I could not be happier that a game theory term makes it to the title of this week’s episode: Infinite Game.
In finite games, like a tennis match, the players are known and the rules are fixed. The players obey the rules and play to win the game. In finite games, there is a clear endpoint. In infinite games such as politics or business, or life itself, players and rules may change. There is no definite endpoint. The goal for all players involved is to keep the game going.
And this fantastic episode is a deep dive into life, an infinite game, where human beings try to find the balance between their rational and emotional selves and keep it going. Hats off to everyone behind and in front of the camera!
Chuck gets an emergency call from Mr. Brogan, the man he had got out of his way to get a gun license for. It turns out, after a fight, while Mrs. Brogan leaves for a Baccarat retreat, Mr. Brogan tries to find comfort in a whiskey bottle. And when he hears a bang at the back door, the action man that he is, Brogan shoots for self-defense. The neighbor’s Belgian Malinois is dead and Brogan expects his “Michael Clayton” to fix it for him with the cops. Chuck advises Brogan to get a lawyer and takes control of the situation when the cops, who got a call from Brogan’s neighbors who heard the shot, arrive. And when he visits Police Commisioner Sansome, who is feasting on “Uova Picante Purgatorio” at home, Chuck finds out there is no “we” in this matter and he really needs to be Michael Clayton for a day. And I cannot help but add a little Michael Clayton trivia here: Billions co-creator Brian Koppelman also has a role in the movie.
Todd Krakow gets an emergency warning from Jeffcoat in the men’s bathroom of all places where he “discovers” Jock has got his nickname not for his athletic abilities but for his “size.” A self-declared tufted titmouse, Jeffcoat shares with Krakow that Chuck has him in his sights.
And is it me, or Jeffcoat does not wash his hands after he targets the flies painted in the basin? Ewwwww.
There is an emergency “war room” meeting at Bruno’s where Axe is kindly asking Rebecca if she would be willing to help Team Axe. Douglas Mason’s aeronautical innovation has been carefully vetted and is solid. But, yeah, the main goal is to explode Taylor’s head like in Scanners! Axe wants Rebecca to make Brian Dana, the venture capitalist (VC) who supports the project at the moment, an offer that he would not be able to refuse. Once Rebecca takes control, Axe will buy it from her with a healthy profit.
Rebecca gets the ball rolling the next day over lunch at Eleven Madison Park and Brian Dana shows up at TMC with the exciting news that a big VC like Rebecca is in to ramp up the timetable for production. Taylor is cautious. But not because Axe and Rebecca are together. It seems Cook, Taylor’s Hall, does not know about our love birds!
Taylor is cautious because when they ask Dana about Douglas’ continuing involvement in the project, the answer they get is that Dana imagines Rebecca will understand how crucialDouglas is to the project as soon as she sits with him.
“Imagine, me and you. I do.”
Taylor is right that Turtle’s “Happy Together” may sound like a love song, but “Imagine” is the key word there. The song is about a relationship that actually never happened exactly like Dana’s words about their relationship with Rebecca! Taylor will not move forward without any guarantee for Douglas’ involvement in the project. And while Sara thinks if they said yes, they would clear 38% of their investment in a matter of months, Douglas would walk away with $5M or so, and the market would talk about their returns for years, Taylor finds the “walking away” part problematic. Their priority is their father’s place in the project.
As they get word that Taylor has passed on Rebecca’s offer, Axe and Wendy know that standard solutions will not be enough to make Taylor betray their father, they will need to find a non-standard solution!
As Wags and Wendy leave, Bruno approaches Bobby with his own urgent business: He has his eyes set on a property in Florida, and now that they want to buy him out for close to a $1M, it may be a good time for him to retire in the sunshine state. Axe, who does not get it, asks if they will open in Florida. Oh no, Bruno says, the water is different there, you cannot make the crust, but Axe still does not get it. Well, they can fly the water down there — which is a real life thing! Or Axe can make an advance payment for the Florida property, so Bruno can have it, spend the winter there, train a replacement at the pizzeria, and he can make the sunshine state his home, say in 5 years. AXE DOES NOT GET IT! How does he know if Bruno will be in good enough health for beach time in five years? They shake hands and Axe is very happy with himself.
As he receives a text while at Bruno’s, Axe now needs to stay there for an urgent meeting with… Todd Krakow! Krakow knows the history between Axe and Chuck, now wants to become “blood brothers” like Tom and Huck (what a treat! The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is the first ever novel I read in my life!) with Axe and take care of Chuck together. Guess what? Axe can help if the Secretary of the Treasury is willing to introduce him to a certain Robert Beaufort who goes by the nickname “Hard Bob.” We all know Axe is looking at Beaufort for a non-standard solution!
Chuck has Mr. Brogan and his lawyer Mr. Eisen — whose card Chuck apparently gave Brogan on the night of the dog incident — in his office. It turns out Mr. Eisen has convinced the neighbor to keep silent in return for $100K and a new Belgian Malinois puppy of show quality. The choice is clear for Brogan when Chuck tells him his options: Give $100K and a puppy to the neighbor or do time for illegal charge of his weapon and be remembered as the drunken dog killer forever!
