‘Billions’: S05.E04. “Opportunity Zone”


Robert “Bobby” Axelrod (Damian Lewis) has his sights set on giving back to his home town. Bobby, having grown up in Yonkers, sees there is a financial benefit to getting in on the newly established Opportunity Zone. The house Bobby grew up in is now occupied by Savion Williams (Akili McDowell) and his mother (Stacey Sherrell).

Bobby reminisces about how the neighbourhood used to be when he was Savion’s age. Whilst it was simpler times, there is no doubt, local government prioritising wealthy areas over working class neighbourhoods doesn’t seem to have changed. Neighbourhoods such as the one Savion lives in is frequently treated as an afterthought. There is a moment, noting Bobby’s tone, where he seems to side with Savion.

When Savion’s mother suggests to Bobby that he join them for meatloaf, not wanting her to do any of the work, he tells her he’ll bring his chef. People familiar with the series will know Bobby has his own personal chef. Chef Ryan (Timothy Davis) first showed up in the 2016 series pilot episode. Except when real-life chefs David Chang (David Chang) and Alex Guarnaschelli (Alex Guarnaschelli) made appearances in the series as themselves, Chef Ryan has always been Bobby’s go-to culinary guy.

Image Credit: IMDb.com

Charles “Chuck” Rhoades, Jr (Paul Giamatti), catching up on the day’s latest news, tries to enjoy breakfast with his father. Even though Charles Rhoades, Sr (Jeffrey DeMunn) is Chuck’s father, noting previous tensions between them, they have a complicated history that frequently finds them at loggerheads.

It doesn’t escape Chuck’s attention, on reading an article about Bobby going back to his hometown, there is something distinctly fishy afoot. Opportunity Zone tax breaks, supposedly designed to benefit of downtrodden neighbourhoods, are there to stimulate investment and development. In an perfect world, noting how Chuck is increasingly idealistic, he’s not wrong. Big business in the shape of corporate interests frequently take advantage of these tax breaks for their own ends. That typically leaves existing neighbourhood residents, recognising how gentrification prices people out of their own homes, with little to nothing.

Charles reference to treadmills being originally intended as a system of punishment for convicts, hard labour milling grain not firm-bunned “soccer moms,” doesn’t go unnoticed. Given how Charles has an encyclopaedic knowledge of inane trivia, something that has served him well over the past few years, there is an appropriateness to his words. This prompts Chuck to tell his father to suit up for a battle. Chuck merely wants his father to provoke Bobby into doing something illegal.

Elsewhere, as Michael Prince (Corey Stoll) plays a little one-on-one basketball, we find Roger “Scooter” Dunbar (Daniel Breaker) has learned Bobby is going after the Yonkers Opportunity Zone. This is something Michael is interested in pursuing. Scooter, Michael’s batman, wouldn’t be good at his job if he didn’t keep track of Bobby’s activities. He essentially fills the same role for Michael that Michael “Wags” Wagner (David Costabile) fills for Bobby.

Meanwhile, at Axe Capital, there are issues which must be addressed. Mediation between Bobby and Taylor Mason (Asia Kate Dillon), as Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff) sees the situation, is a long time overdue. Bobby and Taylor have a distinctly different perspective on virtually everything.

Bobby’s reference to Taylor apparently being “in snowflake mode,” doesn’t go unaddressed. Taylor, noting their response, doesn’t find the comment amusing. Whilst many people view snowflakes as being fragile, even though it isn’t inaccurate, there is a uniqueness to the meteorological phenomenon which is increasingly overlooked. No two snowflakes are the same. Consequently, because of this, being called a snowflake could be perceived as being a complement.

Wendy, not being wrong, believes the issues Bobby and Taylor have with each other comes down to poor communication. Both Bobby and Taylor, because of their inability to make communicative choices, are equally responsible for their predicament. The issue is soon resolved. Whilst Bobby doesn’t like Wendy dressing him down in front of Taylor, noting how she doesn’t seem to care, there is little he can do. There is no one more competent at her job than Wendy and Bobby knows it.

