Billions on Showtime, 3.01: Tie Goes to the Runner

Billions Season 3, episode 1, long time coming, eh? Let’s skip the pleasantries and get down to it, shall we?The nation has turned, so Chuck walks warily to meet his new boss, wondering if he still has a job. Newly appointed Attorney General Jeffcoat circumnavigates into the biggest case in NYC right now: Eastern District vs. Bobby Axelrod. He tells a folksy tale of horse husbandry and goads Chuck with the raging sting of being the primer for the mare that Dake ultimately gets to fuck. (I believe the AG just called Bobby Axelrod a female horse.) Then he suggests, if Chuck wants to keep his job, he’ll want to look kindly on future Wall Street shenanigans. Tie goes to the runner in both baseball and in the high stakes gambling of the capitalist enterprise.

Don’t call a man out on a win.

Axe Capital has moved from their old digs to swanky Manhattan and Taylor is rallying the troops for new ideas to present to an annual hog show of hedgies. Dollar Bill wants none of it, he wants Axe’s assets unfrozen and his sensei back where he belongs. He’s chomping at the bit to get back to kicking financial sector ass in the name of his hero and mentor.  The gambling force is strong in this padawan.

Axe is fuming and musing, newly single, in a grand penthouse apartment, stocked with video games and snacks for when the kids visit, but basically alone, open to suggestions from Wendy on what to do to get back all he’s lost. Wendy will get to that, but first she wants to get him thinking about what he wants for the rest of his life. Axe has told her that at this moment, he is overcome with rage. She has him do an exercise where he revisits a situation when rage served him.

Now, let’s talk about this thing that brought Bobby the most useful rage. My first liberal knee-jerk response to Bobby’s story of being a poor fifth grader getting his ass kicked by a couple of rich eighth graders was this:

THAT’s the rage that fuels him and serves him going forward? He’s angry at the rich kids because they caught him cheating? Dude, not everyone grew up with an Atari or the right pair of Nikes. A lot of kids made do without until they could, without cheating and selling counterfeit sports memorabilia. Maybe the rich deserve to be robbed. Bobby clearly thinks so. Or maybe he thinks he wasn’t really scamming anyone, just taking care of himself? Maybe self-interest trumps it all in minds like his? Everyone has the same instinct to survive, but, most of us who grew up not rich traverse the bitterness and eventually realize that maybe the best revenge is to live our best lives: Something that is ironically often out of the reach of the rich because they’re too busy collecting the Ataris and the Nikes.

Alas, such liberal logic when presented by the non-Axelrods to the Axelrods of the world falls on deaf ears for the most part. When President Obama won, a Tea Party Republican friend from high school, in the face of the joyful tears flowing all over social media, angrily Facebooked “Well, let’s just all sing kumbaya, then.” She apologized later but her first impulse spoke volumes. It sums up the right’s view of progressive thought: that it’s just dumb idealism. To them it’s only the Axes of the world who know the real score. Gamers, gamblers, those who’ve used whatever means necessary including (and maybe especially) lawlessness to go home winners. It’s (ETA: The world of Axe Capital is) the world of right vs wrong on one side and win vs loss on the other, and a 20-foot wall erected between them. Winning has only a tenuous (and easily dismissed) connection to legality, and losing is absolute and never right, irrespective of any selflessness or personal sacrifice that may have contributed to the losing.

Wendy urges Axe to take his mind out of the past, to imagine what holding on to the rage does for him now and will do to him in the future. Axe can’t go that deep, he chafes at it. He only cares to hear from one ghost at a time, so fuck Dickens.

Chuck meets with Dake to confirm all is well in the cover up of the info drop that “entrapped” Axe into shorting Ice Juice. Recall, Chuck gave Dake Axe’s case because Chuck knows he’s too close. The fact his father and best friend sunk all they had into a play for which Chuck micromanaged the info flow in the hopes that Axe would manipulate it; it’s all too close. Never mind Wendy’s short on that same trade. We’ll get to that later.

But, first, the most fun moment of the episode, at least for us geeks anyway. Dake says he’s only willing to go so far for Chuck. Chuck reminds Dake that he’s a Calvinist, and therefore a believer that we’re all just sinners at the hands of an angry god, born of sin, essentially irredeemable of it. So what’s one more sin? Clean set up for the truism: Without a promise of redemption, there is no morality. Gotta love when TV finds fun loopholes in religious philosophy, eh, fellow geeks?