Sadly, Chuck’s persuasion skills are not as successful at home as at work. He arrives home only to find Wendy with a real estate agent excited about the buzz this house will make on Zillow. So I think Wendy owns the house and so she can unilaterally make the decision to put it on the market. And while I completely understand that their family home may not feel like a home to Wendy anymore after everything they went through, I still do not think it is fair to put the blame on Chuck for bringing the professional dominatrix to home. It was Wendy who told him to do so.
Yet, Chuck understands. Because he knows what it is like for your family home not to feel like home. His “pancake eater” story from when he was growing up is solid proof that he has the spookiest dad anyone can have.
Spooky: Sunday mornings in Chuck’s family house. His mother gives the girl the day off and prepares a fantastic Sunday breakfast for the family complete with pancakes, bacon and freshly squeezed orange juice. Chuck Sr. sits at the table with his newspaper, appreciates his wife’s efforts and declares “this is living.”
Spookier: A few times a year, Chuck Sr, in a fit of rage, sweeps everything off the breakfast table and screams “what the hell do I look like, a goddamned pancake eater?” and leaves the house. And Chuck’s mom, confused, spends the whole day trying to figure out what she did wrong to set her husband off. And when he finally comes home, she apologizes.
Spookiest: After an episode of rage, Chuck Sr. comes to his 8 year old son’s room to give him a life lesson: He does what he does so that his wife does not take her life granted. He believes that women have a subconscious desire to be dominated. He tells Chuck to remember, and more importantly, use it.
Paul Giamatti deserves standing ovation for his performance in this scene. As Chuck begs Wendy not to put the family home on sale and kindly asks to work together and find their way back to each other, I am ready to hug Chuck and tell him everything will be alright. Wendy is not. She appreciates that Chuck has gone to a very difficult place to pull this story from but she cannot promise her husband anything at this point.
As Chuck and Wendy deal with their own family mess, Taylor is excited about his dad’s quote from a Peaches and Herb’s song: “Reunited, and it feels so good.” They have a fancy apartment at Madison Park Tower ready for their parents, and as they tell their new friend Wendy the next day — while the two of them check out furniture for Taylor’s parents at Poliform— their parents coming to NY is a brand new source of motivation for them. Wendy now knows Axe Capital is on the right track to finish Taylor off.
Senior needs his son to use his banking contacts and get some favorable terms for dad’s Elysian Fields as Bryan and Agent Dancshazy are listening with interest! Look at Chuck! He is so needy for love even when he knows “the pancake eater” does not say “I love you” for no reason! I cannot help feel for him. And what are the odds that Chuck also finds his non-standard solution to dad’s problem thanks to Krakow?!?!
Krakow stops by Bruno’s only to find Chuck in the same room with his “blood brother” who seems to have sold him down the river: But Axe assures him that given the law enforcements has detected his adventures in the Caribbean, this is the best and only option for Todd.
Chuck will make sure Todd will keep his reputation intact, but we know there is no free lunch: So will come some favorable credit terms to Senior from the Qatar State Bank that is being removed from the restricted list!
As soon as Chuck gives his dad the good news, Bryan and Kate are ready to move: They will first check if the bank being taken off from the restricted list is legitimate. If it is, then they will need to look into why and how exactly it came off the list. And, most importantly, who is behind it? Well, if these two scratch the surface a little bit, they can get not only Senior and Junior but also Axe who we know had transferred money to Krakow’s Cayman Islands account in crypto currency last season. Yikes!
In the meantime, Robert Beaufort from the US Bureau of Industry and Security is crashing the party at TMC. The bureau exists to aid and support innovation in private sector but the patent office has flagged Douglas’ project as sensitive technology with implications for national security. The bureau will reimburse TMC for the R&D expenses they made on the project plus 8% on their investment for a non-disclosure agreement on the matter. Taylor knows Axe’s name is written all over this…
… while over at Axe Capital, put aside Wendy, even Hall seems to be slightly embarrassed by the adolescent giggling in the room over destroying Taylor! It was money and girls that Axe has solved the problem with. It turns out Mr. Beaufort is a classical film fan, well, sort of 😀 And I believe he has become “Hard Bob” when introduced to classical porn stars Lisa Ann, Gina-Raye Carter, and Audrey Joyce Leon (aka Cory Chase).
When Sara goes around to talk to their lawyer, she finds out TMC can fight the government but it can take 2-3 years. And while Lauren spun like Katarina Witt in Sarajevo (I LOVED KATARINA WITT!!!!! I was glued to TV whenever she was on ice.) she could not find any other big money source that would invest with TMC right now. Besides, NY Firefighters Fund has its reservations about what is going on at TMC. And when Taylor sits with Ken Shaddock, the chair of the fund, they learn Shaddock was in the military before the FDNY and he knows a thing or two about two-front wars: Even when your army is strong, more people die. He does not want Taylor, a leader, act like an infantryman, zero-in on one target while they need to scan the big picture. The Firefighters Fund is likely to withdraw their money from TMC.
As soon as he gets the news, Axe is ready to send Wendy over to Taylor and put the last nail on their coffin!
