“I look at every competitor as a potential partner … right up until I can’t anymore.” As far as one-sentence encapsulations of the Mike Prince Method go, it’s hard to beat this statement by the billionaire coprotagonist of the sixth season of “Billions.” In this week’s episode, titled “S.T.D.” (it’s not what you think), Prince drives one such competitor — one of the more odious figures in the “Billions” legendarium — to the edge of defeat, then rides in to save his bacon and enrich them both.
It’s a feat of bargaining so impressive that it literally drives Prince’s enemy Chuck Rhoades into the street, wielding a bullhorn instead of his authority as Attorney General. In the end, Chuck may find the former more effective than the latter.
The episode begins with a late-night rallying call by Ben Kim, one of the more timid soldiers in Prince Cap’s newly acquired army. As a friend of Mafee, who quit the firm with Dollar Bill after Bobby Axelrod’s ouster, Ben hears that Mafee and Stern’s outfit is snapping up land in anticipation of New York City’s 2028 Olympic bid. Their bank roller: none other than the disgraced former treasury secretary Todd Krakow (the ever-delightful Danny Strong).
Rather than allow Krakow to elbow him out of the position he himself planned to take, Prince offers an alliance and is rebuffed. So he takes his case to the city’s new mayor, Tess Johnson (Gameela Wright), advising her to speak out against plans to build a new stadium in Manhattan, seen as crucial to the Olympic bid.
At the same time, Chuck’s ace, Kate Sacker, uncovers Krakow’s role in the Olympics ploy and kills his various land deals. This sends Krakow scampering into Chuck’s office, demanding to know why on earth he would help Mike Prince on a matter like this. Chuck, who wasn’t previously aware of Prince’s involvement, advises Krakow to resubmit his real-estate plans on the up-and-up instead of through shell companies, the better to stick it to Prince.
But the mayor’s anti-stadium news conference kills Chuck and Krakow’s anti-Prince maneuver — which, in turn, drives Krakow and Prince into each other’s arms. Krakow has the deals. Prince has the bankroll. All they need is a developer to help them out, whom they find in Bud Lazzara, the mogul Chuck humiliated in the previous episode.
Now all Prince needs to come out on top is a way to placate employees like Ben Kim, Taylor Mason and Wendy Rhoades, who have sentimental attachments to the rival firm established by Mafee and Dollar Bill. This he produces in the form of a bailout by the venerable I-bank Spartan-Ives; it’s enough for Mafee to reinstitute his weekly dinner meet-ups with Taylor, to say nothing of saving the bacon of his and Dollar Bill’s firm, High Plains Management. (Its logo is two crossed six-shooters. Yee-haw!)
With all his ducks in a row, Prince plans to go forward with a Manhattan stadium after all. Despite having single-handedly convinced the mayor to oppose such a development, he now woos her back with the promise of converting the athletes’ quarters he plans to build into low-income housing. It’s enough to lure her into a joint news conference for the city’s Olympic ambitions.
But drawing on the lessons of his successful showdown with the upstate billionaire Melville Revere, Chuck is not about to be outdone. He literally stops traffic outside the news conference, then starts walking on top of the stopped cars, megaphone in hand. The billionaire class, he says as the top of some poor commuter’s car buckles under his dress shoe, will not be allowed to quintuple traffic and displace the city’s citizens — not on his watch, anyway. “Take back our city!” he exclaims, leading the assembled onlookers in a chant to that effect. As the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” drops on the soundtrack, Prince, Lazzara and Krakow can only stand and watch as their moment of triumph is co-opted.
Running parallel to all this is a drama taking place behind the scenes at Michael Prince Capital: the struggle of Prince’s right-hand man, Scooter Dunbar, and his predecessor in the second-banana role, Mike Wagner. Wags still has the office adjacent to the boss’s, but after watching Scooter traipse back and forth from his comparatively distant digs, he finally relents and offers up the space to his replacement. Of course, this gives him an excuse to relocate to the lower floor, where all the grunts work, making him a man of the people.
Dunbar, no dummy, recognizes the ploy and winds up offering half of his office to Wags — a maneuver that dovetails nicely with Prince’s repeated insistence that the two men work together, which they do rather well in the task of wooing the suave Colin Drache (Campbell Scott), a sort of Olympics whisperer. By bringing him aboard, they grease the wheels for Prince’s New York Olympic bid, but it’s their shared, teary-eyed love of the Harry Chapin song “Cat’s in the Cradle” that truly cements their new partnership. Wags crying real tears over this sentimental ode to the tenuous relationship between father and son? Stranger things have happened, especially on this show … but not very many.
The classic-rock needle drops keep on coming: This episode also offers up a double shot of Allman in the form of Gregg’s solo version of “Midnight Rider” and the Allman Brothers Band’s “Ramblin’ Man,” not to mention Chuck’s quoting Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Do I miss the days when Bobby Axelrod introduced, like, Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” into the equation? Yes I do. But speaking as a Long Island native, a little Harry Chapin is always welcome.
“I like being rich — ain’t gonna end up like Trump,” says Todd Krakow; unless I’m mistaken, this is the show’s most direct reference yet to the former president.
I’m always here for a good “Billions” wrestling reference. Between Tuk’s “Austin 3:16” T-shirt (a reference to the former champion “Stone Cold” Steve Austin) and Mafee’s labored analogy of Wendy and Taylor’s maneuvers to an unprotected pile driver (a move in which a wrestler drives his upside-down opponent headfirst into the mat), this episode scratched that squared-circle itch.
No “Godfather” references that I could spot this week, but the cinematic callbacks flew fast and furious; Mafee’s early quote from “Tombstone” and the comparison of Wags and Scooter to Riggs and Murtaugh from “Lethal Weapon” were just the tip of the iceberg.
A giant portrait of Stacey Abrams on the wall? Michael Prince Capital really is different from Axe Cap.