Is this it? Can this really be the last “From the Trader’s Desk” for this season? Sadly, the answer is yes. I have enjoyed writing about Billions from the “Wall Street” side of things, and hope you’ve enjoyed my posts as well. I also hope I helped with the “fin-speak” and in understanding the world of finance. On a personal note: I didn’t know if I would be able to contribute to FanFun when Billions started in March, after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma last summer. But, not only did I contribute almost every week, I feel I have done some of my best writing. Thank you Damianista, and everyone who reads our blog for helping me get back to normal!
Instead of a basic recap, I’ll look at the two relationships that were the backbone (from the financial side anyway) of this episode: Axe-Taylor and Taylor-Wendy. I know there was a flurry of “fin-speak” at the Spartan-Ives Capital Introduction Event at CitiField (my second home on many Saturdays!), but I won’t go into details about it. I don’t think they were relevant to the overall episode (as opposed to other times when it was the meat of the story). I have updated the Billions:Glossary with all the definitions, and as always, if there is something you’d like me to explain or give examples of, please let me know.
I need to get this off my chest before I begin: I know I am in the minority (I might even be the only one) who did not like the final scene of this episode. I have not been shy of my dislike of Wendy and my complete contempt for Chuck; to see Axe at that table, not because he has to work with them (as he did in “Not You, Mr. Dake), but because he wants to, drives me nuts! I have come to accept (not understand, mind you) Axe and his relationship with Wendy. Being bezzie mates with Chuck? No, please lord, just no.
Standing inside myself, I’m losing control
You made me believe in the stories you told
Waiting impatiently, what else can I do?
I handed my future over to you, to you
Over to you – Black Sabbath
Those lyrics could be a fit for so many of the characters this season in Billions. Trust (or lack thereof) was a theme that ran through the story-lines for most of the players on the Billions field. The idea of loyalty was also at the heart of many of the relationships as well.
What is loyalty? Do you earn it or do you demand it? Axe certainly demands it from everyone in his orbit; but has he earned it? And if you don’t earn the loyalty of those around you, is it so surprising that you can lose it so quickly? If you don’t give loyalty, why should you expect it in return?
For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar’s angel
Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him!
This was the most unkindest cut of all;
For when the noble Caesar saw him stab,
Ingratitude, more strong than traitors’ arms,
Quite vanquished him: then burst his mighty heart
Julius Caesar Act 3, scene 2
I think we all saw it coming (and it was confirmed at the end of “Kompenso”) – Taylor breaking away to open their own shop. I’m not mad that this is the route Taylor took. Has Taylor learned all they could from Axe? Hell no! But there was not enough oxygen in the office of Axe Capital to sustain both of them for much longer. So, I agree with Taylor’s play; I just don’t agree in how they did it. I will admit though, it was a brilliant play and was in reaction to how they have been treated at Axe Capital.
Axe has made it his business to cut Taylor at every opportunity since his return to Axe Capital. I think the last straw was using Taylor’s relationship with Oscar. That taught Taylor that nothing is sacred in this business if you want to get ahead. Taylor is a brilliantly quick learner, and all that Axe has taught them has gotten us to this point.
Taylor is going to be late for the cap raise because they are meeting with Andolov, pitching Mase Cap. Why would Taylor want to deal with Andolov now, when in the past they have said he is “an international criminal”? Because not only does Taylor need that money to start their firm with a bang, but it will be a dagger in the heart to Axe Capital, which we know, is Axe. Is this payback for Oscar? Possibly, but it’s also a way for Taylor to show they can run with the big dogs. Morality takes a holiday when it’s time to seed your fund.
Axe needs Taylor at the cap raise: “the pitch doesn’t work without Taylor”. He doesn’t know how right he is! Taylor gets to the meeting just in time and right before the pitch begins, Wendy reminds the team: “they are not buying your strategies, they are buying you”. But who exactly: Taylor or Axe?
