Billions on Showtime, 3.08: All the Wilburys

First question when we got the title for Billions, Season 3, Episode 8, “All the Wilburys”:  what, not just the traveling ones? Seems the Wilburys are a clever In group and the goal of this episode, now that our glorious Three are out free and clear is to delineate who among the satellites is out and who is in.

Foley and Senior catch Wendy and Junior in flagrante delicto engaging in the “childish enthusiasms” of their married sexual behavior. This gives them ammo for 1) displaying the fact they can access anything and 2) getting Chuck to commit to the work of becoming Governor by resigning his position as U.S. Attorney. Jack Foley says:

Consider it an object lesson… People learn much better when heightened emotions accompany the instruction.

Chuck and Wendy go home and put the coffee on and have a long hard talk about it. Wendy’s advice to Chuck is do it if you want to, not because the “two old men” want you to.

Chuck calls her out in her guilt over what they did to get to this point. He invokes Macbeth:

Blood will have blood.

Then tells her to get over it and get to the task at hand. Wendy then implores Chuck to reverse the power dynamic with Foley, to not allow him this power.

Foley’s hurt a lot of people, find one, use one, get back on top.

Newly freed Axe leaps home to the firm to be greeting by a pep rally set to that Ozzy Osbourne voice that has the quality of transferring to the listener’s own throat. Also, lots of rah-rah high fives, woo-hoos and guttural grunts. Spyros breaks the spell by throwing some Whitman  at the crew, most likely Whitman via Dead Poet’s Society.   The awkwardness of the scene is groan-worthy.

Bobby’s ready to jump back into the thick of it, wants to immediately run up the capital investment, go deep with investors’ money, confident in coming up strong. He doesn’t care to examine the positions gained in his absence. Taylor is hesitant, saying investors will still have questions about the trial, about trusting Axe again with their capital. Wendy, distracted by her own troubles and requesting the use of The Halls to deal with it, expresses trepidation too.

This is not then.

For some reason, Axe takes a meeting with Krakow (who he has so lovingly aliased as the name of the tallest player to ever play in the NBA in his phone contacts). Recall, Krakow of the poker table tiffs from last season has this season been crowned Secretary of Treasury and has sent Axe Armand de Brignac to celebrate his freedom. Krakow’s “proximity to the FERC” gives him first-hand knowledge of the ins and outs of EPA regulations. He wants Axe to trade on information he has within the gov, from his offshore accounts. The tip? The EPA is about to rescind a regulation that will bring natural gas prices back up.

Chuck finds some gubernatorial bolstering from Foley’s man in Albany.  Scolari tells Chuck he’s got downstate, but he needs Buffalo, which is the territory of a mayor who Chuck outed as a homophobe last season. Since Chuck got the dirt on Mayor Sweeney, he knows the mayor is primed to help find dirt on Foley.

From one traveling man to another.

Axe and Wags gang up on Spyros and fire him. He’s not a Wilbury. The writers of this show are those guys in High Fidelity, music geeks perpetually hunched over vinyl. There’s a clever comic bit about who can be a Wilbury, and who cannot leaving me wondering: Did Richard Dreyfus really want to be a traveling Wilbury?

This scene made me think of a diagram, which I remember a friend sharing on Facebook a while ago. Pretty darn accurate. Wags, Bobby, and Dollar Bill are the cool kids, but they’re also the geeks, which at some glorious point in life becomes the same thing. Spyros, on the other hand, is clearly a dork.

As he’s being dragged away, Spyros laments that he’s all the Wilbury’s put together, and damn if he isn’t this season if not at Axe Capital then certainly for those of us at home who chuckle (sometimes uncomfortably) at his antics. We see that Spyros’ dorky obsession may be coffee. When he’s packing away his stuff, among the pile of clearly coffee table books about coffee is a paperback, which I thought may be something else, but on closer examination, is yet another book about coffee: Uncommon Grounds .

Spyros also wants to give Dollar Bill a tip before leaving. Some “Clarence Beeks shit.” Beeks was the insider trader for the two old rich guys (the Statler and Waldorf of the movie to throw my own reference into the mix) of Trading Places. Must confess the indica kicked in like thirty minutes after finding seats in the theater the night I watched that movie. Fell asleep long before Clarence Beeks made an impression. This one 11 second clip is admittedly pretty awesome.

