Billions Season 3 Episode 10, “Redemption” was the first episode where Bobby’s omniscience as written felt truly believable.
Not only does Bobby know everything, he also doesn’t break a sweat when returning Maria Sharapova’s serves. As he finishes up getting crushed sweatlessly by one Russian, he absorbs the blows of another Russian, John Malkovich’s Grigor Andolov, pulling his money out of Axe Cap minutes after it has just landed. Axe doesn’t see the game Andolov is playing. All he knows is that he’s been struck and he needs to recover. The deft speed with which Bobby Axelrod gets back on the horse is a thing of beauty. His resilience is the one truly beautiful (ie sympathetic) thing about him.
So, how does he bounce back? A virtual potpourri of resources actually. Starting with the personification of the word of the week: Frottage. Thematically cohesive that there’s mention of the seatlessness of Japanese mass transit: lots of opportunities for frottage. We learn this word via the nickname given to a character right out of Merchant of Venice. Frotty Anisman. Anus-man who engages in frottage. Subtle. David Krumholtz delivers the Character with a capital C with a signature shtick of carrying around a replacement tie to compensate for his eating disorder. Hijinks ensue over oysters, then lox, and finally even steel-stomached Axe can’t keep it down. There’s only so far he’s willing to go.
As luck would have it, Bobby finds additional resources in house. He effectively reads between Taylor’s lines, pushing up against thuggery bearing down on him from Andolov with his own thuggery. Bobby does know everything and knows how to eliminate any threat to that omnipotence. Kind of like Tony Soprano.
In this episode you see an uncanny resemblance between Axe’s methods and the slick insights that Tony employed against his own people to keep them in line and to get his way. Damn fine super hero strategy, until everyone finally understood that Tony was nothing more nor less than a sociopath. Sure, no one had it coming more than Richie Aprile and Ralphie Cifaretto. Most of Tony’s kills were justified and/or necessary for his survival as boss. But was there any justification for what Bobby does to Taylor?
In the manner of a consummate gas lighter, Bobby tells Taylor they wouldn’t have slipped the name of the start-up doing business with boyfriend Oscar Langstraat if they hadn’t been asking Axe to dive in on the deal, vulture-style . An easy out for a sociopath, blaming his actions on the victim’s subconscious motivations. Taylor believed him too. They apologized to Langstraat as if they were at fault. Which they were, but not for slipping the name. Taylor was at fault for trusting the boss with casual knowledge without anticipating that he would make full opportunitic use of said knowledge. That’s what Bobby does afterall, leverage knowledge. There is no casual chit chat, there is no friendship, or trust.
Bobby’s family is lost to him. Lara’s got plenty to family of her own to make up the difference for her boys. She still snaps at him though, as if it still matters. He lost them, but he got Bruno back. Until the next time Bruno deigns to ask for something from the kid he fed and nurtured for years.
Friendship should be clean.
Loath to admit it, but for those keeping score at home, gotta say I’m becoming increasingly Team Chuck this season. For the maturity of the Rhoades marriage, the honesty within it, for the way he sunk into and then just as quickly pulled back the dick wagging when the holy trio came together, and for the way he looks at Kornbluth when he announces that Jeffcoat is secured behind a moat and drawbridge, Texas-style….like are you kidding me, what do I have to do with Texas, this is New York Fucking City, I’m NY, you’re NY, quit wasting my time and give me whatever shit you got on the cowboy.
What ever happened to the kid journalist from White Plains who broke Bobby’s 9/11 story? Love this journalist guy too, Randy Kornbluth, but something about that White Plains kid struck so true. And journalists sharing sources with those who prosecute crime, who knew? It makes sense of course. Journalists sharing knowledge with lawyers is like cops sharing knowledge, accept you expect the journalists to be impartial reporters of truth, not neccesarily take sides where justice is concerned (witness the creative euphemisms for Lie and Liar we now read in the upper echelon news every day). Anyhoo, Chuck’s connection yields results in getting the beginnings of dirt on Jeffcoat.
