From the Trader’s Desk: 2 for 1 Special!

Happy Friday from the Trader’s Desk!

This week, I’m giving you a 2 for 1 special! As the “fin speak” in “Optimal Play” and “The Oath” was at a minimum, I’ll be giving you my thoughts and observations on both today.

Optimal Play

I was so happy that basically an entire episode was dedicated to my sister Damianista’s specialty of game theory. If you haven’t, read her recap. It will give you a professional’s take, and it’s great.

I don’t know much about game theory (a reason I need to sit in on a game theory class, taught at a major university; know anyone that can help?), but I do know what is and isn’t insider trading. And, it’s a shame that poor flight attendant McKayla didn’t. I guess she didn’t know you are supposed to do a Dollar Bill when you are talking to ADA’s and just keep saying “Lawyer! Lawyer! Lawyer!”

I smiled on seeing the episode open at MetLife Stadium, home of Big Blue, my NY Giants. If Axe is looking to buy an NFL team, talking to Steve Tisch, the co-owner of the Giants, is a great place to start. The Giants are co-owned by the Tisch and Mara families. The Mara family founded the team in 1925; they are NFL royalty. But, alas, as Mr. Tisch said his team is not for sale. Perhaps Axe should try to buy that other team that the Jints let play at MetLife on some Sundays.

It’s time for the Alpha Cup showdown. I like the play on Alpha Cup; does it stand for alpha male or alpha the way it is used on Wall Street (a measurement of risk-adjusted performance)? I was asked by Jania if charity poker games like this really exist, and the answer is yes. As I addressed in my recap of “Risk Management”, we traders are gamblers. We love to bet on things. I will say, I have never been to one like this, but I have been to several “Casino Night” type of charity events.

Source: Showtime

I’m going to just say it: I know jack about poker. On my trips to Vegas, Atlantic City and Foxwoods, I stick to Blackjack and Roulette. Growing up, we didn’t play poker; my Dad is a Blackjack guy, my grandfather loved dice, so I was not exposed to it. However, you didn’t need to know a lick about poker to see the mind games going on.

Both Axe and Krakow will use anything and anyone to win, especially against one another. Krakow uses Wendy to try and psyche out Axe (let’s all agree Wendy knew it, and went along). Axe uses Taylor, because he knows they are that good. Everyone in this war is cannon fodder, collateral damage. The Generals only care about the outcome. It reminded me of lyrics from Black Sabbath’s War Pigs:

Time will tell on their power minds
Making war just for fun
Treating people just like pawns in chess
Wait ’till their judgment day comes

I love Taylor. My recap of “Dead Cat Bounce tells you why; I just don’t get them here. I cannot connect with their dislike of competition. Wall Street is where competition lives! Can competition bring out the bad side of people? Sometimes; but I believe having competition can only make you better. It will make you step up your game, and humble you as well. It teaches you that you will lose sometimes, but also teaches you how to be better next time. Being a woman in a male dominated field, I had to compete against the idea and the stereotype that women on Wall Street were mostly admin assistants. Knowing I had to prove myself made me work harder, and kept me focused. I still love Taylor, we just don’t see eye to eye here.

Axe seems to have the need to accumulate things in “Optimal Play”: an NFL team, the Alpha Cup, Chuck’s Churchill books (and every other copy!!!!), and to a certain extent, Wendy. I get the feeling he needs to surround himself with things to fill a void. What that is, I don’t think we know yet. It could go back to his childhood; when you grow up not having much, do you over compensate for that when you can afford it?

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the cameo by the King of Shorts, Mr. Jim Chanos, a legend on Wall Street, and a song by Keith Richards, a legend, well everywhere.

“The Oath

I’m calling this episode the Megadeth episode. I’ve been waiting for this one since we got a photo of Axe wearing his “Peace sells, but who’s buying” t-shirt in November. I continually love the heavy metal references in this show! Now that we know there will be a Season 3, can we get my man in a Black Sabbath shirt? I mean, he loves Metallica, Megadeth and Pantera; he HAS to love Sabbath, as they are the grandfathers of metal (and if you haven’t guessed by now, my favorite band). Because we love to connect the dots here at FanFun: the lead singer of Megadeth, David Mustaine, was in Metallica prior co-founding Megadeth. On Billions, it’s all related.

