Billions on Showtime, Season 3 Episode 4: Hell of a Ride

From a tragic death, to people trying to dig themselves out of their own grave, to those searching for the ultimate resting place, and to kiss of death, eventuality, literally and metaphorically, is at the heart of this episode.

Three Days Ago

Chuck drives his Porsche, which was probably bought by Axe Capital money, into a private garage only to find Dake waiting for him with bad news:  Connerty knows about Chuck Senior’s involvement in Ice Juice and Chuck needs to make sure his father will not testify against him. And when Chuck Senior does not answer his son’s calls, Chuck decides to go to his 25th year class reunion at Yale, which he RSVP’d no earlier, because it is celebrated together with his dad’s 50th year class reunion and Chuck Senior will be there to receive an award. We hear an extremely worried Wendy not only telling Chuck to convince him but also to do it for her.

The new Halls have eyes on three labs in the Tri-State area that can produce and store the toxicant used in Ice Juice. They know the FBI is talking to lead technicians at each lab and they will make sure there is no lab when the Feds arrive at their lab. And given that Axe has information from Ira that Dake is protecting Chuck, but Bryan, if properly armed, will chase him, the new Halls will also make sure Ira’s affidavit implicating both Senior and Junior makes it to Bryan’s apartment in an envelope.

As Axe is trying to dig himself out of his own grave, Wags is trying to get into one at New York Marble Cemetery. Well, not now, but when the time comes! Wags is happy to leave 432 Park Avenue (a real eyesore if you ask me) to the Saudis but determined to secure the last burial plot in NYC for a bargain $350K! 😀

Two Days Ago

As Axe shows up at St. Regis Roof Ballroom for a reception held by World-Aid, a charity whose board he is sitting on, Oscar Langstraat (Hello, Mike Birbiglia!) approaches him. Langstraat, whose plane runs on recycled corn oil, the same oil Axe’s masseuse uses, is worried about overheated Central Africa! He believes the future is in venture philanthropy and will pitch the idea that World-Aid should buy Rayveon Solar, the company that manufactures the solar panels, at the next board meeting. Would Axe back his pitch? Axe thinks the people on the World-Aid board do not care much about anything else but the status and the access the charity gives them. Their risk of tolerance is zero like Coach Tikhonov at Lake Placid. Langstraat believes future hurts once, but denying it stings forever like Shelob in Cirith Ungol. Their references may be different but Axe and Longstraat seem to agree on Rayveon Solar. Their conversation is interrupted by Sean Ayles who regrets to share the news that the World-Aid board wants Sean, and not Axe, to represent Axelrod Foundation on the dais.

It is no surprise that Axe does not want to be limited to the sandbox Taylor has given him. He wants Axe Capital to buy Rayveon shares for the main fund but since he does not want to make Taylor feel like he is steering them, they will now task Sean Ayles with marketing the idea to Taylor. But what if Taylor realizes Axe is behind Rayveon Solar play?

We have known about Axe being a fan of Inglourious Basterds since we heard Lara asking him if he will see it again while he was playing hooky from work in Season 1 Episode 5 The Good Life.

While Axe chose to watch Citizen Kane in that episode but it is Inglourious Basterds time of the year again! As Axe keeps watching The Bear Jew crushing skulls, he tells Ayles he expects Taylor to do the same for him. Besides, he does not care that the World-Aid board is planning to remove him from the board at the next meeting and that such meetings are traditionally held in the absentia of the person being removed. Axe is still confident he can go and convince the World-Aid board to buy Solar Rayveon at that meeting.

It seems Dake and Bryan do not agree about who the “single bull” is in the Ice Juice investigation. Dake wants Bryan to talk to the suspect lab tech, but Bryan pays Chuck Senior a “courtesy visit” at the sauna.

And while I do not know if Bryan had in mind bracing a man while grooming would make him feel vulnerable, I find it hilarious that he is the one that ends up saying:

“Why does this keep happening to me?”

As Bryan is talking to Senior, the tech lab, who probably supplied the toxin, boards on a plane for a galaxy far far away and Dake gets bossy with Bryan. Still, they are lucky to have Ronnie, the manager at Ice Juice, that Hall arranged in Season 2 Episode 11 Golden Frog Time to leave traces of the bacteria in the warehouse! When he learns he was spotted “pissing in the pot”on security cameras, Ronnie tells Bryan and Dake that he was told a doctor confirmed that the bacteria would not be deadly. Ha! It seems we will get to see Dr. Gilbert again soon. Besides, Ronnie helps a police sketch artist draw Hall.

