Season 4, Episode 11: ‘Lamster’
Chuck Rhoades has issued his own mission statement. “I myself will be doing my usual boogie,” he tells the gaggle of favor-trading power brokers he’s assembled to help him take down Jock Jeffcoat. “Inducing mistakes through temptation, misdirection, obfuscation and conflation-slash-corruption of the ideals that built this great nation.” A brief pause for breath follows, before he adds, “For a good and noble purpose, of course.”
The assembled bigwigs all nod in the affirmative and concur. Why wouldn’t they? For one thing, they’re all in on Chuck’s shady attempt to expose Jeffcoat’s even shadier collusion with a voting machine manufacturer to rig elections. That “good and noble purpose” is ostensibly one they share.
But you don’t need to be part of criminal conspiracy to recognize the underlying sentiment. Chuck’s merry men all agree that this self-admitted liar is telling them the truth, in the familiar manner of people who’ve decided to humor someone who’s full of it because disagreeing would be more trouble than it’s worth.
Fortunately, we here are under no such obligation.
“Lamster,” the penultimate episode of this season of “Billions,” sure does seem to have taken Chuck’s credo to heart as its own. Temptation, misdirection, obfuscation, conflation-slash-corruption of ideals: All of the above are in play.
I have to believe the end goal is the same: inducing mistakes of judgment, in this case that of the audience. As the season finale approaches, we know something big is going down. I simply doubt we’ve been told what that is.
Again, consider Chuck’s words and deeds in this episode. His father Charles Sr. (Jeffrey DeMunn, embracing his dirty old rich man role with glee) discovers that his home has been bugged during a — how to put this — vigorous romantic assignation with the mother of his new baby. Without bothering to tidy up the amyl nitrate–fueled scene, Charles races over to Chuck’s place to tell him the bad news.
Chuck makes a pretty grand show out of “realizing” he’s probably being spied on too before halting the verbal conversation and switching to written communication. However, he does this after discussing the biometrically locked vault in which the signed documentation of their dirty land deal has been stored and instructing his father to run for it.
This, via Jeffcoat’s reference to Charles Sr. as “the lamster,” gives the episode its title. Has it also given him and Connerty a wild goose to chase — or, worse, handed them the detonator that will trigger their own destruction?
Consider Chuck’s actions one more time. Last week he told his dad to tell his lawyer Ira (one of the merry men) everything about the development scheme. “You mean about the idiot who stands to lose the most?” Charles replied — but the idiot was pointedly never specified.
Connerty and Jeffcoat assume the Rhoadeses were discussing whoever ponied up the big cash required to broker the deal in the first place. But could the idiot in question be someone closer to home, someone whose undoing this is all an elaborate ruse to engineer?
Someone like Connerty, for instance? The S.D.N.Y. U.S. attorney uses his safecracker brother to break into Charles’s house, open the vault, and take photos of the contract. In the process, cuff links get stolen and the painting hiding the vault is left askew, a detail Bobby Axelrod’s fixer Hall, brought in at Chuck’s request, notices immediately upon his own arrival at the house.
Or someone like Jeffcoat? In addition to his many other nefarious deeds, Jock orders Connerty to violate his wiretap warrant in order to learn the mystery idiot’s identity … calling Bryan an “idiot” in the process. Does it take one to know one?
Don’t think for a second Chuck is alone in doing dirty deeds on the down low. His ally Bobby Axelrod has pernicious plans of his own, though he takes his sweet time to formulate them.
Indeed, Axe spends most of the episode being such a stand-up guy that his friends and colleagues start to worry about him. His archrival Taylor Mason has purchased an appliance manufacturer in order to crush Saler’s, the department store chain his girlfriend Rebecca Cantu now controls. With that kind of supply-line stranglehold, Taylor could even steal that control right out from under her.
Unable to find any other solution to Rebecca’s plight — one she’s found herself in solely because dating Bobby Axelrod has put her in Taylor’s cross hairs — Axe almost peevishly insists on freeing up five or six billion dollars of his own in order to purchase enough “washers and dryers” to keep the chain afloat without Taylor’s interference.
To a man, his traders tell Bobby this is a disastrous idea. He ignores them.
His counselor Wendy Rhoades is fresh from deliberately sacrificing her own medical license as a form of penance for what she did to Taylor. She advises Axe to take solace in simply doing better than, rather than destroying, his nemesis. He ignores her as well. (Which, given her career crisis, is really the last thing she needs.)
Ultimately, Rebecca makes the decision for him. Claiming to be stunned by how far both she and Bobby are willing to go in this battle, Taylor waves the white flag, and is invited by Rebecca to invest in the department store chain rather than conquer it.
“I’m ready for this war to finally be over,” Mason explains to top advisers Sarah and Lauren. Mason Cap nearly broke out in a civil war of its own when Taylor insisted on tying their traders’ comp bonuses to their continued investment in the firm’s fund. Mafee, ever loyal, helped squash that uprising. Peace on all fronts seems welcome.
But not to Bobby. Victor, Axe Cap’s “stone and steely assassin,” discovers the perfect place to offload Saler’s toxic debt … at a great cost to an unnamed someone Axe cares about.
Once he sees the plan — whatever it is — Bobby deploys his good and faithful servant Wags to track down Wendy to “pad the blow” of a bad day. But the two old friends merely get drunk together, with no sign that she’s going to be consulted on Axe’s next move. Note Wags’s own words in describing said move: “destruction … the collateral damage, the relationships that’ll be ruined or pushed to the brink, just to finally see the blood seeping out of Taylor’s armor onto the battlefield.”
The director of the episode, Matthew McLoota, repeatedly injects dynamism into shots of what are really just conversations about finance and legalese. (A quick series of cuts that expand and then contract our view of Bobby as he sardonically rewrites the company bylaws he himself originally put in place to stop moves like the ones he’s making on Rebecca’s behalf is particularly notable.) And while neither he nor the actor Damian Lewis would have had any way of making this comparison themselves, I couldn’t help but see shades of Daenerys Targaryen listening to those King’s Landing bells on Bobby’s face when his own time to choose between peace or destruction, love or vengeance, arrives.
I’m no all-seeing Three-Eyed Raven, and I prefer not to prognosticate about plot as a rule; it feels less like writing criticism and more like writing fanfic. That said, I think there are a few points worth mulling over as we move toward next week’s finale.
This is a season that has repeatedly shown ostensible allies Bobby and Chuck furthering their vendettas against everyone other than each other. Meanwhile, Chuck outed Wendy as a dominatrix to secure elected office. Bobby ignored her advice about attacking Taylor. And he now seems poised to risk torching Rebecca’s “Barbie dream house” of a department store to deliver the killing blow.
There’s that unnamed idiot who stands to lose the most from Chuck and Charles’s shenanigans.
There’s the interpersonal destruction that will be wrought when Bobby sacrifices someone close to him to get at Taylor.
There’s Wags, softening Wendy up over expensive cocktails.
Consider Chuck’s “usual boogie” one more time: “Inducing mistakes through temptation, misdirection, obfuscation, and conflation-slash-corruption of the ideals that built this great nation.”
Finally, think about his and Bobby’s supposedly long-dead feud.
Now how did that “Game of Thrones” quote go again? Ah, I remember: What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger.