Now all my days, are filled with tears
Wish I could go back and change these years
I’m going through changes
Changes – Black Sabbath
Welcome back to the Trader’s Desk. This was my favorite episode so far this season. No “fin-speak”, but oh man, the emotions! Wendy is all sorts of lost in this episode. In my last two posts, I wrote about the anger and trust issues Wendy is having that have lead to this point. In “Infinite Game” it all comes to a head.
On a housekeeping note, there will be no Trader’s Desk next week (5/10). Lady Trader has earned a much needed vacation, so I will not be recapping; but if there is financial jargon in Ep. 8 that needs clarification, you can always reach out on Twitter: @lisaglick926.
This week we saw some of our favorite characters going through emotional changes: one was a surprise (Axe), one we could see coming (Taylor), and one could be the most profound of them all (Wendy).
Axe and his crew – Wags, Wendy and Rebecca – are meeting at his “club house”, Bruno’s. What better way to discuss destroying someone than over a pizza? Axe doesn’t want anyone to see Rebecca coming in and out of Axe Cap, but hasn’t that bird flown the coop? She’s been to the office several times, and even knows where the ice is!
Axe is letting Rebecca in on his plan to take down Taylor. Axe tells her he is bringing her in to the plan because it has upside for her, but we all know that is just a bonus. He’d tell her that even if it weren’t true so he could use her. But, I think Axe knows Rebecca is as smart as a whip, and there is only so much bull he’d get past her – she’d smell it a mile away!
Axe does tell Rebecca the developer of the tech is Doug Mason – Taylor’s dad. Rebecca asks the right question: is this a good deal money-wise or just make Taylor’s head explode? I think Axe lies – “A bit of both”; this is all about revenge for Axe, nothing more. Axe needs Rebecca to invest in the project, gain control, and then he will buy it from her at “a healthy profit”. I’m surprised Rebecca goes along with this. She already gets a whiff that there is a revenge factor here; as a smart businesswoman, she’d know that emotions should be on the sidelines.
At TMC, Brian Dana is letting Taylor, Doug and Sara know of new interest in the project in the form of Rebecca Cantu. She’ll invest $100M and ramp up the timetable on production. This is music to Doug’s ears, but Taylor is there to ask the logical, real questions: What kind of control will they still have? How much say will they have in terms of development, personnel, etc.? Taylor is looking at this proposal from a business perspective, which is exactly how they should. Doug is emotional about it, because this is his “baby”’. Taylor does not like what they hear – all these issues will be determined after they close the deal. Sara needs a moment with the boss. This deal would make financial sense for TMC with the possibility of a 38% profit and Doug walking away with $5M. It’s the walking away part Taylor has an issue with. Taylor is not just in this for the money, but to help make Doug’s dream happen. It’s their way of trying to repair and build on their relationship with Doug. Taylor knows what needs to be done – turn down the deal. Keeping Doug on this project is Taylor’s “highest priority”. Taylor is making the emotional choice. We have seen how much Taylor wants (and needs) the love and approval of their Dad.
Axe’s crew is back at the pizzeria because Rebecca needs to tell them that Taylor passed on the deal. Everyone seems surprised (it’s something Axe would never do – make someone else a priority!). Wendy knows Taylor will be under pressure to live up to the perfect vision they are trying to be to their dad, and that is the weak spot. Wendy doesn’t blink an eye when Axe asks her to accelerate the process of destroying Taylor. “How far do you need me to push this?” There is no such thing as a limit with Axe, so it’s all the way!
In the past, Wendy used her skills to help people become the best they could be; now she’s reduced to exploiting that skill to crush not only Taylor, but Doug as well.
As his minions go off to set their plan in motion, Bruno asks for a word with Axe. Someone has offered to buy Bruno’s business for $1M. This is perfect for Bruno – he has been looking to buy a place in Florida and the sale of the pizzeria would help him do just that. Axe doesn’t get or doesn’t want to get what Bruno is saying because it’s not what he wants. Axe goes into business mode – they’ll open the business down there! No can do – different water, different crust. No problem, Axe will have NY water flown down. Bruno just wants to retire and spend time on a beach instead of in front of a hot oven all day; take it easy, and relax after years of long hours running the restaurant. Axe is not even listening. He wants things the way he wants them, so he starts to dictate terms: Axe will give Bruno the funds for his Florida home, but Bruno will have to train someone to replace him at the pizza shop. Axe is generous enough to let Bruno spend the winters in Florida then come back and make pizzas for Axe for another 5 years! We can see on Bruno’s face this is not what he wants, but what does that matter to Axe? His wants and needs outweigh everything.