Remember Craig Heidecker who did hire Wendy to check whether the astronaut he was planning to send to space was psychologically fit for the task in Season 2 Episode 4 The Oath but also had a one night stand with her later in the season? Craig is now getting ready for his first ride into space and his charming smile radiates from TV screens at Axe Capital.Even though they believe in Heidecker’s vision of ISS and space colonization, they do not believe in his business model: So Axe Capital sizes up the short on Farpoint! Taylor argues Heidecker’s charm is his liability because people believe whatever he tells them and, in turn, he starts to believe in what he says: washing machine effect! It should be a real challenge for Taylor to have their brain (shorting the stock!) and have their heart (wearing the stock on their chest!) at two different places. Is there any other way than something seriously going awry with the space mission for Axe Capital to make money on this short?

While they have bigger fish to fry, the new Halls are helping Wags to identify the man who was able to secure the burial plot Wags has been eyeing: Mick Nussfaur is New York’s top personal injury lawyer, or in Wags’ words “ambulance chaser.” He has a sick wife and a rich and healthy girlfriend. I love it that Nussfaur is portrayed by Michael Kostroff, who played Maurice Levy, a criminal lawyer whose wife seemed to cook brisket every day, on The Wire, one of the best things that ever happened to TV! And I give credit to Wags for playing clean first: He offers Nussfaur a prime plot at Green-Wood  where he pays to move other people elsewhere so Nussfaur is able lay with his girlfriend and her perfect tits in her family’s Mausoleum when the time comes. But Nussfaur turning him down leaves no option but going public with the girlfriend news in Page Six. Nussfaur’s wife empties their bank account and Wags secures his eternal resting place. He may have fucked up a lot in life, but Wags will do death right!

As he tries to make it right with his dad, Chuck does it all wrong in his surprise speech to present Chuck Senior with the Distinguished Service Award at his 50th Year Class Reunion at Yale. Senior hugs his son for show but tells him outside that, when they get back in, he will collect his wife, shake a few hands, and leave immediately. Sentimentality does not work with Senior. He despises the weakness it conveys.

The two Chucks find Wendy in a state of shock as they get back in and it gets beyond awkward from there: Manticore-2 burst into flames seconds after it was launched and Craig Heidecker is dead. Chuck saying he is sorry for Wendy’s loss reveals he knows about her and Craig. Later over bourbon at Brandy Library he admits Wendy’s one-night stand broke places in him that he did not exist. Still, he knows their relationship was in disarray at that moment and he was the one responsible for it. We also find out about Chuck losing his virginity at 14 to a prostitute called Ginger and that this was the first time ever his dad said he was proud of him. As much as I think Chuck is a piece of shit in many ways, these moments bring out the human in him and I sympathize. I know some viewers do not see the chemistry between Chuck and Wendy, but I find their marriage compelling and even more so at these moments where Chuck is beyond vulnerable.

One Day Ago

Chuck Senior does not leave his son any other option but conspiring with his adopted father at Donohue’s Steakhouse to squeeze Senior so he keeps quiet: Foley arranges the state senator Scolari to meet Senior: We remember Scolari from Season 2 Episode 7 Victory Lap where he repeatedly tells Axe “the committee chose the location that would bring the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people” and moved the casino from Sandicot to Kingsford! The same senator is now repeatedly telling Chuck Senior that “Eastern Elk needs all the help they can get. Delicate species requires a certain habitat.” 😀

While I understand there is no room for heart in trading, I do find the celebrations led by Dollar Bill at Axe Capital when Craig’s Manticore-2 explodes quite appalling. But then again maybe Dollar Bill is being honest here. I mean, if they had not thought about some tragedy like this could happen, why did they short the stock in the first place? Taylor, who is extremely good at detaching themselves from emotion, feels disturbed about making profits from death. And not from an ordinary death, but the death of a man who was there to obtain perfection, who wanted to make the world a better place. But as much as math is perfect, Wendy is right that there is always that random component  – a build up of oxygen in the aluminum liner in Heidecker’s case. While she is deeply mourning herself, Wendy’s advice for Taylor is to be rational at the workplace:

“Mind the truth that makes you money.”

At the King Cole Bar at St. Regis Hotel, where a huge mural of the old king hangs, the chairman of the World-Air board tells Axe that the legend says the king is releasing his royal air under his robes, and that is why he is smiling, because the jesters have to take it. In other words, the World-Aid board is doing Axe a gesture by letting him know in advance that they will fart into his face at their next meeting.

King Cole Mural at King Cole Bar, St Regis Hotel

Axe chooses to threaten the chairman 😀 He is a problem for the board because he knows how they use the fringe benefits liberally at five star lunches, golf junkets and safaris in the name of helping others. And, hey, he may be the only one on the board who is working to make a living, and you know what, I believe Axe in that! The board chairman is confident that “no t-shirt billie with the law on his tail” is able to change the status quo. Isn’t it fascinating how people get straight with you once you are vulnerable? Who in his right mind could have called Axe a “t-shirt billie” a few months ago? Still, Axe reminds him if he farts in his presence, his reign will not last for long.

