Let’s hear it from Axe 😀
Our Countdown to Billions continues with a blog collective “Previously on Billions Season One”. Previously for episode 12 of Season One (only) will be up a couple of days before Season Two episode officially airs on Showtime on 19 February. However, you can now see the first episode of Season 2 on Showtime and the Billions YouTube channel.
Episode 1: “The Pilot” (TBkWrm)
Wendy Rhoades suddenly finds her professional and personal life clashing to the extent that the rug that is her life is about to be pulled from underneath her feet. Her husband, Chuck Rhoades, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York has an itch that he can’t scratch and its name is Bobby Axelrod (“Axe”), a Hedge Fund Manager, who is nothing but a criminal to Chuck despite the public image of him.
Chuck is reluctant to go after Axelrod for insider trading unless he knows he can nail him to the door, but is forced to push ahead after Ari Spyros (of the SEC) publicly raises the conflict of interest in Chuck’s office via a Journalist, Mike Dimonda.
Bobby Axelrod, is the boy from Yonkers who has made it big. He has everything he could ever want in life and then some more. He also has something he could do without. Chuck Rhoades on his case. Bobby’s in-house performance coach is Wendy Rhoades and this is causing Bobby as much anxiety as it is her husband. Consequently, both men have trouble listening to her and proceed to ensure they will be on a collision course.
Episode 2: “Naming Rights” (TBkWrm)
The investigation into Axe Capital is underway and Axe is taking it seriously. Naming rights is about showing us Axe’s muscles (financially of course), his vengeful nature and his ruthlessness. He organises a ‘life boat’ drill designed to test his employees’ cunning and loyalty. The majority fail spectacularly. The only two we see interviewed who pass are Bill and Wendy and Wendy is not happy at being included in the drill…something she lets Axe know.
Victor’s immaturity and insecurities see him shown the door as they rile Axe up. Axe depends on Wendy to fix the messes his impulses gets him into.
Inside the grown man is a teenage boy waiting to lash out at those who did him wrong and our Metallica T-shirt wearing Hedge Fund Manager unleashes the teenage fury on the Eads family who have squandered their family wealth. Robert Axelrod does not forget. Ellis Eads Hall is now Axelrod Hall.
Episode 3: “Yum Time” (Holliedazzle)
Lara is seen using her connections, combined with her ruthless street smarts, to keep a questionable chapter about Bobby out of a 9/11 widow’s memoir. Lara pulls all the strings, and in the end, Axe’s post 9/11 secrets stay safe. Through a session with Wags, Wendy finds out about a grudge that he holds against one of the few female traders in the firm. Wendy is now put in the middle-does she somehow convince this innocent gal to follow her dreams to another firm, or let her stay and have Wags slowly pick her apart?
And Axe? He’s gobbled up a bunch of a company called “Yum Time”, kind of the Hostess Bakery of the Billions TV Universe. He’s got some sort of play in motion involving a trucking company that hauls for Yum Time, but it remains to be seen what will come of that. Right now? It’s all about nostalgia. The goodies aren’t as good as they used to be, and its found out that the new guy running the company (into the ground), is eating up all the profits while tampering with the recipes in a cost-saving initiative. Axe isn’t having it. He makes his disagreements known, and manages to oust the current head of the board and even secure himself a place on the board, itself. And most deliciously, that seat comes at the cost of the mistress of Chuck Sr!
Let’s not forget about Chuck! He’s got a guy named Pete Decker under his thumb, and he needs this guy to give up Axe Capital. But this guy seems to not be willing to give Axe up. Well, until it is discovered that he trades for his own parents, and those investments and trades included the shady deal that landed him in cuffs in the first place: Pepsum Pharmaceuticals. Will this guy really let the Southern District haul his elderly parents in to jail for the night? This was the perfect leverage Chuck needed.
Episode 4: “Short Squeeze” (JaniaJania)
The Metallica episode. Bobby is taking some old buddies to see a rock band they all grew up with. It’s ostensibly a pleasure trip. The pacing and drama of this episode, however, are anything but relaxing. We see in Short Squeeze, Bobby Axelrod wound tight. It’s in the camera shots and the direction and writing, this twisting thing, but it’s remarkably there in Damian’s body as well. You see the full length of his body winding up, the New Yorker sturm and drang of it all, the eye rolls and the cursing and the hand motions. Like Damian traded in his very spine for Bobby’s.
Throughout the episode, he’s on the phone getting bad news after bad news. This episode stood out in its ability to capture the dizzying nature of the maze of information that is the world of Bobby Axelrod. And you saw how much of that maze he carries in his head at all times. Finally, this episode showed Bobby beginning to transform from the king of the jungle to one of the hunted.
Another significant development in Short Squeeze, along the way, Bobby has an opportunity to cheat on his wife. And he says no. Specifically, he says, sure, he takes big risks in his work but never “just for the fuck of it”.
This denial of an easy lay is kind of a big deal for a man so powerful. And something that showed us that Bobby is not like most other male protagonists.
Episode 5: “The Good Life” (Damianista)
Citizen Axe retreats to Xanadu pretending he is closing up shop while his nemesis flies to Iowa to get the man who will give them Dollar Bill.
Axe does “pure insider trading” in his telecom play. Why? Because what drives him does not understand enough. He always needs to be THE BEST. The way he arrives at Axe Capital after the news break about Mundia Tel speaks volumes about him.
Chuck is no different when it comes to the game. With 81 – 0 under his belt, he needs to be THE BEST. He does not shy away from vowing to keep the Pepsum guy out of prison until his sick daughter graduates from high school if he gave him Dollar Bill. The desperate man signs the papers only to learn that the US attorney’s office will be in touch about his arraignment. Oh, and by the way, he needs a lawyer, too.
Chuck is right: “No one quits while they’re ahead. This isn’t France. It’s America.” It is all about power. Their influence on the game makes both Axe and Chuck the kings they are. Revered. Respected. Envied. They are addicted to the game. Bigger win means bigger risk. Bigger risk requires them to be vigilant than ever. Neither one can unplug.
“The Good Life” ends with Axe’s worst nightmare happening: Windbreakers. Both Terri and Bryan look at him in the eye as they approach so I wonder if it is a moment of relief for Axe when they turn left to get Dollar Bill. Bill knows what to do: “Lawyer.”
Episode 6: “The Deal” (TBkWrm)
Bill Stearn is under arrest for insider trading and is being interviewed by Chuck and Bryan, both laying down all that is bad about and for him. Bill could not look less concerned if he tried. He has the assurance that Axe will take care of his families if he goes away for a stint and that is something no amount of evidence against him is going to touch. He therefore sticks to co-operating as little as possible.
Axe is losing it. To his employees, he is standing his ground and is mobilising the troops against the US Attorney’s office. Wendy, however, sees it all for what it is, bluster from a man who raging that he is losing control and is trying to snatch at anything.
Both Wendy and Lara Axelrod want their men to make a deal to end the current situation. Eventually, they both agree and a meeting is set up for this. It was all going well until they all started speaking. No deal.
Episode 7: “The Punch” (TBkWrm)
Bobby Axelrod loves his kids and wants them to have a good upbringing, but he isn’t the best of influences on them. Two wrongs don’t make a right after all. The father of his sons’ friends drives the four boys home drunk. There is concern for his boys, but it is also likely the frustration of the last couple of episodes burst their banks when he punches Mr Layner. Now Bobby is facing charges.
Lara is concerned that their boys are not street smart as they got in that car with Mr Layner even knowing he had been drinking “because he is an adult”.
Chuck is officially off the Axe case, but unofficially finding ways to speak to Bryan about it. Something Bryan does not like one bit.
The boys are sent off to camp much to their mutual horror.
Sheryl manages to save the day by getting a hold of footage of Bobby punching Mr Layner which includes the ‘discussion’ around DUI. This saves Bobby’s bacon, sees him being a youtube smash hit and manages to thoroughly disgust Chuck into the bargain.
Episode 8: “Boasts and Rails” (Lady Trader)
I think this episode should have been called “Revelations” as that is what we get in boatloads!
Bryan meeting Kate’s dad and being confronted with “doing bad to do good” by throwing an innocent man under the bus and losing his integrity? He feels that “creeping erosion” but then, is manipulated by Chuck to convince him it’s alright. “There are no innocent men, not on Wall Street” is what Chuck says to Bryan. Not only is that not true (I should know) but being a “law man”, isn’t it supposed to be innocent until proven guilty? Bryan may not be the good guy he thinks he is.
Donnie has been playing everyone the whole time at Axe’s direction? Well, if this doesn’t remind me of the Metallica song “Master of Puppets” I don’t know what does. Axe is the puppet master! He is moving all the pieces!
And the revelation of revelations: Axe and 9/11. This was so shocking, that is was the catalyst for my very first post, “In Defense of Bobby Axelrod”. I think what I noticed on re-watching the episode was how the women in Axe’s life deal with the fall out. Lara is calm and cool, telling her family of course she knew, and rationalizing it by saying “that was before he even knew me”. Wendy says “you saw an opportunity to make money”. Not making a moral call, just stating the facts. Do we tend to rationalize bad behavior in people we love? And when we do, is it for their benefit or ours?
Episode 9: “Where the F*** is Donnie?” (TBkWrm)
Donnie (aka the Brian Doyle of Axe Capital) is missing and everyone wants to know where he is. Donnie is struggling badly in this episode with the depths of his duplicity and his health issues. Boasts and Rails (all those meds) revealed to us that Donnie is a very ill man.
He feels lost and decides to get away from everything that is going on. In doing so, he shows that even one of the most nervous employees of Axe Capital can be very sneaky and underhand. He manages to evade the FBI and Hall, neither of which are easy to manage.
Wendy realises that the men in her life are lying to her and keeping secrets from her. She recognises that something is wrong with Donnie, but is powerless to help. She knows Axe has something to do with it and then discovers that her other half does too.
Donnie is found and Bryan isn’t happy with him, but Donnie is co-operating with them until he becomes agitated and asks for a break. Just as that request is being refused, Donnie coughs up blood all over Bryan and collapses.
Episode 10: “Quality of Life” (Damianista)
So much happens in my favorite episode of the season: Donnie dies. Chuck loses the Axe case to Eastern. Axe and Dollar Bill pretend to have an argument! Axe “hobbles” the three rats. Chuck “hobbles” Judge Wilcox. And I agonize over the following question: Is Axe the “bloodless man” Chuck is talking about?
It seems like a pretty cold-hearted play, doesn’t it? Axe is using Donnie, a dying man who has been loyal to him for years, to save his ass. You may call Axe a predator. But you may also call him a rational man. Axe is offering Donnie an option to leave the world in peace. You may call Donnie a victim. But you may also call him a rational man. He is dying and ready to make a deal that would guarantee a comfortable life when he is gone. I find it rational and painfully human. I hope I do not sound like an insensitive asshole. I am just a game theorist that believes in rational choice.
Yet, I will never be able to forgive Axe for stealing Donnie’s Christmas. I find this much worse than his 9/11 deals. As much what Axe did on 9/11 is another cold-hearted play, it would not change a thing about what happened on that dark day. Yet, the experimental treatment may have given Donnie one last Christmas with his family. It was up to Donnie to decide. Not Axe. I hope Axe’s “wish” as he leaves a leaf on Donnie’s picture at the memorial is his friend’s forgiveness for not giving a fuck about him.
Having said that, Chuck, a man who was ready to throw his assistant attorney under the bus just a few episodes ago, is not fit to judge 😀
Episode 11: “Magical Thinking” (TBkWrm)
Axe makes a mistake that is going to cost Axe Capital $1 billion in total when BioLance does not receive the FDA approval he expected it to. He is more concerned about the fact he got it wrong rather than the money or the fact that Mafee told him he thought he was wrong.
Something isn’t right with him so Axe calls Wendy to come fix him. Wendy and Axe have their first session together for a few years and Wendy is determined that they will do it on her terms as she is the doctor… yeah that didn’t last long.
Axe does need Wendy’s help, but he is also never one to miss an opportunity and he uses this session to fish for information on her possibly leaving Axe capital, as much as does to try and fix himself.
Chuck is less than happy to discover his wife laughing away with Axe and doesn’t take it well. He is not in a rational mood at this point. So much that when he returns home later and Wendy is in the shower, he accesses her computer and steals her session notes from her session with Axe.
Episode 12: “The Conversation” (JaniaJania)
The season finale of Billions starts with a wonderful shot of Axe rising to be part of the NY landscape. He waits to give Wendy a prize for fixing his “Magical Thinking”. From there the episode progresses into a series of cathartic scenes fit for a stage.
After going thru the defeat of not seeing the matrix and requiring a reset in “Magical Thinking”, Bobby is back pounding the pavement looking for more clients. The fact that he’s walking the streets himself hammers home the point that he embodies the bootstrapping ethic of a man who has no time for whining and hand-wringing.
Even when Bobby is back on his feet with some fresh money, he’s still got a bit of problem with some leaked information. Namely, the fact that he bribed cops to look the other way when Danzig had his meltdown is now open knowledge. His gears start cranking, leading him to the only person who knew about the payoff: Wendy. Again, just as it has done all along, the show takes something we all think is a minor mole hill and makes a mountain out of it. And, again, we have the very real disconnect between what is legal and what is the right thing to do.
Some brilliant scenes ensue. First, Bobby confronts Wendy. She shakes with anger and betrayal. She adamantly denies she leaked info that was shared with her in confidence: “Polygraph me mother fucker.”
Then Wendy confronts Chuck with having stolen private information from her laptop and using it to his advantage. It’s a captivating scene of a marriage falling apart. The tears leak from both their eyes, and, we, the audience, cannot look away from the train wreck.
Next Wendy is back in Bobby’s office, this time with the upper hand, a taped recording of Chuck admitting to taking the notes from her laptop. Bobby is contrite, but he wants more, a copy of the recording. Wendy won’t play. She leaves, but not before pocketing a cool $5 million bonus for her troubles.
Not a minor aside: Bobby offers Bryan a job. Stay tuned for this to flesh out next season!
Finally, we have the most epic of the many epic confrontations of this episode and season. Bobby loses his mind and rips apart his office looking for a fictional wire he believes to have been planted by Chuck. When he’s exhausted the search, he sits collapsed midst the ruins. Chuck saunters in and the gladiators have a masterfully written and filmed confrontation in the imploded wreck of Axe Capital. And in that conversation, the beauty is that they are both right, both arguments are equally valid and defensible. For every “You throw the whole system off balance” there is always a perfectly plausible “I make the system run.” And with that, Billions succeeds in getting us all to care about the very real issues, issues up for passionate debate, especially now at this particularly precarious time in our history.