As Spyros leaves, Dollar Bill can’t help himself. This show with the elevator drama. Hoping the elevator thing is on purpose and not something you only notice like 9 months after the thing you made is already in the can. Maybe they’ll do a self-reflexive thing with elevator doors closing on some crucial moment later in the season. One can hope. Raising a hand for the stalwart few of us who will get the joke.

Spyros’ tip? A list of companies under investigation by the SEC who haven’t disclosed their status to shareholders, ie insider info on companies about to crash for Bill to short and those that are strong enough to beat the feds for him to go long.

Chuck finds dirt on Foley alright. His dealings in inferior steel complete with thick briefcases changing hands in hotel rooms. Gotta say that Old Money Foley going down smarts a bit. Aren’t guys like Foley the “good” rich people? Old establishment money flowing generously to cultural pursuits and other worthy causes. Not in this show. Call it a stretch, but this bit of plot development brought to mind the cynical idea that maybe the entire industry of creating sub-par goods is to give that cushion of lucre to the guys who buy and upsell. Otherwise, why create inferior product? Product that you know won’t pass any quality test? Because quality tests are rigged for this very purpose: To sign off on the crap so that some guy can sell it at prime price, give you a kick back, and keep the bulk of his earnings from it. Fun fact: such is the way a lot of third world markets work…in so called “banana republics” where quality counts for nothing so much as what someone can make a buck off of. Is this show telling us that old establishment money is sustained by such corruption? Maybe it is. Barely makes a difference anymore what’s old and what’s new, when all is sustained by grift.

Just as Chuck has gained the upper hand on remaining free of Foley’s puppet strings, he gets another message from Judge DeGiulio. The good judge needs Chuck to stay put as a US Attorney in order to grease the wheels of his own bid to the Supreme Court. Chuck doesn’t say no but warns:

There are twists and turns to the Supreme Court, highway men that may jump you at any time.

Then Chuck seeks counsel from his wife. Seeing Wendy and Chuck together, the looks they share, rolling eyes at the same stuff, fighting for the same stuff, rings so true to life. Her keen appraisal in the advice she gives him, what she sees as his strengths, things he knows, but sometimes loses sight of, show that they are a true pair, shoring each other up through whatever comes their way. Maybe the Rhoades are the real Bonnie and Clyde, because I can’t recall such mutual understanding ever existing in the Axelrod marriage. Maybe it was there, but certainly not as deeply felt as it is in these scenes between the Rhoades. Maybe, the reason Bobby never went to Lara with his concerns and troubles was that, unlike Wendy with Chuck, Lara had absolutely nothing to say.

Back at the office, Axe goes to Wendy incredulous that the feeling of winning doesn’t last for more than a day. This guy.

Bobby is facing residual damage with his kids, particularly Gordie who seems sensitive to the rift between his parents. There’s a brief flicker of Bobby’s pain at seeing his kid in pain, but blink and you might miss it.

Wendy tells Bobby scar tissue is not stronger, it’s just rougher, and that surgery can lead to its own set of complications. The surgery the trio just performed on their respective careers will no doubt lead to more complications later on too. Color me glad the dick-wagging stopped long enough to recognize this truth. They help each other come to terms with what they’ve done.

Barely registers as bad, the world I come from.

Then Axe turns tables and give his own bit of advice to Wendy, a keeper for Wendy’s book of wisdoms (no worries, I’m keeping a record). The advice: Keep feeling bad for being bad, wallow in the weakness as long as necessary but know that you are more powerful for having experienced it. Then, when you put yourself back in charge, that is when you’ll feel better.

Dollar Bill goes to Axe with the Spyros thing about the list of companies under SEC investigation. Axe thinks it overlaps with his own insider knowledge about the natural gas market. Holy misunderstanding. Renewable sources, indeed.

Ya think Rickles?

Damian has said that Bobby is the biggest criminal he’s ever played. I’d venture to say he’s also the biggest jerk Damian has ever played. Unfeeling cold-blooded snake of a jerk, sometimes. And mean too, in his bullying way with his name for Krakow and with the way he treated Spyros, who has done nothing but try to fit in since he’s been there. Bobby, Wags, and Dollar Bill are the cool kids, and Spyros is definitely not. No one ever said geeks couldn’t also be bullies. Any system of us vs. them, of tribalism, setting up opposing teams even where none exist, is a form of bullying. And what does bullying make Bobby? A jerk.

