Bobby and Chuck are a set of twinsies this episode of Billions, Season 3, Episode 2, “The Wrong Maria Gonzalez.” Where we saw Chuck mildly relishing in his win in the first episode and Bobby not-so-mildly wondering what to do about his loss, in this episode the two foes are on more equal footing.
Bobby can’t act on his investing instincts about the earthquake on the coast of Africa, which he knows will lead to a tsunami on the coast of South America, leading to losses for Axe Cap investments in Brazil, specifically flooded sugar crops and interruptions in shipping.
On the other side, the wheel of fortune doesn’t roll in Chuck’s favor to be awarded the judge sympathetic to his cause in Eastern v. Axelrod.
Both Bobby and Chuck have obstacles set before them, both master their obstacle du jour, in essentially similar ways.
I worked my entire life to put myself in a position where I’d be truly free.
Is there even such a thing? Bobby certainly seems to think true freedom is possible. He calls Wendy with this complaint and gets her sound advice, which, on some level, he absorbs.
Limits, constraints, can be useful.
Right? Takes that extra effort, that extra push, but why not see the obstacle as a challenge? It’d take a bit more effort than taking the instinctual split second cognitive leap that an earthquake in one part of the world is going to affect the flow of resources in another part of the world. But essentially a cognitive leap is a cognitive leap. A challenge is a challenge. Right?
Letting go… is another kind of freedom. A more powerful kind of freedom.
As if we didn’t see the enchanted charm of this city already, we learn that New York City judicial assignments are still done via wooden wheel and crank. Digital randomizers? Fuggedaboudit, computers are for losers.
Dake is resigned to deal with the free market-friendly judge they rolled. Chuck doesn’t want to risk it. He goes to Wendy for some advice. She knows the temperature in which both of the men in her life work best. She knows how to play both ends, and how.
To Chuck, she gives advice on how to be harder, more cut throat, go out and get what you’re owed. She knows the unfriendly judge owes Chuck a favor, so her advice is:
Impose your will on him, until he does what he needs to and repays the debt.
To Bobby, she provided the opposite. She advises him to be softer, let go to let in. Her goal? A happy medium, a place where both men can find peace in themselves and in their work. She’s a conduit for them both. A path between and around, to some greater insight, some alternative path to the near-sighted ones they set upon when left to their own devices. The writing gives Wendy that power, and Maggie Siff runs with it.
Lara, however, is on a different track, one that elicits sympathy but still not so easy to understand.
From the moment Bobby included his wife in the little play he did on Birch in Season One, kneeling down to share his screen with her, letting her share in the joy of facilitating Birch’s fall, we knew that Lara wasn’t just a trophy wife. She didn’t hold court over a gaggle of sycophants like other trophy wives we’ve seen. We never saw her compare notes on who was wearing whom and whose kids were going to what prestige private schools. Instead, we see her chopping a woman off at the knees for shaming her husband in public for having the audacity of surviving 9/11. She seemed very ride or die then, didn’t she? As if she’d not only survived a car bomb or three during her marriage to Axe and before, but that she knew how to crawl under the chassis on a moment’s notice, white jeans be damned, and defuse one too. And when the police got there to investigate, she’d be like “Car bomb, what car bomb, officer?” Bobby and Lara definitely had a Bonny and Clyde thing going when they were together that first season.
Now they aren’t together, what are they? She hints, not so subtly, that it hurts her that he doesn’t need her for the same things he relies on Wendy for. This behavior of Axe’s seems to be without any explanation really. Like, has he tried to tell Lara the same stuff he shares with Wendy, and have we seen her react in any way that would turn him off from every sharing again? Not really, right? So, a lot is left to the subtext. And the subtext I see is this: Axe needs to put stuff in discretely defined compartments. And Lara lives in the compartment marked home and family. He can’t see her as anything outside that compartment. That’s just who he is.
