We have had our “educated” speculation last couple of weeks and we now have it all out in Episode 10 Quality of Life: Axe has known Donnie was sick. He sees something is seriously wrong with him in the meeting where Donnie does not see the matrix and follows him to the men’s room.
“Cancer.” “Yeah.” “Shit.” “Pancreatic.” “Shit.” I would probably say “Double scoop of shit” Wags-style. Axe will make sure Donnie sees the top oncologist in the country. He should put himself together and see Axe by the end of the day.
We learn Donnie was closeted until he met Walter. He feels guilty about his wife so gives her all he has and starts back at zero with a plan to make the money his kids would need for a comfortable future in 10 years. Alas, life intervenes. He wants his kids to live a comfortable life. Axe offers “rewards of paradise” on earth: 40 million dollars pre-tax. But there is a downside. His last months will not be his own. Donnie is in unless he is going to jail. Axe assures him lawyers will take care of that part.
We still do not know the details but this is probably the story: Axe, knowing Chuck is on his tail, gives Donnie 200K shares of Rubinex and lets him get the feds’ attention while the rest of Axe Capital goes with usual business under the radar. Donnie saves Axe a bit of time to add further insulation to his business and will not live long enough to give Axe to the feds: A guy that has always been a mid-level player is now becoming Brian Doyle — a Yankees player, a reserve for years, who plays a wonderful game at the 1978 World Series — playing one single epic game.
I know. This seems like a pretty cold-hearted play: Axe is basically using a sick man, a man that has been loyal to him for years, to save his ass. You may call Axe a predator. Using his sick friend to save his own ass. But you may also call him a rational man. Offering his sick friend an option to leave the world in peace. Axe is not tricking Donnie. What he is doing is just to keep his own quality of life and provide an equally good quality of life for Donnie’s family when he is gone. You may call Donnie a victim. But you may also call Donnie a rational man. He knows he is dying and he is making a deal with his boss to have a “game changer” in his hands for his family… Remember how Walter White starts his “blue” business in Breaking Bad? People may do things that they are not proud of just to make sure their families are okay after they are gone. It is rational. And it is painfully human. Donnie wants his family to be taken care of. And Axe is giving him that. I would call this a win – win situation. Hope I do not sound like an insensitive asshole. I am just a game theorist that believes in rational choice.
I don’t know about you but Chuck certainly would sympathize given the way he addresses his own troops about why they are losing the Axe case. When you play a game — a setting in which the outcome of your action depends on the action of your opponent — you always have to take your opponent’s action seriously and give your best response given what your opponent does. Chuck knows this and he screwed up because he still has that weakness he had when he was 14 and on his way to be a grandmaster in chess — a Boris Spassky in his prime. Young Chuck got obsessed about total destruction and forgot to play the game when he believed his opponent did not respect his game, or him, or for whatever reason was not worthy. And he was beaten and bathed in anger and defeat. He now knows he needs to respect the game of the “bloodless man” who used his dying friend to play them. Chuck is apologetic to his people. He knows the case is going off their hands now and sees the press describing him as ‘sloppy, driven, unhinged.” Well, I can imagine Mike Dimonda calling for a comment 🙂
Adam De Giulio tells Chuck the case is going to Eastern District and Chuck seemingly respects the decision. He would do the same should he have been sitting in the AG’s chair. Still, he wonders if the AG’s concern about negative publicity is because she is considering a Senate run or a return to private sector. I just love these writers who, time and again, highlight how politics, business and law go hand in hand in this country. They do not try to moralize it but show what is going on. Brilliant. Chuck suggests Adam it is time for a walk and talk about musical chairs! Well, I have not played the game for 30 years or so but when I did, friends, believe me, I was the master of musical chairs. I still remember the day how I, a skinny kid, pushed a good friend of mine, with my ass to get that last chair! So I just wonder what kind of musical chair party Chuck and Adam are planning 😀
Chuck gets news from Bryan that Judge Wilcox has not bought their argument about Dollar Bill “bastardizing the fair market upon which this country is built” and set Bill free with a message to Chuck that Southern District should think twice before wasting government resources to settle “personal scores.”
