Nearly midpoint to Billions Season 2, and tables are turning in Episode 5, “Indian Four”. We start the show geared up to go thru all the machinations, ebb and flow, tit for tat, cat and mouse that has been the hallmark of the series so far. And there is plenty of that rapid-fire tennis match back and forth to watch, but, there’s also something quite new this episode. It feels sort of homey, much less technical, more touchy-feely, dare I say, more human.
Indulge please as I try out a new way to tell the stories running through this episode, in thematic sections.
Troubles of a Billionaire
Boyd has made bail and Axe is there to give him a ride away from the courthouse. They both know that Arendt, the guy who under Boyd’s direction played treasury bills, is primed to testify against Boyd. Chuck apparently got the guy to flip by offering a deal in exchange for testimony against Boyd. Bobby suggests using the means at their disposal, namely, Hall and his nefarious dark methods, to get Arendt to flip back.
On his way to the sauna that night, Boyd is surprised by Hall lurking in the bushes. With a healthy chunk of money deposited to offshore accounts for Arendt and his wife, they’ve succeeded in reversing his flip. Throwing money at the problem is well and good, but Hall’s help takes a dark turn when he pulls out a picture of Arendt’s kids. He provides a circuitous non-answer to the question of whether he would use the kids to further seal the deal. Creepy bordering on comical, or vice versa, hard to tell.
In the DA’s office, to Bryan and Kate’s chagrin, Chuck wants to go to trial against Boyd. Due to its dry non-flashy subject matter, white collar crime is notoriously difficult to prosecute. Thus, Bryan warns that the subject of bid-rigging treasury auctions is enough to send any jury “into a coma.”
They march into a deposition, but Boyd doesn’t deign to make an appearance. A roomful of his attorneys suggests a plea, which Chuck summarily rejects. Chuck determines that Boyd feels safe enough to not even show for his own deposition, and concludes that Arendt has been compromised, leaving them only with their wire admission as evidence. This invigorates Bryan to take the case to trial.
Bryan has got some slick methods up his sleeve when it comes to jury selection. But first, he has to hear a bit about being an outsider vs. being “born with a place at the table” like Chuck and Kate. Chuck says Bryan, due to his position as a lesser born, has a fury that can serve him well or swallow him whole. It is good advice and Chuck means well, but it somehow doesn’t quite work when it comes from a place of privilege. Imagine a white guy telling a black guy how to be the best black guy he can be. Right, that.
Now, for a little admitted truth of the American jury trial system: People serving on a jury are often those who weren’t smart or rich enough to get out of jury duty. It’s an American obligation and duty to serve on a jury when called, but there are myriad ways out of it, which are exploited as needed. (Me? I was called to jury duty more than once when I lived in LA. One final time I was called I told them I was in grad school and could not take the time off. They agreed, and I’ve never been called again in the 20+ years since then.) Bryan knows juries and he knows they will rarely be made up of anyone from the 1% highest income bracket. In fact, most juries will be comprised of the exact opposite of folks like Boyd.
So, at jury selection, Bryan pulls it out big time, compromising every last one of the jurors as less than objective against the plight of billionaires. Gotta love the juror who holds nothing back:
I assume everyone hates this man from first sight. It’s not going to color my opinion.
Thus, Bryan shows Boyd and his attorney that they have no chance of getting an impartial jury. This forces them to settle, this time in a much more respectful way than they behaved at the deposition.
At the plea table, we revisit Chuck’s aversion to settlements. He walks out of this bargain too. But this time there’s a long game at play. By refusing to give Boyd the settlement and forcing him to trial, Chuck has essentially forced his boss, the Attorney General, into a trial of public perception for her connections to Boyd. She calls tout suite and after a terribly clever exchange of indirect threats, Chuck has communicated that he’d be happy to take the plea, granted the AG stays out of the affairs of the Southern District for the foreseeable future. Thus, Chuck Rhoades effectively bags the quarry and takes the predator off his own scent all in one fell swoop, leaving him free to roam the “open field” and run his office as he sees fit. He lands triumphant.