Axe won’t bore the room with the details of why they should invest in Axe Capital, he’ll show them: introducing “the single most effective manager of money” Axe has ever come across, Taylor Mason. Taylor is “the future” of Axe Capital. It’s hard to decide if Axe really means this, or if it’s just an act for the investors in the room. I think it’s an act. If Axe truly believed that, why not show that to Taylor? Axe uses people to advance his own agenda, and that’s fine, it’s who he is. However, he never thinks someone could do the same to him. Especially someone he groomed himself.
Taylor crushes the presentation, focusing on how they do “grinding, focused work; fully transparent work”. The people in the room know that is all Taylor, as I doubt anyone would describe Axe’s work that way.
The next day, Axe and Wags realize they got played, and played good. Wags can’t get most of the $6B to commit, and with Taylor’s office empty (and Mafee not at his station), they know Axe Capital now has a new rival.
Axe wants to stop Taylor, but doing it legally will take too long. He may have a case if Taylor or Mafee have a non-compete clause in their contracts, but I don’t believe Axe would win if he claimed theft of intellectual property (IP), as he had told Taylor to squash the quant project. The algo that is going to fuel Mase Cap is all Taylor’s. Axe will file anyway. Just as Axe was distracted while going through his legal issues, he wants Taylor to feel what it’s like to be “split-focused”. Somehow, I don’t think Taylor gets as distracted as Axe does. Axe is emotional, where Taylor is always focused and logical. It was why they were a good team, they balanced each other.
When the dust settles, Mase Cap is getting $3.5B, Axe Cap $500M, and $2B is going to be sitting this one out. It’s a huge blow to Axe Capital, but Axe did tee Taylor up for the crowd, so why wouldn’t they go with Taylor?
Ben Kim, being the loyal soldier, reveals how Taylor tried to recruit him to Axe, Wendy and Wags. In the process, Ben Kim blurts out what the Street will be thinking, and one of Axe’s biggest fears: “you fell for it”. The knowledge that he was played hurts Axe way more than losing the money. Axe cares a lot more about his reputation as being “Bobby Fucking Axelrod” than almost anything else. Ben Kim was loyal, but what does that get him from Axe? Nothing; Axe demands that unconditional allegiance, but rarely gives it in return.
Wendy suggests to Axe that they look inward to “see what you, what we, may have done to cause this”. This is falling on deaf ears as Axe would then have to take responsibility for his actions and behavior towards Taylor, and he has never been good at that. It is interesting to hear Wendy voice that she may have played a role in this debacle.
Axe needs to look Taylor “in the eye” so he ventures over to Taylor Mason Capital’s new office. It’s very opposite from Axe Cap – no more feeling like you’re on a glass version of the Starship Enterprise Bridge; Taylor’s office feel a lot more funky, with exposed brick, and views of both the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. As he gets off the elevator, the first thing Axe sees is the Taylor Mason Capital sign, and rolls his eyes.
Axe encounters Mase Cap’s only employee (that we know of) Mafee. Mafee hems and haws, but what can he say? He was a loyal soldier to Axe, but I believe taking the fall for Wendy and the damage his reputation took by being fined by the SEC did not sit well with him. Plus, Mafee has always been close wtih Taylor and a new start was more important to him than the partnership stake. After Axe tells Mafee he plans on burying him, he tells him “go get your new master”. Axe sees himself as the Master at Axe Cap and everyone else is beneath him. Is it any wonder there was a “palace coup”?
In S1 & S2 the electric showdown was between Axe and Chuck. We know we’re not getting that this finale, but we get one just as good: Grasshopper vs. Master Po!
The dialogue is so damn good in this scene! The back and forth volley between Axe and Taylor is something out of a Sampras/Agassi match.
Taylor needed to make this move. They believed Axe was going to “send them off to slaughter”. How could Taylor not believe that? All the “undercutting, manipulation” and “public and private humiliation” and broken promises, lead Taylor to this outcome. They are doing this for them, not against Axe. They did what they did to survive and win. (Didn’t Axe tell Wendy not to feel guilty when making a move that puts you in charge? I guess some things are good for the goose….). Surely Axe of all people would understand?
