Wags by the Dozen

Wags’ Words of Wisdom By the Dozen

Wags, played by David Costabile, is my second favorite character on the Showtime hit series Billions–Axe being the first of course. Sure, he’s an acquired taste for some. But folks, I gladly claim Wags as my rapacious scumbag, too! So you better believe I jumped at the chance to write a blog post about Wags’ Words of Wisdom. Back in February of 2017, Showtime released their own Wags’ Words of Wisdom soundbite mashup:

And Showtime also furnished us fans with Wags’ Guide to Life:

So who is this Wags character I treasure so much?  Mike “Wags” Wagner is the Chief Operating Officer at Axe Capital and right-hand man to Bobby Axelrod. Whether the boss needs an attack dog (dog, tail, wags…get it?), financial consigliere, or valet (and I don’t mean Downton Abbey valet, he’s no Mr. Bates), Wags is there to do the job most would never consider, let alone, execute. He can be vile, obscene and unscrupulous, characteristics I’m sure were required and proudly summarized on his curriculum vitae. He is Axe Capital’s advising guard on constant patrol, warning of the approach or presence of strangers and danger within the protected area of the hedge fund headquarters and a leader of the minions who work there. Every “Hefe” (El Jefe) needs an underboss like Wags.

Axe and Wags are a team to the core, a modern day Shaggy and Scooby Doo. Wags is Scooby of course–it’s the whole dog inference. Axe is Shaggy–tall and lean with a ginger mop. Pet and Master. They go together like peanut butter and jelly. Damianista even wrote about the dynamic duo in a post called Catching Up with Axe & Wags.

Source: Showtime

I can think of only a few magnetic twosomes that I have enjoyed watching on television just as much over the years:

Jack and Karen, Bo and Luke Duke, Laverne & Shirley, Lucy and Ethel, Starsky & Hutch, Ponch and Jon.

Most of us know the history behind each duo pictured above, but we don’t know much about the Billions ‘brothers from another mother.’ I have always wondered about the backstory to Wags and Axe’s friendship and as if we need more reason to look forward to Billions season three, some of those questions just might be answered because the show’s co-creator and writer Brian Koppelman tweeted this tease about the pair:

What I do know, aside from his childhood affinity for Yosemite Sam, is that Wags is a pinky ring-wearing, Vaportini drinking, vintage Mercedes driving, petite handlebar mustache sporting, sharp-dressed man with the swag of a thousand thoroughbreds. Wags is smart, sinful and downright sleazy, and I love him for it.

Costabile plays the character to the hilt regarding the seven deadly sins, especially the vices of lust, gluttony and greed. When it comes to lust, there are countless women, whether call girls, exotic dancers, or ‘swipe rights’ from the exclusive members only Tinder for the rich and elite called Raya and extravagance in the form of knocking back $5,000 bottles of Michter’s Sour Mash Celebration whiskey like it’s water. Which leads to gluttony. Wags is the very definition of excess when it comes to life. Booze in particular. He over indulges so much so that he requires intravenous hangover therapy. You can read more about that treatment modality here. Drinking, women and drugs — a Zen Garden as he says:

Then there is greed. Working in the hedge fund business, it sort of comes with the territory. In the movie Wallstreet, the character Gordon Gekko said, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works.” Wags certainly has a greed for life, money and love. He’s not passing up his career for a college professor’s salary anytime soon, and he tells Wendy just that:

Costabile describes playing the character Wags in this Billions season two behind the scenes interview, stating, “I play a lot of people in my life who have been very balanced, and then I’ve played a couple of people who are imbalanced. It’s much more fun to be out of line.”

Out of line or not, one thing is for sure, Wags and all his one-liners are more than memorable…they are wise. In interviews and panel discussions David has said about Wags, “I get to say all the best lines.” That he does. Wags’ words of wisdom, albeit unconventional, are nonetheless noteworthy and here are just a few that made my top 12. It’s Wags by dozen!

