Season 6, Episode 9: ‘Hindenburg’
“We need Chuck dead, uninjured and angry.” Wise words, those of Governor Bob Sweeney. He intuitively sensed something Chuck himself didn’t, when Chuck snatched the Olympics from Mike Prince without dealing a fatal blow. In retrospect, it was clear that a wounded, angry prince, for all his self-proclaimed grace in defeat, would retaliate. It just wasn’t clear that his retaliation would actually be a death blow.
But it sure seems that way. Sweeney and the state Senate remove Chuck Rhoades from the attorney general’s office, the result of an elaborate plan concocted by Prince. Chuck’s benevolence, his uproar, his speeches—none of that helps him.
And so he goes from one of his greatest professional triumphs—the kibosh at Prince’s Olympics—to his greatest professional setback since being fired a few seasons ago by Attorney General Jock Jeffcoat as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. In any case, this defeat is much worse because it requires stronger will from the people and because Chuck was nominally booted on charges of corruptly pursuing personal vendettas, not just rubbing the boss the wrong way.
To be honest, I didn’t see his demise coming either. We weren’t allowed to! Before Chuck learns of the attempt to evict him, Chuck spends most of the episode deeply invested in pursuing another pet project: opening privately operated but non-profit and duty-free parks and other similar amenities to the general public.
This quest is accelerated by two ugly incidents involving brown women, the first when his lieutenant, Dave, is banned from a private club and the second when a Hispanic mother is banned from a nearby park. Chuck forces local hedge fund bigwig Steven Birch (Jerry O’Connell) to compile a list of residents with access to the park, then takes them to court, where he strikes a deal that will give him an absolute minimum profit — the best he could count on under such dubious legal circumstances.
But it was all a move by Prince. Stuart Legere, the bribed college official who Chuck said was his inner man; the host of the club where Dave and Legere were to meet; the mother who is prevented from entering the park; the Wall Street bastard who stops her from entering; the attorney representing the park’s members: They’re all on Prince’s payroll, thanks to bribes from Wags and Scooter.
In all of this, Prince acts on the advice of Chuck’s one-time right-hand man, Kate Sacker. Distract him like a bullfighter distracts a bull, she says, and he becomes vulnerable. Sure enough, he’s so busy figuring out the details of his big win against the high and powerful that he misses the political coup that’s happening right under his nose.
At the moment, the rapid defeat of the main characters is a feature of “billions”. It only took Prince and Chuck an episode or two to get Bobby Axelrod involved in the illegal cannabis trade that led to his flight from the country. No sooner had Prince landed the Olympics than Chuck canceled them. And now Prince has beaten Chuck just one episode later. No one is safe on this show, and that makes for exciting television.
Chuck’s entire demise might have been prevented if he hadn’t decided to show up at Prince’s Olympics headquarters to rejoice in the form of a peace offering. Prince recognized it for what it was: the billionaire rubbing his nose in his defeat. Chuck’s worst enemy is himself.
The episode’s B-plot revolves around Taylor Mason, Ax Cap’s one-time prodigy. When old-timers Mafee and Dollar Bill drop by for a visit, they also begin to lure mild-mannered merchants Tuk and Ben Kim away from the company, no doubt hoping to recreate that old Ax Cap magic. Tuk and Ben’s manager, Philip, new to the company, is happy to let them go when it is really time to move on.
But Taylor believes that this will make Philip appear weak. Rather than allow a rival to damage his reputation, Taylor unleashes a full Samuel L. Jackson in “Pulp Fiction” verbal firing on Mafee and Dollar Bill, scaring them off their attempt to pry Ben and Tuk away. . Philip is thankful for the help afterwards, though he tells Taylor he suspects Ben and Tuk aren’t the only ones yearning for the good old days of Ax Cap.
Taylor, who has struggled all season with Axe’s influence, seems chastened. But no one on this show stays chastised for very long.
I’d like to give a special shout-out to veteran actor Kenneth Tigar as state senator Clay Tharp, a rare Republican ally of Chuck who is eventually dragged to Prince’s side. He delivers a dignified performance that centers on Chuck’s sympathy for Tharp after his wife’s death, a sympathy he can no longer repay with support.
For you reference spotters out there, this episode was packed with them. Basketball? Prince compares himself to coach Pat Riley. “The Godfather”? That’s the name Chuck gives to Riley, while Mafee quotes “Be my friend” from the opening scene of the film. The Coens? Ben Kim quotes the Dude when describing his time at Prince Cap as “strikes and gutters,” à la the Dude from “The Big Lebowski.” wrestle? Senator Tharp tips the hat to grappler Ken Patera.
Some are less likely to enter reference territory: Taylor paraphrases the entire “Say ‘what’ again” speech from “Pulp Fiction.” For the literary mind, William Kennedy’s Albany-based cycle of novels also gets its flowers. Bob Sweeney invokes the name of Stephen King arch villain Randall Flagg when describing Prince’s feelings about Chuck. And a judge compares Chuck’s legal approach to the Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy in the UK’; the song concludes the episode, and it’s arguably the series’ most shocking music cue yet.