It does not matter if it is a carnivorous or a cuddly one. Or one that lives with a code. Billions Season 5 Episode 2 The Chris Rock Test demonstrates that a monster is a monster no matter what.
Oh My God – how come I forgot Billions does never waste a word?!?! As I thought he was just being kind, Axe was very serious when he was saying his goodbye to the Shaman in Season 5 Premiere The New Decas:
“…until we see each other and move your knowledge into the world, be well.”
As someone who never misses a business opportunity, where he and Wags saw “the creator of souls” Axe also saw a market! And now he, along with Wags and Taylor, is attending the “The Mike” held at the Mohonk Mountain House – actually waiting for The Mike to descend from the sky in his seaplane and welcome them to the conference.
Axe Cappers have their own agenda at The Mike – they are here to ensure the prince cannot fly above the king: Axe and Wags will chase two pharma-medical guys and make sure they inhabit the psycho-ceuticals like Ed Kemper did his victims’ souls. Yikes – I “met” Ed Kemper, a real life serial killer, in Mindhunter – a show you must see if you have not yet. Taylor is a fan and today they seem to have a task where they will need to control their emotions.
Now, I am really willing to give Mike Prince another chance to prove he is not fake but I mean look at his pretentious arrival at his conference that he has named after himself… And it does not stop there. The second he arrives, Prince starts bullshitting that he will be a smarter and a better person in 24 hours because of all the guests that have joined him here… Even though he chosen the title “New Capitalism” for the most anticipated fireside chat with Axe at this year’s “The Mike” Prince has a kind façade that is hiding the good old “capitalism” working in the background.
I respect the rich that do their share for the society, I actually expect them to share some of the fortune they have made with others who are not as lucky as they have been but I do not like it when they try to show themselves different from who they really are. Especially in a room of people who are making money, in Axe’s words, while they sleep, dream, or fuck. Axe is right in saying that the whole giving thing could be about the guilt he may be feeling because he got lucky.
We find out that, when Mike was a high school basketball star in Indiana, his town’s people used to paint their picket fences green and white – the team colors – to celebrate Mike. So it was his community that lifted him up for success. And he knows Axe came from nothing. That said, he adds, Axe still grew up in the wealthiest state in the wealthiest country in the world, he benefited from good schools and health care, and that being white and male was an advantage at the time. Well, I have to disagree with Prince on the school/healthcare part while I agree with him about “white and male” privilege – what is the woman/man or white/non-white ratio in this room? The huge income gap between the rich and the poor extends to huge gaps in the quality of schools, health care and life expectancy they have. So, as Axe points out, even when the roads are paved, you do not necessarily have access to them when you do not have a car.
And do not get me wrong – I am not making a case for Axe here: I am just saying he does not pretend he is an ordinary guy who got lucky. No, he was a monster from the get go, a lucky monster, but still a monster and a carnivorous one at that! And he rightly argues that everyone in this room is a monster, has to be… And while Prince seems to agree he may be a monster… the monster he is referring to is quite different!
The cuddly monster kindly asks the carnivorous one if he would be willing to help organize supplies to be sent to Honduras for earthquake relief tomorrow. Well, the king was thinking of leaving tomorrow morning – but yeah, of course, why not?
As Axe and Wags talk about the bankers hanging out at the conference – one has a life time contract and the other one has his name on the bank, his father’s name to be precise, their conversation is cut short by an arrival.
Remember the model Axe wanted to “try”? She is here to be “tried.” And while Wags informs Axe about their new 4-part Me Too era protocol, I have a question: Is this a hook up or a business transaction?
Taylor’s mission that concerns “emotions” turns out to be seeing if Oscar Longstraat will keep his money on board. Longsraat is playing speed chess with real-life grand master Hikaru Nakamura, who is playing with a room of people at the same time, and Taylor has no luck even engaging him in a conversation.
In the meantime, Wags is at a strip club “seducing” Shenk who is leaving the pharmaceutical company Errix and heading to the FDA by mentioning Bram Longriver – their personal guide and shaman who opened their eyes to the potential ayahuasca has. Wags cannot close the deal though because he is distracted by a pole dancer…. who turns out to be…
…his own daughter!!!!
Wags makes sure he takes her daughter out of the club as soon as her performance is over and ships her to a facility afterwards. Axe, with whom Wags shares the news that he failed “The Chris Rock Test“, promises to have that strip club shut down. But, hey, given Wags always gets to spend time at strip clubs – and I do not think he ever tried to shut one down before – why is it a problem when it is his daughter who is performing? Does this mean Wags does not respect the women working there? I think so and this is some double standard in my book.
While his yoga teacher Ivy Askew will personally put his people together, Axe needs to go seduce a hospital CEO in the warehouse – his plan all along even though he told Prince at the fireside chat that he was thinking of leaving in the morning… And, for a second time” he sees the “fucking bankers” who seem to have a stress-free morning.
As he is seemingly working to organize supplies for “Shake the Quake” campaign Prince is running for the earthquake victims in Honduras, Axe is actually eyeing Jules Hakli – the CEO of Ameri-hospitals – who is also giving a hand in the warehouse. And when he catches an opportunity to help him lift some heavy bag, Axe is open with Hakli: How about hosting stage 3 huasca medical-pharma trials at his medical center? The CEO is interested as soon as he hears Axe mentioning Bram Longriver – who knew that the shaman Axe and Wags met was a celebrity in pharma-medical circles?
Taylor finally makes Oscar, who is sorting clothes and shoes in the warehouse, spill the beans after a lecture about the difference between regular chess and fast chess (The Blitz): He does not want to be affiliated with Bobby Axelrod in any way. And Taylor may not have read Oscar but they noticed the wrong move he made in speed chess last night.
And Wags finally delivers even though he needs to re-live last night’s experience thanks to Shenk’s distasteful commentary about Wags taking a pole dancer out of the club right after her performance – something that Shenk never saw outside Thailand… When Shenk hears that they got Bram Longriver, he agrees to sell them his Errix shares before heading to the FDA to get approvals for the legal use of synthetic Ayahuasca.
Yet, the closing dinner at The Mike ends with Prince pulling a good one against Axe. He knew all along Axe was not there for the conference but for psychoceuticals and, guess what, Prince has already got Bram Longriver.
Now, I certainly do not buy Axe’s “You stole my Shaman” argument since he certainly does not own the man, but I do not buy Prince’s “I am a cuddly monster” argument, either. Prince may be thinking more of the greater good, and I appreciate his efforts for the earthquake relief in Honduras, but when it comes to business, he is as big a monster as Axe is.
And as Axe calls himself a carnivorous monster, I call myself a pasta monster! I only feel sad for Axe and Wags because they are leaving without having tasted the divine pasta prepared by Missy Robbins – one of my and President Obama’s favorite chefs whom Lewisto and I have followed from Spiaggia in Chicago, to A Voce in New York, and finally to her own wonderful restaurant Lilia in Williamsburg – one of the hardest to get in restaurants in NYC – it feels so strange to talk about NYC dining during the shut down.
Third time is the charm for Axe – he makes a decision upon seeing the “fat fucking furballs” aka the bankers enjoying themselves like there is no tomorrow for the third time. Instead of being a gambler in the casino, what about being the house itself, especially because you have a safety net called the government when there is a crisis?
Bobby Axelrod wants to become a bank.
It is Wendy who has been manning the castle in the absence of Axe and Wags in the last two episodes. And she has to do it again today even though the day begins with some bad news from her real estate broker as she and Bonnie are touring the beautiful penthouse Wendy has been planning to buy for herself: Chuck has put a restraining order on their marital assets. Well, I think it is good that a spouse has this right especially when they suspect the other side can drain the bank accounts and so on. But Wendy?!?!
We all know Chuck is doing this only because Wendy had the public statement about their separation published. He really needs to get a grip and grow up. Wendy is the last person Chuck can question on unilateral actions! Un-fuckin-believable!
But the show must go on at Axe Capital and Wendy needs to deal with Ali Kashkhokh, Allocator for Ontario Educators, who has more than $1B invested with Axe Capital. She is, in Axe’s words there “to find the second set of Untouchables books” and according to Wendy, Axe and Wags would look like Al Capone should they come back to the office now. I love the Untouchables – one of my all-time favorite movies – references. By the way, this is the third reference to a movie with Kevin Costner in Billions – the others being Dances with Wolves and The Field of Dreams.
Wendy is quick to move Ms. Kashkhokh away from Ben Kim and Tuk who seem to enjoy sharing with her horror stories where the market is a bridge and the investors are cars and that the bridge may collapse. And when she cannot convince Bonnie, the investor relations person at Axe Capital to handle the allocator, Wendy goes to Lauren… again! And while Sara does not want Axe Capital to conscript Mase Cap employees at their convenience, Lauren is eager to help. But no – she will not do her usual dine and wine or shot and grind with this lady. Kashkhokh is in town to see the numbers so she will see them tomorrow morning… only after Lauren sends her a special room service from Union Square Café.
As Kashkhokh is leaving Axe Capital impressed because the place can function even when the founder is not around, I am wondering what would happen if Axe Capital did not absorb Mase Capital a few months ago. Khashkou’s Ontario Educators may have decided to take their $1B and leave. Wendy seems to agree with me, calling Lauren’s conduct as “the full Dudamel” and offering her the Head of IR position at Axe Capital. Well, Lauren’s concern is understandable since she cannot be sure if Wendy genuinely wants to use her talent or wants to use her to further isolate Taylor. Still, she accepts the job leaving Sara believing she has zero job. After Wendy tells her that she can, as a performance coach, make sure Sara gets to Olympian levels in her potential, Sara pays a visit to Taylor to check how they feel about their employees taking positions at Axe Capital. And it seems she knows what to do as soon as Taylor tells them there are many things at Axe Capital they do not like but they cannot change them at the moment. I bet we will have a Wendy – Sara session in Episode 3!
In the meantime, there is someone else at Axe Capital who needs a session with Wendy right away. Dollar Bill, whose book is not doing well, is desperate enough to look into others’ computers… and when he catches that Winston has his own “Secret Golden Tunnel” Bill threatens to report him unless he runs his money and gives him his cut. While Winston does not even invest Bill’s money he tells him there is a 10% loss. Well, Bill, who may not understand analyzing data or running algorithms can still read people and so he makes Winston return his money before he gives him a literal cut 😀 And the way Maffee translates to Bill why the algorithm may not be working is HILARIOUS!
“So let me translate for you. A man can manage two wives. But you try to keep four wives going, you can’t keep everyone satisfied. Too many variables, not enough Bill. The whole thing crumbles.”
Honestly, Bill turning down Bonnie who asks him whether he would show her the new cup holders in the mini-v (does this mean they never get a room?!?! What a cheap bastard!) worries me. He is obviously depressed and needs Dr. Mojo…
… who is calling Axe to ask if she could stay in his apartment longer. Axe is surprised since he knows she found a place she liked. And when he hears that the deal got “Chucked” Axe is more than ready to buy the apartment for Wendy – and that is exactly why what Chuck did is not only disrespectful but also ridiculous – Axe has Wendy’s back! But the thing is that the apartment is gone. Yeah that is the NYC real estate market for you. But I think Axe may still try and get that apartment for Wendy who is now going to court and GUT Chuck. Yikes!
Oh and how about the guy that Wendy wants to gut? Well, he is busy organizing the play field for his next game!
Chuck has now started EMDR therapy with Dr. Mark Rutenberg (portrayed by Mark Blum who unfortunately passed away due to complications from Covid-19 and this episode is dedicated to him) where the goal seems to be empowered by a past trauma rather than being eaten away by it. The doctor starts with asking Chuck to name a comforter, a protector and a wise person. We find out that all of them used to be Wendy in the past – which shows us Chuck probably depended on Wendy more than she did on him in their marriage. And now the comforter is Ira, the protector is Alan Alda (Dr. Rutenberg’s turns out to be Tony Siragusa) and the wise person is, since Chuck is reading Darker Dreaming Dexter at the moment, Harry: The father figure to Dexter, because he has the answers. I would say Chuck Senior would be offended if he heard that! And how about a safe place? Yale Law Library. The question about a moment Chuck felt betrayed brings us to the exact point I made time and again about WHY Chuck is so obsessed with Axe: It is all about Wendy. The question takes Chuck back to the 9/11 Memorial in Season 2 Finale Ball in Hand.
“She was there.”
And, Chuck, do you know who else was there?
Me! I was there, too, standing only a few feet from my favorite characters hugging followed by the windbreakers putting the cuffs on Bobby Axelrod. And I know these actors make it look easy but it was such a crazy cold day in New York that day. You can read my story here!
Back to Chuck who confides in Dr. Rutenberg that he felt rage, sadness and jealousy in every part of his body when he saw Axe and Wendy hugging. And I bet he felt exactly that when Axe saved Wendy’s medical license in Season 4 Finale Extreme Sandbox. When the doc asks about a negative self-belief, Chuck serves him Bobby Axelrod as a criminal. But it is not a self-belief, is it? Yet, according to Chuck, there is no way he can focus on himself until he completely defeats Axe.
Chuck’s day continues in the governor’s office where he and Kate are waiting for the governor to show up as Kate’s idol Teddy Roosevelt is looking at them from the wall. And, guess what, Sweeney gets into the room with the Manhattan DA Mary Ann Gramm. The governor is direct with Chuck. How the State AG office handled the crypto mine case does not sit well with him. He thinks Chuck is very soft on big business and so Chuck is losing his criminal jurisdiction to the Manhattan DA’s office.
