BILLIONS (S5E2) “The Chris Rock Test”: What Kind Of Monster Are You?

Everyone is a monster in Billions. No matter what morally good and ethical things they do, at the end of the day, they all have a monster deep inside of them waiting to get unleashed. What really sets them apart from one another is just how they control that monster. For Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis), he likes to wear it proudly like it’s a badge, showing it to the whole world to make sure people know that he is indeed a power-hungry man who doesn’t care about others. Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), on the other hand, thinks that his monstrous behavior should be justified in the name of law and justice.

Then comes the question; which one is better? The man who doesn’t hide his true self? Or the man who hypocritically claims that it’s okay to do bad things as long as it’s for the greater good? The answer, of course, will vary based on our own perceptions. But one thing that Billions wants us to know is that both Bobby and Chuck are constantly doing bad things regardless of their intentions. So in that regard, no one is better than the other. Because in the end, they’re all equally monstrous and repulsive.

Drawing The First Blood

‘The Chris Rock Test’ focuses on multiple but interconnected storylines. First is Bobby and Mike Prince’s (Corey Stoll) rivalry that gets heated up quickly as the two of them share a stage to talk about the new concept of capitalism at Mike’s annual financial conference. The name of the conference is, you probably guessed it, The Mike, and it is held at Mohonk Mountain House in upstate New York where a group of uberwealthy investors gathers to talk about money and share some new ideas — an occasion that clearly not Bobby’s cup of tea. He decides to come anyway when he sees an opportunity to strike his new rival and do some business at the same time.

BILLIONS (S5E2) "The Chris Rock Test": What Kind Of Monster Are You?
source: Showtime

With his righthand man Wags (David Costabile), and Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon), who seems to be fully on his side at the moment, Bobby plans to approach a number of people that will help him to advance his plan for bringing psychoceuticals onto the market. Wags is assigned to butter things up with the soon-to-be F.D.A head Simon Shenk (Darren Goldstein), which does not end up as buttery as we expected. The reason is not that Wags fails to smooth-talk Simon, but more of a personal fiasco that happens after he sees his daughter Mandi at a strip club.

It’s amazing to see Costabile displaying a combination of panic and devastation with his facial expression. “I fail the Chris Rock test,” Wags says to Bobby while trying to hold himself together. But of course, Wags manages to close the deal eventually when he charms Shenk in the morning. How this brief and surprising encounter between Wags and his daughter will affect the main story of season five is still unclear. But knowing how meticulous Billions has been, it wouldn’t be a surprise that it will be a huge part going forward.

While Bobby tries to secure a clinical trial with a hospital CEO, Taylor must confront Oscar Langstraat (Mike Birbiglia), an investor at Mase Cap and an ex-lover who clearly hasn’t gotten over their breakup. Oscar wants to take his investment out of Mase Cap when he knows that it’s been acquired by Bobby, and Taylor is assigned to make him keep his money on board. Surprisingly, Taylor fails. Oscar has made up his mind, and it has nothing to do with their little love affair — it’s just that he doesn’t want to be associated with Bobby. To be honest, it’s actually rare to see Taylor facing a failure this early in the season. But these new challenges that Taylor, Wags, or the other characters are facing so far is refreshing to see. And it will be interesting to see how each of them will scramble to turn the table around.

BILLIONS (S5E2) "The Chris Rock Test": What Kind Of Monster Are You?
source: Showtime

Still, there’s no roadblock bigger than Mike, who after only two episodes keeps proving himself as a different kind of enemy from the ones that Bobby used to crush easily. We know from last week that Mike is the complete opposite of Bobby. He’s basically like a rich guy who would use his fortune to help build a test kit for coronavirus, while Bobby, on the other hand, takes advantage of it. But we all know better; in Billions there’s no such thing as a good guy. So it shouldn’t be a surprise if, going forward, Mike will show his true self as someone who actually is not as innocent as we’ve been led to believe.

At this point, Mike still gets the upper hand from Bobby though. He must have known that Axe Capital wants to go into the psychoceuticals sector, and decided to draw the first blood by getting Bobby’s ayahuasca shaman Bram Longriver (Henri Binje) first before his rival does. Obviously, Bobby sees this as a war declaration. “You stole my shaman,” Bobby furiously says to Mike at the end of the episode, but not before he accuses Mike of being a monster who fakes himself in front of his own audience. With Lewis and Stoll’s electric chemistry, it’s safe to bet that the war between Mike and Bobby will end explosively.

Chuck’s Inner Dexter

Meanwhile, Chuck, who’s clearly still struggling to accept that his marriage with Wendy (Maggie Siff) is over, is trying to keep his promise to Kate (Condola Rashad) of being a better person. He goes to therapy to talk about his grudge against Bobby. And while in there, he realizes that all this time, he’s actually like Dexter — a guy with killer instinct who needs someone to be his moral code. That someone was Wendy. But since there’s no way for them to be together again at the moment, that role now goes to his assistant Kate, who for the past four seasons has called out Chuck’s monstrous behavior relentlessly.

Chuck wants Kate to remind him anytime he’s close to violating the law, and no doubt Kate will do as Chuck told her. But the most important question here is: will Chuck be able to do what he intended to do? The answer is, of course not. In this episode alone Chuck has done something off-book again to get what he wants. And it all starts when he finds out that Governor Bob Sweeney (Matt Servitto) tells Chuck that the crypto-mining case he investigated last week is now not his to continue and that it’s now handed to the Manhattan District Attorney Mary Ann Graham’s (Roma Grahamm), who was previously approached by Bobby.

BILLIONS (S5E2) "The Chris Rock Test": What Kind Of Monster Are You?
source: Showtime

In the end, Chuck always gets what he wants. So as an attempt to get his hand on Bobby, he unearths a torture memo that his longtime ally Judge Adam DeGiulio (the sleazy and charming Rob Morrow) wrote years ago post-9/11. DeGiulo is the one who approaches Chuck first though. In fact, he wants Chuck to help him get his name clean from the waterboarding fiasco written in the said memo. Chuck being Chuck, he sees this as an opportunity to achieve what he wants. He manipulates a number of people so that he could make DeGiulio the Solicitor General, a role that will help Chuck bypasses the Governor and bring the crypto-mining case to the Supreme Court instead.

It’s not surprising to see how easily Chuck is at falling back into his old habit of going off-book. And Kate sees right through him even before Chuck admits everything, though in the end, she gives him a pass after he tells her that he released DeGiulio’s torture memo a long time ago. The power dynamic between Kate and Chuck will be one to watch this season. And considering how screwed Brian Connerty got last season after getting involved with Chuck, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Kate ends up in the same spot as Connerty.

The War Is On

Much like last week, ‘The Chris Rock Test’ is a solid episode that moves fast and sets the season’s overarching story in motion. It’s packed with diabolical writing and strong performances from the cast, especially from Siff and Giamatti. More than that, this episode also challenges our perception of what a monster really is while still remain to be hilarious and thrilling. And now with the rivalries and feuds that are getting messy real quick, the war is indeed on.

What do you think of Chuck’s move this week? Let us know your opinion in the comments!

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