Dake wants to assure that Chuck has cleaned up the crime scene to the best of his ability. Chuck wants to assure that Wendy is protected under the deal despite her own share of the short.

Wendy’s short has had no adverse impact on the Rhoades’ marriage, and has in fact strengthened it. Had Wendy known what Chuck was doing, she would have stopped him, and he would’ve stopped but that would’ve been a point of no return for their marriage. Not sure how sellable this point is, but let’s go with it for now. Everything is out, Chuck has shared what he did to manipulate the play, Wendy has shared that she trusted Axe Cap more than her own husband and shorted the play.

Perhaps wishful thinking, but the point we need to take home is that maybe Wendy shorted to, in a way, protect Chuck? She believes in their partnership as equals. In her mind, since their assets are shared, her winning on the short would be enough to cancel out Chuck’s loss. I’m ascribing heroic intention to Wendy Rhoades where they may be none, I know. Until shown otherwise, let’s let Wendy remain the hero in all of this, m’okay?

Still, that can’t be the end of Wendy’s culpability. So, time to insert some random speculation.

Back in Season 2, “Golden Frog Time”, remember Axe and Wags gave Mafee a fair bit of grief over dipping into a particular asset to add to the Ice Juice short? When he told them it was for Wendy, they weren’t pleased.

Guilty people, as we all know, tend to divide up their stuff and name it different things. They use fake names, and names for laundering. They do this to get bad money clean and to hide some under the mattress, some in the freezer, and some tucked away under the pool cleaning equipment. So was that asset that Mafee dipped into to cover Wendy’s short one of those financial properties that weren’t supposed be touched? What if Wendy’s name on that allocation lends some greater weight to the charge against Axe? Just a thought to tuck away for later.

Getting back to this episode, on second thought maybe the Calvinist thing wasn’t the biggest laugh. It’s Krakow as Treasury Secretary. OMG. LOL. In this episode, he tries to poach Taylor to take over his business while he’s literally printing money. Cue a nice display of loyalty when Taylor tells him to take a hike. That’s hopefully not the last we hear from the Treasury Secretary though. Because, omg, way to make us laugh at the absurdity of the current political situation, show.

In what at first seems inexplicable, Lara has partnered with Birch to manage her piece of the Axelrod assets. Birch sees it as a friends and family benefit of this skill set, Axe says what skill set and that they are neither friends nor family.

You have about as much edge as Mr. Rogers.

My question on this: why does Birch get to see where all the bodies are buried? (Aside: I’ve got a theory on what the future holds for Ben Kim having this knowledge too while also being an object of company ridicule for his nerdy ways, as well as victim of unsolicited back rubs, but I’ll let that theory cook a bit.) Why does smart businesswoman Lara need Birch’s eyes on the Axelrod numbers? The only explanation is that Birch is a cushion, however brief he may serve that role, against her bumping up to her ruthless ex.  For the first time in three seasons, Lara’s flashes of longing and blatant moves to protect herself from being further hurt by her husband has me rooting for her. You feel her lingering love for Bobby in this episode. Funny how sometimes it’s easier to root for a couple to get back together than it is to root for a couple who already has it all tied up with a pretty bow.

But hold up, speaking of having it tied up, I need to contradict myself again. The Rhoades do have it locked up, not with a pretty bow, but, still, in a profoundly deep way, and that doesn’t take from their watchability and rootability one bit. Chuck knows he needs to deal with the fact of Wendy’s brief tryst with the astronaut guy, and, he needs to tap into the pain, both as a human and with his basic animal instincts. He needs to experience fresh pain to take away the pain of seeing his wife with another man. Pain may be cumulative, but unlike joy and love, it is not additive. Pain can indeed take away pain. And sometimes, as any cutter or other practitioner of self-harm will tell you, physical pain can take away emotional pain. Recruiting your partner, the one who actually brought you that emotional pain, is all the better, because it keeps it all neat and defined and something you can do together and leave behind with the dog cages and whips when it’s done. This show has used the BDSM stuff comically, and with this scene it uses it for what it is: a way to negotiate raw emotion in a manageable way causing the least destruction. So, yeah, the Rhoades have it on lock, so far. And I’m rooting for them too.