Chuck needs to turn impediments into blockers. He suggests Bryan and Kate take some fall air. Well, it takes a romantic fall day to tango: The two end up on Kate’s non-Ikea couch which, in fact, works the same way 🙂
Chuck arrives home to find Chuck Sr. I don’t know if Chuck ever misses his dad but I do! Chuck Sr or the king of classy old school NYC restaurants as I call him (anniversary at La Grenouille, and now on his way to Peter Luger), is upset that the press is clubbing Chuck like a baby seal.
Papa Seal is losing hope that baby seal will ever reach the great seal of the state of NY. They would not have been at this point if Chuck had not blown the deal with Axe but now Chuck Sr has to bring up plan B: Chuck should take a year off and move the family up to their farm in Mount Kisco. Wendy can open a practice that “bored housewives” could use and Chuck can write a book and establish a residency in the area so he could run for Patrick Esposito’s senate seat. Chuck, for the first time, shows dad the finger.
Chuck and Lonnie take a walk in my most favorite place on earth, Central Park, as Lonnie serves Wilcox’ head to Chuck on a silver platter: The judge passes on white collar crime but is fine with giving young latino/black kids 20 years in jail for petty crimes. He is investing with a group that runs a for-profit prison company charging prisoners $1 a minute for phone calls and netting $17K per prisoner a year! His record is complete with an off shore bank account and a condo in Dominican Republic where he fucks his house keeper.
Chuck talks to Wilcox. He will resign for undisclosed personal reasons and Southern District will not prosecute. And they do not. But Eastern does. A few drinks and a round of “he’s a jolly good fellow” at his farewell party ends in Lonnie and the Feds crashing the party to put the cuffs on Wilcox. And, I admit it really works well when Chuck’s personal interests and public good overlap.
Bryan makes an “educated” guess about the new blocker: Chuck’s plan is to have Adam move to the NEW vacancy on federal bench with hopes that he will leave a friendly behind in the AG’s office. Ha! That’s the musical chairs Chuck is setting up but they need all pieces to fall into right places. Chuck may have lost the battle but he is IN to win the war!
Lara and Axe are in the hospital with Walter when Donnie dies. Lara will help Walter make phone calls and she is taking on Donnie’s Secret Santa project.
Wendy brings a casserole along with her condolences to Walter. As Walter is telling her how sad Donnie was that he could not talk to Wendy about his illness, words that surprise Wendy, Lara arrives with a truck. And she is a mother hen with Walter while an ice queen with Wendy.
These two hug and kiss, at least formally, first time we see them together in Episode 5. They at least smile the second time we see them in Wendy’s office in Episode 9. Now they don’t even fake a smile. Instead Walter is a strong contender for BEST fake smile award: His “we’re fine” to Wendy means “you’d better go.”
Wendy looks like the loneliest person in the world right now. She’d better call Chase?
Axe needs to take care of business before the funeral. Word travels to him the three rats Carly, Channing and Hlasa have set up shop downtown: Ionosphere Fund. They have 200 million under management: 40 million is their money and the rest is coming from some Axe Capital clients they have stolen. Axe first tries to convince clients to give up on Ionosphere at one of my most favorite NYC restaurants Maialino but when he sees Plan A does not work (bad publicity may be the reason) he goes directly to Plan B which is pure brilliance.
A surprise is waiting for Dollar Bill now aka Keyser at Axe Capital as he arrives in the office as a FREE man. Axe wants his ass immediately in his office… just to get his ass kicked by Bill: Well, Axe’s office is soundproof so outsiders see but do not hear the conversation inside. Axe tells Dollar to pretend they are having an argument. He needs Bill to help him give Carly, Channing and Hlasa a good fucking! Come bonus time he will show him enough love he could start a third family! 🙂 This scene easily goes into history as my most favorite TV moment. Original. Hilarious. Genius.
Axe: “I love you like a brother.”
Bill: “I fuckin’ love you, too, man.”
Me: “I fucking love YOU TWO!”
The rats take the bait! Dollar Bill feeds them good information at the outset followed by false information that make them lose a bit too much money. HOBBLED! The rats find Axe in their office as they mourn their losses.
