’ll gladly take the games away from Prince in the name of keeping things clean.
Without clear evidence, Chuck decides to do the next best thing: try to insinuate what Prince did and hope the tides of public perception turn against him. As the folks at Michael Prince Capital focus on games – Wendy (Maggie Siff) works with soccer star Megan Rapinoe to launch an “Athlete Performance” program, and Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon) takes a massive position in a company aerial in an effort to outdo Phillip, securing them as the official sponsor before, later in the episode, things go awry – Chuck is working his usual magic.
Christopher Saunders/SHOWTIME Paul Giamatti as Chuck Rhoades and Sakina Jaffrey as Daevisha ‘Dave’ Mahar
He concocts a plan to bring various state governors together for a dinner party under the guise of working on an antitrust lawsuit against healthcare companies that have exploited the pandemic for financial gain. In reality, Chuck just wants to put them in the same room as part of a bigger plan.
He tells his enemies Lazzara (Wayne Duvall), Krakow (Danny Strong) and Sruthi (Sulekha Ebelle) that during this last legislative session he included a bill that will end the tax loophole on the Carried Interest, which means that all of their capital gains will now be taxed as income at the state level. Krakow calls his bluff, saying it can’t happen without neighboring states agreeing to the bill, preventing anyone from moving their business elsewhere for tax relief. That’s when Chuck shows them all the governors having dinner in another room. Followers of trickery and worried about being taxed an additional 22% on their wealth, they all agree to help Chuck defame Prince.
Before long, the head of the Olympic committee holds a press conference where she says she was informed that New York and Mike Prince got the Olympics through bribery. She calls it bribery, and Krakow is there to insist that if her people had known that, they would never have backed Prince’s offer. So the committee withdraws the Olympics and takes them to Los Angeles, and Prince’s dream is dead.
Interestingly, the series drops out of the Olympics bid so quickly after hitting the watershed moment of last week’s episode. It doesn’t seem like we have much time to sit down with Prince to get what he wants only to have it taken down.
Nevertheless, there is an impact here. Losing the offer actually works for Taylor, who got the upper hand with the Hypersonic position and nearly lost the company big money. Now they can get rid of the stock with a much lower loss and not incur Prince’s wrath. Then there’s Chuck, finally getting a win, but clearly pushing Prince to a point where his whole “nice billionaire” schtick might be a thing of the past. And finally, there’s Prince, who not only loses his prized Olympic game, but may lose the rekindled connection with his wife in the process.
Prince has won all season. He must have lost at some point. That moment has come, and I’m very curious to see how that changes the character and what that might mean for the rest of the season.
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