You’re searching for your mind don’t know where to start
Can’t find the key to fit the lock on your heart
You think you know but you are never quite sure
Your soul is ill but you will not find a cure yeah
Your world was made for you by someone above
But you chose evil ways instead of love
You made me master of the world where you exist
The soul I took from you was not even missed yeah
It seems this episode has a lot of lost souls – will they be missed? Characters we thought we knew dive even further into the abyss. For some, its par for the course; for others (at least in my opinion) it’s a bit of a shock. In the world of “Billions” if you’re not part of the Triumvirate, you are not seen as anything but usable. Even though our trio weasels their way out of their mess, it seems like a Pyrrhic Victory.
Nobody knows what they are capable of doing in a stressful situation. We all say we won’t cross an imaginary “line”, but when faced with jail, the loss of your freedom, and the pain that would inflict on your family, your “line” can and will move.
Axe and Chuck using people “just like pawns in chess” for their own gain is a given; it is actually what makes the show exciting and fun. However, Chuck and Axe are usually throwing other “bad” guys under the bus: for Axe it’s other fund managers, for Chuck it’s corrupt judges or criminals. This week, we saw Wendy, up against a wall, willing to let some innocent take the fall for her.
In order to make sure Bryan can’t bring his conspiracy theory to trial, someone other than our Three Musketeers is going to have to be the “patsy”. Fudging the evidence on Wendy’s short will be divided: Axe will fix the cell phone records and produce any financial paper trail needed, while Chuck will make sure the scapegoat will be put in a “mortal vice” and “broken” so he has to take a plea. While Chuck and Axe worry Wendy won’t be on board for framing someone, she shocks them both with not only being 100% on board, but leading the charge to find the dupe. If you watch that scene, you can see a real look of pride on Axe’s face!
Chuck knows on his side, Dr. Gilbert is the one who’s going down. This Doctor’s hands are not clean: whether it is for his part in the ICEJ toxin or for taking away Donnie’s last Christmas. Chuck plants the slide he originally wanted to plant on Axe in Gilbert’s home, exactly as he told the Doctor he would do to Axe. The Fed’s raid Gilbert’s home and haul him to jail. I loathe Chuck, but his “holier than thou” act towards the Doctor in the interrogation room is brilliant and very convincing (if we didn’t know who Chuck really is under those three-piece custom suits!).
At first, Gilbert won’t be bullied; he wants his day in court, wants to testify. He’ll admit his guilt, but will also expose everyone else’s role in the ICEJ sabotage. Without the Doctor’s attorney present, Chuck gives a “what is guilt” speech to the good Doctor. “What is the cost? The grinding, wearing price” knowing what you have done, but not paying for it? “Facts don’t matter when true guilt is on the line.” “I’m giving you another chance to remember who you are, to examine your own complicity”, “your willingness to take another’s freedom.” “You jumped at the chance to torpedo his life to save your own. What does that say about you?” While watching, I couldn’t help but think this speech could have been given to Chuck, and would have been perfect!
Chuck will take Gilbert’s scalp for the AG. He breaks the Doctor, but not by using the slide with the toxin, or even with evidence of a fake account with an $11M profit benefiting from the ICEJ short (compliments of Axe’s protégé, Victor Mateo!) but by using his complicity in stealing Donnie’s last Christmas. The Doctor will take a plea. He’ll get 5 years in prison and he’ll get to keep the phantom gains in the fake account. Chuck has done his part. His compadres are working their end as well.
In court, Bryan is telling Judge DeGiulio he has new evidence in the case: phone records of Wendy calling in her short of ICEJ to Mafee from Chuck’s office. This evidence will prove a “conspiracy” and bring down everyone! Sorry Bryan, Axe is on it!
The new Halls can’t hack into Wendy’s cellular provider, Sky One Wireless, so Axe must go to the only fixer he knows can get the job done. I know he is creepy, but Hall is back and I couldn’t be happier! He has been hiding out in Nova Scotia and looks like a cast-off from the Deadliest Catch! If you can’t hack a system, then you hack a person. How he digs up all the dirt he needs on people, I’d love to know, but he blackmails a Sky One employee, and presto, an outgoing call from Wendy now becomes an incoming call from Mafee. Just goes to prove, sometimes two (Halls) isn’t better than one!
Bryan had called Mafee in to question him about this very call. Being the company man that he is, Mafee does not rat! However, Mafee is a man who values his reputation, and under oath, will not lie. He’ll do anything for Axe and Axe Capital within reason, because his integrity is important to him. Axe needs to find a way to exploit a weakness in Mafee and find a way to make him do what he wants him to do. Mafee has now become like any other transaction Axe makes: get the info, find the flaw, place the bet. Recon begins with Mafee’s BFF in the office, Taylor.
Taylor is not only the CIO, they are the leader (for now) of the firm and in that role, knows and cares about the employees. Axe at least pretended to care at one point, but now he needs to know what Taylor knows about Mafee. Taylor and Mafee are close: Mafee brought them in and was supportive of them and saw their potential even before Axe did. Axe needs to know what motivates Mafee.
Taylor tells Axe Mafee is old-school and has a sense of chivalry and would never truly go against his sense of right and wrong. You can tell that Axe has no concept of this! I have likened Taylor to Spock several times (like here) for their logical way of seeing things. The description of Mafee as “honorable” and “serving something greater than himself” and willing to protect a loved one, made me think of another Star Trek Universe character, Worf! Worf is a Klingon and places honor above all else!