Chuck, in addition to being the Attorney General of New York, is now a Yale Law School professor. He’s teaching Criminal Law. On route to his lecture hall for his first day, in the corridor, Chuck crosses paths with tenured sociology professor and author Catherine “Cat” Brant (Julianna Margulies).

Cat references the speech Chuck gave about owning your sexuality. If you recall, noting how the speech blindsided Wendy, this was inspiring stuff that didn’t cut corners or sugarcoat the truth. Cat wanted Chuck to make an appearance at one of her lectures because she wanted him to answer questions from her students on his speech. Chuck declines because he wanted to leave that part of his life in the past. Despite Chuck declining her request, Cat asks the new professor if he’d mind her sitting in the back of the lecture hall. There are no objections.

Chuck has a real world approach to teaching. Whilst the course might be a first year law school introductory subject, something Chuck doesn’t distinguish from higher level curriculum offerings, the Attorney General of New York doesn’t have an issue with failing students that don’t do the work. Chuck’s expectations come as a wake up call to his attending university law school students. Juris Doctor, frequently referenced as the Doctor of Jurisprudence, is a professional academic terminal degree in these United States. It’s time for these law school students to get real or find a new career path.

Even though Cat merely wanted to observe the lecture from the back of the room, noting how the law students responded to Chuck’s teaching style, the sociology professor gives them a piece of her mind. She doesn’t care if they like her attitude because she’s a tenured professor. What’s Yale University going to do? Fire her? That doesn’t happen to tenured professors.

If a student shows up to class without having done the reading for that day, when called upon, that individual will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage. Professors typically don’t have time to mollycoddle students that can’t be bothered to do the required reading. This is evident in how Cat expresses her thoughts. There are no ambiguous comments. Noting how the tone of the room quickly changes, Chuck is obviously appreciative of Cat’s support.

Chuck resumes the class by referencing Bordenkircher v. Hayes, 434 U.S. 357 (1978). The student Chuck calls upon, Mary Jane Marbach (Sharinna Allan), has clearly done the required reading. The other students, especially Mr Kelly (Andrew Block), should take note of Mary’s commitment to her studies and follow suit.

Later, in Cat’s sociology class, we find Chuck sneaking into the back of the room. They are discussing Chuck’s “owning your sexuality” speech. There are a few students that express their thoughts. The students are momentarily shocked when they discover Chuck is in the room. Except Cat, literally no one noticed the AG walk into the room. Whilst there are questions asked, this scene doesn’t last long.

Is painter’s block a thing? Bobby, in the previous episode, hired artist Nico Tanner (Frank Grillo) to paint him something truly original. The painter is having issues getting started. Because of this, knowing how Wendy is good at motivating people to get their a*ses into gear, Bobby gets her to have a friendly chat with Tanner.

The following morning, as Tanner stares at the floor, we find Wendy arriving at his studio. Tanner hasn’t got anywhere with the painting. The artist tells Wendy his process involves him painting in his mind before placing any actual paint on canvas. Wendy’s approach to getting people motivated is remarkable.

“When bankers get together for dinner, they discuss Art,” Wendy quoting Oscar Wilde, “When artists get together for dinner, they discuss Money.”

This unnerves Tanner because he knows she’s right. Tanner believes he’s sell out because he accepted Bobby’s commission and signed the contract. This is an artist that believes in art for art’s sake not the financial rewards that sometimes comes with it.

Bobby meets with Shark Tank mentor Daymond John (Daymond John). the meeting doesn’t go Bobby’s way because Daymond doesn’t feel he is the right fit for whatever it is the Axe Capital CEO has planned for Yonkers. Whilst Bobby states he wants Daymond to be his partner, noting how the Shark Tank mentor expresses his thoughts, it doesn’t look like he’s buying it. Daymond doesn’t want to be Bobby’s brown face on the board. Bobby is forced to look elsewhere for someone to fill that seat on the board.

Later, Bobby is seen with Franklin Sacker (Harry Lennix). Franklin, Kate Sacker’s (Condola Rashad) father, might be the best person for the position. He isn’t oblivious to the fact one of the reasons Bobby approached him is that his daughter works for the Attorney General of New York.

