Billions, the beloved Frankenstein’s monster of a show that it is, stuffs every episode to the brim with pop culture references and unsubtle winks to current events. (Todd Krakow is a Dragon Ball Z fusion of Steve Mnuchin and Ted Cruz, just so we’re clear.) Like dollar-slice pizza with caviar, Billions is an over-the-top indulgence, but we love it anyway.
With that in mind, please observe this climactic scene from Sunday night’s Billions episode, “Hell of a Ride”—an all-timer—involving Chuck Rhoades and Chuck Rhoades Sr. Specifically, look at this passionate exchange. (I would provide a spoiler warning, but this demands to be seen by the American public.)
That is Emmy winner Paul Giamatti and Emmy nominee Jeffrey DeMunn sharing an on-screen mouthing that has reverberated through my mind for the entire weekend and possibly will for the rest of my life. If you watch it more than 20 times (!), you start to notice little physical cues that make the sort-of-Oedipal overtones of the scene even more unsettling, if that’s even possible. Chuck Sr. grasps Chuck Jr.’s head and puts him in a death grip; the father-son lip lock will be over only when Chuck Sr. wants it to be over. (Chuck appears to briefly resist, but that effort is soon quelled when his right ear is twisted like a pretzel.)
The power dynamics—and the 50-year-old Giamatti and 70-year-old DeMunn osculating for several seconds—notwithstanding, the kiss scene is complicated to unpack because of the events that precede it. At this point in the story, Chuck has figuratively pinned his father into a corner, forcing him to refuse immunity from Oliver Dake and Bryan Connerty if he wants the land he purchased upstate to eventually be turned into a casino rather than a conservation area, which would render it financially worthless. And remember: This isn’t long after after Chuck betrayed his dad at the end of last season with his epic Ice Juice trap.
Chuck Sr. should be pissed, then, but in the moments before locking lips with the star of Universal Pictures’ Big Fat Liar, he also says he’s proud of his son. And he probably means it. Chuck Sr. has a twisted sense of standard for success; as Chuck told Wendy earlier in the episode, the first time he can recall his father being proud of him was after he returned from losing his virginity at a brothel at 14. While he was taken there by his uncle, Chuck says it was his father who picked out the woman for him. (With the Rhoades family, we all should’ve seen this virginity story coming, no pun intended.)
Thus, Chuck Sr. might be looking at (and smooching) his son with a sense of genuine pride. Chuck was willing to do something loathsome to his father as a means of self-preservation, but he has proved once again he’s cut from the same insidious cloth. Still, Chuck Sr. is effectively screwed by this ordeal. It’s Rhoades: Infinity War moving forward, in other words.
The pop culture moment that immediately comes to mind after watching this antagonistic mouth-to-mouth is from The Godfather: Part II, when Michael Corleone plants a kiss on his traitorous brother Fredo.
Given the hostility between the Chucks, the Godfather undertones check out, but are there any recent events—specifically mouthing between a father and a son—that also come to mind? Yes, it seems there are:
Tom Brady loves a good family smooch, though credit where it’s due: When his Brady lips make contact with other Brady lips, the embrace doesn’t appear to be laced with malice. Just love. (I know what you’re wondering: which kiss lasted longer: the one between the Chucks, or the one between Brady and his son? The Rhoades kiss was about 3.5 seconds, to the Bradys’ 1.7. You’re welcome.)
Do other people kiss their fathers/sons on the lips? Yes, but considering the first three pages of Google results for “father son mouth kissing” are all Tom Brady–related, it’s possible that Billions was poking a bit of fun at the Patriots quarterback. Series creator Brian Koppelman is a New York Jets fan, after all.
And maybe—just maybe—the New England Patriots–Billions comparisons have been staring us right in the face this whole time. If Chuck is Tom Brady—a man with a way cooler wife that is nonetheless very good at what he does, which is political slithering, not throwing deflated footballs—then Chuck Sr. is Bill Belichick. Chuck Sr. wouldn’t be caught dead in a hoodie, but he is ruthlessly good at what he does, even in his old age. Also, Belichick is also known to mouth other Belichicks.
It started out with a kiss, and, halfway through Billions’ third season, the father-son dynamic is on the verge of implosion. How did it end up like this? We can probably blame a 14-year-old’s unnecessary visit to a brothel, as a start. Knowing both Chucks, they’ll probably weasel their way out of any legal trouble and emergence victorious, like a lawyer’s version of Deflategate. And if that happens, their triumph will be no less controversial than that of the Patriots men who also mouth-kiss their offspring.