Bruno reluctantly agrees but Rebecca can see that this picture is all wrong. She is seeing firsthand the steamroller that is Bobby Axelrod – not just against an “enemy” like Taylor, but even to a friend like Bruno.
While on a break from manipulating Taylor, Wendy feels she needs a change. The family townhouse no longer feels much like a home to her, so she’s investigating putting it up for sale. This all comes as news to Chuck. This prompts Chuck to tell Wendy a horrifying story from his childhood, in an attempt to show Wendy where he comes from, and why he is the way he is. Wendy appreciates Chuck’s honesty, but doesn’t know if she can make things work with him. She is trying the best way she knows how, but can’t make any promises. You feel for Wendy here. You know she loves Chuck, and doesn’t want to break up her family, but sometimes love isn’t enough. Or maybe it’s just time for Wendy to start to get back to a place where she can love herself.
Taylor is buying an apartment for their parents so that they can have their family close by. This will be good for Doug, as it will keep him near TMC to continue to work on his project, and for Taylor, since they can now start re-building a relationship with their parents. Taylor can’t wait for their Mom to live in NY. This is a side of Taylor we rarely see: wanting to be part of a group, wanting to belong. We’ve seen it to a certain extent in their relationship with Oscar, and with being one of the gang at Axe Cap. But this connection to their parents is important, and for the first time in a while, we see Taylor look happy.
Well, apartments need furniture, so Taylor asks Wendy to go shopping with them. Taylor’s style is not the same as their parents, so Taylor feels Wendy’s eye for knowing how furniture will make people “feel” is what is needed.
Wendy is still on her mission and starts laying the ground work and planting seeds in Taylor’s head. “Are you sure you want them here?” Wendy reminds Taylor that families are not easy (and Wendy would know!) and then plays to Taylor’s logical side by saying it’s not cost neutral. Families cause pain and vulnerability and can become distractions; all things Taylor closes themselves off to. Taylor wants a new start with their parents and is willing to pay that cost, which is exactly what Wendy is hoping to hear.
TMC gets a visit from Bob Beaufort, head of the Bureau of Industry and Security. He has become aware of Doug’s tech and has determined that it has national security implications. The government can seize the tech if it sees fit. A challenge would take years, and in a public hearing, the tech would become public. In lieu of that, the government will pay for all research and development costs to date, and give TMC an 8% premium on their investment in return for a Non-disclosure Agreement. Taylor knows this is all Axe’s doing (and we saw how he made this happen and ewww!). Taylor is in a vise – selling out Doug and giving the government the tech, or going it alone and possibly losing investors in the project and investors at TMC as well. This is precisely where Axe wants Taylor – a lose/lose situation.
Having breakfast in bed and talking shop is what all power couples do, right? Well, that is what Rebecca and Axe do! Rebecca has high praise for Taylor, acknowledging how smart they were to sniff out the initial trap that Axe set. Axe agrees and that will make it all the more satisfying when they have to crush Doug because it’s the smart thing to do. Rebecca is seeing just how ruthless and unfeeling Axe is, especially if you get on his naughty list!
While talking about Rebecca’s next business deal – Saler Stores – the Bruno situation comes up. Axe pats himself on the back for making Bruno happy with his plan. Rebecca’s “hmm” response, shows she’s not on board with the plan. Someone disagrees with an Axe plan? Instead of asking why, he goes into defense mode: he is giving Bruno a good deal! I think Rebecca is a strong enough person that she knows she can speak her mind to Axe. She is her own woman and doesn’t pull punches. She tells him Bruno is not resisting because he knows Axe gets what he wants. Bruno really wants to retire to Florida. Axe can’t understand why anyone would not want to live as he does – constantly in a state of war. Axe thinks everyone needs to feel like they are “still in it”. Rebecca talks to Axe like no one else will, because she is not his employee, indebted to him, or afraid of him. She is his equal. She tells him that for Axe a life like that would be giving up, but for Bruno, after a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice, it would finally be living. You can see the confusion on Axe’s face as to the mere thought of that concept. Axe contemplates what Rebecca has told him because I think he feels something for her that he doesn’t feel for many – respect. Axe always thinks he is the smartest person in the room, and most of the time he is; but with Rebecca, he knows she’s right up there with him.
Taylor is putting out fires at TMC, and how appropriate that she needs to have a meeting with the Firefighters Fund. Taylor tries to assure Shaddock they will stay laser focused for him and his men, but it’s not enough. He lays down an ultimatum to Taylor – it’s the Firefighters or Doug. Taylor makes the emotional decision and chooses Doug. But, this decision puts Doug’s baby ahead of their own, TMC. Sara brings more bad news – Brian Dana is out as well. Taylor will have to fund the project alone, and it’s risky. Taylor made a commitment to their Dad, but Sara reminds them of the commitment they also have to TMC. If Taylor can’t make both work, then neither will prosper.
Wendy is sent by Axe to put the finishing touches on Taylor once he gets word the Firefighters have left TMC. Wendy calls Taylor sounding upset, asking to meet.
At Taylor’s parent’s new apartment, Wendy goes into her spiel: Axe knows about the Firefighters and that Taylor chose their Dad over their business and he sees that as a weakness and is coming for Taylor, hard. Wendy tells Taylor she appreciates that Taylor can find the “balance” even if Axe can’t (and let’s face it, neither can Wendy!).
Taylor didn’t let the fact that Doug “exploited” Taylor’s need for approval stop them from choosing family (so true, but a stinger!). Wendy is so good at making Taylor feel a fool for choosing Doug, knowing Taylor will course correct and in the process kill their relationship with their Dad.
Wendy is laying it on thick about how toxic Axe is, and I do wonder how much of this is still for Taylor’s benefit and how much of it is Wendy speaking her truth out loud.
“I went to work for a financial genius, not Shiva the Destroyer.”
Taylor asks how Wendy can stand to work there and Wendy – at least in Taylor’s mind – goes one step too far.
“I’m not sure I can.”
Again, I’m not sure if this is Wendy still following the script or her being honest with herself. Once Wendy says she is thinking of quitting Axe Cap, the jig is up. Taylor knows when someone overplays their hand (see Optimal Play) and Taylor believes that is just what Wendy did.
Taylor now knows Wendy set them up so that any decision they make is a catastrophic loss – either financially or emotionally. Taylor does what I expected them to do all along – go back to being Spock – logical and rational. Taylor makes the smart decision and sells the tech to the government and gets the Firefighters back and saves TMC. But what about Doug?
Taylor tries to explain, and even offers Doug a check for $1.3M, but he is not having any of it. All I can hear when he is arguing with Taylor is “my tech”, “my dream”; it’s all about him, and he could care less about what a hard choice this was for Taylor.
Taylor is not happy Doug feels such anger, but what choice did they really have? Taylor has powerful enemies that want to take them down, and hard choices need to be made in order to save TMC. Sara wonders how Axe knew exactly which plan to target, and Mafee owns up – he got played by Wendy (again) and was the one who spilled the beans. Instead of being angry, Taylor admits they got played by Wendy as well. Taylor made the mistake of trusting Wendy, but in the end got “infected”.
Doug is leaving because without his project, what is to keep him around? Not his relationship with Taylor? This is the Doug Taylor always knew he was. They never truly trusted Doug, and his actions prove Taylor right. While Taylor was willing to choose what Doug wanted over what Taylor and TMC needed, Doug would not do the same. Taylor wants and needs a father first, and that ain’t Doug! As a parting shot, Doug accuses Taylor of only caring about money, but I notice he doesn’t rip up that $1.3M check!
Last post, I called for Mafee to be fired, but now I demand he get a raise!
He invades enemy territory and barges into Axe Cap to confront Wendy. In one of my favorite scenes from Billions ever, Mafee gives it to Wendy, and gives it to her good!
He used to think of her as “this idealized version of a person” with “answers and the ability to help make people the best of who they could be”. He trusted Wendy (everyone did!!) because she could charm and manipulate people. All the while giving a “bullshit Buddha smile!” Behind that smile? “A sick, vicious phony!” a “goddamned monster!”
As Mafee is thrown out of the office, he gets one last jab in:
“You’re a garbage person Wendy!”
And I ask: where’s the lie? When Wendy is using her talent to motivate and make people the best they can be, that is one thing; when she uses that same talent to crush people, it is garbage. Axe is pleased to see Mafee so upset – he knows he must have “hit the target”; but the only thing that is a smoldering pile of emotional rubble is Wendy.
How much damage did Mafee’s outburst have on Wendy? We don’t really know, but we do know one thing: Wendy has officially put the townhouse up for sale. She’s is going through some changes while running along the East River trying to find herself and figure out where she goes from here. I really have no idea how she will do that unless she makes some more fundamental changes in her life.
Someone else going through changes? Bobby Axelrod! He goes to meet with Bruno and does something surprising: actually asks someone else what they want! Bruno tells Axe he wants to just live a nice life in Florida – nothing grand, just a simple life. Bruno will get his wish, thanks to Axe finally seeing that the world isn’t all about him. Axe will buy the pizzeria, and give Bruno the life he wants.
Is this a softer Axe? I doubt it, but it is nice to see Axe giving for a change instead of taking and destroying.