Like Hatfields and McCoys, the feud between New York Attorney General Chuck Rhoades, Jr., and hedge fund manager Bobby “Axe” Axelrod is the never ending battle fueling the drama on Showtime’s Billions.
Both are corrupt, ruthless and willing to fight dirty. This week it was the AG's turn to roll around in the mud. Rhoades tried and failed to enlist rival billionaire Mike Prince in his effort to defeat Axe, in the May 24 episode "Opportunity Zone."
Axe decides to try to make an investment play for the Opportunity Zone up for grabs in his hometown of Yonkers. An opportunity zone is a state or federally-designated, economically-depressed region where the government will offer generous tax incentives to developers.
Prince is vying for the same zone. Thinking the “enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Rhoades thinks this could help him ensnare Axe. He tries to pressure Prince into dirty tricks, suggesting Prince promise Yonkers a donation regardless of which opportunity zone investment is chosen.
Rhoades: Axe will move to bribe them or do something else illegal along those lines in order to win. And I will be there waiting.
Prince: I give you your opportunity zone, you give me mine?
Rhoades: Well put.
Prince: I don’t know you or where the hell this is coming from. But I’ll tell you straight up, I’ve steered clear of that line for a long while now. It’s served me well. [Prince shakes hands and walks out]
At the Yonkers pitch meeting, Prince forges his own path by highlighting his past successes and Axe’s past opportunity zone failure. But Axe wows the board with an emotionally charged message of it being his hometown and promising he won’t just leave it.
Prince can sense Axe has won and visits Chuck that night, but not to plot revenge. Instead he confesses he’s been tempted to return to previously, underhanded methods of winning, but is determined not to.
“I came here to tell you: I've already felt too much pull to my old ways. I've fought to not be that person. Escaping it once was hard enough. I can't give in to it now,” Prince says. “Yeah, Axe took out his lute and played 'em a hypnotic old folk ballad. He probably won it. Sucks. It does. But heck, I'm still rich enough for twenty lifetimes.”
Rhoades tries again: "That's not how you became who you are, by giving up.”
But Prince explains, “The problem is the feeling you get, and I know you get it, too, when you engage in a fight like this, in the way that you're proposing. It feels good. Nope. That's a lie. It feels truly great. The endorphins. The adrenaline. It all pushes you further, deeper, darker.”
Prince then tells the attorney a story about high school basketball where he showboated and scored so many points he “alienated myself from my teammates and my family.”
“I've done the same in business. Until I shut it down for good. I will not let Axe turn me back into ... Well, in his words, a monster,” Prince adds.
Rhoades pressures him again, but Prince leaves, so far, still unwilling to engage in the tactics of Axe and Rhoades. But willing to mess with Axe’s head when he calls to congratulate him on winning the zone.
While all of this was going on, Taylor Mason and Wendy Rhoades plotted partnering up to make serious money “greenwashing” companies and garnering divestments from organizations. And Axe’s right hand man, Wags, continued his personal crisis over his parenting abilities.
He tracked down his oldest, George who (to the surprise of his father) converted to Christianity and wants to save Wags’ soul and baptize him. Wags walks into the Axe’s office wet.
“You go for a midday swim?” Axe inquires. “Yeah, in the river Jordan. I’ve lost another. One to the [stripper] pole and one to Jesus,” Wags retorts.
Axe asks, “Which feels worse?”
“Feels about the same. I have fucked it all up. I don’t know how to talk to any of them. I ceded the responsibility of raising them to their mothers while I was working. It was what I thought I was supposed to do, to support them. But this is where we ended up. A complete fucking washout,” Wags says.