  1. “Those guys on the prime broker desk have looser lips than my first wife after the second kid.”
    Wisdom: Know who to squeeze information from and who to trust.
  2. “You see an opportunity like that again, you grab it like it’s a horse cock and you’re Catherine the Great!”
    Wisdom: Do not let good opportunities pass by. Never quit.
  3. “It’s time for you folks to sharpen your pencils and you better come back with one Traci Lords of an idea. And if you need that fucking defined, here it is: a barely legal, market-dominating, brilliant cocksucker of an idea.”
    Wisdom: How to hit paydirt, 101
  4. “Coffee!”
    Wisdom: Know when it’s time to get down to business.
  5. “You don’t put ginger on the fish. It’s to clear the palette between pieces, not drown it out. And it is already precisely sauced. It doesn’t need a soy bath.”
    Wisdom: How to eat sushi the proper way and respect the art form.
    Bonus: video 
  6. “If humanity has to be rebuilt, it sure as fuck shouldn’t be in my image.”
    Wisdom: Honest introspection, know your flaws.
  7. “I remember the first time I shit-canned someone. It tasted as sweet as the Mata Hari’s armpits.”
    Wisdom: Be the best manager/supervisor you can be and get rid of the slackers.
  8. “You are here to keep the visigoths outside the city walls, not to impugn the judgment of the Caesar.”
    Wisdom: Know your place, know your job and respect boundaries!
  9. “Only an immature man cheats on his woman.”
    Wisdom: Be loyal.
  10. “That’s a little unsettling Donnie, since seeing the matrix is your entire fucking job!” and “This is an opportunity to be with us. STEP IT UP, Ben Kim, STEP IT UP!!”
    Wisdom: Motivate your employees with pep talks on a consistent basis.
  11. “A couple more days it’ll be fucking Lord of the Flies in here.”
    Wisdom: Recognize when staff need break time. Office Management 101.
  12. “We have to be more pure than the Virgin Mary before her first period.”
    Wisdom: Avoid getting caught doing illegal shit and thus, jail time.

The Wags character brings a lot of humor to Billions.  I’m certainly looking forward to more Wags-isms in season three, but until then, catch up on Why We Love Billions’ Sense of Humor from season one and season two.

This post has been the FUNNEST I have ever written for the blog thus far, and sadly, all good things must come to an end. I hope you enjoyed this lovely tribute to an actor who creates a remarkable character.

So let us all raise a glass to Axe and Wags, my favorite duo ever to grace the screen. Flat Bobby….don’t leave home without it!

Source: Instagram david_costabile

Author: Gingersnap

Management Analyst, part-time Adjunct Professor and Computer Software Consultant by day and Damian Lewis aficionado by night.

11 thoughts on “Wags by the Dozen”

  1. THIS is the type of post I love first thing in the morning! You nailed Wags right on the head! I think we all love Wags (in our own way). I will say he is exactly the type of guy I’d want in a foxhole with me! You know he’s not going to run to his spouse and rat you out! And, yes, he does have some of the best lines in the show. I have said I have never met a “Wendy” all these years I’ve worked in the industry, but I sure have met a few Wags, and I consider them friends!!

    But all this would be for not if David Costabile didn’t play this character with the the little glint in his semi-evil eye. There is a fine line between being outrageous and crude, and Costabile does that amazingly well. To paraphrase Jessica Rabbit “I’m not bad, I’m just written that way!”.

    Great post Gingersnap!!

    1. Lady Trader,

      THIS is the type of post I enjoy writing! You are right, there is a fine line between being outrageous and crude, but what I find the most endearing about Wags is that he always has Axe’s back. At least, so far. Heck, you never know what is in-store for us fans this season! Is there a Judas amongst the camp? If so, who? Better not be Wags!

  2. OK so you had to know I was going to comment on this one 🙂 …

    Wags (David) was the reason I started watching the show. I watch anything that involves my fellow alums, and David in particular since we were only a year apart in school, and I can tell you that he is an unbelievably funny, gracious and genuine person. I am so so thrilled that his character has taken off like it has. And the truth is I don’t even watch the show because of David any more – the show is entirely fantastic even without that connection – but the connection makes it all the more enjoyable. Personally my favorite character is Dollar Bill, so I am waiting for the expose on Kelly AuCoin. 🙂 But back to Wags.

    He does get all the best lines – I wonder if all of those are BK’s or DL’s (Levine, not Lewis). Does David ever wince when he first reads them? Do the other actors ever take a step back when they first hear them? But the line without the delivery is nothing, and David delivers them with such rapacious scumbaggery that it cracks me up every time. It’s also one of the many reasons I could never let my kids watch this show – how could I possibly explain what those lines mean??

    I am dying to know more about Axe and Wags, but I don’t want it to be one of those cheesy flashbacks – so how do they do it? Any ideas? The fact that BK said there would be some insight there gets me all the more excited to see this third season (as if that’s possible). I am also curious to see how Wags and Taylor get along. Will Wags see them as a threat to himself or to Bobby? And I would love to see Wags square off with some of Team Chuck. We saw Taylor go up against Connerty. Let’s put Wags up against Sacker – that would be quite the standoff, especially since Sacker is decidedly taller. I think there is so much more they can do with Wags’ character – I can’t wait to see where they go with it.

    1. Paul,

      Yes sir, since learning from your comment on a previous post that you and David were fellow alums, I did indeed have an inkling you would comment 😉 In fact, when I saw your comment last week I thought to myself, “he is going to love my Wags post!” because I have had it completed for 2-3 weeks now.

      Next week I dissect another Billions character and I think it’s a great idea to add a Dollar Bill expose to that list sometime in the near future.

      If I had to guess, BK and DL both contribute to Wags’ lines, and other writers as well. And I’m sure David C. does wince a time or two at first table read. How could you not wince at the Virgin Mary line? I sure did! And so did Axe for that matter! LOL

      In terms of the Axe/Wags backstory, my gut says it will not be a flashback. My gut tells me it will be in the form of a conversation between Wags and somebody like Taylor or Wendy. Although, it would be strange if Wendy didn’t know their backstory already, wouldn’t it?

  3. The so-called “supporting character” is often argued to be there to support the lead actor/actress shine. David Costabile does that for sure, but he also takes the extra step to create a remarkable character! He is such a versatile actor! I loved him in Breaking Bad! I heard Costabile say in an interview (Paul seems to have heard it, too) that the original plan was to have Wags as a wise and quiet character. Remember he does not talk much and does not have a beard in the pilot.I don’t know how exactly they decided to take the opposite route but it seems something happened after the show was picked up Showtime and we should be thankful for that because we cannot imagine Wags any other way, can we?

    No doubt Wags has some of BEST one-liners in the show that we will keep quoting in the years to come. Gingersnap, thanks so much for this wonderful tribute to the actor and the most wonderful “rapacious scumbag” he has created on screen! Looking forward to finding out more about Axe and Wags backstory!

    1. Damianista,

      You should have written the introductory paragraph re: supporting character!!!! Good stuff there 🙂 Yes, I have seen that same interview in which David C. states the original plan was for him to be wise and quiet. And yep, I remember his baby face in the pilot. It’s serendipitous that you mention the ‘no beard David’ because last night I ALMOST added a collage photo of David in a 3-phase transformation — first photo baby face from Billions pilot, second photo with typical Wags mustache, and third photo from Hairy Ape as a visual to his versatility.

  4. I simply enjoyed this tribute to one of our favorite characters in billions…Wags is just the type of strong, direct and loyal person every “Bobby” should have…
    Of the Wags wisdom…my favorite is about sushi.. hell I hate folks over doing soy or ginger.. he is my heroe 😉

    1. Completely with you, Elisa! Krista pays the perfect tribute to one of the most remarkable characters on TV right now! And I completely agree with doing soy or ginger being a no-no! I have been to the sushi place Wags went. They noticed I am left-handed at second course, and they apologized 😀

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