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Billions: Season 4, Episode 5 (A Proper Send-Off) - Review

Billions: A Proper Send-Off

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

FOR most shows, an episode such as A Proper Send-Off would be a one in a million. For Billions, it’s just another day at the office. But my, oh my, what a day.

One week after impressing with its fourth season episode Overton Window, the show smashed another one out of the ballpark. In doing so, it almost topped the highs achieved by its predecessor the week before.

Indeed, after the climactic events of Overton Window, we pondered where this season of Billions could go next. The answer was straight to revenge.

For newly elected state attorney general Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), it was about escaping another seemingly impossible career blocking situation and turning the tables on his attackers, while for Bobby ‘Axe’ Axelrod (Damian Lewis) it was his continued pursuit of Taylor Mason (Asia Kate Dillon), as embodied by the surprise emergence of another former protégé turned ‘back-stabber’.

It’s Axe we’ll deal with first. His story began in almost innocuous fashion, with a meeting, as once promising hedge fund manager John Rice (Seth Gabel) enters Axe’s office to repay the money Axe provided to set him on his way.

It seemed like the polite thing to do. But it threw Axe for a curveball. He couldn’t understand the reasoning and issued a warning about repaying such a debt. The ensuing moments found Axe struggling with his conscience as he tried to figure out the why of the repayment. Had he failed as a mentor? Or as a father figure to John? And what could he do to repair it?

The answer? A deep sea fishing boat trip, during which Axe seemingly atoned for his failure, offering fond personal anecdotes about John’s late father and crucial business advice, while seemingly reinvigorating his young charge to enter the next stage of his career: managing billions.

In the back of everyone’s minds, however, was the suspicion that all wasn’t as it seemed. The ‘why’ Axe was seeking had yet to be revealed. And, as Axe experienced boat troubles on the way back to shore, John delivered his big moment: a speech in which he cut Axe down to size and provided him with the reasons for wanting to dissociate himself from him.

In part, this had to do with Axe’s business dealings, or the manner in which they are conducted. The way in which he made his fortune on 9/11 being of particular bad feeling.

Axe looked rocked for a moment. But he’d got what he wanted: the truth, or the why. Miraculously, his marooned boat was fixed and the two headed back to shore, where John – sensing he’d perhaps over-stepped – offered some kind of hope for their combined future.

But it was too late. Axe regained the upper hand… or rather, revealed the extent of his plan from the start. He’d anticipated the truth and, while off the radar in the ocean, had mobilised his troops to begin the take-down of John’s company. By the time John was back on dry land, his business had been stripped of most of its valuable assets and Axe lauded his revenge over him.

The beauty of the moment lay in its brilliant disguise. For a while, we actually suspected Axe of becoming emotional. But in delivering his dish best served cold, he showed just how ruthless a player he remains. And yet somehow we still ‘liked’ him for it. The same rush that accompanies so many of Axe’s power plays returned here. The big man once again trampled the little one and it kind of felt good.

And therein lies the moral and ethical dilemma at the heart of Billions. We know Axe is ruthless, yet he has an energy and a charisma that’s difficult not to admire, or be seduced by.

Chuck, on the other hand, fought his own battles and won. Having discovered that the NY governor had been pressured by Rhoades’s enemy, Jock Jeffcoat, into curtailing the investigative power of the attorney general’s office he now occupies, he went on his own offensive, fuelled by yet another chastening coaching session from his dad.

Rather than find an angle to exploit, Chuck was encouraged to strike back definitively. To strike a blow no one would forget. And so it was that, come the final moments of the episode, Chuck stood before his enemies, at the funeral of his most recent nemesis, to deliver his ultimate smackdown: the arrest of those he had found to be dirty.

He likened it to a Caesar-style play. And it felt epic, even Shakespearean. And, again, it came accompanied by a surge of adrenaline for anyone watching.

And yet, in spite of these crushing victories, both Axe and Chuck departed the episode in a more vulnerable position than either will have realised. For Chuck, a new threat looms on the horizon in the form of the FBI investigating his father’s shady new development plans. While for Axe, it’s the decision by confidante Wendy (Maggie Siff) to reach out to Taylor for emotional support, in part response to Axe’s own unwitting trampling of her emotional vulnerability in the wake of Chuck’s betrayal last week.

It now remains to be seen how these two final acts will inform the future of this season.

But hats must once again be tipped to writer Michael Russell Gunn and director Matthew McLoota for delivering yet another powerhouse episode, which effortlessly combined the theatrical grandeur of Shakespeare with the ruthlessness of The Godfather, all while maintaining its superiority over the majority of other TV shows out there.