Boy, Billions is giving its stellar coterie of actors a lot more to do this season! While the plot has always remained tight and unpredictable, this show has always been character-driven, never more so than right at this moment.
You don’t have to read the business papers to hear the real world buzz around Preet Bharara’s recent firing as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of NY. In the fictional world of Billions, this is the very position occupied by Chuck. In Tuesday’s NYT, Andrew Ross Sorkin’s regular article Dealbook , quoted the so-called “sheriff of Wall Street” Bharara saying in another interview:
I have never said that insider trading is the crime of the century. It has not been my personal focus. It’s the focus of the press because there are a lot of wealthy people that like the reporting of it.
Indeed, in the world of Wall Street, and Billions, there is ethics and then there is the appearance of ethics. Prosecution is not always (or ever?) about beating the bad guy and scoring a victory for justice. A lot of the time it’s about beating a case that’s beatable and tantalizing to the press and the public. Sure, the practice of law is about setting precedent on good and bad, right and wrong, but a lot of the time (most of the time?) it’s about managing public perception of these lofty ideals. And it’s in the managing of perception where all the play happens. This theme runs throughout Billions, and is in particular focus in Episode 4 “The Oath.”
Something else notable for this episode: the virtual encyclopedia of pop culture references! A cynical person could snark it’s a good thing all the people of this world seem to have read the same books, seen the same movies, and listened to the same music. Writing about it was one rabbit hole after another and I can only imagine the fun from the actual writing of it.
I could not be happier that a game theory term makes it to the title of this week’s episode: Optimal Play. Optimal Play, also known as Best Response, is the strategy that produces the most favorable outcome for a player, taking the strategies of other players in the game as given.
Given that the entire hedge-fund industry is under siege and that he needs to adapt, Axe’s optimal play is to venture out of the city walls and straight into the NFL. We learn from his chat with NY Giants chairman Steve Tisch that Axe grew up with football on a “24-inch Trinitron knock-off” and his first ever football game in a stadium was in Tisch’s box. As Tisch shares with him that he needs to jump through quite a few hoops to impress the NFL, Axe is pretty confident about his bid and already trying to figure out where his seat will be at the stadium. Not here at MetLife Stadium, of course. NY Giants is not for sale 😀 Continue reading “Billions on Showtime, Season 2, Episode 3: Optimal Play”
Continuing the rollicking cadence of win/loss and cat/mouse, Billions picks up the pace in an energetic Episode 2.
“Dead Cat Bounce” is book-ended by a fake smile with handshake on one end and a sincere sneer and handshake on the other, going deeper exactly where we need it to go.
Axe is still a nervous cat, but a merry one, as he publically humiliates arch nemesis du jour, Todd Krakow, in the opening scene and continues throughout the episode to dig the claws deeper into the side of this twerp who tried to steal Wendy from him.
That is what you get when you try to poach Axe’s most valuable employee, Todd.
Axe starts picking on Todd’s obviously scripted speech at Spartan-Ives “Global Thought Leaders” panel moderated by Lawrence Boyd. While Krakow’s choice of poet is Pindar, Axe’s seems to be Walt Whitman (who can forget the “barbaric yawp” scene from Dead Poets Society?). Is it just me or does Wags’ smile turn to concern as Axe leaves the room saying Krakow’s “party cocktail tutor” owes him a refund?
Axe apologizes to Boyd for being a bad boy but Boyd cannot be happier about what just happened. It seems he picked the panel for its entertainment value. The street will talk about this for weeks and whoever was not in the room will make Spartan-Ives their prime broker to be able to attend next year. Axe is not happy about playing “the bull” to Boyd’s “red sash” every time. Continue reading “Billions on Showtime, Season 2, Episode 2: Dead Cat Bounce”