Billions, Showtime’s superhero show cosplaying as a financial drama, finally, graciously, returned to our screens on Sunday night, promising a brand-new season of long cons, extravagant meals, and Paul Giamatti getting spanked in a BDSM sex dungeon by his wife and their “therapist.” The new season brought back the warring Chuck and Axe and Wendy’s precarious position in the middle of them, and added nods to Trump administration employees with as much subtlety as Wags’s ass tattoo. Because this show is a beautiful concoction of not just plot details, but half-zip pullovers, Malin Akerman trying to act, and oddly perfect dialogue, it only made sense to review each episode of this budding season by recognizing the best, the most, and the absolute worst.
Here are your Billions superlatives for the Season 3 premiere, “Tie Goes to the Runner.”
Strangest Horse Metaphor
“Tie Goes to the Runner” opens with the new attorney general, who’s nicknamed “Jock” and played by Clancy Brown, telling Chuck about the concept of “teasers” on a horse farm. The teaser horse would rile up its mare, and at the last minute would be replaced by the stud for breeding. “Teaser has to make due with some mangy hay and a bucket of oats,” Jock says.
What the AG is saying is that Chuck was the “teaser” for his successor, Oliver Dake, who gets to, um, screw Axe over while Chuck sits on the sideline. I could’ve thought of several different, less animal-sex-dependent ways to describe this scenario, but that’s why I don’t write for Billions!
Dollar Bill coming in hot. I love the red outlinings of the zipper, the full unzip, and the collar that looks soft enough to sleep in.
Best Axe Insult
How bad are things going between Axe and Lara? She’s going to let Steven Birch (Jerry O’Connell) handle her money for whatever legal troubles are brewing. Part of this arrangement means that Lara—along with Birch—can check out Axe Capital’s books. This made Wags incredulous. “You really want me to let ’em into the books and see the trades?” he asks Axe.
“Lots of guys watch Bruce Lee movies. Doesn’t mean they can do karate,” Axe replies like a motherfucker.
This is Lara’s reaction—it’s also the best acting of Malin Akerman’s career.
Best Wags Threat
Wags wants to brainstorm with Taylor away from all the Axe Capital lackeys, so they go to a Turkish bath house. One of the patrons takes issue with Taylor “sitting here with your tits out.” Enter Wags.
“Or maybe they’re turning you on,” he continues, “and that’s the problem.” … How did Wags read my mind?
Best Trump Administration Impersonator
With the humblest apologies to actor Danny Strong—please take this as a compliment to your acting prowess!—he is kind of the perfect person for the role of treasury secretary in the Billions-verse. I mean, look at him: The dude looks like an unholy combination of Steven Mnuchin and Ted Cruz.
This was tough—even by Billions’ standards. The entire episode is leading up to a hedge fund idea dinner, with actual big-time traders Michael Adam Karsch, Marc Lasry, and Michael Platt making cameos at the table. (You know a dinner is going to be huge when there’s assigned seating and two knives.)
One small problem? We barely get to see the characters take a bite of this opulent meal. That isn’t good fan service!
As a result, I’m going to hand out this award to the restaurant where Chuck and Ira chat after Chuck’s big betrayal from last season. Ira’s probably not in the best of moods, but doesn’t his plate of pierogi look appetizing?
For those who are curious, this is taking place at Veselka, a real Ukrainian eatery in the East Village, the same one where Nick and Norah went in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and where Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock talk about planning a heist in the Ocean’s 8 trailer. I’m definitely going there today to feel like I’m in a movie–eat all of their pierogi.
Best Explanation That Egg Creams Have No Egg or Cream
Chuck orders a chocolate egg cream at Veselka and, because he feels really awkward in Ira’s presence, explains that egg creams don’t actually have egg—or cream. A chocolate egg cream is just milk, seltzer, and some chocolate syrup.
Incredibly, this is the second explanation of the basic chemistry of an egg cream in New York City on TV this year. In the sixth episode of TNT’s The Alienist, Luke Evans also explained the complexities of the egg cream to a street boy.
I prefer Evans’s explanation better, because he bought a boy an egg cream out of the goodness of his heart, while Chuck is just trying to ease his guilty conscience.
The Ice Juice Memorial Award for Worst Name
Not a lot to choose from this week, but Taylor tells Axe about a good short play in Quartes, a company that produces microchips for digital products. Quartes is no Ice Juice, but it is nonsensical in the way that so many corporate names are. It’s pronounced like “Cortés,” like the famous conquistador. That guy was responsible for the fall of an entire race of people and then died of dysentery and pleurisy, alone and in debt. Maybe don’t name your company after him?
1. If Steven Birch keeps getting owned like this, he might legally have to retire.
2. This is the only time that Mr. Rogers–adjacent slander will ever be allowed.
3. Wags’s goddamn face.
Just on a technical level, swift execution from Wendy with a solid follow-through for maximum buttocks impact. And Emmy-worthy acting from Paul Giamatti, as per usual, in his part-grimacing, part-pleasured reaction. The way his shoulder muscles clench and reverberate will haunt me until next Sunday.