We’ll be honest: If there was one reference we weren’t ever expecting to see in an episode of “Billions,” it would be a callback to Rutger Hauer’s famous speech at the end of “Blade Runner.”
But as Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) and his lawyer Orinn Bach (Glenn Flesher) prepared for this episode’s deposition, that’s exactly what we got — along with a reference later from Connerty to Oliver Dake (Christopher Denham) as his own personal “Anton Chigurh,” which — in terms of apt Coen Brothers references: Not bad, “Billions.”
If there were going to be references of any kind, though, in anticipation of the long-awaited reunion between Axe and his rival, Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), we suppose Axe would really only reference the best. And indeed, the final deposition scene between Chuck and Axe will undoubtedly go down as the main attraction “The Oath” has to offer — but that shouldn’t take away from the legitimately strong build-up over the rest of the episode, leading up to those final few minutes.
Suffice to say, after spending the past three episodes of the season on a real high, things are heading downhill very quickly for Bobby Axelrod. After emerging a new man in the premiere, the cracks in his newly improved armor are finally beginning to show, just as Chuck continues to sharpen his teeth on both Lawrence Boyd (Eric Bogosian) — through a number of strategic moves he doesn’t hesitate comparing to the invasion of Normandy in World War II.
Similarly, Chuck’s new rush of luck comes in waves throughout the episode: First he manages to get Lawrence Boyd playing directly into his hand, after convincing the corporate titan he had closed down the investigation of Spartan Ives, only in the hopes that Boyd would once again begin rigging treasury funds once again. It’s a bold move that quickly pays off, resulting in yet another step towards success for Chuck — whose resourcefulness, in turn, convinces Bryan (Toby Leonard Moore) to turn down Oliver Dake’s (Christopher Denham) proposal to turn on Chuck once and for all.
Meanwhile, things start off promising for Axe, but only get worse from there. After emerging as one of the top three bidders to buy the NFL team his sights are set on, Axe’s campaign hits a roadblock when he’s told once again how badly his relationship with Chuck is hurting his chances. Understandably, he tries to correct that by meeting with famed philanthropist Sanford Besinger (Richard Thomas) about the possibility of doing the “Giving Oath,” where he’ll donate large sums of money to charity. But Axe isn’t actually interested in being charitable by any means — and instead, arranges for the details of his meeting with Sanford to be leaked to the public, currying good favor among the deciders heading into the final NFL decision.
Entering the final deposition with Chuck, then, Axe seems more confident than humanly possible — even rocking a Megadeth shirt to show just how much he doesn’t care about what’s going to happen. He seems to be winning the deposition too… Until Chuck’s lawyer almost directly leads him into admitting on the record that Chuck hurt Axe emotionally and/or psychologically (something we know he could never do) — which causes Axe to angrily take a break from the meeting.
There isn’t any respite to be found on the other side either, as Axe gets a call personally from Sanford himself, who gleefully tells him he has been turned down for the NFL bid, thanks largely in part to his decision to leak their meeting. Damian Lewis plays the sequence beautifully as Axe goes from confusion, disbelief, anger, shock — and settling on “deciding who to blame.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who that is, of course, as he storms back into the deposition room, telling Chuck to his face that he blames him for the NFL loss.
“The Oath” goes out on a high note with that confrontation, promising the rest of the deposition for next week’s episode. And as far as the season as a whole, while “The Oath” is probably the least-dynamic and weakest episode of the season up until this point, it delivers on the confrontation between Chuck and Axe. Both Lewis and Giamatti manage to fill up the entire screen with their characters’ battling, massive egos, and the result is nothing short of pulpy, fiery fun.
After three straight episodes of nothing but bad news coming Chuck’s way, “The Oath” offered a fortunate reprise for the corrupt lawyer. This won’t by any means last forever, as nothing in “Billions” ever does, but we’d be lying if we said it wasn’t a joy to see the dynamic change in “The Oath.” In fact, we’d be hard-pressed to come up with a more entertaining moment this season than when Axe’s eyebrows furrow and fall in the deposition, before Damian Lewis turned his rage-filled eyes to Chuck, the pendulum swinging back in his favor once again.
“Billions” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.