Meanwhile, Lonnie is about to enjoy a donut when he gets interrupted by Dake looking to make his big score. Lonnie tells Chuck about the impending session and apologizes for what he’s going to have to admit when Dake asks pointed questions about impropriety. As Lonnie sweats it out, Chuck has gotten the AG to rethink her investigation in the nick of time. Lonnie is just fine with that turn of events.
Something about a Casino
Axe and Wags meet up with Donald Thayer, the casino guy, in his custom-made meat room. One can imagine this scene ushering in a new visual for wise guy thrillers. Where once guys in a certain line of work made use of meat district meat lockers for their nefarious deeds, Axe’s guy is decidedly more uptown with his love of grass-fed prime cuts.
Donald shares his concerns about the casino deal. Timing is off, he says. New name floated into the mix, Hank Flagg, owns land they need for access off the interstate to the casino. Casino guy suggests that since it’s all meant to be a community rehabilitation project, they can get the government involved to push the guy off the land. Bobby betrays much of his politics by sneering at the regulations that’ll come with government interference. Damian gets Bobby to say “environmentalistas” like it’s the ugliest word you’ll ever hear.
From Hall, Bobby is pleased to learn the guy standing in the way isn’t a bleeding-heart environmentalist, he’s a businessman, and thus accessible.
Bobby drives upstate to see the obstructionist, Hank Flagg. In Hank’s workshop a 1930 Indian Four catches Bobby’s eye. Hank is restoring the foot clutch, so-called suicide clutch because it requires the rider to take hands off the handlebars to engage it. Bobby’s assessment of those who rode such machines back in the day may as well be an assessment of himself.
…was the epitome of power. You had to be rich enough to afford it and strong enough to handle it.
Over Dos Equis, Hank divulges his feeling that the high-ball buy-out he’s been offered can only mean there must be something big coming to the property. Bobby says $1.5 million is nothing to sneeze at and if the government comes in, he’s bound to get even less. Hank seems a stubborn sort, distrustful of both big money and big government. He alludes to Ruby Ridge, a confrontation between land owners and US Marshalls that ended in gunfire and death and an eventual civil settlement for the land owners. Flagg has done the public records research and knows that Bobby bought out the town’s debt in municipal bonds. He knows how much Axe stands to make or lose on the deal. Bobby ups the ante, Hank says he’d be happy with seven million, to which Bobby gives us another Axelrod maxim:
No one leaves a negotiation happy.
Bobby gets Hank down to 5. Plus the Indian Four. Done deal.
The lines between Hank Flagg and Bobby Axelrod are so clearly and indelibly drawn in this reasonably just world. What nonsense to ever wonder that, thru some twist of fate, guys like Hank Flagg would ever lose their totally justified wariness of strangers with money to get hoodwinked and turned so as to put a guy like Bobby Axelrod into the highest office in the land. Never going to happen in Billions world.
Bobby saunters back to base camp triumphant as well. The property he’s just bought for 5 million from Flagg will in turn be leased to Thayer, the casino guy, for 750,000 a year on a 10 year lease, landing Bobby, what, a cool 2.5 million in the black for his troubles. Wags doesn’t need to fluff, but he does:
Wyatt, we are rolling.
Life at the Rhoades
Over at the Rhoades, Ira feels sick for taking all of Chuck’s money. They commiserate over marriage and divorce. Chuck shares what he’s learned from couple’s therapy:
The best moments often closely follow the worst ones.
But, they both agree, those best moments are fleeting, “like lightning.”
Ira offers the wisdom of a divorced man who’s moved on successfully to Tinder-fueled younger and perkier pastures.
Everything has a life span.
Wendy comes home on Chuck’s night with the kids to thank him for standing up for her. One thing leads to another and she stays for Wolffer rose and dinner. The kids are over the moon at seeing mom and dad together leading to a moment of tenderness between the estranged pair over the dirty dishes. The moment passes like lightning though and Wendy says her good nights.