Uh, no. Axe tells Taylor he was not trying to get rid of them or work against them. Axe trusted Taylor in a way “that I almost never trust anyone”. “Now you’ve taken from me.” I seem to recall Axe telling Wendy there were things that Taylor could not be given, that they would have to “take” them; well, here ya go. Axe feels betrayed, and has a right to; but then what would you call what he did to Taylor in regards to Oscar?
Axe realizes Taylor is a formidable foe, but will never admit it. That Taylor is moving quicker than he did is a big part of his anger. Axe questions if Taylor can survive and thrive in the rarified air that is at the top of the hedge fund world.
“Young lungs, so yeah, we’ll see.”
Taylor knows Axe is now a dangerous enemy.
“Do what you must and I’ll defend as I have to.”
Taylor goes toe to toe with their former mentor and does not flinch! Wow! That was an amazing, tense scene! Bravo to both Damian Lewis and Asia Kate Dillon!
Taylor needed to break away from the toxicity that is Axe Capital. Axe would have never let Taylor rise more than he allowed them to at his firm. That being said, I wish Taylor had done it a bit more above board, but then it wouldn’t have been as juicy!
I am sad to see my two favorite characters now become mortal enemies, but it will certainly make for an interesting S4.
Taylor and Wendy seem to have become close – it was Wendy Taylor turned to when the relationship with Oscar ended. So naturally Taylor thinks they will be able to recruit Wendy to Mase Cap. In a “Hall-like” move, Taylor ambushes Wendy in the parking garage.
Taylor wants Wendy at their firm. Taylor wants to have a firm where “we can be our best”. To S1 and even S2 Wendy, that might be a very appealing offer; but S3 Wendy has changed. Wendy is offended that Taylor would even ask. I don’t like Wendy, but she is very loyal to Axe, maybe to a fault. Wendy is no longer the “moral compass” she used to be. She had to get her hands dirty, and I think it has really affected her. Wendy feels used by Taylor, and is pissed. “You preyed on me and my empathy for you” and “programmed me to get what you wanted from Axe (kind of sounds similar to what Wendy did to Mafee?). In the second best scene of the show (in my opinion anyway) Taylor gives it to Wendy like no one has! Taylor is offering Wendy a fresh start; a reset from her “slew of fuck ups”. Wendy let things “devolve at Axe Capital” and didn’t see Axe pushing Taylor out, and couldn’t stop “Axe from succumbing to his own worst nature”. I do think Wendy tried, but gave in when she needed that “worst nature” to save her ass.
Since Wendy really can’t disagree (let’s face it, Taylor ain’t lying!!), she deflects and puts the focus back on Taylor. Taylor is young, and doesn’t realize this business “is not just about the numbers or the decimal points; the thing that makes it matter is lasting relationships, true loyalty, real trust”. That nice little speech may have worked on Taylor at one point, but Taylor has had a front row seat at the workings of Axe and Wendy and is now Taylor 2.0.
“No, I’m pretty sure there’s only money, and it can buy all those things, or at least the same result. That’s what you and Axe taught me.”
No sadder words were truer. Wendy knows they played a part in building Taylor 2.0, but will fight by Axe’s side against Taylor. I do think all those things Taylor voiced have been in Wendy’s head, and we may see the consequences in S4!
I know I did not go into Axe and Andolov, but I will say this: I never believed Axe would give a go-ahead to have Taylor whacked. Axe may not always be on the up-and-up, but he’s not a truly bad person like Andolov is. Axe relishes in revenge: “I want them alive to experience all that I am going to do to them. I’m going to destroy them in ways that will make them wish they got what you offered.” That is Axe in a nutshell! Axe will have to tread lightly though; by going after Taylor he will be going after Andolov’s money as well.
Loyalties can shift when facts on the ground change. I’ve been Team Axe since before the first episode of Billions ever aired. However, the Axe of S3 has me questioning: could I become Team Taylor? That will be answered in S4 as well!