Follow Us on Twitter

Billions: Season 5, Episode 6 (The Nordic Model) - Review

Billions: Season 5

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4.5 out of 5

THE rivalry between Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) and Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) intensified in The Nordic Model, where things really got down and dirty.

The sixth episode of season five was an eye-opener for many reasons. Primarily, it highlighted the desperate lengths to which both Chuck and Axe will go to keep one step ahead of each other. Yet, in doing so, it also exposed the moral abyss that exists within the higher echelons of big business beyond the parameters of the TV show and into the real world.

The battle lines, this time around, were drawn around expensive works of art. It stemmed from a decision, in a past series, for Axe to store replicas of his art collection in a permanent tax free state in a free-port and report the stored paintings as genuine while secretly hanging the authentic pieces in his various homes.

The move is a type of fraud. So, when Chuck realises what Axe has been doing – stoked by Axe’s prized Van Gogh housed in the spare apartment his ex-wife, Wendy (Maggie Siff) has been staying – he and Kate Sacker (Condola Rashad) go after him for tax evasion – a move that, by Chuck’s own admission, resembles the bringing down of Al Capone.

Throughout the episode, it seemed that Chuck would get his man on this occasion. The only stumbling block being the decision by the district attorney of Manhattan, Mary Ann Gramm (Roma Maffia), to take over the case on the grounds of jurisdiction. Axe would still, however, be prosecuted.

Given Chuck’s seething resentment of Axe, however, he remained desperate to get the case back. And this is where the morality became confused.

With the help of new love interest Cat (Julianna Margulies), Chuck comes up with a plan to threaten the DA that he’ll criminalize sex workers (which brings us to the Nordic model of the episode’s title). Cat, for her part, applauds Gramm’s decision to get behind the Nordic Model and decrease the stigma attached to sex workers and redistribute responsibility. Hence, it shouldn’t just be the workers that get punished. Far from it. The patrons need to take responsibility too.

It’s an interesting insight into a new world issue that sex workers are now increasingly referred to as ‘workers’, with past descriptions – ‘prostitutes’, etc – now deemed offensive.

But as Chuck concedes in his decision to threaten Gramm with an aggressive new policy, he could link it into sex trafficking, pointing to a case of a now successful sex worker who began plying her trade while under-age. And this is where things became really murky.

While Cat and Gramm possess arguments that certainly hold weight, the wider implications for the industry were exposed by Chuck, who simply used the issue to gain leverage rather than really tackling the trafficking issue that has become a global problem. It was a troubling move that shows how vested interests so often trump more pressing concerns.

Chuck was, at least, aware of how dark and dirty things became. And, in doing so, he also realised how much harder he has to work to distance himself from the man he was fearful of becoming.

But his desperation to get Axe is an all-consuming beast. And while the play worked in getting the case back, it ultimately proved futile.

Axe, in the meantime, had been devising his own play to save his paintings, his money and his reputation. And in one of the episode’s most brazenly enjoyable moments, Axe beats Chuck at his own game by turning his residence into a private art museum.

This means that the entirety of the art collection now officially falls under the ownership of Axe’s charitable family foundation… an achievement made possible by an overnight effort involving distraction, a helicopter and a lot of bravado. It was the type of moment in which Billions frequently excels in delivering.

As ever, there was plenty going on elsewhere too. Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon) continued to expand an environmentally friendly new venture by landing a methane-capture technology firm. This came with challenges, most notably in the form of former ally turned enemy Oscar Langstraat (Mike Birbiglia), who attempted to derail it.

But once again, the moves made by big business show how money drives all decisions at the sharp end of things. Taylor’s new venture is notable within the context of current climate change concerns. But it is driven by the need to find new investment opportunities within the changing landscape brought about by environmental activism.

There are companies ready to go, with green policies that would benefit the greater world. But it has only taken the awareness of the big guns to be recognised and invested in… for the profit of those big guns. Money remains the principal driver.

Billions therefore shines a light on the greed that drives the wider world (a greed all the more apparent in a world struggling with the effects of Covid-19). But it does so in supremely entertaining fashion.

We can’t bring ourselves to hate or even dislike characters we should deplore. Axe and Chuck, by virtue of their charisma (and the quality of the actors portraying them) have an almost rock star status. And it’s one of the show’s wider delights that we can never quite decide which of these primary characters to root for.

Axe continues to get darker (as evidenced by his attempts to undermine Wendy’s new relationship with artist Nico), while Chuck is prepared to stoop to all sorts of lows to get his man. But there’s a certain tragedy to his character, too, informed by the insights into his relationship with Chuck Sr (Jeffrey DeMunn), whose continued grappling with his own impending mortality showed just what an abusive and disruptive figure he has always been – and continues to be – in Chuck’s life.

As ever, this is a rich tapestry. Or, for want of a more appropriate term given the emphasis on art in this week’s episode, another masterpiece.

Read our verdict on the previous episode