During the visit home, Wendy heard Chuck get repeated calls from his lawyer, so her next stop, naturally, is Ira’s pad to get some intel on her husband’s legal troubles. Interesting trait of Wendy’s to not like being out of the loop on anyone’s personal business. Granted Chuck is the father of her children so she needs to know what’s going on and what, if anything, she can do to help. But, trying to get a lawyer to betray lawyer client privilege seems a bit nosy. Ira doesn’t divulge anything as a lawyer, but he does divulge as a friend:
He’s never needed you as much as he needs you right now.
Bobby and Wendy
Wendy arranges to meet Bobby at a skate park where daughter Eva is having a lesson. She’s decided to accept his invitation back to Axe Capital. She establishes rules of engagement and gets a tidy uptick in her salary, share of profits, and payout should the company ever be sold. Bobby asks her what changed her mind. She said she liked how he respected her boundaries the first time she said no. Bobby’s all, Cool, that it? Wendy asks for more: she wants Axe to drop the 127 civil suits against Chuck. Bobby postures at a big refusal, but ultimately gives up way too quickly. Wendy sees the light. The only reason Bobby brought up the suits in the first place was to use them as leverage to get Wendy back. She confronts him and gets this great response:
Yes, that was a scenario that I had gamed out.
Ya’ll have to be saying, wow, this woman means A LOT to this guy. And Wendy must see that too, right? So, to punish him for deceiving her and to even the scales again she drops the biggest caveat to her return: no more sessions for Axe. He winces a wee bit, such that you can see some pain under a thick layer of self-preservation. It’s not really an expression we’ve seen before from Damian’s bag of tricks. Not overt pain, more of a “You’re going to do me like that now? Aw, boo.” If there’s an adjective to match that expression, I’d love to know it. He’s like a child denied something the deepest part of him needs. At this point, he has no choice, really, so he’ll take whatever Wendy’s willing to give. Bobby is nothing if not resourceful. So chances are high that this impasse too shall pass.
Thus Wendy is now again an employee of Axe but no longer his therapist/counselor/confidante/personal coach. On the bright side, this bodes a decided shift in the ethics-bound constraints on their relationship, methinks. That is to say, if Wendy is not counseling Bobby and remains strictly just an employee, there are no longer any messy doctor-client constraints put on their relationship.
Bobby manipulated her return, but she’s coming back on her own terms. I don’t know how else to express this turn of events but with a compelling mathematical equation, one that fuels the chemistry and renders this pair endlessly watchable:
Bobby Axelrod = Wendy Rhoades
Bobby gets Orrin to draw up a contract for Wendy, the first and only such contract in Axe Capital. He also tells him to tell Dake his bribery thing won’t get any play from Axe (as if it ever was going to with Wendy on the block too) and to drop the suite of suits against Chuck.
At the contract signing, Bobby proceeds to further sell already sold Wendy about the changes for the better at Axe Capital. He boasts the heightened security and new compliance person (who, as you may recall, was terminated last episode). He makes a show of asking Orrin to call off the dogs on Chuck. Wendy sees it for the show it is.
Grand gestures aren’t necessary. When it comes to you Bobby, it’s the small kindnesses I prefer.
Lines that start with “When it comes to you, Bobby…” have now become my favorite lines uttered when these two talk.
Life at the Axelrods
Bobby picks up Lara at the heli-pad to copter over to dinner in a place that looks like Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco but can’t possibly be. There are many times Axe has taken advantage of his wife in this marriage and last season I was all about hoping she didn’t end up a doormat, never calling him on his crap, but, this time, I confess I was hoping he wouldn’t have to apologize for the Start-up 101 lesson he gave her last week. He was absolutely right in that exchange.