Then the way Chuck looks at Kate like he’s her dad and she has grown teeth that may come back to bite him, yet he still couldn’t be more proud of her. Not to mention the attentiveness with which he reads between Kate’s father’s lines as he tells him by not telling him about land owned by certain high-positioned folks leased to media communication lines at premium. The good actors know how to win you over with like a one or two second look, tell you what.
As has been the case many times this season, one can only gear oneself up to be proven totally wrong, sympathies (and animosities) from one episode revealed to be totally misplaced come next episode. Chuck is great this episode, but there’s no telling who he’ll be next episode. One could call such story-telling manipulative and lacking in continuity and it is but not frustratingly so. Like Lost was manipulative to the nth degree. You do feel used, and played, and lied to, but you also feel good. (See what I did there? Hehe)
Back to this Character Jeffcoat. Another one with a capital C. Having lived thru the great Times Square clean-up under Guiliani I’m the first to admit that some of that shit worked wonders. Family visited in 1984-85, we took them to NYC, and my aunt (who was ancient to middle schooler me) was offered a ziploc of doobies for $5 a pop right under the Times Square V. I don’t think she quite knew what was being offered, but she knew enough to ignore him. Such things were wiped out completely when Guiliani started posing with bags of blow and confiscated guns and talking the talk that gave rise to the Disney-fication of it all. Jeffcoat seems to remember those days fondly too. Guiliani’s success with cleaning up NY came from him increasing visibility to the problems of midtown. Hard prosecutions, with federal resources, spent on the greatest city in the world. Those kids hitting up foreign ladies to move some weed never had a chance.
Do Texans often invite themselves to dinner? Okay, let’s say they do. Did Jeffcoat do so to get further into Chuck’s space, expand his reach, assert his position of boss by showing Chuck he now knew where he lived? Okay, let’s say he did. But, how readily he gave Chuck’s shiftiness the benefit of the doubt? Boy, those Texans are none too observant, are they. Talk about a caricature. A disgusting hateful creature for whom you wish nothing more than a well-timed hunting accident.
I didn’t get to write about the episode preceding this one, “Icebreaker”, but must cop to some cynicism after that episode. With the detente in tensions between Chuck and Bobby, the perfectly concurrent rise of Andolov as Bobby’s new nemesis and Jeffcoat Chuck’s, I couldn’t help but imagine that Evil Andolov and Evil Jeffcoat would eventually knock each other out somehow, leaving both Bobby and Chuck free and clear to slide into next season. In some back channel conversation I equated it (derisively I might add) to a baseball blooper play or something out of The Three Stooges. The Bobby/Chuck chimera as Moe, ducking while Curly Andolov and Larry Jeffcoat poke each other in the eye. Not so much of a stretch that folks at the highest levels of U.S. government would be compromised by links to nefarious Russian oligarchs, now is it. And how convenient such a formula would’ve been. I desperately hoped to be wrong though because such a thing would be way too easy, and way too “ripped from the headlines”.
Alas, I got my wish to be proven wrong and conveniently Andolov is absolved of the sin of his Russian accent. Pained defeated looks from the mother projected into Bobby’s all-knowing line of observation, and, voila, Andolov is the boy, made drunk by monsters who raped his mother. All sins past, present and future absolved.
Now with Andolov revealed as decidedly less sinister, I’ve got another prognostication (which will no doubt also be proven happily wrong). What if it turns out Andolov isn’t the down and out Hungarian boy whose future no one saw? What if that’s just the story he circuitously told to get Bobby to go in even deeper? And it’s Bobby who will be ultimately compromised by the Russian oligarch. What makes me say this: well, it would absolve Bobby of any overt wrong-doing. He’d be compromised but still free and clear, sort of. Which would get him deeper into the condition of amorphous morality we all know and love.
