TV Show Review

TV Review: BILLIONS: Season 3, Episode 12: Elmsley Count [Showtime]

Asia Kate Dillon Billions Elmsley Count

Billions Elmsley Count Review

Showtime‘s Billions: Season 3, Episode 12: Elmsley Count may be the most consequential episode of the season but that is only because of the events that preceded it.

Everyone knows that Taylor Mason Capital Founder and CEO Taylor Amber Mason (Asia Kate Dillon) is smart but Elmsley Count shows that ‘they’ are extremely cunning as well.

Watching Taylor sell Axe Capital and its capabilities has always been a joy (before and after ‘they’ secretly started their own hedge fund). Watching Taylor sell ‘themselves’ and ‘their’ new company is even better. Taylor masterfully goes from having zero capital to manage (at Taylor Mason Capital) to having over three billion dollars in a two day time-frame. That achievement with only increase the already impressive resume and reputation that Taylor Mason has created for ‘themselves.’

Before leaving for Taylor Mason Capital, Taylor fools everyone in Axe Capital, including the one person that should have seen Taylor’s moves coming – Axe Capital In-house Performance Coach Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff). If anyone kicks themselves for not seeing Taylor’s chess-moves coming it is Wendy. When Wendy and Taylor are face-to-face in the underground parking lot in Elmsley Count, Wendy finally has the opportunity to vent at Taylor and she let ‘them’ have it, throwing the truth (Wendy’s version of the truth) in Taylor’s face. Taylor is more than ready for Wendy. Taylor knows that Wendy is ethically corrupt, ‘they’ don’t how but ‘they’ know the corruption is present. That truth is undeniable and it gives Taylor a brief emotional opening that ‘they’ are unable to exploit. Taylor doesn’t have the necessary verbal firepower to crack that armor chink wide open. What Taylor does have is a truth that Wendy, Axe, Wags, and Axe Capital had taught ‘them’: money can buy you intangibles like loyalty and fidelity (e.g. Wags) but it can also destroy them.

Word getting to venture capitalist Oscar Langstraat (Mike Birbiglia) about Taylor Mason’s new fund was bound to happen. The fact that he can stand Taylor’s presence after such a massive betrayal says volumes about the type of person Langstraat is – someone able to separate personal matters from business matters. Taylor elevator-pitching a relationship renewal, that hope bursting within ‘them’, shows the non-intellectual side of Taylor. Reunification is a fantasy, a flitting daydream, quickly eliminated by the reality that Taylor has created. Even-though Taylor wants a relationship with Langstraat, there is no coming back from ‘their’ betrayal. Taylor is a vampire that strikes only when necessary and Langstraat has no intention of being Taylor’s emotional and monetary victim-of-convenience for a second time. If Taylor was willing to betray Langstraat for Axe Capital, what would she be wiling to do for her own hedge fund, Taylor Mason Capital?

Grigor Andolov (John Malkovich) offering to kill Taylor Mason in Elmsley Count is Andolov’s natural thuggish, violent, and expeditious reaction to the situation. The fact that Head of Axe Capital Robert “Bobby” Axelrod (Damian Lewis) is so upset at Taylor’s betrayal that he even considers it is also natural. Heightened emotions makes people think and act irrationally. The fact that Axe is seriously considering it is a possible rubicon moment, a line, that if crossed, could never be uncrossed. Bobby Axelrod and Billions would become different organisms if that choice is ever made. Axe is already a murderer-by-proxy (deceased Axe Capital Analyst Donnie was dying of cancer and Axe kept him from getting life-extending, experimental treatment) but ordering someone’s death is something of a different, unsavory order. This moment in Elmsley Count shows that Axe has not completely crossed over yet, that there is still a human being present in the body of the wounded wolf.

The most tense moment in Elmsley Count belongs to the Axe and Taylor confrontation. Not quite Darth Vader vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi i.e. “When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master” but the two of them do see each other from across a newly created chasm. Taylor has grown beyond Axe. The moment he put ‘them’ in charge of Axe Capital, there was no way ‘they’ were going backwards, taking someone else’s orders when ‘they’ were fully capable of giving them. When Axe and Taylor speak for the final time in Elmsley Count, it is from the perspective of one hedge fund manager to another.

The writers of Billions do something in Elmsley Count that the viewer is not expecting with U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Charles “Chuck” Rhoades Jr. (Paul Giamatti) and Attorney General Waylon ‘Jock’ Jeffcoat (Clancy Brown). Instead of taking the road more traveled and following the Ray Donovan, Dexter, Californication formula of having seasonal antagonists (i.e. a bad guy that shows up just for the season), the Billions‘ writers did something extremely clever. Billions‘ writers use a similar bait tactic used to get Axe arrested at the end of Season 2 on Chuck Rhoades, even employing the same flashback technique, to out Chuck and his duplicity.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Kate Sacker (Condola Rashad)’s preamble, the look on the face of Chuck’s secretary, and the reality-crash that occurs on Chuck’s visage when the door to his office opens exquisitely sets the stage for what occurs moments later. Everyone, save Professor Oliver Dake, uses Chuck and the unraveling of his scheme, for their own career benefit. They have all cut Chuck Rhoades into succinct morsels, serving them up to Jock in the unused cowboy hat on Chuck’s desk, a fabric bowl from which Jock greedily eats. Chuck and his career are finger-food in the office and Jock sucks and licks his fingers clean with relish in front of one and all.

To Chuck Rhoades’ credit, he keeps his head up and looks everyone in the eyes, including the person that betrayed him (Sacker will make a good politician. She’s already pragmatic) and the one that fired him.

The meeting at the end of Elmsley Count is the most dangerous in the series’ history because of it implications. This get-together, if made public, would be unnerving to the enemies of Chuck Rhoades and Bobby Axelrod. Such a meeting-of-the-minds is like the one present between Captain James Flint and Quartermaster John Silver on Black Sails – each intellect complimenting the other, making up for deficiencies and areas of experience that the other lacks. The beginning of this type of collaboration is what the viewer sees at the end of Elmsley Count. An Axe / Chuck team, like Flint and Long John Silver, will be unbeatable.

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