Lara can traverse the borders of her work and friendships to come to his aid, like she did when she covered up the 9/11 chapter in her friend’s book and when she shuttered her restaurant because the fire department came around with sledgehammers for Axe’s sins against them. She’s been shown picking up his mess several times already. She hasn’t been personally challenged enough that we’ve seen, but if she had, would he as readily come to her defense? Probably if it meant protecting himself too and the family. But, personally, putting himself in front of her to defend her against something, or take a blow for her? No, not seeing him ever doing that, even if she needed it.
Bobby looks after Bobby. Even though he’s included her and his boys as those he deems something above cannon fodder, are they really immune? Hard to trust it. And Lara clearly doesn’t.
In this episode we see Lara speak a longish speech to her friend who unthinkingly expresses some admiration over Lara’s ability to leave Bobby. It reminded me a bit of when Carmella briefly left Tony (The Sopranos), but in reverse. Carmella never made any motions about being a strong independent woman. Tony told her “hey, you knew what you were signing up for,” and she had no ground to stand on to complain. So when she left, and had the fling with the character played by David Strathairn, and when he couldn’t throw around influence with the same weight as Tony could, she came right back.
Carmella got the courage to leave from one of her cronies, right? Or maybe it was that woman don who ran her own organization…but ended up getting beat down despite being a woman? Anyway, someone inspired Carmella to leave, and she didn’t stay gone. Lara needed just one lie to leave and now the question is: will she stay gone? In her big speech, she is punching a hole in her friend’s illusion that leaving is all it’s cracked up to be. So, in a roundabout way, she’s actually giving advice to her past self. She tells her friend she’s smart enough to know that the people she pays to be around aren’t her friends, the charities to whom she gives will take her money, but have no respect for how she came about it.
When every relationship in your life reveals itself to be a trade on your husband’s net worth…
You’ll close the door on false friendships but you’ll still miss the attention and you’ll give anything to get it back, she tells her friend, ie herself. Then she drops a Stones lyric on her (that’s 2 for 2, show): Stay with your husband, you may not get what you want, but you’ll get what you need.
This speech of Lara’s was something Carmella would have been on the receiving end of. But, there are aspects of this speech that mean the same thing either way: there’s an Axe-sized hole in Lara’s life. She’s maybe finding that being Mrs. Bobby Axelrod afforded her some things she will never be able to achieve on her own no matter how many chassis she’s willing to crawl under or how many knees she’s willing to cap. She misses him and she’s trying to find peace in the fact that he doesn’t seem to need her for anything at all.
Still, all that said, the character never seems to gel for me. Goodness knows I’m no ride or die anything (my spirit animal is a sloth). But I’ve known women to have that quality to them. I’ve known at least one woman who embodies that old Enjoli ad “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man.” (My friend is the sort of a wild west die hard frontier woman from Alaska type, to be specific) But, I can’t really wrap my head around how or why. This trope is what Lara is meant to embody I think, so I can’t quite get the how and why of her either. She knows how to dig for clams and make the calls to get a kid off the admission list for Stanford. Okay, we got that. But, really? Who is she really when she’s not the inhabitant of one of Axe’s compartments? Frankly, I don’t think she knows either.
Back to the boys. We see the bit from the preview of Bobby, the shark, gliding through a sea of hotrods. Funny how the movement of his body in that bit of preview alluded to the actual content of the scene. Bobby gets bit by big fish Mark Cuban (who, “it pains me to say”, may have some bankable talent as an actor). Cuban says something akin to, “Sure, I love money, but not your money, which reeks at the moment like Fulton Fish Market at sunset.” Bobby smarts at the bite, then glides over to the next fish, another fellow investor, and delivers his own bite. And so goes the circle of life. “Little fish, big fish, swimming the water.” (a PJ Harvey lyric, if I’m not mistaken)
When he can’t stop himself from going into the office, Bobby is all shifty-eyed and skittish, flitting about, dying to intervene somewhere. Fortunately for him, he doesn’t intrude on anything more dangerous than Mafee eating lunch. Mafee makes some allusion to Fight Club maybe? Got a question out to the reddit boys, we’ll see if they respond and I’ll ETA.
