‘Billions’ Season 7, Episode 10: Mutually Assured Destruction

Season 7, Episode 10: ‘Enemies List’

To borrow some terminology from professional wrestling, an art form much beloved by the traders and lawyers of “Billions” (to say nothing of the show’s writers), Mike Prince is a monster heel champion. He is a bad guy at the top of the heap, gold around his waist and his last defeat a distant memory. Seemingly impervious to attack, Prince steamrolls every babyface contender who comes his way. He is an effective villain because he has been booked to be unstoppable — all to better set up the moment when he is stopped.

This week’s episode of “Billions” is that moment. And the babyface responsible for handing Prince his first real setback? Bobby Axelrod.

It takes some doing to get Axe in position to block Prince’s progress. But eventually he literally blocks Prince’s progress, standing in the man’s way wearing a leather jacket and Slayer T-shirt as the tuxedoed Mike strides to a campaign kickoff party at the Met. (U2’s “Beautiful Day” cuts off so hard the moment Axe appears that your brain will supply the needle-scratch sound effect.) The look of not just surprise, but anger on Prince’s face as he realizes he is being defied speaks volumes.

Indeed, Axe defies Prince’s direct order not to make a move against him under the threat that Prince would destroy Wendy’s life. When Wendy signed on as chief executive of that mental health start-up, neither she nor her adviser, Rian, realized Mike had hidden reams of financial misconduct behind the scenes. With her name on the contract, those crimes are hers to own. Decades of prison time are facing Wendy if the truth comes out.

With Taylor by his side and Chuck pestering him to come through with his promised aid in the anti-Prince efforts, Axe tries and fails to extricate Wendy through financial means. It isn’t until he takes Taylor’s advice to come up with a play no other Wall Street brain could see coming that he succeeds.

Axe figures out a play using a forgotten bargaining chip: the imprisoned son of one of Prince’s Taiwanese business partners. Jailed by Chuck over an NFT scam earlier in the season, Chuck “releases” him to Taiwanese authorities with this maneuver in mind. Axe sets up a prisoner swap, instead delivering the scammer to China in order to secure the release of Derek (Derek Wilson), the mountaineer Prince left to be captured there. More to the point, Derek is the former lover of Prince’s wife, Andy, and he will tell all if Prince rats out Wendy. That wouldn’t just hurt Andy, it would hurt Prince’s chances; as Axe puts it, no one will vote for “a man who couldn’t satisfy his own wife.”

So no, the monster heel isn’t down for the count. This is less a victory than a mutually assured destruction pact, in which Axe and Prince have neutralized the people they love most as potential lines of attack. But the behemoth has been staggered for the first time in a long time, and Axe is now back in the United States and free to plot with Chuck, Wendy, Wags and Ira.

Things get nearly as cutthroat inside Prince Cap as outside it this week. After confronting Axe with his knowledge of the conspiracy against him within MPC, Prince reveals the company’s new organizational chart to the traders. If the marginalization of Wendy and Wags, and the complete absence of Taylor, weren’t alarming enough, the creation of three new partner slots is announced — good for the group in theory, but bad in practice, as the competition will be brutal.

This is music to the ears of a killer like Victor, and he happily swipes a strong idea from the timid Tuk to burnish his own chances. By contrast, Rian, disgusted by how Prince duped her and Wendy, rejects the job when Philip all but hands it to her. Ironically, it’s a pep talk from Victor, who tells her she is afraid of her own killer nature, that persuades her to just walk right in and demand the partnership. Her self-confidence convinces Philip she’s right for it, after all.

It’s too bad, really. Just when it seemed like the likable Rian might extricate herself from Mike Prince’s moral morass, perhaps even joining the fight against him, she joins his brain trust. Or is that precisely the idea? Could she be the insider Chuck’s cabal needs, now that Wendy, Wags and Taylor have all been frozen out?

Think too hard about “Billions,” and you will be thinking like a “Billions” character before too long, looking for attacks from all quarters at once.

Loose change:

  • The use of Slayer’s “Angel of Death” as the episode’s climactic needle drop made my metalhead night. I like how Bobby Axelrod has his own trademark musical genre on this show.

  • In a revealing moment, Kate tells Chuck’s new up-and-comer, Amanda, why she ultimately left the Southern District for the greener pastures of Prince Capital: Unlike Chuck, Prince is honest about who and what he is. So does that mean this Kate, the new Kate, is being honest about who and what she is? Yikes. If you want evidence that learning Chuck’s methods can make you a monster, Kate is exhibit A.

  • “Whimsy has a half life, and you’ve reached it,” Philip tells Rian regarding her general vibe of wisecrackery. I prefer the Rian who laughs off the insult to the one who winds up taking it into consideration.

  • We get a price tag for how much Taylor stands to lose if Prince makes good on his threats: $650 million. That is a price Taylor is willing to pay, which tells Axe an awful lot.

  • A common criticism of “Billions” is that its constant pop-culture references can seem forced. This time around, that’s the idea, as Prince bobbles two separate Quentin Tarantino references during the standoffs with Bobby that begin and end the show. Axe goes so far as to point this out — sure, it’s the show hanging a lampshade on what is either a tic or a signature, but it makes sense.

  • Mike Prince’s Bobby Axelrod impression: not half bad!

  • As Axe’s exile period concludes, it’s worth considering how he continued to live like a winner even after his big loss to Prince. The man’s home is, in fact, his castle, and from there he has built a new financial empire, expanding it like a conquering king reclaiming his rightful territory. His only concessions of defeat were fleeing the United States and leaving Prince unpunished. Now, thanks to Chuck, Axe is back on American soil, leaving just one more item, or should I say person, on his to-do list.

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