Billions on Showtime 2.01: Risk Management

By now, you’ve seen Billions S2 opener, “Risk Management” and have probably read Damianista’s excellent episode recap. Now, from me, you’ll get some of the “emotional truth” in this episode.

Bobby is a spiral of disordered nervous energy. When he stands in front of his people, in what is ostensibly a morale building exercise, there’s a tension to him that wasn’t there when he climbed on top of file cabinets last season and mobilized the minions to batten down the hatches when he first found out he was under investigation. This time, it seems to be a combination of him standing in the dark in front of a lit but otherwise blank screen and a certain air to his words that make you wonder if he even believes what he’s saying. He’s primed for battle, but in a sort of unprepared, grasping-at-straws way.

Even though Bobby didn’t suffer anything more than the self-inflicted destruction of his offices, revenge must be exacted. Leave it to the Billions writers to never come at Chuck one simple way. They seem to coax out ways to hurt Chuck via lovely twists in prior events that you thought were meant to never touch him.

First spark that sends the Attorney General sniffing around the offices of New York’s Southern District is the case filed and then aborted by Chuck’s office against Bobby for bribing the police to cover-up Danzig’s gun-toting meltdown last season. Since this was a case whose specifics were gotten via illegal means (ie a husband glancing at a wife’s privileged session notes), Chuck had to drop it. You thought that was the end of that, didn’t you? Apparently not. The AG wants to know why an apparently good case was dropped, so she sends an investigator. That investigator is bespectacled, very FBI circa Eliot Ness, Oliver Dake.

Dake continues the sniffing and discovers issue number two against Chuck. Doesn’t take really cool retro glasses to see that there is $5 million dumped in Chuck and Wendy’s joint account the very same day the bribery case was dropped. You’ll recall Wendy drove off from Axe Capital last season with a wry smile and a cool 5 sticks bonus? And you thought that was that, right? Again, apparently not. It appears that Wendy overlooked letting her husband know about the vast uptick in funds now in their joint account. So, now, we’ve got a question of Chuck accepting a bribe from Bobby. A meta bribery, if you will. 🙂

As if those strikes against Chuck weren’t enough, there’s a strike three. Chuck is served with 127 law suits. We saw Chuck being served these summons by a daredevil bike messenger in one of the series promos, and you know what my first thought was? What, Bobby is suing him for every piece of drywall he had to rip out, every floor board he had to pry up in the S1 finale? Of course not. Bobby has simply gotten his virtuoso barrister-beyond-compare, Orrin Bach, to find a bunch of folks pissed off at Chuck. Remember the guy from last season on a last walk in the park with the kids before going to jail? The one who threw a doughnut at Chuck for slipping the doughnut vendor a $20? It’s guys like that Orrin reaches out to. And he manages to find 127 of them (in a remarkably short span of time) willing to file lawsuits. Voila: the strength in numbers Bobby needs to take the attention off the purported (albeit never proven) misdeeds of Axe Capital and transfer everyone’s gaze to the District Attorney’s office instead. Bobby’s own bit of the arsenal, his own Bivens claim attesting a violation of his 4th amendment rights against unnecessary search and seizure, gets tucked in there too, and they’re off to the races.

On top of all of that, we learn that Bryan Connerty is the one who initially dropped the dime on Chuck way back on the night he shared a slice of nonna pie in Yonkers with Axe. So, while both Bobby and Chuck have lost Wendy, Chuck is also well on the way to losing Bryan too.

Granted all of these attacks on Chuck are intricately connected and you couldn’t have one without the other. Still, the sum total of it all sure does a bang-up job of ganging up on Chuck. As Bach sums up nicely to Axe:

The stories won’t be about you, they’ll be about him.

Now it’s up to Chuck to practice what his jiu jitsu master preaches:

Generate offense out of defense, even off your back.

On other fronts, there is some fun symmetry to call out in this episode.

One, Bobby has hired a compliance officer, his Chief of Staff, member of much-desired-by-Wags high-end hook-up site Raya, Chatham House Rules enforcer, Stephanie Reed. Chuck, symmetrically, has the new face of Oliver Dake in his office. (Neither have what they really need, of course, which is: Wendy)

Two, while Wendy holds court at the new hedge fund courting her, Axe makes a meager attempt to rally his troops sans his rallying right hand. Must say that Wendy’s wooing from the Bucket Shop hedge fund was darn near comical. From the rash young stud mansplaining from the audience, to Wendy holding up a bottle of Viagra and talking about hardships under pressure, to the close-up shot of a 75K cashier’s check. It was cartoonish, but not outlandish, given the vagaries of this particular world of high-stakes gambling.

The theme of trust gets tossed around nicely as well.

According to Bobby:

Trust almost killed Axe Capital.

On the other side, we have Bryan violating trust to undermine his boss. Back at Chez Axelrod, we have Lara hankering to get back to work one way or another, without, we must assume, conference with her husband on the subject. And Wendy, not trusting any of the lot with anything anymore, but continuing to stand by them (save for the wee lie of omission not telling Chuck about the $5 million). In fact, as far as the issue of trust, Wendy stands alone on moral high ground above all the other children in that she seems firmly and uncompromisingly rooted to the cause of not violating anyone’s trust at any cost.

On the thread of trust (but not necessarily symmetry), what of that special something between Bobby and Wendy? Last we saw, she was gone, and, except for a meager attempt at an apology, he was done. But, alas, Bobby is a survivor and a stubborn one at that. In Wendy’s office, he slips back seamlessly into the role of playing the lost boy needing a good grounding. When Wendy asks him why he’d show up knowing she wouldn’t see him without him resorting to an assumed name, Bobby whisper growls (as Damian is wont to whisper growl):

I knew you wouldn’t. But that’s not the same as not wanting to.