Contrary to what Lara thinks, this dinner beneath the stars to the music of chirping crickets isn’t quite about that apology. It is rather a preemptive apology for hiring back Wendy. Bobby deals his hand circuitously by implying that he’s asking for permission. Lara knows it’s no such thing and Wendy’s return is a done deal. Ultimately, in a fit of petulance, she takes the helicopter back without him.
Funny to be on her side, but not. Seems what drew them together was a shared history of growing up not rich. And now, circumstances have changed, and they are rich. Her sister even equated Lara’s life to winning the lottery. Understandably, Lara demands more than just money, like honesty, openness, and, for the most part, she gets those things. But she has to know that she didn’t marry an Eagle Scout and that he got where he is by not always being honest and open. So why would she expect him to employ different rules of engagement with her?
Going to get in trouble for saying this I know, but Lara is the kind of woman who I could never see myself ever engaging with. She embodies a major lack of independence, an expectation that even though she married a bit of a jerk, that jerk will somehow be different with her, and bow to her every whim. Lots of women marry jerks, but lots of women also love the jerks they marry. I don’t see love for Bobby in Lara. She expresses a particularly female brand of aggression, that, at times, comes off as a fire-brand ride-or-die loyalty, but, lately, is more of a basic onslaught of demands with no leg to stand on.
Back at home after a sleepless night and a dip in the pool, Bobby again wants to do right by his wife. She maintains the stalemate.
Later, Bobby meets Lara outside her personal yoga sanctuary at home to apologize, again. This time, Lara lets him have it, starting with a retelling of their history:
You make plans, you put them in motion, and then you inform me after the fact.
Lara has identified Wendy as a liability and affirms that she’ll “never be okay” with the two of them “talking.” Bobby generously offers to draw a line, to never have sessions with Wendy. A prince among men, this guy. This time Lara doesn’t catch the lie. Cut to entangled limbs under a well-placed towel and we can rest easy that all’s right with the Axelrods once again. For now.
Chuck Sr.’s Shenanigans
From his man on the beat, Chuck Sr hears Axe is inexplicably interested in the Podunk town of Sandicot. He meets an old friend to pick his brain for more details. Gaming license, is all he needs to hear. Senior takes action immediately by calling up another friend, Black Jack Foley (the much welcome new face of power house David Strathairn… must highly recommend his beautiful film Limbo) to finneagle a new location for the casino.
Chuck’s Recusal from the Chopping Block
Orrin calls up his old student Bryan to say congratulations. Bryan rattles off some Go lingo to which Orrin replies:
I know none of those words.
He ends the call with some ominous direction for Bryan to rethink his ultimate goals in the game.
At the gentlemen’s club, men throughout the smoking room are toasting Chuck’s victory over Boyd. Chuck Sr. toasts to sonny boy securing his job and to the jobs now open for his future, mayor or governor, the world is now his oyster.
To the vir triumphalis.
Then Ira tells Chuck that Axe has dropped the civil suits, and his expression changes.
He takes off leaving them to enjoy the single malt tribute without him and makes a beeline home where it’s Wendy’s night.
Chuck asks Wendy what she did to get Bobby to drop the suit. She says she went back to work for Axe Capital. She’s not even going to claim that she did it to save Chuck because it’s not the entire truth.
It’s my work. And when I didn’t have it anymore, it left a hole I tried very hard to fill, and couldn’t.
For Chuck, it’s a “deal breaker.”
As Bobby revs up his Indian Four, he’s interrupted by Iceland calling. Hall tells him that Sandicot is not getting the gaming license, the gaming commission decided to go elsewhere. He takes the hit, shutting the door on his garage full of freedom-loving hogs.
Bobby now has the Indian Four locked away for himself, but he’s also got acres of useless land for which he grossly overpaid, as well as a bunch of municipal bonds that may soon be worth less than the paper they’re printed on. Who knows, maybe fortunes will flip again and there’ll be an untapped natural gas line under that land with no pesky anti-frakkers to stop Axe from tapping it. Axe may land on top yet, by some other means. For now, he stands defeated.