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The Billions Scene That Went Too Far

If you're not watching "Billions," then you're absolutely missing out because it's some of the most gripping drama on TV at the moment. The Showtime series follows Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis), a hedge-fund manager who isn't afraid to use illegal tactics to build an empire, which obviously puts him at odds with the authorities. Enter U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), who quickly gets Axelrod in his sights. "Billions" has been hugely popular, with Showtime renewing the series for Season 6 before Season 5 has even finished airing (via Deadline).

"Billions" toys with various themes like how greed and power go hand-in-hand, usually because those in wealthy positions want to expand their reach. But the dynamic between Axelrod and Rhoades gets more complex as the seasons roll on, with the show exploring just what makes them tick. Giamatti's character, for example, takes part in BDSM as a submissive, explicitly explaining in one memorable press conference how he likes power being taken from him — although the show's approach to his proclivities has (mainly) been pretty sex-positive, in case you're wondering why he's not the focus here.

On the other hand, Axelrod is the exact opposite of Rhoades: He's power-hungry and craves more money and influence so his empire can keep growing. His greed knows no bounds, which is demonstrated in his unsettling dining choice during Season 3, Episode 6, "The Third Ortolan."

Here's the "Billions" scene that went too far.

An illegal delicacy

The opening of "The Third Ortolan" sees Bobby Axelrod and Mike Wagner (David Costabile) sit down and gorge themselves on some forbidden fruit — or, more appropriately, forbidden birds. Axelrod and Wagner are treating themselves to fancy dinner at a French restaurant so they can eat an illegal delicacy: Ortolan birds. It's not a violent scene, nor is it sexual in any way, but the cruelty and greed on display here really sits with the audience for quite some time.

The Ortolan birds are kept in darkness for weeks and are over-fed grapes and grain, which fattens them up (via CNBC). Things only get worse from there, as the birds are hurled into a vat of brandy to kill and marinade them simultaneously before being roasted and served up. Because of the controversial process that leads up to their consumption, eating Ortolans is illegal. However, powerfully wealthy people who can be protected from the legal system due to their status often indulge in the French delicacy. The fact that those who eat Ortolan birds have to wear napkins on their head to supposedly hide their shame from God while doing so says it all. At that point, it becomes more than just an expensive meal — it's an ego-trip.

When Axelrod and Wagner treat themselves to eating these birds, it shows that they've become so bold that they don't care about the laws prohibiting such consumption. They also don't care about the barbaric manner in which the Ortolans are prepared and killed. For them, eating birds that are illegal to consume is all about power. Wagner even says, in some of the most chilling dialogue in the whole series, "I don't know about you, but I just had a religious experience. At the climax I felt the crack of its little rib cage, then the hot juices rushing out, down my gullet. Sublime."

This scene is an interesting microcosm of wealthy society, where people do illegal things for the thrill of it and face no consequences, but "Billions" probably could have done without it.