BILLIONS (S5E6) “The Nordic Model”: An Old School Pissing Contest

One of the biggest joys in watching Billions is witnessing the rivalry between Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) and Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) unfold. But sadly, season five hasn’t been focusing on that feud as it is more busy exploring the individual arcs of all the major characters. Don’t get me wrong, seeing Bobby, Chuck, Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon), Wendy (Maggie Siff), and Wags (David Costabile) battling personal challenges is always rewarding, but it doesn’t change the fact that the season seems to be missing a big chunk of its appeal. Thankfully, this week’s episode is able to reignite that flame once again, observing these two power-hungry men as they’re trying to outwit one another in a very old-school Billions fashion — complete with diabolical scheming, over-the-top dialogues, and dynamite performances both from Lewis and Giamatti.

Bobby 1 – 0 Chuck

“The Nordic Model” follows Chuck, once again, as he’s trying to nail Bobby to the wall with some old, dirty tricks. He has some idea on how to catch his arch-nemesis after Kate Sacker (Condola Rashad) informs him that Bobby, along with his underling Danny Margolis (Daniel Cosgrove) and Victor Mateo (Louis Cancelmi), might have committed tax fraud over a bunch of high-class arts. And she’s not wrong. We know since last season that Bobby’s been storing replicas of painting collections in a permanent tax-free state while secretly keeping the original, authentic versions in his own home — a crime that Chuck has been suspecting when he remembers seeing a Van Gogh painting in the apartment where Wendy now lives.

In an attempt to make sure that the Van Gogh art he saw is indeed the original piece, Chuck decides to go to Bobby’s apartment under the impression of retrieving his son’s video game. And Chuck immediately knows that his assumption is correct when he sees Bobby overreacting after he “accidentally” spills a glass of wine on the painting. He thinks that if the painting is just a replica then he shouldn’t have reacted that way. This brief moment of seeing Bobby and Chuck in a scene together is done with class by the actors who play them. Both Lewis and Giamatti do not need to candidly show the dislike that their characters have toward each other. Their uncomfortable body gestures and facial expressions are enough to display it all.

BILLIONS (S5E6) "The Nordic Model": An Old School Pissing Contest
source: Showtime

Of course, defeating Bobby isn’t that easy, even for a man like Chuck who holds so much power in the New York legal world. And the challenges do not just come from Bobby’s whipsmart scheme. But also from the Manhattan District Attorney Mary Ann Gramm (Roma Mafia), who has made it clear since the first episode that every crime related to Bobby, including this art heist, will be hers to handle, not Chuck. But it’s Chuck we’re discussing here, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to see him, in the end, beat Mary Ann at her own game when he threatens to sabotage her agenda of decriminalizing sex work.

Exciting as it is to see Chuck get back to his monstrous mode, witnessing him trying to destroy a noble, progressive act in the sex work industry is kind of a new low even for him. And to make it look even worse, Chuck also manipulates his new girlfriend Cat Brant (Julianna Marguiles), a sociology professor who also shares the same vision as Mary Ann, to help him get this case from the Manhattan DA, telling her that it’s just a bluff, and he won’t be acting on it going forward, which we all know might not be true.

But unfortunately, this victory only lasts for a very brief moment. Bobby already senses that Chuck is about to go after him. So to outwit him at his own play, Bobby comes up with the idea of turning his apartment into an art museum, with all the arts that he’s been storing on display for the public, thus preventing Chuck to carry on with his plan. It’s a very smart move, and one that is thrilling, not to mention unexpected, to witness. But the greatest pleasure that comes from seeing Chuck and Bobby outmaneuvering each other lies in how the show, once again, reminds us that Chuck’s obsession in defeating Bobby will actually only harm his own self, and his determination of becoming a better person. We now only need to see when Chuck will finally realize that, though it’s much safer to bet that he won’t.

BILLIONS (S5E6) "The Nordic Model": An Old School Pissing Contest
source: Showtime

Fake It Until You Make It

While Bobby and Chuck are busy getting at each other’s throat, there are some B-plots involving the other characters faking themselves to achieve something. First, there’s Ari Spyros (Stephen Kunken), Axe Capital’s eccentric compliance officer who tries to help Bobby in getting the bank license from SEC by deceiving them into believing that he’s a member of the High IQ Society Mensa. But of course, it all backfires when the officer from SEC, who happens to be Spyro’s former colleague, knows that he’s a moron.

In an effort to repair his mistake, Spyro is determined to take the Mensa test for real, which he does not prepare at all previously. Mafee (Dan Soder) and Ben Kim (Daniel K. Isaac) who pity him, decide to hack into the system and help him pass the test behind his back. And thankfully, it works. Spyro has never been a major player in the show. But it’s always fun to see his dynamic inside Axe Capital along with the other characters. And now with Mafee and Ben hold something crucial that not even Spyro knows, it’ll be even more fun to see how it all goes down.

Taylor’s issue is much more serious as they plan to land a methane-capture business venture that Rian (Eva Victor) proposes before. Everything is going exactly as intended. Taylor comes up with a great business plan, and it seems like this new firm is on their good side. But of course, problems arise when Oscar Langstraat (Mike Birbiglia), Taylor’s ex-lover and work partner, enters the bid just to piss them off. Thankfully, Wendy knows exactly how to push Taylor, telling them to adapt Bobby’s effectiveness without his inherent monstrosity. In one of the best monologues of the season so far, Dillon showcases how cool and sharp they can be in playing this character. “Oscar, Al Davis is dead and the Raiders haven’t won anything in a decade. So go back to the bay and heal, baby, heal.” It’s truly exceptional.

BILLIONS (S5E6) "The Nordic Model": An Old School Pissing Contest
source: Showtime

But Billions is not Billions yet unless it ties back to Bobby, and that’s what we get in this episode through Wendy’s arc. The last time we saw her, she’s starting to distance herself away from Chuck and his family, and pursuing a new relationship with Bobby’s personal painter Nico Tanner (Frank Grillo). Bobby doesn’t know anything about this yet until Wendy accidentally drops a painting of hers by Tanner while she’s talking to Bobby. And once he knows, he feels blindsided by both of them, though he manages to keep it all to himself this episode.

At this point, it’s easy to define Bobby’s feelings as jealously. But this episode proves that it’s more complicated, and even more revolting than just that. After Bobby forces Tanner to make a painting of Todd Krakow (Danny Strong), in favor of helping him in getting the bank license, Bobby stays up all night to stalk on Wendy and Tanner, which is borderline freaky, even for a man like Bobby. Parts of it is of course jealousy, but it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to categorize Bobby’s feelings toward Wendy as a form of dominance. With this, it’s obvious that to Bobby, Wendy is like a property that he only wants to be his, and not others. How this dynamic will play out remains to be seen, but I’m expecting that there’s gonna be a huge shift on Bobby and Wendy’s dynamic this season.

Final Thought

This season of Billions may only have one episode left before a mid-season break (no thanks to coronavirus). But if there’s any indication from this week’s episode is that the show has only just begun firing up all of its cylinders. There’s Bobby and Chuck’s on-going rivalry that starts to take the center stage again. Then there’s Mike Prince (Corey Stoll), and all the other characters too. And when it’s all crashing down, I believe that Billions will hold nothing back.

What do you think will happen to Bobby and Wendy’s relationship? Let us know in the comments!

All six episodes of Billions season five are available to stream on Showtime App.


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