Jeffcoat doesn’t go thru the same cleansing back story…yet. He’s worse than ever with his desire to collect NYC’s dime-bag prosecutions for the federal trophy case. Not great risk-takers these guys. As long as dime bags stay illegal, prosecutions are like shooting fish in a barrel. Taking the trophies up to federal level just means longer sentences, more visibility on the supposed good guys catching the so-called bad guys. Jeffcoat’s not too proud a hunter to do just that.
Kate’s friend-who-isn’t-Connerty at the FBI catch the hedge fund guy on his way to Caracas thanks to a sticky TSA number (such is the freedom one loses when demanding the convenience of pre-checked baggage) So the hedge fund guy takes money from investors and instead of investing it, pockets it, ala Madoff. Jeffcoat’s church is investing with him, he gives them cash, writes it off as a loss for his firm. Now where do the Jeffcoats get the money? Cable lines under their property, leased at a premium, with a neat kick back to the cable company president. The money is scrubbed clean through brother Jeffcoat’s church in between. All revealed by the guy who manages the church’s money under a false front he keeps in Manhattan.
I keep an address. It’s a move that’s widely practiced.
Back to Axe and his survival methods. The way he uses his people, feeds on them.
Taylor is all idea; the very character is a concept, inorganic almost, like Lieutenant Commander Data. The years of therapy and revolving door of therapists they discussed briefly with Wendy last season does afford Taylor a lot more insight into human idiosyncrasies and a window into their own vulnerabilities than Data intrinsically had, but in Taylor, youthful naivete clouds any of those insights. Unlike Data, Taylor is human, and they really liked Langstraat, in a very organic and human way, so much so that it surprised them. How heartbreaking to see Taylor beat themself up on the walk from seeing Langstraat to apologize for what happened, to know that it’s over. They are wondering if they really did mean to do it, like Axe said.
Ben Kim is also an idea guy; frozen to the point of uselessness by a deep-rooted fear of criticism, but still devoted to finding things others wouldn’t look for. His Achilles Heel is a tendency to want to stay under the radar, which is frustrating for him and for his co-workers given their work is about being attuned to all radar all the time. What he chooses to do to shake up the status quo and to call attention to himself in a big way is unprofessional and offensive, even if you’re not a yokel from Kansas City, and totally not something anyone would do at work in any field, even the wacky creative ones, I would think.
I’ve been harping about the repeated sight-gag of elevators in this show from the time of the previews, but who ever expected Ben Kim to whip it all out in one? The kid stepped it up all right.
It worked to get attention on him and to get a sit-down with the boss and his number one. (and to get laughs from the audience of course) Did he have to go to such lengths to get a sit-down? Not really. Bobby is obviously intimidating but his office seems pretty open-door. He snaps, but he also listens. If you’re being an idiot, he’ll tell you and probably threaten your job. If you’re not being an idiot, he’ll shake your hand, give you an early bonus and run with the idea. Pretty fair boss, as far as bosses go.
Ben’s big idea is mild as far as risk, promising as far as return. He saw an uptick in travel of Dutch beer masters to Milwaukee and read it as a signal of a pending takeover attempt of American beer. A great data-driven inference. Not earth-shattering, not so off the beaten path that it couldn’t have been shared over the urinals with Mafee. But such is the nature of crippling anxiety and fear I guess, it’s rarely justified and never makes logical sense. So, yeah, this latest elevator thing was a gag, but a fun one.
Unlike any of his people, Bobby is not an idea guy. He’s the man on the horse, leading the charge, raping and pillaging, armed with other people’s ideas.
And now, we learn that like Tony Soprano, Bobby has a complicated relationship with his mother, who has now, so many episodes into this tale, been finally revealed. The plot machinations have all been great, but I think most can agree that the heart of the matter is in the stroke of tenderness on Bobby’s face from Bruno and, now, the as-yet-unwritten page of the mother to the king.