It helps that Damian Lewis and Maggie Siff seem to have done some work at dialing down the chemistry. Goodness knows how one does such a thing, but I wouldn’t put it past them to manage somehow.  Maybe it was as simple as having Wendy append “bro” to whatever first thing she said to him this season. The bond between Bobby and Wendy is as strong as ever though, despite the dialing down. And that bond is all any of us care about anyway.

See, both Bobby and Wendy know that Bobby has no game when it comes to self-reflection and wrapping his otherwise brilliant brain around the emotions that drive him. She is his wise counsel and he needs her. It’s when Bobby is with Wendy that we can take off our own social justice warrior goggles and see his vulnerabilities. Witness the way he listens to her intently, but sort of surreptitiously, so as not to give himself away too much.

A man like Robert Axelrod is supposed to know it all. He can’t give anyone any hint of him not having everything in his life lined up and locked down. The way he shoves his hands in his pockets in self-protection is saying he knows when she’s right and that he needs to do something out of his comfort zone. In this case, it’s handing all his money and the reins of his company over fully to Taylor’s capable hands.

Yes, indeed, even the bluest of us can feel for Bobby, particularly when he’s in Wendy’s aura. But the true blue one on the canvas remains Bryan Connerty, freshly anointed prosecutor in the case against Bobby. Bryan gets a great speech this episode, speaking for us down and out progressives. When Bach comes to him, uncharacteristically with hat in hand, to ask for them to take it easy on Axe, saying that’s what those higher in power would want, Connerty lets him have it: The AG in the new administration may not want to prosecute the same crimes his predecessor supported the prosecution of, but the Axe case doesn’t qualify. The Axe case, in fact, provides cover over bigger financial crimes because it hurts Average Joe two ways: 1) rendering any schmuck who drinks the juice violently ill, and 2) sinking a winning IPO. The idea of sabotage appeals to public perception. Succinct nuanced observation on why we care about some cases and not others.

Finally, some visual treats maybe awaiting us this year now that Axe is single, for the time being. Will he get to sow some wild oats, maybe join Wags in his T & A bar jaunts? Can imagine him huffily leaving such excursions, unsatisfied, complaining about the imbalance in return for investment. Better to call up a girl to your place, let her do her bit, get her out before first bell and call it a night well spent. Axe is ruled by pragmatism. So he’s using a professional to polish the stones. Surely even the most puritanical among us has to find adorable him asking if he needs to feed her before she gets to work?

Billions is doing in this season what all the NYT treatments sympathizing with the deplorables has also tried to do (and failed at, if you read Twitter). The show is providing a window into the single-minded attitude of fuck the guy who can’t play the game like it’s a game. A window for those of us left shell-shocked by the events of November 2016, when we were left raw at the notion that our neighbors, our friends, could be so hateful, so antagonistic to the ideals of fairness, social justice, the notion that we are our brother’s keeper. How in this beautiful dream of a country did hate win, is what we all thought. But it’s not that simple, is it.

NYT, in their featuring the voices of the right, is trying to show a bit of the complexity in the us vs them setup we were all made victims of, but it’s Billions that is primed to succeed at it. It is dissecting the anatomy of self-interest, single-minded adherence to self-determination. All in the body and mind of Bobby Axelrod. Sure, those of us still reeling don’t want to be manipulated into sympathy for the devil. (Hey, a Stones song outta the blue!) We know Damian gives us morally ambiguous characters and makes us fall in love with them despite our better judgment and he’s primed to do that here. But not without showing us the truth of it first. All we can say to that is: Let’s roll.

14 thoughts on “Billions on Showtime, 3.01: Tie Goes to the Runner”

  1. Gee it’s usually a joy to read the blog with my morning coffee. It’s no fun to be defamed, mischaracterized and mocked by friends at any time. 🙁

    1. Let’s talk about what specifically you take issue with. I’m interested to know what you think the show is trying to do.

  2. “Everyone has the same instinct to survive, but, most of us who grew up not rich traverse the bitterness and eventually realize that maybe the best revenge is to live our best lives: Something that is ironically often out of the reach of the rich because they’re too busy collecting the Ataris and the Nikes.”