Taylor is too smart not to know that this was Axe trying to figure out how to use this info on Mafee for his own benefit. Taylor will keep their eyes wide open on whats going on!
Mafee has got a bad feeling, and Taylor finds him thinking about his character over lots of hot chocolate! Mafee sees himself as one of the “good” guys of the hedge fund world (of which, I can attest, there are many!). Is Axe Capital worth him “diving on a live grenade”? Taylor knows Mafee, the type of person he is and his work ethic. Taylor tells Mafee he would survive with or without Axe Cap. In a Spock-like “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one” moment, Taylor reminds Mafee sacrifice can be beautiful only if it is done for the right reason and not forced.
A meeting in the War Room is attended by Axe, Wags, Wendy. Bach and the two Halls (they still have jobs?). Item Number One: how do they get Mafee to come over to the Dark Side? Money won’t work and the threat of firing him and blacklisting him from the Street could do more harm than good. Since Axe Capital is basically a fish bowl, Taylor sees this meeting of the Small Council and is rightly suspicious!
Wendy knows how to use Mafee’s good traits against him. Of course she would know – how many sessions has she had with him? She probably knows him best of all. She also has an Ace: Mafee “likes’ her (yes folks, the High School version), and with the “go to it” from Axe, she’ll play the “I’ve got a crush on you” angle. I find it so disturbing for Wendy to use information she gets from sessions with Mafee to use against him. I probably wouldn’t have a problem if she were doing this to Dollar Bill, or someone else; but to Mafee? It just seems so wrong. I do understand why she needs to do it, I just don’t like how.
Taylor (my hero in this episode), confronts Wendy. “How do you know you have the right to give advice” and move around the processors in people’s brains, Taylor asks. (Finally!!! Someone asks the question I’ve been asking!!). What gives Wendy the “authority”? Wendy uses words like “oath” and “do no harm” but those words are meaningless since they are half truths. Wendy may not be doing harm, but she’s also not doing what’s best for her patient, Mafee, and Taylor is going to call her out on it. Taylor doesn’t know exactly what the deal is, but expects Wendy to “do the right thing”. That is exactly what Wendy will do – for her and her family. I truly believe Wendy will do whatever is needed to get the Sword of Damacles away from her, but she won’t feel good about it. The emotional toll will hit her later.
Mrs. Robinson shows up at Mafee’s apartment. He thinks he’s getting sacked and that is why Wendy wants to see him. But oh no! Wendy is there to put on her very best Blanche Dubois impression. Flirting with Mafee and exploiting his crush on her she bats her eyelids: “You’ve never known me to bend facts, to warp them to my needs in order to benefit or profit.” Until now sister! Mafee believes Wendy is a “straight shooter” and would never believe she’s manipulating him. “I was acting on what you said: Axe doesn’t get these types of positions wrong.” Wendy flips the script and puts her trade on him! Mafee’s “truth” (uh, the TRUTH) will put Wendy in a bad, “really bad” position, and Sir Trades-a-Lot can’t do that to this innocent damsel! Wendy uses the fact that Mafee is a stand-up guy to change his truth. Wendy doesn’t have many honorable men in her life (that we know of), but she’s willing to exploit one of the few she does have.
I don’t know why Wendy had to play this so seductively. I would have respected her more had she just went to Mafee and asked him to help her. I believe he would have done it. She treated him like a 15 year old and it just felt forced.
Wendy gets what she wants: Mafee tells the Feds he made the call because of his feelings for Wendy and the manipulated phone records back up his story. Bryan’s case falls apart. The new AG is not interested in trying Wall Street cases anyway. He’d rather have the SEC deal with it. The indictment is dismissed and Axe is a free man! But, Bryan is like a dog with a bone, and I doubt he will let this die.
Axe and Axe Capital will walk away paying a fine to the SEC of $390 million, but will not have to admit (or deny) the charges, which is a very common outcome for civil cases brought by the SEC. Mafee will also be fined – for fraud and reckless disregard of regulatory requirement – but a bit less than the firm. His contribution to the US Treasury will be a meager $181K (which Axe will pay in the form of “expenses”). I think the fraud charge hurts Mafee more than any dollar amount would. He is now one of “those” hedge fund guys. I wonder if he knows he was played (regardless of that ridiculous smooch from Wendy). Axe rewards Mafee for “stepping up” with $1 million in crypto-currency. Can that amount buy back Mafee’s integrity? Mafee leaves the office looking like Droopy Dog, so I’d say maybe not.
The Triumvirate has prevailed but left bodies in their wake. More than that, they leave behind crushed souls as well. Playing God has its downside, and the weight of what they have done and to whom may come back to haunt some, if not all of them.
I started with Black Sabbath lyrics, so it’s fitting I’ll end with them as well:
Time will tell on their power minds
Making war just for fun
Treating people just like pawns in chess
Wait ’till their judgment day comes, yeah
As a personal aside, back in March 2017, earlier this year in our “What we are looking forward to (and not so much) in Billions Season 3”, (and in various Tweets) I wished for Bobby Axelrod to show some love to my favorite band of all time (I’m gonna guess you know who that is by now!!). I even photoshopped Axe in the shirt I’d like to see him in (it’s one of the many I own). If you have seen the previews for Episode 8, “All the Wilburys”, you will know that my wish is coming true. I don’t know why the writers did it, but I would like to thank them from the bottom of my metal heart for showing some Axelrod love for Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill.