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  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Wendy Rhoades: an innocent professional trying her best to help her partners/patients and remain clean while attached to two corrupting foes, or another colluding cog in the criminal machine whose idea of acting as a neutral The Consigliere is borderline self-delusion? The ambiguity is finally dispelled when she gets affected by the Ice Juice case, and taken further in Season 4 where she methodically manipulates and betrays Taylor on a deeply personal level, and then struggles to handle Mafee calling her out on it.
    Chuck: "I'm there for my patients" bullshit, beause these patients that you see are criminals. And if you're right there in the middle of it with a bunch of criminals, what do you think that makes you?
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  • Applicability: The rivalry between Axe and Rhoades is seen by many to be symbolic of the struggle between economic freedom and government control. Axe makes the argument that the autorities are always Moving the Goalposts with arbitrary, self serving regulations, and he might not be very off given that Rhoades breaks all kinds of codes and laws in his crusade.
  • Audience-Alienating Premise: The show is centered on two deeply flawed protagonists who savage each other through the worlds of hedge fund management and white collar criminal investigation. People who want someone to root for will be hard-pressed to sympathize with either side, and people who can't follow the dense financial and legal concepts will be hard-pressed to understand what the hell is happening.
  • Awesome Anachronistic Apparel: Oliver Dake dresses and grooms like he's still waiting for the Cuban Missile Crisis to end. Justified, finally, in 03.01, when Chuck pegs him as an old-school Calvinist. His whole worldview and moral system belong to a bygone time.
  • Crosses the Line Twice:
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    • "Naming Rights" and the ever-mounting contest between the Axe Capital employees as to who can come up with the most incredibly profane metaphor. Wags and Saldana seem to have it on lockdown.
    Wags: You see an opportunity like that again, you grab it like it's a horse cock and you're Catherine the Great!
    Saldana: The stock's gonna pop like a prom queen's cherry.
    Wags: We have to be more pure than the Virgin Mary before her first period.
    • "Yum Time" has an extended discussion between Wags and Wendy (as his therapist) on the topic of "ass-to-mouth" that crosses the line from the get-go, then doubles back and *sambas* across a third time when Wags makes an extended metaphor of ATM as how he'll fuck over an employee who's challenging him.
    • "Yum Time" also has Chuck humiliating a man whom he sees frequently walking his dog in Brooklyn Bridge Park, but never cleaning up after it. Chuck blows his top, ordering the poor schmuck to pick up the dog poop with his bare hands and put it in a trashcan.
    • Waylon "Jock" Jeffcoat and the raw, disdainful crudeness he imposes upon the refined bureaucrats of NY are something to behold. His introductory speech has him comparing the Justice Department and Chuck Rhoades in particular to a "teaser" horse, getting a mare in heat all fired up sexually, but having to watch the "real stallion" mount the mare.
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    • Dollar Bill attempting biological warfare with a bird flu infected chicken, and calling it a "Final Solution" to their problem is equal parts horrifying and hilarious.
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: Since both Axe and Rhoades are deeply flawed people who have no problem with screwing people over to achieve their goals, this is a given. It becomes even more bleak and desparing when the Rhoadeses and Axe team up.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse:
    • Wags, but this is what you get when you turn David Costabile loose on one of the funniest and yet nuanced characters in the series. Even Showtime is sharing in the love.
    • Taylor is one for Season 2, being both very idiosyncratic and the first non-binary character in a prime-time series. They become a series regular in season 3.
  • Genius Bonus:
    • In "Where the Fuck is Donnie Caan", Chuck uses a metaphor comparing a move in the game of Go to a play Brian makes on Adam DiGulia and the Attorney General's office. He calls it "kikashi", which is a move that takes initiative and prepares the entire board for a positive outcome.
    • According to Bryan, Bobby lacks five of the eight virtues of the bushido code. Doctor Gus replies that Bobby actually lacks six - he's not polite, either.
  • Growing the Beard: The second season has been praised by critics for being more tightly-plotted, adding new characters, and being vastly better-written than the first.
  • He's Just Hiding!: Initiall reactions to Chuck "axing" Brian predicted that the public, over-the-top humilitation was just a ploy to plant him as a Fake Defector, just as Axelrod did with Dollar Bill. It wasn't, but some other kind of twist of this sort was coming.
  • "Holy Shit!" Quotient:
    • "Flaw in the Death Star" (s03e05) has a pretty high HSQ, what with the growing attraction between Taylor and Oscar Langstraat. Also counts as What Do They See in Him?
    • "The Third Ortolan" (s03e06): After two and a half seasons of scheming and plotting against each other Axe and Rhoades agree to team up against Connerty to ensure that neither of them (and Wendy) faces any prison time.
    • "Elmsley Count" (s03e12): Taylor forms their own competing hedge fund under Bobby's nose and breaks away from Axe Capital, taking Mafee and several investors (including Andolov) with them. Chuck's case against Jeffcoat is exposed and he is fired as U.S. Attorney for the SDNY. With Chuck no longer having any reason to pursue Bobby, the two rekindle their old friendship and begin to plot against their enemies.
    • "Overton Window" (s04e05): To negate a last-ditch blackmail attempt from Foley, Chuck holds a press conference in which he admits to the world that he is a sadomasochist. He wins the election for New York's attorney general, but betrays Wendy's trust in the process.
  • Jerkass Dissonance: Some characters have devoted fanbases because of their jerkiness, including Spyros.
  • Jerkass Woobie: Bobby has done some seriously awful things and tends to treat people as disposable, but sometimes you just feel really sad for him, as when he confesses to his boys that he's being arrested, and later, makes bail after being arrested and Lara promising to wait for him, only to be released to find his way home alone. Plus, it seems that his attitude is mostly a result of his upbringing in a poor working class neighborhood where he had to learn to fend for himself.
  • Magnificent Bastard:
    • Bobby, particularly for his maneuver in "The Good Life": convincing Wags - and the rest of the world - he was having a midlife crisis, pulling Axe Capital off the market . . . so that when Mundia-Tel, owned by his friend Konstantin, went under and tanked the market, Axe Capital and all its money was safe.
    • Bobby does it again in "Boasts and Rails". Donnie Caan hasn't turned mole, Bobby is feeding Caan fake info to lead the US Attorney's office on a wild goose chase.
    • In "The Deal", "Dollar" Bill Stern shows off why he's got the balls to be lead investor at Axe Capital - leaking photos and a confession of his second family to his wife, so that Chuck can't use her as leverage:
      Chuck: You blew up your family for Bobby Axelrod?!
      Stern: I'm Keyser Soze, motherfucker.
  • Moment of Awesome: Has its own page.
  • Moral Event Horizon: By the end of Season 2, various people in and out-of-universe consider Chuck to have crossed this when he deliberately costs his best friend (who had repeatedly given him heartfelt advice and tried to help him patch up his marriage) his money, his reputation and possibly his career in a move to trap Axe in the commission of a crime, knowing that suing Axe for damages would take years, and could easily fail even then. He also allowed his father to lose an enormous amount of money in the same scheme, knowing that he would never be able to sue Axe for damages as it would reveal Chuck's involvement in setting it up. Furthermore, he is unrepentant to both of them, letting his friend know that it is in his own best interests to keep quiet about it, and emotionally blackmails his father into signing a false affidavit stating that Chuck had no knowledge of the deal. After signing it, his father lets him know that he now considers their relationship to consist of nothing more than Chuck speaking at his funeral.
  • Narm: The use of Tubthumping's "Chumbawumba" over the final moments of "Quality of Life" is kind of a silly song for an episode that has Donnie's funeral and all of Axe Capital's grief-stricken reactions.
  • Narm Charm:
    • The constant insertion of movie and pop culture references as metaphors in casual conversation is a bit overdone at times, but it's an enticing way of speaking all the same, specially when the viewer gets it without it being pointed out explicly.
    • John Malkovich trots out the same cartoonish Russian accent he used in Rounders, which raised a lot of eyebrows back then, so it might even be an intentional example.
  • Nightmare Fuel: Andolov's "funny story" about meeting a boy and his mother at the Moscow Christmas market. It doesn't get more reassuring when we meet his mother.
  • Rescued from the Scrappy Heap: The latter part of season two does this for Lara Axelrod, who spent most of season one and the beginning of season two as alternately a try-hard lad-ette or a perfect-wife doormat for her husband. 2.09 finally shows the cracks in the Axelrod marriage, and Lara leaves Bobby twice. While she does come back, as of the season two finale, she's cleared out most of their cash supply and is shopping for divorce lawyers, finally showing some initiative and agency.
  • Rooting for the Empire:
    • As this Twitter poll shows, most fans root for Axe instead of Rhoades.
    • By season 3, Rhoades has become his own "Empire" and gets his share of rooting in the conflict with Connerty. It helps that there is always the classic, looming implication that if the bad guy protagonist gets finally caught, the story becomes extinct.
    • Attorney General Jeffcoat of all people also gets this, thanks to him bringing some overdue commeupance to Rhoades' corruption and villainy and the wicked coolness provided by the enjoyable performance of Clancy Brown.
  • The Scrappy: Taylor Mason has become one for some fans. Some simply complain that their ultra-stoic demeanor clashes with the fast-paced, personality-driven nature of the show.
  • Strawman Has a Point:
    • In "The Conversation", Bobby points out for all of Chuck's talk about how he and the government go after the wealthy as a means of helping the poor, they don't exactly practice what they preach. The money they collect from the fines against tax cheats and illegal finance practices go into their own pockets rather than being redistributed to the poor. On the contrary, Bobby has personally donated hundreds of millions of to charity and the working class while also employing hundreds of people who in turn use their money to keep thousands of people whose products and services they use employed.
  • Why Would Anyone Take Him Back?: Both men in the Rhoades and Axelrod marriages. Chuck broke the law to steal information from Wendy's laptop and has spent most of their marriage constantly questioning her loyalty. They split up, but as of 2.12 and after further betrayals, they look on track to getting back together. Bobby and Lara are another case, considering Lara was understandably pissed about Bobby lying to her about Wendy, and "needed some space". Bobby flipped out, used Hall to track his wife's credit cards and movements, and called her countless times, descending from paranoia into outright abuse, yet Lara stays with him (at least, potentially until the arrest and impending trial, as she floats the possibility of divorce with Bach. She goes through with the divorce in season 3.).
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