Bobby says they are at an inflection point. Yes, that means turning point, but not just any turn. In math, an inflection point is a point of a curve at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs. Inflection points seem to have caught Bobby’s eyes from the moment he first learned to see. At the races as a young man, he learned that the real information, the point at which the hardcore winners bet late and heavy, was on the board, not on the track. He watched the odds, not the race. He’s confident in his ability to see those points. (His people are quite good at it too. Witness the bright new intern Taylor’s uncanny talent to see crucial points along the curve too.) As good as Bobby is at seeing those points, it seems he needs Wendy to help him navigate the race.

In this episode, Bobby has announced to his crew that he is a survivor.

I will do whatever it takes to avoid my fate.

He says he plans to avoid the inevitable. And he challenges all of Axe Capital to do the same. On the surface, these are the words of an intractable hero willing to carry it all on his shoulders. But, doesn’t it all also have the feel of Don Quixote tilting at windmills? I mean, how, exactly is one expected to realistically avoid one’s fate? That’s why they call it fate, right? It’s unavoidable.

Methinks all that (and more) remains to be seen this season on Billions!

12 thoughts on “Billions on Showtime 2.01: Risk Management”

  1. When I compare season two’s “pep talk” with last year’s, I felt that last year’s was more put on for the sake of his staff, and that he was emoting for them, not truly reflecting what he felt. This year it seemed he really believed his own words. But that didn’t dawn on me until after watching this year’s episode a couple of times.

    1. I see you what you mean. The first rally was definitely more of a projection, sort of a jutting out of brute force to get his people fired up. And this time was more internal, he was sort of talking to himself, trying to make the case for himself maybe to keep fighting and stay motivated. There was definitely more anger than passion this time around. Fun to see these nuances!

  2. I love your observation on trust! Because, let’s face it, in any relationship, if you don’t have trust, what do you really have? Great insightful recap!!

  3. Delicious Post!

    Trust. You are absolutely right it is one of the main keywords in the season premiere, and in the show in general. Axe seems to have lost trust in his own soldiers. Because trust almost killed Axe Capital, he now has Stephanie to observe and absorb every single conversation between Axe and any employee. Wow. But probably the more interesting trust relationships are between Axe and Wendy as well as between Chuck and his apprentices. Axe has failed Wendy. Chuck has failed his apprentices. They both have commitment problems since neither can credibly make a promise to not do wrong with them ever again. Fascinating. The way the show plays with human relationships never ceases to amaze me. Standing ovation for the season premiere for doing it again!

    I completely forgot about the doughnut guy, too – brilliant! I am sure he was first in line to file his complaint! Chuck fucked him bad and it’s payback time!

  4. On Bobby’s avoid my fate, sounds more like he would find whatever to cushion the blows to come, he knew when dealing with Chuck casualties will be along the way and he will need to get rid of as much without casualties?

    1. You may be right. Maybe I’m being overly critical of Bobby (or every other Damian fan is being overly generous :D). I don’t really see him as a boss who cares about his people enough to care if they become casualties of the war. He saves them from trouble (eg Danzig), but would he ever go out of his way, sacrifice his own power, for them? I don’t know. That would be SUCH a great question for the writers to wrestle with. They did a great job with his wrestling with his conscience over what happened with Donnie last season. But they could go deeper into that theme, if they wanted to….ie without getting him to be too much of a navel-gazer. It’s a challenge for sure to show self-awareness in a character that’s all about power at any cost.

      Beauty is that I can love Damian absolutely and still not totally love the characters he plays. 🙂

      1. Make it two, JaniaJania. I also think Axe is not a boss who cares about his people being casualties. He would of course save Danzig because he works at Axe Capital and Axe would not have Axe Capital’s name being tainted. Or the money they gave to Dollar Bill’s family after he got arrested? His wife seemed grateful but Axe should of course pay since the guy is not selling him out. Axe may try to market this as “care” but I don’t buy that 🙂

  5. Does Axe really care about his employees? Ummm? The answer is probably in the clip with him speaking to Lara and telling her that except for the two of them and the kids, everyone else is “cannon fodder”.

  6. On both sides (Axe and Chuck) the trust issue is very apparent, but it is their issues. They both assume Wendy is betraying them, but their arrogant, paranoid induced assumptions actually lead to them betraying her at the end of season 1.

    I see a similar pattern emerging already on team Chuck as I am not convinced Bryan made that call. It is entirely possible that he did and I wouldn’t blame him, but it is also possible it was Bobby/Bach. What matters is how it looks and it looks like he made that call. Never mind an erosion of principles as Kate’s dad put it, an erosion of trust is already in motion.

    I agree completely that Axe is a man grasping at straws and such men tend to be petulant and eager to blame everyone else. On the question of Axe encouraging everyone to avoid their fate, that wasn’t a good suggestion from where I am sitting. What if the point comes when their survival is at odds with his? It could happen. I think Axe has wandered into self prophecy mode. In trying to avoid that which he fears, he will make it happen.

    I love your break down of Axe and Wendy’s meeting. Lovely!

    1. Thanks Bookwrm! Interesting read that Bryan may not have made the call afterall. Looking forward to seeing how that pans out.
      I don’t think Axe was telling everyone else to avoid their fate, he was asserting his own intentions. And, the subtext was that I’m going to avoid my fate, even if it means taking down some of you in the process. He trusts no one. He sees trust as a weakness. I totally see him in a corner. There are only two ways out of that corner, for him to fight smartly or succumb to self-sabotage, as you say.

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