My favorite tweedle dum and tweedle dee of this season so far? Dollar Bill and Mafee. Something so fitting whenever they’re in frame together.
Lots of great throwaway physical comedy in this episode. A bulk of it from Compliance Director Spyros.
Witness Bobby trying to read lips in the next office over as he tests the turning radius on his chair while Spyros plays with his selfie stick. So freakin funny!
With all the clear glass, and the angles and art, it’s like every frame has a precision to it, captivating to the eyes, without any hint of self-consciousness. The set folks outdid themselves this season. On that note, I have to call out my absolute favorite of all the great art in Axe Cap in this screencap, Baldesarri’s Astronauts and Businessmen. Love it!
More physical comedy when Bobby wordlessly says, “Really, does me enjoying an apple warrant screencaps?” And here, a meta-screencap, if you will.
We’ve seen that Dollar Bill misses his boss, but now we see he misses his friend too. He sweetly cuts the tension with some small talk on family vacation plans…until the casual mood is Spyros’ed. What masterful obsequiousness at play from Stephen Kunken’s Ari Spyros, and it’s all for real too.
We know Chuck is obsequious too. But, here, in a totally fake way, asking his favorite judge Rob Morrow’s Adam DeGiulio to step into the vacancy left when the free market friendly judge recuses himself. Slithering around like he’s not heaping favor-trading upon favor-trading. He’s doing his job, and he knows it’s sneaky as hell. He’s “almost” sorry, but, much like Axe’s secret parking garage meetings with other funds friendly to his business, the sneaking around is all par for the course. Chuck gets his judge. And then he probably goes home to shower off the slime.
Ultimately, Ben Kim comes in with a saving play for Axe Cap, a play that hedges on the positive of the situation instead of hoping it goes further south, and thus a play that Axe Cap has never done before. Is there always more money to be made from shorting than betting on success? Or maybe, since things going south is inevitable, there’s more risk to bet that things go up? I’ll let Lady Trader sort that out, as I hope she does some of the numbers we saw.
Don’t have to be a trader to note the downward plummet of the daily chart for Axe Cap. To pull that curve back up, Ben Kim found a sugar company in Thailand that is set to profit from the loss of Brazil’s sugar. Taylor can’t get the story out of fearful Ben Kim so she search histories it out from the IT guy and agrees it’s a good idea. Thus Ben Kim saves the day, without so much as opening his mouth.
Axe puts back into Taylor’s hands the 2 billion he had set aside. Or did he never intend to pocket it away anyway? Whatever the case, he trusts Taylor and knows that together they’ll be able to give Axe back some of the power and control he desperately needs while still keeping it all legal.
Could this be the first time that Axe has ever acknowledged an equal to himself, worthy of a trusting partnership? The thread of mystery brought on by previews and plain old guessing has teased that Bobby will be betrayed again this season. And folks around here are saying it could be Taylor, who now has been given incredible power to do Axe incredible harm. Not hedging any money on that bet myself, especially now since such a betrayal would be way too obvious. I’ve got a couple non-Taylor guesses but I’m happy to keep it a mystery for the most part. For now, it’s a beautiful thing, in terms of Bobby’s soul, that he’s found a true partner in his company, however long it may last.
ETA: Wow, in my rosey-eyed reading of that last scene, I seem to have overlooked the bit of slime still on Axe as he goes home for the night: the title of this episode. He got a woman deported, ya’ll, for doing nothing more than being a witness to his crime. The fact that the two “friends” who helped with the scam go home scott free and this woman who wanted nothing more than to work and make a better life for herself is bussed out is an essay of its own, but not for this space and time. (Some comment about shithole countries comes to mind…fwiw, the offense wasn’t about the countries, which, as a child of immigrants, I’ll be the first to admit, are indeed shitholes.. due to a multitude of reasons, some in and some out of their control..it was about the people from those countries… who are just people like you and me) For now, check out the wee smile as he confirms that his creamed pea toast eating Hall stand-ins did indeed pull the necessary strings to send Maria Gonzalez packing: