Billions Season 6, Episode 4: “Burn Rate”
Photo: Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME
Nothing like a little gluttony to feed the ego.
“Burn Rate” shines the spotlight on two of Billions‘ more morally-focused characters and shows how money and power continue to be the ultimate bait. To my relief, Kate Sacker finally put herself first by joining Michael Prince Capital as lead counsel for Prince’s bid for the Olympics — and betraying her longtime boss, Chuck, in the process. Taylor Mason, meanwhile, is taking a crash course in philanthropy: You can’t heal the planet unless you’re independently wealthy, and a personal wealth goal of $100 million isn’t going to cut it. By the end of the episode, Taylor is now determined to hit $1 billion, and I’m afraid they’ll become more ruthless in their quest, erasing their intentions along the way.
Speaking of personal wealth, Billions uses a fun gimmick in this episode: Periodically the action freezes and a detailed accounting of a character’s purchases, whether it’s the clothes they’re wearing, Coach John Calipari’s speaking fees, or of a zero carbon footprint custom yacht, flashes on screen. Yes, it’s to illustrate how gross these people are and how much they spend (thus explaining the title of the episode, “Burn Rate”), but it’s also to measure their financial worth. Their financial value to Mike Prince, in particular. The detail finally stops on a portrait of the main employees of MPC, valued at a grand total of 1.5 billion dollars. For the funsies, we learn that a normal office set for Wendy costs over $45,000, and that includes a $2 bracelet woven by her daughter. Taylor’s wardrobe is modest by comparison, with one exception: a $180,000 Patek Philippe watch.
There’s also a cute subplot featuring my new favorite dream team, Wags and Scooter: they’re ordered to drink wine and dine on shit from Colin Drache and several members of the advanced team of the International Sports Commission, which normally someone like Wags might do in his sleep. . Except, Oh, he and his girlfriend Chelz are trying for a baby, so going straight to a party at a high-end brothel in the company of 11 COVID-safe sex workers just won’t be possible. But since New York’s offer fails if Uncle Wagsy doesn’t, at least ahem, appear to, well, make his own deal, we’re entitled to the sweetest counterfeit of Billions story: Wags pays one of the sex workers to moan his name all night and ends up shooting a Sally Albright, while he sips his green juice and waits for Chelz’s ovulation alarm.
At first, it seems Prince’s meeting with Governor Bob Sweeney was a waste of $70,000 (the cost of an impressive VR rendering of an Olympic stadium and swimming arena in Manhattan). The Governor of New York is not on board with the Games coming to town and reveals that Chuck’s street protest stunt has put public opinion at 2% positive. Uh-uh, not so fast, Chuck – Buffalo Bob isn’t necessarily in your corner either. A cryptic lunch meeting suggests that Sweeney will put both the state attorney general and the deca-billionaire to the test in future episodes.
Ultimately, Prince now knows he needs “serious legal firepower” to fight the inevitable hurdles blocking him from Olympic glory, and Wags rightly points out that person should probably come from inside the government. Kate Sacker is immediately at the top of everyone’s list – which isn’t surprising, given the episode opened with her telling Chuck she’s been “approached.” The drama here is how meticulously Prince, with generous help from Wendy, plays Sacker’s trigger points to his advantage. Also working in favor of Prince? Sacker is really chafing at Chuck’s empty promises about his congressional campaign.
So Wendy “just happens to bump into” Sacker after a talk on intersectionality by Kimberlé Crenshaw at the 92nd Street Y. They bond with the groundbreaking scholar, while Wendy, with all the subtlety of a bulldozer, slides into a discussion of how things are so much better at MPC these days. She also invites Sacker to meet Prince, with one of her bromides over the risk of staying somewhere too long. After talking with Chuck, Sacker is tasked with accepting Wendy’s invitation to act as his boss’s double agent.
Much to the chagrin of no one, let alone Sacker, Prince offers him the job of senior Olympics counsel, reciting a gag-worthy monologue about the return of the New York romance once sung by Frank Sinatra, Jay- Z and Alicia. Keys. Oh, and that would do wonders for Sacker’s congressional race. She doesn’t refuse the job, but she doesn’t accept it either. Sacker also provides Chuck with valuable information that will push Taylor further down a more ruthless path: the CEO of Mase Carb has found a way to fit a philanthropic initiative into Prince’s Olympics bid by partnering with a sustainable company called “People of the World” to provide free WiFi in the five districts and in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s a neat, if impractical idea, making it easy for Prince to throw it away when needed.
Chuck is toying with Prince’s parts trying to fit his best friend Ira Schirmer into the role of lead Olympics counsel, which anybody bought. He also kills the WiFi plan by convincing Big Telecom to threaten legal action against People of the World. Chuck exerts tons of wits and energy to hurt Prince, and none to keep Sacker by his side. So when Prince creepily accosts Sacker on his nightly jog, dangling a fully staffed campaign office ready to start work 24 hours after the Olympics are awarded in New York, the choice is obvious.
The next day, Chuck notices that Kate’s office has been cleaned and Ira receives an alert that her meeting with Prince has been cancelled. Suddenly, Chuck realizes that his “chess grandmaster” moves were for naught because he “failed to protect [his] God fucking queen. It is a palpable betrayal; not only did Chuck lose his trump card, but that trump card now works for his enemy. (Hey, wait until he hears Wendy demanded she host the New York Olympics as payment for luring Sacker to the MPC.)
Taylor also feels the sting of betrayal, learning that Prince has made a deal with Big Telecom to provide free WiFi at the Olympics. But now the African initiative is dead in the water as a result, just like Taylor’s latest attempt to save the world. That’s when Prince exposes the hard truth in the most sickening and self-righteous way possible. He’s basically telling them that these kinds of initiatives are useless unless you can provide infrastructure, and you can’t do it if you’re just “pretty rich,” like Taylor. Cue the Duran Duran as an angry Taylor walks out of Prince’s office with even bigger dollar signs in his eyes.
Since Kate Sacker isn’t (really) one to run away at night, we are treated to a breathtaking final scene between Condola Rashad and Paul Giamatti where, unlike so many other Billions betrayals, things remain civil, almost sympathetic. Chuck doesn’t hide his disappointment with his former charge, and Sacker doesn’t hide why it was time to go: she’s ready to be a “peer, not just a sidekick,” Rashad adding the perfect steely note here. . But there’s nothing Chuck can say to change her mind because he kept her after the fact for too long. That and she could never afford the fancy car waiting to take her home if she continued to work for him.
Therein lies the next wrinkle in Sacker’s meteoric career: Will she even want to return to public service after Prada suits and private jets?
• Winston always wears college underwear. He would, but also, wow.
• So what do we think is a sex worker’s essay topic?