From the Trader’s Desk: Runnin’ with The Devil – Billions S4 E2

I live my life like there’s no tomorrow
And all I’ve got, I had to steal
Least I don’t need to beg or borrow
Yes I’m livin’ at a pace that kills

Runnin’ With the Devil – Van Halen

Greetings from the Trader’s Desk! I’m going to do things a bit different today. Instead of doing an in-depth recap (my partner in crime Damianista has done an amazing one), I’ll be giving my observations of the various relationships we saw this week. Also, on a good news front, I’ll be having surgery to remove my chemo port this week, and I’ll be on the disabled list for a day or so, so this will have to be a bit condensed. As always, if there is some “fin-speak” you need explained, please let me know!

I want to start with an explanation of what Private Equity is, since it was a big part of the Axe/Rebecca storyline. Private equity is composed of funds and investors that directly invest in private companies. For example, if a firm or an individual invested in Uber (a private company) they will have gotten in early, before the company goes public and IPOs. These investors now have a percentage (or shares) in the company. When the company does go public, the investment could have increased significantly, and now the shares can be sold publicly. Investing in private equity is not a guarantee – sometimes you need to kiss a lot of frogs before you get your Prince!

Relationship Status: It’s complicated!

Axe-Chuck: This friendship sure has bloomed quickly! There is a very transactional aspect to it (what relationship on this show isn’t?), but it works. Just imagine what these two could have gotten up to if they were never enemies? And I still want to know the how/why they started to hate each other! In the mean time, as opposed as I thought I would be to this alliance, I’m not hating it. As a matter of fact, since Chuck is no longer the “big, bad law man”, I kind of like him. He’s a hustler, and you have to respect that. OMG, what the hell is this show doing to me? I may actually like Chuck?

Chuck-Wendy: I have not been a Wendy fan at all (and that is putting it mildly!), but this episode, I saw a vulnerable, relatable Wendy. Yes, it was because there may be issues in the Rhoades marriage, but it was so nice to see a softer, realer side to Wendy. I wonder if this is just a blip in their relationship, or foreshadowing of things to come. If you think Axe would be lost without Wendy, where would Chuck be? I think he needs her more than Axe does.

Mafee-Rudy: I’m going to say up front I’m a bit weary of Rudy trying to get a job at TMC. Yes, Taylor saved him and he is friends with Mafee, but a non-compete “tighter than AC/DC in ‘78” is what he signed. And why would Axe Cap not fight it? Could he be a mole for Axe? I wouldn’t be surprised! Mafee made the right call; Rudy is an OK analyst/trader. Taylor kept him not because of great performance, but because he had the drive and would work hard. A firm like Axe Cap can carry someone like that (the way the 2000 Mets could carry Rey Ordonez), but a smaller firm like TMC can’t. Sorry Rudy! I also don’t think this will be the last time Axe tries to use Mafee to get to Taylor; we have seen upcoming scenes with Mafee and Wendy sharing a drink. If you can’t get him with the friendship angle, maybe the crush one will!

Axe-Rebecca: Could Axe have finally met an equal? Rebecca is smart, tough and self-made. (Sound familiar?) She knows the business, knows the players, and does not need Axe or any other man’s money! I think Axe respects all that she brings to the table. It was a shady move to buy a piece of Manifest Cleaning, and then expose Eureka without telling Rebecca (especially after the romp in the hay!). But at the end of the day, Rebecca put aside her anger and the thought she was played, took a good deal from Axe and now they are partners. She’s not going to let emotions get in the way of making money. Rebecca was willing to let Manifest become the best in the business the organic way, even though she knew about the shenanigans going on at Eureka. Axe does not have the patience for that! This new power couple may learn a thing or two from one another. I crown them ReAxe (Rebecca-Axe). It’s not as good as Pepperony (Pepper Potts and Tony Stark), but what is?

“The Street’s going to start wondering if you care more about revenge than making money.”

Axe-Taylor: If that doesn’t define the Axe-Taylor dynamic, nothing does. Axe’s plan to suck the oxygen out of Taylor’s fire gets started by shutting down any avenue Taylor may have at getting leverage at any bank, particularly at Patriot Trust. Axe will take a piece of the shitty robot in return for Theo shutting out Taylor. Taylor knows this is Axe’s doing. How could they not? Taylor needs this capital to fund the quant team’s “stat arb” strategy (a detailed definition of Statistical Arbitration is in our Glossary). They cannot let Axe stop this project.

However, Axe is determined to exact his revenge. Even the people closest to him question his moves. Wendy asks if it is worth having down quarters just to stick it to Taylor (answer: in reality, no it’s not). Axe tries to play it like Axe Cap really wants to get into PE and screwing Taylor is just gravy. But, we know that’s not true. Last season Axe ran to the office when he thought the fund was down for a day! Now he’s willing to have down quarters, just to get his feet wet in a new business? No, not buying it. This is where Axe will make mistakes (as he has done in the past when going on pure emotion). One of the people who knows him best will use this to their advantage.

Taylor knows Axe – both the emotional and the rational sides. Axe was their mentor and their boss. They are so much alike, except Taylor is Spock, and Axe is Kirk. Taylor will go all Vulcan on you and be logical; Axe is motivate by his feelings. While they were working together, it was a good balance. Taylor will use Axe’s need for vengeance; not so much against him, but to benefit them.

But how can Taylor do this? Grigor knows what Axe is doing with the banks so he makes his own suggestion: his friends the Kozlov Brothers (a much more dangerous version of the Malachi Brothers?). They need to get their money into the West (uh, laundering you mean!). Taylor has no choice but to deal with these murderers, or do they?