As he is planning to be a Fats McCarthy, who killed 22 Germans and captured 50 on his own during WWI, in the board meeting, Axe receives some priceless advice from Wendy: Even though reputation is important to people in finance, their reputations are buttressed by their money. Philanthropies, on the other hand, ONLY have their reputation. Exactly like academia where everything is a big deal because stakes are very small. Spot on, girlfriend! So Axe needs to take into consideration the current state of the world: As long as the outside world sees him as damaged goods, Axe needs to adjust his optimal play accordingly.

Voila!

“Give the bold moves to the brilliant players.” Indeed. Axe provokes the board and makes them vote in favor of a proposal they were reluctant to support in the first place. BOLD move. BRILLIANT player. And, yes, in caps! It does not matter if Axe is removed from the board because World-Aid now owns Rayveon Solar and Axe Capital will make a lot of money as the stock sky-rockets. This is fundamental game theory: Axe has just incurred a small loss for a real big win. And, in fact, we saw him teaching this to his boys in Billions pilot. But I think when it comes to Axe accepting a small loss, he needs to hear it from Wendy!

Now

Lo and behold, Chuck Senior is at Chuck’s door giving him an “I know it was you, Fredo” kiss along with his “third place in squash” trophies. And I do not think Chuck Senior is saying no to offer of immunity because he is proud of his son but because he cannot give up on his money tied to Kingsford. And even though he calls him “Buckaroo” Senior may be telling Bryan that he can still get the job done should he get rid of his emotions and push forward.

As Axe and Oscar celebrate their victory sharing an Ethiopian meal at Ghenet, Taylor believes they are more likely to belong to a steak house where everyone has their own plate. And as much as I agree with them, Taylor’s tribute to their lost hero – buying the perfect timepiece Craig has been wearing for $165K at Wempe – looks more like steak than Ethiopian food to me.

As “Bravo, Wags!” goes to Wags’ tombstone for getting the last burial plot in New York City,  the light-hearted conversation my favorite duo has in the closing scene may not be as trivial as it seems.

Dying in your thirties is “tragic.” As is forties. Sympathy dissipates from there.

Fifties is “such a shame.”

Sixties is “too soon.”

Seventies… “a good run.”

And eighties is “a life well lived.”

Nineties?

“That’s a fuckin’ hell of a ride.”

True. Some go too soon, some have a good run while some have a fuckin’ hell of a ride. Yet, death is still probably the only equalizer we have in an otherwise very unequal life.

19 thoughts on “Billions on Showtime, Season 3 Episode 4: Hell of a Ride”

  1. Sooooo good Damianista, discussing death, eventuality and how it’s the only equalizer in an unequal life. Loved how you peppered it throughout the entire posting. The symmetry of Taylor making profits from death like Axe did, albeit a bit differently, is a kudos to the writing team!

    Question. Since Wendy told Craig Heidecker that the female astronaut he was planning to send to space was psychologically unfit for the task just yet, is that the reason Craig went instead? If so, that’s a tremendous source of guilt for Wendy.

    So funny, at first I literally thought they said King Cole was releasing his “heir” under his robes, as in, yanno…. I was like, ewwww gross!!!! (farting is gross, but this would have been even more gross).

    “No t-shirt billie with the law on his tail” –> Are they calling Axe a billy-goat that is stupid and purposeless; that he’s acting like an animal?

    1. Thank you so much! Death was constantly a theme – literally and metaphorically – throughout the episode. And I think I discuss an episode much better when I can build it around a theme.

      Yes, the doppelganger did make profit off a death, too; yet, as you also suggest, in a different way. And as much as I find the celebrations after Craig’s death at Axe Capital quite appalling, I have to give credit to Dollar Bill for being honest. If they had not expected for something to go wrong, why did they short the stock in the first place? I believe it is a true challenge for Taylor to have their heart and brain at two different places.

      Your version of the Old King Cole makes sense, too, since the whole thing is a legend after all 🙂 And, yes, it would have been grosser than farting! I just love these metaphors in Billions so much!

      Isn’t it fascinating when people get straight with you once you are vulnerable? Who in his right mind could have called Axe a “tshirt billie” a few months ago?

  2. This one won’t replace last week’s as my favorite epi of the season so far. I have had a thought, more a wondering. Very little has been said about the details of Axe’s current legal situation. Will it come to a head at the last episode of this season? We are just 1/3 the way through. (After waiting so long it does go by too fast.) But, I’m thinking maybe they will wind up this season with a trial. the jury out and we must wait for the verdict until season 4. Wouldn’t that make my gray hair even grayer!!!