    I think this is a very broad brush stroke and too much of a generalization which is not about Axe but about a group; I know many “rich” (and let’s face it, everyone’s definition of that is different) people who are very philanthropic, with both their money and time, and not because they feel guilty; it’s because they have causes they truly care about, and are now in the position to help. I also don’t know what’s wrong with “collecting” things if you can afford it. As long as I’m not taking it from someone else, then why shouldn’t I enjoy the fruits of my labor? Also, you say that you navigate the “bitterness”, but bitterness of what? And don’t you think that last line shows you may not have? It’s a snarky way of saying the rich only care about “things”, and those who aren’t are better people because they can get “revenge” by living their “best lives”.

    It sums up the right’s view of progressive thought: that it’s just dumb idealism. To them it’s only the Axes of the world who know the real score. Gamers, gamblers, those who’ve used whatever means necessary including (and maybe especially) lawlessness to go home winners. It’s the world of right vs wrong on one side and win vs loss on the other, and a 20-foot wall erected between them.

    Again, another broad generalization. “The right’s view” Who is this “right” you talk about? Just as there are many shades of blue on the left, there are many shades of red on the conservative side of the isle. All conservatives think this way? I know I don’t. If I generalized an ethnic group or a religion in this same manner, it would be called out. Again, you are putting your morality (right vs wrong on one side, and win vs loss on the other) onto people who just don’t see things the same way you do. There is a way of disagreeing without demonizing. Also, I’m going to take it personally when my profession (I’ve said many times before I know what I do is legal gambling) is stripped down to being “lawless” and that it is the only way to be successful in it. I’m good at what I do, and have never done anything illegal to get there.

    Billions is doing in this season what all the NYT treatments sympathizing with the deplorables has also tried to do (and failed at, if you read Twitter). The show is providing a window into the single-minded attitude of fuck the guy who can’t play the game like it’s a game. A window for those of us left shell-shocked by the events of November 2016, when we were left raw at the notion that our neighbors, our friends, could be so hateful, so antagonistic to the ideals of fairness, social justice, the notion that we are our brother’s keeper. How in this beautiful dream of a country did hate win, is what we all thought.

    I’ll be the first to admit that I have never read the New York Times (I’m guessing that is what NYT stands for?). I’m a Wall Street Journal girl, since I read it for my job. However, I don’t know if you know this, but there are many people who are conservative, didn’t vote for Trump (I did not vote for Trump, and actually changed my party affiliation to “Independent” after years and years of donating and volunteering for Republican candidates when the GOP choose him as their candidate) and really don’t like being called ‘deplorable”. Not everyone who didn’t vote for Clinton are “hateful, so antagonistic to the ideals of fairness, social justice, the notion that we are our brother’s keeper”. But I guess it’s easier to rationalize an outcome you disagree with by labeling others as terrible people, not as people who just see the world differently than you.

    I know you were writing about the show, and our personal feelings and opinions are what make each one of our points of view unique. This was visceral, brutal. This just felt more like a hit piece to those who don’t agree politically with a certain point of view. I may be the only one who feels this way, and that’s OK. I never expect everyone to agree with me on most things.

    1. Bobby forged signatures to get money to buy an Atari and some shoes. He grew up not rich, and, is in fact bitter about it, “angry at my parents” “angry at myself for getting caught”, and that bitterness and rage did in fact fuel him to exact some sort of “revenge” by working hard at getting rich and staying that way, no matter what. I really did not intend to take it any broader than that. I was really just talking about him.

      I totally realize there are hedge fund firms that operate on the up and up at all times, work hard, have great instincts and get the job done of driving this economy. Parts of Axe Capital are certainly that, but when Bobby says his firm is not a criminal enterprise, is he being honest? I don’t think so. Spiking juice with a bug that makes people sick just to make the money off of shorting that company’s stock, even when those sick people have been paid off, and even if he’s been goaded to do so by Chuck, is criminal behavior.