Having learned that her father has partnered up with Bobby, something that doesn’t please Kate, she takes this news to Chuck. Chuck, even though it is Kate’s father they are talking about, believes he’s a legitimate target. Kate ultimately sides with Chuck against her father.

Bobby’s real enemy this season isn’t Charles. It’s Michael. Because Michael isn’t willing to re-embrace his old ways, something that goes against his currently ethical standards, he doesn’t agree to Chuck’s proposal. Taking Bobby down, by any means necessary, isn’t something Michael is prepared to do. At least, from what we see on screen, that is the case. The series, in previous scenes, has been known to take us up the proverbial garden path. There is nothing suggesting showrunners Brian KoppelmanDavid Levien, and Andrew Ross Sorkin aren’t doing the same here.

The scenes with William “Dollar Bill” Stearn (Kelly AuCoin), Mafee (Dan Soder), Bonnie Barella (Sarah Stiles), Victor Mateo (Louis Cancelmi), and Ben Kim (Daniel K. Isaac) feels like Koppelman, Levien, and Sorkin were simply trying to find something for them to do. Whilst every episode has a modicum of filler, these scenes are particularly humorous.

Keeping Bobby informed on what Michael is doing, Wags discovers huge piles of stock in Franklin’s company are being bought up. Later, in Franklin’s office, Michael talks about unquestionable ethics to Franklin as if he has a monopoly on the concept. Michael soon finds himself outmatched and outgunned. Neither Bobby nor Franklin are willing to back down to Michael on the Yonkers issue.

George Wagner (Ian Colletti), as we saw in the previous episode, left his father with a distinctly baffled expression when he revealed he found Jesus. Wags, throughout the series run, has never once expressed an interest in religious matters. George, even if it is just fast food, seemingly likes to say grace at every meal.

Wags, noting how George isn’t interested in money, doesn’t get why it is his son would want to be part of his life. Unlike George, something we can see from his demeanour, Wags is simply not religiously inclined. Wags soon realises George is determined to proselytise “the good news.”

Recognising how George ambiguously references Axe Capital’s other employees, if he tries to “save” them, Bobby might have an issue with him messing with his company.

Wags believes he has failed his children. Mandy “Brandi” Wagner (Kelsey Lea Jones) is a pole dancer and George is pushing religious rhetoric. George, exemplifying the kind of behaviour which typically alienates non-believers people, seems to think pushing his religious beliefs onto his father will somehow save Wags’ soul.

Taylor and Lauren Turner (Jade Eshete) try and fail to get Dell Lambert (Ryan McCarthy) on board with their more green approach to business. Dell blows them off because he isn’t interested in talking business with anyone that isn’t Bobby Axelrod.

Later, in a second meeting with Dell, he finds himself confronted by Wendy. Wendy, in getting him to see Taylor’s perspective would work for his business, doesn’t tolerate Dell’s obfuscations. Seeing an opportunity to expand upon their working relationship, after their meeting with Dell, Taylor gets Wendy to consider a more formal partnership.

With Sara Hammon (Samantha Mathis) having quit her position at Taylor Mason Capital, Taylor needs someone to fill her batwoman’s shoes. Is that Wendy?

Charles presents his argument for why he should be the person responsible for the Yonkers Opportunity Zone. His little speech, as Kate correctly observes, doesn’t go well. Whilst Michael does a much better job in the brief time he has, because he has a guest talk about his competitors, his ethical standards are clearly questionable. There are references to Sandicot and what went wrong with the investments.

Bobby, noting how it was really Charles and not him that undermined the town and its development, addresses the Sandicot allegations. Charles finds it impossible to keep his mouth shut. He shows his true colours. Instead of staying in the building, something Michael might of preferred, Bobby gets the meeting reconvened outside. It is here that Bobby plays his wild card. Bobby uses nostalgia to get what he wants. it works like a charm.

Outside the house where he used to live, recognising the tone of a telephone conversation with Michael, Bobby’s facial expression is most telling. It’s clear there is a bitter taste in his mouth. Being in his old stomping grounds isn’t bringing him joy or satisfaction. Instead of entering the house with his chef, possibly because it isn’t always possible to go home again, Bobby drives away. Bobby leaves chef at the house so that he can cook for Savion and his mother.