    1. Billions typically loves storylines that go for half a season. That said, the Ice Juice investigation has the potential to go for more than half a season. But I do not think they will turn the show into a courtroom drama in any way and give us several other storylines that would go on once the trial is over. And, believe me, Connie, no need for grayer hair — we all know Axe will have his name cleared! And not just for drama to continue… As Orrin Bach has rightly pointed out in the season premiere, the statistics show most white collar crime go unpunished in this country. HOW Axe will pull it off will be the true thrill this season!

  3. Another great recap! I truly love how you get everything I miss the first time!

    I have one question: is there a significance to the “Mr. Bojangles” song at the end? I didn’t get it. And who is Mike Birbiglia? Everyone was so excited about him, and I have never heard of him before.

    And I LOVE the Fredo reference! It was exactly what I was thinking!!

    Going back to re-watch now!

    1. Thank you! Your words make me believe pulling an all-nighter is all worth it. Plus, I feel young like in the days I pulled all-nighters in college to complete lab reports 😀

      Mike Birbiglia is a pretty serious comedian who is currently on a national tour: http://birbigs.com/ He tweets a lot as well. I follow him: @birbigs I have a feeling we will get to see Mr. Langstraat again since venture philanthropy is Axe’s favorite kind of giving: You give some and get back more than what you give 😀

      I believe the show creators always choose the music to go with the episode and I talk about a song only when I find something in it that is related to the show. For example, last week’s closing with Cohen’s “You Want It Darker” and the premiere closing with “Troublemaker Doppelganger” made me think about the show and the characters and what they want to do. To be honest, I have not been able to interpret Mr. Bojangles the way I could interpret those other songs. Maybe it is about Wags’ relatively light-hearted storyline next to the most characters going to the dark side 🙂 Ideas, anyone?
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Bojangles_(song)

      I am glad that even though I do not know much about sports or Star Trek, I can catch Godfather references quite easily 😀

    2. Mr. Bojangles was also played near the beginning, too. The song talks of death, how a man’s dog died. I find it ironic with Wags = tail = dog 🙂 I may be reaching…

      1. Yes, the song accompanies Axe and Wags at the cemetery both at the beginning and the end. In the song, the guy does some tap dance to lighten the mood after the sad story about his dog…

  4. Notice the contrast between Chuck and Wendy and Bobby and Lara. C&W seem equipped to work through their differences. B&L seem less inclined and/or less able to do so.

    1. That’s why I do not get the people who do not get Chuck and Wendy’s marriage. Those little moments Chuck and Wendy have make me root for them. Their marriage is strong enough that they dare to go deal with their differences and find a way to be together. As much as Bobby and Lara are great business partners, I am not sure if they have ever had the depth Chuck and Wendy have in their personal relationship.

    1. Billions Writers tweeted it was a Raymond Chandler novel, but didn’t share the title. JaniaJania might know 🙂

      1. Hmmm, interesting. Thank you …Any Ideas, if at all does it fit with the scene/episode? I loved paying attention to the placement and titles over books in a scene.
        I love the blog and have enjoyed it immensely! I had a blast bookmarking the dining guides. Great job.

        1. I haven’t read the book so I don’t know if it’s related to the scene. It could be related or Raymond Chandler could be one of the writer’s favorite writer. For example, Wendy was reading Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki last season and Murakami is Brian Koppelman’s favorite writer.

          Thank you so much for your kind words about the blog, we’re doing our best! I have so much fun putting the dining guides together! So glad you enjoy them!

  5. Great recap D!

    I didn’t quite get the Mr Bojangles connection either. Lighthearted view of death? How we can always dance, even when we’re all heading to the same graves? Something like that.

    And the billie reference was a mystery too. Maybe one of these definitions? https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=billie Whatever the case, something negative. There a post length treatise here about the hidden underlayers of philanthropy. Needless to say, the money-ed philanthropists have no use for Axe’s dirty money. There are hierarchies everywhere.

    1. Thank you!

      Given that the guy in the song tap dances to lighten the mood after the story about how his dog died, the song could symbolize the fact that we can still dance pending the eventual death because it is, after all, a good ride as long as it lasts. Nice interpretation!

      I don’t know the exact meaning of the billie reference but it is certainly condescending to Axe, and because the board chairman is saying “t-shirt billie” I also thought he may be referring to Axe’s not-so-formal clothing choices as well. I bet that chairman has some blue blood in him. What I have found more fascinating though is what Chuck was saying in the Billions pilot happening now in the show and I am paraphrasing: They may all be applauding you now but they will boo you as soon as you fall. I think some assume that Axe has fallen badly and that board chairman, who is probably getting his board salary without lifting a finger and doing the safaris in the name of “research”, is quite with him. He may eat his words very soon! 😀 😀 😀 As much as I don’t buy Axe’s BS most of the time, I think he was right when he said he could be the only person working for a living on that board!

      1. I knew that comment from the pilot would come to fruition. Billions never wastes dialog! “They may be cheering now, but they are dying to boo.”

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