      I’m talking about Bobby’s blindness, not the blindness of the Republican party. I grew up Republican, at list fiscally, if not socially. I was all about fiscally responsible government. That changed in college when I got a window into the social divides in the world, and, in this country, which was formulated to be above such things, the ideal beacon of fairness for the world to look up to. Bobby personifies one ideal of this country: a poor kid can make it big. There are many who have come here to do the same, and done so totally legally. Those, Republicans and Democrats alike, are the ones I talk about when I say most of us exact revenge over the pain of not having enough by living our best lives no matter what. I’m talking about anyone who did not grow up wealthy, no matter what their political affiliation.

      Bobby, on the other hand, is not living his best life, is he? Despite having all the ataris and nikes any human would ever possibly need, he’s alone and bitter, and isn’t able to do the work yet, as we saw in this episode, of getting out of that slump. He’s blaming it all on Chuck without doing the self-reflection he needs to do.

      “Living your best life” is about having the ability to self-reflect, it is not based on what side of the aisle you end up politically. There are liberals who love things too. I would never say otherwise and I’m sorry if it came out that way. Heck, you know I relish the freedom of being able to get on a plane and spend a week in London just to see a play. I know very well that I am incredibly lucky for being able to do that. I live a very cushy suburban life surrounded by folks that would be considered “rich”. And most of them give loads of time and money to the community. A lot of these friends are Democrats, despite being “rich”, and, I’m sure, some are Republican and give just as much.

      To this: “Not everyone who didn’t vote for Clinton are “hateful, so antagonistic to the ideals of fairness, social justice, the notion that we are our brother’s keeper”.”

      You’re right, but the ones who voted for Trump, ARE. However he won this election, he did indeed win. Hate did win and those ideals (which I think are the ideals of all Americans, blue and red) were thrown into the burn pile. No, I do not see the world the same way white nationalists do. I hope I never do.

      “But I guess it’s easier to rationalize an outcome you disagree with by labeling others as terrible people, not as people who just see the world differently than you.”

      Now, that’s a bit of a low blow. Sure, I do label haters as haters, but I think I’m very open to reasoned alternative views.

      Anyway, I hope we can still watch this show together and continue to talk about it.

      1. Of course we can always watch this show together and talk about it. The #1 thing I love about being in this group is how diverse we are.

        If I misunderstood where you were placing thoughts on the character, and not from your own personal viewpoint, then I apologize. It’s the trouble sometimes reading words on a screen – you can interpret them many different ways. You’re explanation here makes it much more clear and I agree with some of the things you write.

        We can debate Trump until the cows come home, and I’ll bet we’ll agree 80% of the time. However, I know people who voted for him, and they are not hateful or against the idea of fairness. On the contrary – some of these people feel that they have been marginalized or looked down upon by the elites from both parties. For many, this was a protest vote. I may not agree with them, but I have heard them. In this day and age of “reality TV celebrity” some people tend to look at the superficial and not realize that a character on a TV show is probably not the best person to run the free world. And, I know for a fact my Mom is not a “white nationalist”. But just by saying that anyone who voted for Trump is KKK is just as bad as saying anyone who voted for Clinton hates America (which I have heard people say). I don’t agree with people on the left or the right sometimes, and more often then not I don’t even get where they are coming from. But I do believe most people (not all because there are bad apples in every cart) are just trying to get by and live their lives. We tend to see the more hateful side of each party being outspoken because that is what the media shows because they want the conflict. I was on a panel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOlFRuasdXk) and out of the 3 hours we filmed, they used 4 minutes of the conflict. They never showed how much we as women agreed on things. It’s the way of the world today, and it’s sad.

        What is missing in the world today is RESPECT for each other’s view points, especially when we disagree. I love the story of how Reagan and Tip O’Neill would fight tooth and nail about legislation, but at the end of the day, still have a drink between “two micks”. I know this blog is a place where respectful debate is welcome. I think, as the young people say today, some of the words you used “triggered” me.

  3. Usually I don’t make comments on political issues. Personally, I would love to see someone running for office that is squarely in the middle, neither extreme right or left, but a mixture, as many of us are. That’s unlikely though and as for our current situation, I blame both major parties for not having produced better candidates than the Clinton and Trump in 2016. That said, may I inject a word of caution here, please stay off further political discussion and stick with Damian and Billions. That way, no hard feelings among this group of devoted and interesting TV viewers.