Wendy lets Taylor know that Axe knows they chose their dad over business and lost the Firefighters. Wendy appreciates that Taylor put their dad over business, something Axe could never do. Yet, Axe is now coming for them, and nothing can stop him. Wendy calls Axe names: Single-minded. Toxic. Corrosive. Shiva the Destroyer. While Taylor seems to buy Wendy’s words about their dad they certainly know Wendy is not there as a friend when the latter says she thinks about quitting. Who quits in Billions? Maybe Bruno!
Ken Shaddock is right. There is no rational justification behind Taylor’s decision to keep the project going when the government says no. It is an emotional decision on their part since they still want to keep their father’s dream alive in this impossible situation. Sara is also right when she reminds Taylor about their responsibility towards TMC.
And now that they have also lost Brian Dana, and the banks ask Taylor to put up the money for this project themselves, there is no other option for Taylor other than the one rationality dictates: Sell the project to the government and cut dad a big check… And where Douglas sees true betrayal, I see a child that has done everything in their power to make their dad’s dream true. I find Douglas who is still talking about his life’s work while his child’s company is at risk extremely annoying. And no wonder Taylor makes the final decision to sell the project to the government after they see their father’s true colors. Douglas takes his $1.3M and walks away.
As soon as Team Taylor figures it was Wendy all along who manipulated them, Mafee goes to Axe Capital and gets it out of his chest amidst protests from Team Axe. As the security kicks Mafee out, Axe is happy to know they hit the right target. But Wendy is the one to swallow those words.
“I trusted you. We all did. Because you charmed, manipulated, us to. All with that bullshit Buddha smile. And now I know that what was behind that smile wasn’t some serene and wise teacher. Hey! It had a sick, vicious phony. Now I know that’s what you really are a goddamned monster.”
And given that the next episode is titled “Fight Night” I wonder if we will actually get to see Mafee and Dollar Bill in the ring! A modern day duel, if you will. How about a charity box match? 😀
Now that he has solved the problem called Taylor, Axe can focus on the only father figure in his life, Bruno. And thank God for Rebecca who understands Bruno! She tells Axe earlier in the episode that Bruno seriously wants to work on his tan in Florida. Axe may not understand it, but after a lifetime in front of the oven, a quiet life in Florida may be the ideal life for Bruno.
Axe, surprised how come people may give up on fighting, visits Bruno to ask WHAT HE WANTS. This could be the first time Axe asks someone what they really want in the history of the series! Bruno wants to start his morning at a cafe sipping espresso, then catch a Pompano in the afternoon, and cook it for dinner and maybe share it with a nice widow he will meet. Ok then Axe is buying him out. Tonight. While Bruno believes Axe’s childhood is not in the hot oven, I love it that Axe cannot give up on probably the only place that feels like home.
So it is full house at Capparello’s where the family is celebrating Bruno. But Two absences deserve a mention: It is likely that Spyros is not invited like he was not to Bonnie’s birthday party but the family is missing Wendy, too.
If you have been reading my Billions reviews for a while, you know Axe broke my heart when he broke Bruno’s in Season 2 when he fucked Sandicot. So it is truly beautiful to see “the son” making amends to “his father” now. And believe it or not, I was extremely lucky to see this happy scene being shot at Bruno’s. Visit us for that story tomorrow!
Brogan’s neighbor, who seems to have taken Chuck’s picture at Brogan’s door after he shot his dog, tries to threaten Chuckthat he will go public with his photo unless Brogan paid him $250K for his silence. Mr. Eisen makes sure he is in Chuck’s office with the two of them so he can witness the neighbor threatening a public official! This, along with a $100K check, a new Belgian Malinois puppy, and his story about loyalty between a dog and its owner, is able to convince the neighbor to keep silent. Brogan owes Chuck a big one!
Chuck comes home to a yummy looking pie after his very long day. But the sweet surprise is not for him but for the potential buyers who will arrive soon to see the house. The only person Chuck cannot convince these days seems to be Wendy. Is this the beginning of the end for these two?
Wendy has got the sneakers out again for a run. She may be running to calm herself down but ultimately crying over her life: I imagine she cannot recognize the person she has become. Wendy has certainly violated doctor – patient confidentiality several times for her own interests. And when you think about it, Wendy has not been that different from her “pancake eater” father-in-law in the way she has manipulated Taylor.
Well, Douglas’ behavior is not quite different from that of the “pancake eater” either. Douglas seems to place himself at the center of the universe and Wendy is right that he has exploited the need Taylor has for parental approval. And now he leaves his child, who has done everything in their power to make their dad’s dream come true, falling into pieces, possibly thinking about what they did wrong.
One thing that has stuck with me is Rebecca noticing early in the episode how smart Axe’s ex-protégé is. She is impressed that Taylor has been able to figure out the trap they set up for them. I wonder if Axe and Rebecca’s relationship will survive the season but I have noticed her shaking her head in disbelief when he talked about how rewarding it will be when they Taylor makes the smart business decision to crush their father! So I wonder if the war that has turned from the ultimate pissing contest between Axe and Chuck into a sectoral and generational war this season may turn into male versus female and gender non binary at some point.