While everyone is playing 2 dimensional chess, Taylor is playing 3D! How to get rid of the Kozlovs without pissing off Grigor? Cut the Brothers’ loans! They can’t invest what they don’t have. In a stroke of genius, Taylor lets a little nugget drop to Patriot Trust that TMC has got the leverage they need in a cleverly placed Russian accent. The plan is in motion!

Of course Theo’s next call is to Axe. If it’s not a Russian bank, then it must be the Kozlovs, Axe deduces. Well, in exchange for Patriot cutting off the Brothers, perhaps Axe Cap would consider dropping Spartan-Ives as their prime broker? Sure, why not? Axe would promise the world to screw Taylor! And just like that, the Kozlovs $1.2 Billion in loans is called in. Taylor’s intimate knowledge of how Axe operates makes this plan brilliant! If we all had a dollar for every time we said that about Taylor….

Taylor still has to deal with Grigor, since he is not going to be a happy camper that his friends are out of the deal. Taylor does the brave thing and meets him alone, not really knowing which way the wind blows.

While downing shots of Russian vodka, Taylor presents this the best way: as an opportunity for Grigor to make money. They know Grigor is not like Axe – for the Russian, money comes first, emotions and friendships a distant second.

Taylor tells Grigor he can now swoop in and buy the Kozlov’s assets dirt cheap. Grigor knows it was Taylor who threw his “friends” under the bus, using Axe as the bus! Taylor does an amazing spin job (oh, Malcolm Tucker would be so proud!). They did it for Grigor! It’s a nasty plot, but Grigor respects it, and Taylor is safe once again, but more under the shadow of Grigor than ever.

Taylor has shown Grigor that they will do “whatever it takes” and that they know the competition very well. Feeling secure in their position, Taylor now sets some terms with their new ‘boss” – he will get them the independent leverage TMC needs.

Axe-Taylor Round 1 I believe goes to Taylor. This whole scenario only works if Axe does exactly what Taylor predicts he’ll do.

The question for everyone doing these maneuvers this episode is “at what cost?” And the answer is why we’re all on this ride we call Billions!

Author: Lady Trader

"Lady Trader" is a Brooklyn girl, and a Wall Street lifer! Recently fought cancer, and won! I love heavy metal, history, sci-fi, oh, and blogging about Billions and it's great lead actor, Damian Lewis!

8 thoughts on “From the Trader’s Desk: Runnin’ with The Devil – Billions S4 E2”

  1. So… did Rebecca kiss a lot of frogs before she kissed The Prince? 😀 I LOVE THIS POST!

    I find it fascinating that you start to like Chuck. You know I’ve always liked him even though at times I wanted to slap him! But it would turn him on, right? 😀 😀 😀 And I agree he needs Wendy maybe more than Axe does. Wendy’s name has been very deliberately chosen, she’s the “mom” to all lost children! 🙂 I loved her vulnerability, too, her human side, in this episode. I wish we could see a bit of it with Axe, too.

    Both Wags and Wendy see that Axe is acting on emotion AGAIN when he invests in that shitty robot to have the Patriot Trust bank shut out Taylor. To be honest, I first thought maybe Axe knows something about the robot that nobody does but, no, it seems he invested just to destroy Taylor. And he now has no clue that Taylor has just defeated him in his own game — used Axe to get rid of those two Russian cutie pies – The Kozlovs! BRILLIANT! I agree Taylor wins this first battle big time! Can’t wait to see what else is in store for them all!!!

    1. Thank you for the kind words!

      Yeah, I’m going to guess Rebecca has kissed many a frog in her lifetime!

      Taylor won this round, but we know that won’t last. This Axe (Wendy)/Taylor feud is going to have a few rounds, and each will get in great shots. I still believe Axe will come out on top, but who knows?

      Chuck and Wendy are for some reason more relatable to me these last 2 episodes, so I’m seeing them in a different light. I get their motivation. I guess I was always against Chuck because he was law enforcement, and always after Axe!

  2. No comment about how Wendy might finally be earning her paychecks as head of HR now? :p I am honestly surprised this wasn’t her position beforehand. Though after the Taylor burn I suppose Axe wanted to consolidate power amongst those he trusts. And for someone to mind Spyros so no more chaos grenades 😉

    1. Thank you for reading! I too was a bit surprised at that title for her, but as you say, after the Taylor fiasco, there were changes at Axe Capital, and that must have been one of them. I think she probably has a dual title of Head of HR/Performance Coach, as we still see her in sessions (this week with Bonnie).

  3. OMG what is happening to you is happening to me. Now that Chuck is no longer a law man with questionable ethics, and instead a hustler with questionable ethics, I no longer hold him to the same degree of legality. After the first episode aired, I tweeted to one of the writers saying (paraphrasing): ‘I’m always Team Axe, but respect for making me take notice in Chuck, you brilliant bastard!’ 🙂

    1. You see what this show can do? Totally change our perception of a character! That is the beauty of the writing (and the acting). I can’t wait to see what other surprises they have in store for us. We’re only 2 episodes in and it’s been such fun!

  4. This is very off the subject, but I never know where to put general comments. I decided to check Showtime on demand this morning and was pleasantly surprised to see that episode 3 was available before its regular airing time. So of course I stopped what I was doing to get my first look at “Chickentown”. As always, it is fascinating how the writers manage to weave action in 3 major themes in one short hour. Well done!

    1. My hunch is that it is their marketing strategy now especially that they need to compete with Game of Thrones come April 14. Showtime has been releasing the episode at midnight EST for the last three weeks.

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