The coldness he has towards Lara, sheesh. Their relationship was always a bit transactional, but never more than it is now. He doesn’t miss her at all.  The iciness from Bobby calls attention to the opposite from Lara. (A testament to how Damian can bring the best out of all his screen mates.) She comes around wondering why he’s charging her the same as his other clients. He brings the fee down, she counters with a lower figure, and, voila, the papers are already drawn up. Cold. He’s a smart guy who’s done a lot of deals. This is just a deal and with someone who he knows inside and out, of course he’s going to anticipate every turn.

Lara still looks at Bobby with a bit of longing, certainly not outright coldness. All he has in return is ice (ice, baby). She used the only power she had, their children, against him, and he hasn’t forgiven her for that. We saw the oldest trick in the book work for Wendy last episode. Lara used another version of the oldest trick in the book, the only trick available to otherwise powerless women: Using a man’s children to hurt him. Hell, soap operas have built fifty years of story based on generations of women using their children for revenge against a man who’s done them wrong. Lara used that trick, and it did her not a bit of good. Bobby has crushed her and feels no remorse. Lara knows it.

That jerk never really takes a break until he’s in Wendy’s sphere. It may be an artificial construct, the way Bobby comes to the door when Wendy is there to ask if she needs him, the way he asks her (and not any of his other people) if she’s okay. Those little actions work to put her in a different place in his head than anyone else. Doesn’t take a genius to see that he’s the most human when he’s around her. That’s her purpose at Axe Cap, after all, to address the pesky human bits that interject into the business of making money. She functions to help the guys recognize the humanity of feeling guilt, or pressure, or worry, or anxiety, confront the weakness of it all, and then tell them to let it go, buck up and make the money anyway. We see her do that for Axe too, but in a more personal way, given their history which we know to be long if nothing else. And he trusts her to do that work for his people and for him. So, yeah, he’s human when she’s around. And less of a jerk. Unfortunate their scenes don’t last longer, because he’s a bit insufferable when away from her.

Just occurs to me that maybe they are doing the whole Madonna Whore thing  I was worrying over back when the birds were frying, but, maybe, like, surreptitiously, on the down low, almost subversively. Wendy, faithful as far as we know (except that one time with the sad astronaut), but still deeply colored by her propensity for an adventurous sex life wherein she’s a dominatrix, for Pete’s sake, is obviously the whore. And Lara, the mama hen who taught her kids clam-digging and covered their eyes so ferociously to protect them from the chef’s poolside shenanigans, dutiful nurse and high-end bedroom linen-buyer is the madonna. I linked it up there if the trope and concept is foreign to you.

Wendy is, of course, a mother too. She takes Ava to soccer practice, yo. And Lara had sex in a pool, that’s adventurous. Also, Bobby, of late, is behaving sort of whore-like and Chuck is the submissive Madonna at home, so the couples among themselves may just balance out the trope. Still, I don’t think it’s a stretch to call it out. Funny that this particular set of Madonna Whore, Wendy and Lara, that is, doesn’t really read as cliche. Not quite sure how it avoids cliche, but it does. Or maybe we’ve just given up on expecting that anything ever be not cliche? Tried to find a picture depicting this tried and true television trope and the best google could find was a cartoon. Yep, it’s seeped so deep it defies imagery.

Anyhoo, Chuck decides against the bid for governor, much to the chagrin of the old men who were hell-bent on making it happen. And he unceremoniously fires Connerty. Leaving a definite sense at the end of this episode of: What now?

4 thoughts on “Billions on Showtime, 3.08: All the Wilburys”

  1. Love this! Especially the way you compare and contrast the two couples. I completely agree about Wendy and Chuck having a deep and true relationship. I cannot speak on behalf of others but I have never felt the kind of psychological intimacy the Rhoades have between Bobby and Lara. Mostly because Bobby has not shared much with Lara. Maybe to protect her, or maybe he just never felt like sharing…

    That said, they still felt like a team to me. You are right Bobby almost never came to Lara to ask her ideas except for one thing, or at least I remember one thing: Sandicot. A scene that got us talking last season. A LOT. It is sad that we have not seen even a glimpse of the team spirit except for the few seconds they talked about $300 million would not be enough for a living 😀

    The way Axe treats Lara in this episode gives me the creeps. Literally. You are right that Lara used the only trick she had available to her but the way Axe counters this, crushing her, is COLD, to say the least. And Bobby cancelling on his kids? Again? And probably other times, too, that we have not seen… It seems to me that it may take a miracle to bring Axe and Lara back together now and I wonder if a kid-related problem, especially a Gordie problem, will make Bobby come back to his senses.

