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Billions: Season 5, Episode 4 (Opportunity Zone) - Review

Billions: Season 5, Episode 4

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4.5 out of 5

THE fourth episode of Billions‘ fifth season was one of those offerings that, somewhat deceptively, appeared to be an average offering, until moving through the gears late on and hitting its A-game once more.

It was also notable for allowing audiences to take a better look at series newcomer Mike Prince (Corey Stoll) and what motivates him. In doing so, it gave Stoll his best chance so far to flesh out his character and he did so brilliantly, peeling away one or two layers without dropping the enigma surrounding him entirely.

Once more, Opportunity Zone found Prince at loggerheads with Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis), this time over an up-for-grabs opportunity zone in the latter’s hometown, Yonkers. Winning the opportunity would mean directly becoming involved in a major development project that would help the locals and benefit the community financially.

For Axe, this represented a nostalgia trip, a chance to return home, build bridges and perhaps mend a somewhat tarnished image. These were, after all, his people. And in one young boy, Savion Williams (Akili McDowell) and his mom, Axe saw something of himself.

But Prince wants the opportunity too. And his claim is born out of past investment successes in other US cities.

Axe has the upper hand, however. He has home advantage. And as he presses that home, Prince finds himself being offered an opportunity to get one over Axe by other means.

Chuck Rhodes (Paul Giamatti) has a stake too. He sees Yonkers as a chance to bait Axe and possibly lay a trap. Initially, he sets his father up as a potential rival. But then, after being informed of Axe’s new partnership with community stalwart Franklin Stasher (Harry Lennix), he approaches Prince with an offer: a deal that would almost inevitably see Axe resorting to bribery to secure the opportunity.

Prince ponders this, briefly. But refuses. It’s a decision that ultimately hands Axe the upper hand in Yonkers. But it also makes Prince take stock of his current predicament. And here’s where the episode got really interesting.

Prince later revisits Chuck and admits that this fight with Axe has reignited something dark within him. He’s felt a pull to his old ways, which he cannot succumb to. And it’s this tussle over his soul that promises to make Prince really interesting. Is he truly the white business knight he has set himself up to be… or is he the business monster that Axe is determined to expose? The suggestion, now, is that there is a beast within. Stoll, thus far, is playing the emotional tussle brilliantly.

Axe continues to embrace his monster, though. And it’s interesting how this fifth season has seemed determined to make him the overall big bad. Opportunity Zone had seemed to offer Axe the chance to re-stake a claim at being halfway decent… a man of the people, who came from poverty and remembered his roots. Certainly, his stirring pitch midway through the episode, which all but clinched the investment opportunity, seemed to suggest a keen sense of nostalgia for the place he called home.

But once on the victory lap, Axe took a call from Prince (Stoll, once more, flirting with his dark side), during which Prince all but mocks him. “Yonkers is you. You are Yonkers. You’ve never really left. It’s in your manner, your bearing. You stink of the place and now you’re back in it,” he says, twisting the sword he had initially claimed to be laying down.

For Axe, there’s a realisation that perhaps Yonkers didn’t represent a victory after all. The place he had sought his whole career to rise above and distance himself from was now pulling him back in. Instead of going for the dinner he had promised with Savion, he left ruing the feelings it had stirred in him.

And this seemed like a watershed moment for Axe. In truth, Prince’s words should not have riled him. If Yonkers was a personal passion project, then the victory was absolute.

But there’s some sense of shame that became re-ignited. And the monster within Axe wouldn’t allow him the ‘indignity’ of staying in Yonkers for supper. Could Axe’s soul now be lost entirely? And what of Prince – the phone call offered some kind of victory after the disappointment of missing out on the investment. But at what cost? Is Prince now trading blows with Axe on a different, soul-destroying level?

Elsewhere, there were similarly intriguing moves being made. Chuck made a new friend, and possible future love interest, in Catherine ‘Cat’ Brant (Julianna Margulies), a best-selling author and Ivy League sociology professor at Yale, who made an instant impression [while bearing more than a passing resemblance in both looks and attitude to his soon-to-be ex-wife].

Wags (David Costabile) becomes baptized by the son he is reunited with but has a different kind of epiphany to the one intended. Rather than stepping up to his fatherly responsibilities, he resolves to start again by having a new child… with someone young. He’ll get it right this time! It’s a plot device delivered with all the panache we have come to expect from Wags [as hilarious as it is, in reality, quite heinous].

And then there’s Wendy (Maggie Siff), who made several power plays of her own. Riding high after the failures of the previous season, Wendy successfully accompanied a struggling Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon) to meet with the head of an oil company and explain how captured CO2 can be used to create synthetic fuel… and masses of money.

She then gave struggling artist Nico Tanner (Frank Grillo) a dressing down that was designed to help him rediscover his creative mojo. It worked. But there could also be romantic sparks beginning.

By episode’s end, however, Taylor had made a pitch to Wendy that could shape the future destiny of both of them. They could turn Mason Capital into an impact fund together within Axe Cap that could, in reality, become bigger than Axe Cap.

It’s here that Billions once more became really interesting. What could such an alliance mean for Wendy’s relationship with Axe? And is Taylor’s offer genuine?

It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Taylor could be running a different kind of game this series. The struggling Taylor could be deceptive. Certainly, Taylor is now embedding, or repositioning, key personnel from Mason Capital into the higher echelons of Axe Cap. Is this born out of resigned defeat or a bigger game plan? And is Wendy someone to be prized or someone to be destroyed along the way?

Certainly, the sting from season four’s power plays must still be lasting in Taylor’s mind, not least because it came at the expense of the rebuilding of a relationship with a father now gone back into estrangement.

As ever, Billions is alive with possibilities. But it’s difficult to predict what will come next – and who will win and who will lose. Even the winning comes at cost, though. And that’s what makes this show so endlessly fascinating and addictively brilliant.

Read our verdict on the previous episode