Axe’s offer is brutally simple and simply brutal: 250 million seed money. Revenue sharing agreement. On-going rate is about 25% so what about 40%? 😀 Non-compete and non-solitation agreements to be signed. Total transparency. Trade files sent to Axe every night. They can never manage more than 999 million dollars. No buy-out to eliminate revenue sharing agreement and no lock-up on his money. He can pull the plug anytime. The deal will go off the table once he counts to five. He is at 1 and they have a deal.
Operation Secret Santa is ON and Lara does not let Axe bypass her this time. He is not allowed to bring interns to wrap the gifts. They will wrap with their own hands, as a family, to help the less fortunate. And yes, Bobby, it is education for both YOU and the kids. This guy can drive a woman crazy, ok, in every meaning of the word 🙂
The memorial service for Donnie takes place at Wave Hill, a fantastic public garden and a cultural center in the Bronx. Chuck’s arrival is the last thing Wendy needs today. Not just because she has recently discovered he has been lying about his recusal. Not just because she is losing her work family thanks to him. But also Chuck’s presence is just plain awkward. You cannot go to any funeral just because you know the man. Wendy urges her husband to leave right away.
Chuck agrees but before he does, he goes and extends his hand to Axe. Well, he shakes it. Some may call it a simple handshake. But, no, it is two generals recognizing each other, if not respecting. And they both know the game is not over.
Chuck: “It is a real loss.”
Axe: “For both of us.”
I said it before, I will say it again. The pissing contest between Axe and Chuck reminds me of the Cold War. Big players fighting their wars through small players: Korea. Vietnam. Donnie Caan. Not so different.
Remember Axe the general from Episode 6 The Deal where he orders his troops to “live free or die” the day after the Feds come and put the cuffs on Dollar Bill? Axe is that general again today honoring a fallen soldier: He’s not one that attends funerals. He is not the type to grapple with it. But there was no way he could skip this one. Because Donnie grappled with it all.
“Let’s do this. To Donnie.”
Wendy is not having a good day. Axe is keeping silent with her. Wags, on the other hand, cannot keep his mouth shut. Wendy regrets she patched Donnie and kept him at Axe Capital while he could have been much happier returning to academia… to which Wags responds: “University professors are broke as fuck and bitter, too.” Which is not true 🙂 And he slips out Donnie leaves with 40 million which he would never be able to do in academia. Which is true 🙂 When Wendy asks about 40 million, Wags just says it’s hyperbole. You know, Wags, Wendy is smart enough to put 2 and 2 together. She now knows she has been left out for so long by both her families.
We find out about the story that gives the episode its title Quality of Life in the last few minutes of the episode.
As Axe and Lara are taking their leave, Walter thanks them for their help with Secret Santa project. It would have been too overwhelming for him. Donnie loved doing that so much and he really wanted to be around until Christmas so he could do it again… which takes Axe back to the day he and Donnie see the top oncologist Dr. Gilbert who is also at the funeral and seems slightly surprised when Walter thanks him for trying so hard.
Dr Gilbert tells Axe Donnie’s cancer is spreading fast. He has a few months. Gilbert knows of some drug trial in Pittsburgh that may buy Donnie a few more months. Axe questions the quality of life Donnie will have under this new treatment and suggests they not bring this up. Is he thinking about Donnie’s quality of life or his own? Not to justify Axe’s action but this is a discussion that the medical world is having as well, if a few more months of life is meaningful enough to make the medical costs worth, but yeah you just don’t know what those few months could mean to the dying person or his family. Besides, what to say about Dr. Gilbert? He obviously keeps mum because Axe has been funding his research. Where do you draw the line?
This story may be the reason WHY Axe could not skip the funeral. I just imagine his wish: asking for his friend’s forgiveness. Then he stands tall and walks away as Chumbawhamba sings Tubthumping: What a song to end this brilliant episode — anarchy meets capitalism — it goes directly to my running playlist! It’s a one-hit wonder. Like Brian Doyle. Like Donnie.
“I get knocked down, but I get up again
You are never gonna keep me down”
Bobby Axelrod could be the lonelist person on the planet.