    1. Yes, me too, re the coldness. I’ve never loved Lara, but, still, that’s no way to treat the mother of your children.

      What drives this man is competition, even the most petty versions of it like staying in the office later than his biggest competitor. He saw Gordie’s pain and it did register with him, but not enough to cut into his lust for the game, to compete at all costs, to win at all costs. It may catch up to him, one way or another. Or, who knows, it may never. Him never realizing what he’s losing by working on winning all the time would actually be the more “real” scenario. People go to their death beds sometimes never having learned a darn thing about themselves.

      Right, the Sandicot thing wherein Lara’s advice was “Fuck Bruno”. She’s not really capable of any thinking deeper than that, I think. Looking back, it’s hard to not conclude that Bobby wouldn’t have married a woman who was as smart or smarter than him, in any way. He works too hard at landing on top and that impulse would have to translate across to his home life too. We’ve seen him repeatedly talk in a “don’t worry your pretty little head about it” tone to her. And till now, that was the role she signed up to play in his life. Her growing a spine was good, but the question of why now remains largely unexplored, at least as fully as it could be. Not really counting on it being explored either. But I can see them back together, back in the same dynamic even, unless one of them realizes that change, allowing oneself to grow and evolve, is acceptable and often more important than winning.

  2. Isn’t it funny how differently some of us see things!!! As I mentioned before, I see only iciness in Lara as she slams down the pen in that last scene with her and Axe. but still contend there is a flicker of regret in his eyes and I’ve watched it 3 times now. But the contrast between the two marriages is very pronounced. However remember it was Wendy who spent the night with that wannabe astronaut fellow while she and Chuck were split up. How does that play into devotion to Chuck? While I am disagreeing with JaniaJania ( do love your posts though), I disagree with the Man himself (Damian that is). Axe doesn’t seem like the worse character he has played. Soames was often creepy, although probably not criminal. Nick McGrade (Colditz) was a different story. That was one bad apple! I would certainly include Rizza from The Escapist in my list. (Only watched that once, hate the genre.) It does speak to Damian’s talents since not one of us seems to dislike poor old Nick Brody, even after he did in a few other players in the series. OK, I guess his victims were the bad guys!

    1. Thanks for your comment Connie!
      I tend to see both Axe and Lara as a couple of cold fish with each other. Lara is usually the colder one, but since Damian seems to have really tamped down Bobby’s emotional range this season, it was a bit clearer (for me) to see her pain and not his. Damian does show A LOT in his face and that, I think, can overpower others in the scene who don’t have that same skill. Him reigning it in a bit makes Malin Akerman’s emotional range more visible. This is just my take, obviously, that he’s reigning it in this season, based on what I caught in the divorce paper signing scene, preview vs actual scene. We saw tons of emotion in the preview that never made the final cut: an editing choice justified by the fact that as much as Damian can give Bobby full range, the creators don’t always want him to show it.
      Yes, Damian sure has played some creeps! Most of the other creeps I think were driven by some heightened passion to be as creepy as they were, and there was always some heightened drama driving the creepiness. Soames by Irene’s refusal to give him a fighting chance, Nick McGrade by war and frustration over Tom Hardy getting the girl, Nick Brody also by war and a twisted sense of justice, Rizza by prison and evil at his core. Bobby, on the other hand, seems to be driven by nothing more dramatic or significant than pure greed, which is somewhat harder to justify, especially for those of us not fully in the “greed is good” camp. It was impossible to dislike Brody because he was so damaged. Disliking Bobby is less of a stretch. Thus my longing for more scenes of him and Wendy, the only place he’s sort of human and vulnerable and lovable. (btw, I did mention Wendy’s astronaut as her one marital indiscretion :)…not so much an indiscretion even since the Rhoades were on a break, but still)

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