Source: Showtime

Aside from the writers obviously being metal heads, there must be a Star Trek fan on the writing staff as well. In the scenes involving Craig Heidecker and his space travel project, I counted no less than 4 references to Trek! (I’m a Trekkie. I love Star Trek. Yes, I know the name of Captain Picard’s pet fish. No, I don’t speak Klingon, fluently…). The first thing that struck me was the name of the company, “FarPoint”. The very first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation is called “Encounter at Farpoint”. Next when Elena said that space was the undiscovered country, Wendy mentioned Shakespeare, but I immediately went to the sixth Star Trek motion picture “The Undiscovered Country”. Elena also mentioned space being the “final frontier”, and I think we all know that line was spoken by both Captain Kirk and Captain Picard in the opening sequences of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation respectively. Finally, Elena speaks of a “mind meld”. Mr. Spock was the most famous mind melder I know! Hats off to the Trekkie on the writing staff! I say to you: Live Long and Prosper!

source: Showtime

This marks the second episode in a row we have a cameo by a real life billionaire. Mark Cuban is well known for being the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, and as a judge on “Shark Tank”, but he is a pretty savvy investor, and makes frequent appearances on CNBC. Cuban has a similar background to Axe: he grew up in working class, blue collar Pittsburgh. He’s a self-made man, who tells it like it is, and could care less what people think of him. In 2008 the SEC charged Cuban with insider trading. He fought them and in 2013, a jury took only 3 ½ hours to find in his favor. It was a long, public battle, and during that time, he made attempts to buy the Chicago Cubs, the Texas Rangers, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and even expressed interest in buying a piece of my beloved NY Mets. As he said to Axe, “I don’t own a baseball team”. The ongoing SEC case almost certainly hurt his changes. His advice to Axe was from experience. This was another great get by the creators.

source: Showtime

Axe decides he wants to be part of the Giving Oath, and gets a meeting with Sanford Bensinger. The Giving Oath is a play on the Giving Pledge that was begun in 2010 by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, two of the richest men in the world. As of June 2016, $732 billion has been pledged. Names like Larry Ellison, Mike Bloomberg, Elon Musk and Tim Cook have all made the pledge. That is some rarefied air. It would make sense for Axe to been seen in these type of circles to make the NFL re-think their view of him. I’m sorry though, I never for one minute believed Axe would sign on.  Act like he would take the Oath? Sure. Go through with it? No. Axe does not give away things. He exchanges things, but never gives them away. His battlements are his wealth, his position, his things. He may act like he doesn’t care about them, but he has the need to acquire and accumulate things. I also don’t think for Axe “giving it away feels better”. He makes so much money “because I can”. Axe is the warrior who will cut his enemy’s hand off. He is not the king who gives his hard earned kingdom away. That is why “anyone who makes me money is my favorite”.

Axe talks of cold calling when he first started out. Cold calling is when you have to call people, out of the blue, and try to sell them a product your firm wants you to sell. Thankfully, I never had to do that, but I know people who did. They would call people off of their alumni lists, clubs, etc. It’s crappy work, but if you can sell the product, you get a commission and earn your keep.

Lara says she’s a business woman, but her move on Mercy Squad was more mob boss.  I wasn’t surprised Axe was proud of her – she did what she had to do, just like he would. I didn’t like her ratting out Wags like that though. If she wants to act like a mob boss, then she needs to know that ratting is a no-no.

And what about Wags: the guy is losing it, big time. How the hell do you not remember an ass tattoo? I have had a few too many on occasion, and there have been times I may not remember saying a thing or two, but an ass tattoo? Wags has got a tramp stamp of Yosemite Sam! I will admit, I don’t know if I wanted to see what it looked like, but I am a bit curious! He says no to rehab but this may be a case that even Wendy can’t fix. Let’s hope Wags isn’t going the way of Amy Winehouse.

We have seen Axe working out in the gym at Axe Capital. I’ve never had the pleasure to have a gym at any of the firms I’ve worked, but it was one of the perks mentioned when I interviewed at hedge fund Omega Advisers. It is definitely something funds have. I’d love to be able to run while watching the market!

Two scenes in lower Manhattan take me back to the area of the City that I absolutely love. The FBI invading Spartan-Ives was outside the Cunard Building across the street from the famous statue of the Bull (I have a photo of me on that bull somewhere…). It is a dazzling building, and until 2000 was a post office. I didn’t love waiting on line in there, but you would look up at the ceiling and marvel at it. It made the wait much more enjoyable. Bryan telling Dake to “back the fuck off” was filmed in Battery Park. I spend many a spring and summer lunch hour sitting right at the East Coast Memorial, with my nose in a book, and my brown bag lunch, enjoying the warmth of the sun. It’s a beautiful park with great views of Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and my hometown of Brooklyn. Also, the when the sun sets over the harbor, there is nothing quite like it.

And now for the main event!

Axe and Chuck get ready for battle, as Megadeth’s “Peace Sell” plays in the background. I remember my best friend Brenda and I listening to this album (yes, we listened to it on a turntable) in my room in 1986. So, when the song plays, I’m 16 again. But back to Axe: it is interesting that when picking his “battle armor” this is the shirt he chooses. As much as the message is “I’d like peace, but really…” it also brings him back to his roots. He’s that Yonkers kid again and here is someone trying to challenge him. I notice that every time Axe is challenged in one way or another, he becomes that tough boy again. He literally transforms. The way he talks, the way he moves. Here is where the brilliance of Damian Lewis shines. Just those little differences and he is not Axe the hedge fund king, he is Axe, the kid who works for everything he has ever gotten, and will fight tooth and nail to keep it! When Chuck and Axe are on screen together, it is electric, and you know the smallest spark it going to light the place up! I’m glad we only get to see them on screen together infrequently – it makes the scenes when they do clash thrilling.

Until next time, “Fire Away….”

Author: Lady Trader

"Lady Trader" is a Brooklyn girl, and a Wall Street lifer! Recently fought cancer, and won! I love heavy metal, history, sci-fi, oh, and blogging about Billions and it's great lead actor, Damian Lewis!

17 thoughts on “From the Trader’s Desk: 2 for 1 Special!”

  1. Makes you wonder why War Pigs wasn’t used at some point in the Alpha Cup scene during Optimal Play since both Axe and Krakow were using Wendy and Taylor as pawns in their virtual chess game??? That’s it, you should pick the music from now on 🙂 Let’s hope BK listens to your nudge about it and we hear some Sabbath in season 3.

    And WOW I only caught one of the Star Trek references so thank you for the deeper explanation!

    1. Hi Krista! Thank you for the kind words!! 🙂

      OMG! I would love to pick the music! But you would hear tons of Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, AC/DC etc. I don’t know if anyone is ready for a Billions version of Headbangers Ball!!

      I was hesitant to show my geekyness as a Trekkie, but what the hell? If they are going to hide those Easter eggs in the show, I’m going to find them!

      1. You MUST always give us the Easter eggs 🙂 In February of last year some friends and I went to Tulsa International Airport to watch Iron Maiden’s plane land when they played the BOK Center. Got pictures of Ed Force One!

      2. I PARTICULARLY loved the Easter Eggs that you found in the episode – as I told you, the only Star Trek I watched was the original which I watched when I was little kid in Turkey and it was dubbed! 😀 I think everyone has a geeky side in different things otherwise life would be so boring!

        With respect to music, I can say I am not ready 😀 😀 😀 We can talk again should you decide to add some ’80s pop to the mix. Hahaha!

        I have also thought about Taylor and their hesitance to compete. I think they do not like the feelings inside them when they have that adrenaline going for a win. I seriously think, and we had this convo with JaniaJania, too; Axe sees his younger self in Taylor — but not in terms of their aspiration, Taylor is not a “get rich, get even” kind of person — in terms of how their brain works. They see things differently. They have an edge. And I sometimes see him talking about the two of them as if he is talking about an exclusive club… still, their personalities are very different. Taylor does not have the kind of drive that Axe has… so I am so looking forward to how the dynamics of their relationship with Axe will get unfolded.

        Lara is a mob boss indeed. I have to say I really thought what she did would cause tension in the marriage but Axe was proud. What can I say but they are a good match? 🙂 I would not last a day in their world.

        By the way, you may not have taken game theory in school, but the way you think things through is completely game-theoretical – rational! Axe is the epitome of a rational individual since he keeps emotion completely out of the picture but his reputation takes a damage when he does not factor in the emotions other players may have in the game – e.g. Besinger. He was rightly pissed off about being used. What Axe did there was a very short-term, stupid play. And, hey, losing is not his thing, isn’t he? The look on his face when he hangs up with Besinger. WOW. And now he needs to find something big to change the conversation (Don Draper style!) I completely agree that he became the young boy he used to be, the angry young boy who wanted to get rich and get even, when he went into the deposition room after the phone call. “Fire away…” Indeed.

        Thanks for yet another wonderful post!

        1. As always, thank you for the kind words!! 🙂

          Who knew that my knowledge of Trek would come in handy on Billions? But isn’t that why we love this show? It takes us places we had no idea we’d go!

          Duran Duran, Culture Club, Pet Shop Boys. Wham, Adam Ant (and many more) – would that be an ok 80’s playlist for an episode? I think I’m going to add DJ to my CV!

          I agree with you regarding the Taylor/Axe relationship. Even though they see the world differently then us mere mortals, their individual experiences (upbringing, background, etc.) make them see the world differently from each other. It will be interesting to see if at some point there is a clash of the titans of these strong personalities.

          I also agree that at Axe doesn’t think of the emotions when he deals with certain things (Donnie, using Besinger, trading), but when he does do some crazy things (throwing Wendy under the bus, tearing apart his office, beating up that guy in the Hamptons) it’s all because his emotions are out of control! I always get the sense he is constantly controlling the chaos that is just under the surface, especially this season

          I take it as a compliment that you think I think theoretically! If anyone would know, it would be you.

  2. The last few days on FanFun have been a blast! I love the insights, the reveal of Easter eggs, and especially the back and forth among you guys on music, money, morality, and the best show going. Yes, I look forward to each Sunday night’s extraordinary episode, but I also can’t wait for all of you to start the discussion afterward. And, coining the expression “ginger prince” is priceless.

    1. And this may be the best comment EVER! Thanks for making our day, Lynda! And, hey, it’s less than 48 hours until episode 5 – YAY! 🙂

    2. Wow! Thank you so much Lynda! I cannot tell you how much your words mean. We will keep on writing, and we hope you keep enjoying!

    3. 😀 I’m telling you, the moments when we get to see Damian on our screens on a regular basis, a big part of our brains become devoted to whatever we see him doing with whatever he’s been given. I suppose there are more constructive hobbies to have, but I seriously can’t think of any more fun. 😀

  3. Ha! Great post, my fellow Trekkie!

    I caught three of the Star Trek references but only commented on two of them in my post: The clip of the dinner scene from The Uncharted Country :D. Didn’t get the Farpoint reference. How clever! And mind meld, of course, everyone knows that one. It’d be script overkill I suppose for Chuck’s ju-jitsu to mention the Vulcan death grip. Hehe.
    TNG was one of the absolute best sci-fi dramas ever. I still am loathe to change channels whenever I come by an episode on TV. Patrick Stewart, what’s not to love.
    Can’t say I remember Cpt. Picard’s fish, but I do remember Data’s cat named Cat. 🙂 In the gambling scene with Taylor, didn’t she remind you a bit of Data? In fact, I believe TNG did quite a bit around poker. There seemed to be a recurring battle of wits between Data’s computing abilities vs. Riker’s sheer braun and thug sensibilities. And did you get the references to seeing a bit of Deanna Troi in Wendy (in everything, not just these episodes)? Yes, someone on Billions creative team is definitely a Trekkie!

      1. I never caught that Chuck was wearing Vulkan brand! I guess it’s because I just don’t really pay that close attention to him, because I loath him so much! 🙂

    1. I love that you are a fellow Trekkie! 🙂 And I agree, TNG was one of the best shows. It introduced me to Sir Patrick Stewart, who I have had the pleasure to see on Broadway several times (in the Tempest and in his one man show of A Christmas Carol).

      I didn’t see the Wendy/Troi thing until you mentioned it! That is a great read of the character! And yes, Taylor is like Data – all info, no emotion. I’m going to guess that makes Wags Axe’s Number One – Riker (beard and all).

      Poker was an ongoing theme in TNG. The best poker scene in my opinion was the very last scene of the show. Picard finally decides to join his crew “and the sky’s the limit”

      Picard’s fish (which was in a tank in his Ready Room) was named Livingston, and I hate to correct you, but Data’s cat was named Spot.

      Live Long and Prosper!

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