    1. Thank you, Connie! I have just made a comment very similar to yours that I blame both sides for not doing their job better. I hope 2016 has been a wake up call and we will see better days. End of my political commentary! 🙂

    2. I’d love to get out of politics all together, believe me, I’d love to go back to a time when I felt safe and had some small level of confidence in those in power. But living in this world, and talking and writing about Damian, who purposely chooses roles that are controversial, often politically so, makes it tough. But I’ll try!

      We actually did have a candidate in the middle. Hillary Clinton was never liberal enough for the liberals, she’s hawkish on military intervention around the world, and has conservative policies on many other things. It could be argued that the fact that she was so in the middle is the very reason she didn’t win. Like LadyTrader said, folks love conflict, they love controversy. The ethos of “us vs. them” as news was on both sides up to the election got the most clicks. In fact, you’ll have heard that Facebook actually promotes content based on how folks engage with it. Folks clicked the Trump stuff because he was controversial. Thus he went further up the page and got more people to click so his win was a self-fulfilling prophesy of sorts. He rode the wave of populist (ie us vs them) sentiment. This country has eaten up such sentiment since well before the days of Hatfield vs McCoy. It’s the bread and butter of all marketing.

      Anyway, I think I’ve learned my lesson and will take a bigger red pen to my reviews before posting. Thanks for your support, as always. 🙂

  4. Wow, you guys have had a party here 🙂 I know that when a show gets political (remember we had that in Season 2 Episode 7: Victory Lap, too?) it is inevitable our world views show in our posts. I have so much to say about other parts of the post, which I will, but since everyone has chimed in about the political aspects, here is my two cents: I don’t think one side is about right and wrong, and the other side is about win and loss. I think both sides are about win and loss and that is the biggest problem in the system at the moment. I also don’t think Trump voters are necessarily haters. Yes, there are certainly some among them, but we all know some people that voted for him are working class voters who voted for Obama and I agree that a vote for Trump was a protest vote for some against the system that is broken. The boundaries between political parties, big business, and law are so blurry and this applies to both sides. I think Billions is doing a good job showing us these blurry boundaries, how power corrupts and how people find the existing loopholes to keep their ship moving.

    And, hey, we will of course keep watching the show together. Our diversity makes us stronger. And given that we are a microcosm of the country here, if we cannot continue to talk, who can?

    Ok now the juicy stuff!

    “Surely even the most puritanical among us has to find adorable him asking if he needs to feed her before she gets to work?”

    Oh NO. I am devastated. I don’t know if you read my post but I left this particular moment in the episode to the very end. I just cannot stomach the fact that – even though Bobby and Lara are on a break – Bobby can be so comfortable and casual about this only weeks after he was separated from his wife. WTF? But on the other hand, what do I know? I cannot be further away from the life of the 1% of the 1% and maybe this is how it really works. A knock on the door. A kiss on the cheek. And when I read your first sentence about skipping pleasantries, I LOLled because I thought of “Want dinner? We need to do that?” Skip the pleasantries and get on with business! As I said in my post, I am still holding hope that this is different than what it seems which may not be not likely but I will not believe it until I see it with my own eyes 😀

    Did Wendy short the stock to protect Chuck? I thought then and I am still thinking now that Wendy did not short the stock out of ambition to get rich. I don’t know if she was thinking about Chuck, either. I have always seen it as a maternal instinct. If Chuck loses his trust, then what would the kids do? They are entitled to their dad’s money, and I think Wendy did it for her children. And now that Dake knows about her short, it is in the transactions of the stock, even if Dake believes Chuck that she is not a co-conspirator, anyone else that will see the transaction may think they are all co-conspirators – a collusion, if you will – in Ice Juice. That wopuld be hilarious!

    I completely agree about Bryan’s speech. He, in my humble opinion, is the conscience of the show. He is still the only one that has not been corrupted and I hope he becomes more pro-active and gives headaches to Dake who does not seem to be the Calvinist he is believed to be in the Axelrod case. That said, who knows what future will bring? Say when his girlfriend finishes law school and needs a job, Chuck can do them a favor and find her a good job and this could make Bryan kneel in front of the lord, too. In fact, this was the first thing that came to my mind when he said she was now in law school 😀

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