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Billions: Season 5, Episode 5 (Contract) - Review

Billions: Season 5

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

THERE was so much to enjoy in the fifth episode of this current series of Billions – and not just in the big moments. Several of the little ones offered the bigger rewards too.

Take, for instance, The Godfather homage featuring Chuck Rhodes Snr (Jeffrey DeMunn), as he played with his new daughter a la Brando, placed some fruit in his mouth, feigned being a monster and then apparently suffered a major health blow and collapsed. Where Billions departed from that landmark Coppola moment, however, was in having Rhodes Sr survive.

And then there was the brief return of former series favourite Bryan Connerty (Toby Leonard Moore), now incarcerated following the events of season 4, but allowed a reunion with Chuck, in prison, just long enough for him to land a punch. Moore didn’t have a single line – just a showboating entrance and a slice of revenge to savour.

It’s in the incidentals that Billions becomes the complete show that it always is. No scene feels wasted. No nod without reason.

Chuck Sr’s Godfather-style moment had a reasoning behind it. The collapse allows him to be diagnosed with kidney failure and subsequently deemed ineligible (because of his age, liquor and cigar intake) for a transplant… this despite having been a life-long hospital donor.

For Chuck (Paul Giamatti), it’s now time to find a way to save his dad from death’s door. Chuck is no stranger to saving his dad from disaster but this is the big one and it sweeps all other feelings aside.

Indeed, family – and its connections to the past – formed an integral part of Contract. For while Chuck Jr was moving to save his dad, so Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) was forced to confront the ghosts of his own past in order to move forward with current ventures.

The previous episode, set in Yonkers, had seen Axe return to his childhood home, apparently with warm nostalgia, only to have his disdain for the past it represented exposed by current business nemesis Mike Prince.

His decision to walk away from a meal with young black kid Savion (Akili McDowell) and his mother had widespread ramifications for his reputation moving forward. And so, Axe was forced to return to Yonkers for damage control, a move that – in turn – involved confronting his own ghosts.

First up, there was a visit to his mum in the comfortable new home he had created for her. But this, in turn, came with its own revelations. The car he had bought her had disappeared from the driveway, replaced instead by a simpler model.

When Axe digs deeper, it turns out the car has been given to his father, who has returned in destitute fashion. Enraged, Axe confronts his mother and forbids her to ever see his father again, or face being cut off herself.

He then gets one over his dad by having the car crushed and delivered back to his doorstep, as he watches from afar.

In a moment of self-searching, however, Axe confides in Wendy (Maggie Siff) about the feelings that drove him to want to escape as a child – an abusive dad underpinning them. It’s a rare insight into a vulnerable Axe that affords the character an opportunity to re-salvage some of the soul he had appeared to be losing sight of in this series. And it explained a lot.

Lewis, as ever, played the nuances brilliantly – the hurt, the anger, the power.

And with that clarity of thought comes the ability to deal properly with Savion, which involves the contract of the episode’s title – an unsigned but spoken sense of loyalty that stands all tests. Savion, for his part, gets it; he can see an ally in Axe and refuses to speak out against him to a waiting media. Rather, he keeps his mouth shut and is rewarded with not only a new home, away from Yonkers, but a friend in Axe for life.

As if that weren’t enough for one episode, there was plenty more going on besides. Taylor (Asia Kate Dillion) continued to press ahead with forming the pro-Earth impact fund Taylor Mason Carbon with Wendy, sometimes against the advice of close counsel.

I remain convinced Taylor is working a play. I just can’t quite decide whether the target is solely Axe or Wendy as well. But it appears colleagues are being kept in the dark too, which all adds to the uncertainty surrounding the proposed play.

And then there’s Chuck’s continued efforts to thwart Axe’s plans to form a bank, with the help of loyal new partner Kate Sacker (Condola Rashad). This involved brokering a deal with the usually straight-laced banking official Leah Calder (Wendie Malick) and the retrieval of a family heirloom – an engagement ring.

And this is where the door was opened for that Bryan Connerty return. In order to get the ring, Chuck needed to employ the services of Bryan’s brother, Jackie Connerty (Michael Raymond-James), the safe cracking expert whose role in season four ultimately landed Bryan in so much trouble.

In an unexpected turn of events, Chuck now employed Jackie as an ally, who in turn made his own play for a night of passion with Kate Sacker. Intoxicated by the thrill of the illegal, Kate actually gave into Jackie’s roguish charm and bedded him; but in typical Billions fashion, she was always the one in control. She possessed the power.

There were more plays unfolding too. Axe Cappers Dollar Bill (Kelly AuCoin) and Spyros (Stephen Kunken) also ran their own game in order to help Axe out of a spot and restore their own reputations, while Wendy and Chuck continued to embark on their own new romantic interests with, respectively, hot-shot artist Nico Tanner (Frank Grillo) and professor Cat (Julianna Margulies). Both look like being excellent new additions to an already brilliant ensemble.

Contract therefore displayed the many strengths that Billions has to offer: compelling, tightly knit storylines, fascinating characters whose moves are impossible to predict and plenty to discover about each and every one of them. Plus, that uncanny ability to insert clever pop culture references that always feel fresh and ingenious.

Billions is a show that offers an embarrassment of riches.

Read our verdict on the previous episode