Season 6, Episode 11: ‘Succession’
“Michael [expletive] Prince is running for president.”
There you have it, as summed up by Chuck with all his usual verbal panache. After a season of oblique references and sotto voce hints, Mike Prince’s grand plan beyond all his other grand plans is revealed, with a bumper sticker reading “I LIKE MIKE 2028.” Behind the seizure of Axe Cap, behind the creation of the Prince List, behind the moonshot play for a New York Olympic Games, behind this episode’s introduction of universal basic income in the form of Prince-funded “Mike money,” behind every hard-to-parse interaction with his right-hand man, Scooter, and his wife, Andy, there it is. Mike Prince, billionaire, wants to become Mike Prince, president of the United States of America.
You can all but feel the shock waves roll through the characters who wise up to this plan in real time. For starters, there’s Wags, who brought Prince a plum deal with the Chinese government only to watch the bossman blow it up as publicly as possible over human rights violations, and who wonders why Prince would offer a job to Chuck Rhoades, of all people. The move against China is an attempt to carve a path as an ethical billionaire; the job offer is an attempt to take an enemy off the board for good.
Then there’s Taylor and Philip, the characters who theoretically give this episode, “Succession,” its title. (I’m inclined to believe it’s a cheeky reference to television’s other tale of the lifestyles of the rich and shameless; it’s a bit like that meme of the two Spider-Men pointing at each other.) They spend most of the episode jockeying for position as Prince’s heir apparent, although neither can quite fathom why he has chosen to name a successor at all.
Taylor’s pitch involves the proverbial “move fast and break things” approach. Philip’s approach is more methodical. But when the dust settles, both of these wunderkinds realize they’re better off presenting themselves as a team of two, in which the strengths of one complement those of the other. This seems to free up space in their brains to finally puzzle out the why of Prince’s maneuver, and that why comes emblazoned with the presidential seal.
Finally, there’s Chuck and Dave. Rhoades has set up shop in an old office straight out of “Mad Men” — complete with an aging secretary rumored to be one of the boss’s sexual conquests — maintained by his father for tax purposes. It is here that he is ensconced when his latest move against Prince — a digital billboard outside Prince’s home that gives a running tab of his personal fortune — becomes a viral sensation. It is here where Scooter and Kate Sacker come to encourage Chuck to join Prince’s team, an offer he predictably declines.
When Prince’s “Mike money” plan is rolled out, ostensibly with the Brooklyn borough president (played by Joanna P. Adler) on board, Chuck encourages Dave to pull the plug by reclaiming all the land Prince bought in service of his Olympic bid, on the grounds that with the Games no longer in play, he is violating the compact under which he purchased the parcels.
It ought to be a kill shot since Prince had been counting on leveraging the land and a private-public partnership to bankroll his universal basic income scheme. But Prince then makes the very un-billionaire move of promising to fully fund the “Mike money” initiative himself. When Dave and Chuck put their heads together to puzzle out why he would go out so far on a limb, there is only one conclusion they can draw, and it comes soundtracked by “Hail to the Chief.”
Running parallel to all of this is the surprise story line to which we were introduced last week: Wendy Rhoades’s book. Turns out it’s a nonfiction effort of sorts: “Rewards of the Ruthless: How I Make Wall Street Killers,” a chronicle of her tenure as Axe/Prince Cap’s performance coach. The book includes very thinly disguised versions of all your favorite traders, from the timid Tom (a Tuk analogue) to the hard-charging Lance (Victor all the way).
Wendy attempts to soften the blow of the book’s existence by giving pretty much everyone an advance copy so they can weigh in on their own portrayals. The idea is to involve them as, essentially, co-conspirators instead of springing the book on them after the fact — effectively daring them into libel lawsuits.
But Wendy ultimately puts the kibosh on the book herself, burning it up with her Buddhist priest by her side. She realizes this wasn’t an attempt to vent her bile but to service her ego. “In the end,” she says, “it’s a ride that only leads to needing more, which is exactly what I don’t need.” If only any other character on this show would realize the same.
To the usual “Billions” soundtrack staples — your Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands” and so forth — this episode adds the playfully raunchy tune “Chaise Longue” by the British indie-rock darlings Wet Leg. Crank it up, folks.
“A man in your position can’t afford to look ridiculous,” Wendy quotes at Ben Kim when he, Tuk and Bonnie angrily confront her about her book. “I wasn’t going to quote ‘Godfather’ at you,” Ben replies, but he has to admit that she’s right. Cue the Nino Rota.
Chuck refers to Prince as “Greg Stillson from ‘[The] Dead Zone,’” a reference to the Stephen King book in which a psychic sets out to stop a wildly dangerous presidential candidate by that name. Prince may be fictional, but take a look around the political landscape: Greg Stillsons are one thing this country still manages to produce in bumper crops.
Am I the only person who wonders why Victor, Prince Cap’s most intimidating trader, is not in line for successor alongside Taylor and Philip? It’s weird to see him grouped alongside the likes of Ben Kim and Tuk instead of with the alphas.
That said, I was pleased to see Sarah Stiles return as Bonnie, another Type A trader, when the crew confronts Wendy about her book. I’m still holding out hope she joins Mafee and Dollar Bill at their breakaway firm.
Heilemann also earns this episode’s wrestling reference, in which Prince compares him to the chrome-domed monster George Steele, known also as the Animal. Sadly, Heilemann does not seem to have a green tongue from eating turnbuckle padding the way the Animal did.
Prince’s aversion to obscenity is so pronounced in this episode — his exclamations include “Dang it!” and “Mother husker!” — that when he refers to Chuck as “that son of a [expletive]” in the end, it has a real impact. Will this stop me, personally, from dropping f-bombs in polite conversation all the time? Probably not, but it’s something to reflect on.