Chuck knows Axe is behind this because as Kate describes Sweeney in Godfather language:
“Tattaglia is a pimp, he can’t orchestrate.”
Now, now, Chuck… But Axe had to reciprocate the crypt mine bust after all, didn’t he? Before leaving for “The Mike” Bobby takes time to catch Gramm in Cibao, a casual Dominican joint in the Lower East Side. Axe tells Gramm, who has a fun story about why Dominican boiled and mashed plantains are called mangu, that everyone who has met her is impressed with her and he envisions that her reputation will go beyond Manhattan.
“Keep your eye on the sparrow, you know?”
I just love these references who take both Axe and me to our childhood. I LOVED Baretta and his cockatoo Fred! And it is Sammy David, Jr. who sings the theme song!
Well, it is not hard to guess that Axe probably had a conversation and also wrote a check for the governor’s next campaign to get the purview on crypto mining go from Chuck to Gramm. Oh, and when Chuck tries to reason with the governor by saying the people of New York voted for him, Gramm, who is obviously a tough cookie, puts him in his place saying that they voted for him to feel good about their sex lives and to feel liberal and fair 😀 Ouch!
Chuck is truly transparent with Kate, as he should be, this season. He is reading Dexter these days. Yes the protagonist may be a serial killer but he has a code – he kills for the “right reasons” and so will Chuck: For justice! He wants Kate to play Harry to his Dexter and make sure Chuck kills by the code.
We know Chuck always finds a way and the solution to his current problem comes in the form of Judge De Giulio who needs his friend’s help as he has been nominated for the Second Circuit. There is a “memo” between the judge and the seat on the Second Circuit – a “torture memo” to be precise. De Giulio has his signature under the “torture memo” that discussed waterboarding as a vital tool in intelligence gathering and a senator knows about it. And can you guess which senator the judge is talking about? Senator Vanderveer who we heard of so many times as “Chuck Senior’s senator” so could Chuck please use his connection to the senator and stop her from stopping De Giulio? After all, De Giulio adds, waterboarding is not as bad as the media made it.
Is it? SERIOUSLY?
Well, it seems even Chuck who takes immense pleasure in pain calls it torture! And I really want to know what kind of jobs Allerd, who seems to be experienced with waterboarding, did before becoming Chuck’s minion! So there is no room to shift the Overton Window here but Chuck has an idea: They will put the blame on the generals – De Giulio, who is not a military man himself, believed the military experts who said it would be okay. And as Chuck hesitates to go into the meeting with the senator, De Giulio makes THE argument Chuck has been waiting for: He can help Chuck with Axelrod if he is in a good enough position.
Yet the senator is not giving in. When they meet in the State AG office, Vanderveer basically tells De Giulio to go fuck himself if he wrote that memo. And it falls on Chuck to quote the Baseball Hall of Famer Leroy “Satchel” Paige as he walks him to the elevators…
“Never let your head hang down. Never give up and sit down and grieve. Find another way.”
…and when he is back in his office, the senator is waiting for him there. Chuck does not have to find another way. He always gets his way. The senator is okay with keeping the memo buried and De Giulio will get a position Chuck can benefit more from him to take down Axelrod: Solicitor General who represents the federal government before the Nine.
When Chuck comes to pop-quiz Kate “Hermione Granger” Sacker about why he did what he did about De Giulio, she does not only answer all questions right but she also comes up with a bonus question and answers it right, too: It is Chuck who leaked the memo to the senator so he can place De Giulio as the Solicitor General rather than as a judge on the Second Circuit. Since Chuck lost his criminal jurisdiction in New York, he needs to do his “big game hunting” elsewhere! And Chuck is having dinner with De Giulio tonight at Peter Luger – the judge is paying!
Season 5 Premiere The New Decas closed as Taylor was smashing the rage room left and right with a baseball bet. Episode 2 The Chris Rock Test closes with Chuck confronting Taylor about him knowing what they did. Chuck does not know if selling him out to Axe was a strategic move on Taylor’s part – which I suspect was – but he knows that when Taylor is inevitably lined up against Bobby Axelrod they will need Chuck on their side. Chuck explains that while both he and Axe are possessed by a monster, what makes Chuck different from Axe is a code – the Dexter code! And while Taylor does not need a code, they need a monster.
I think a person that can see the error a player makes in speed chess can definitely calculate the other side’s next move as well as their own response to it early on. I do think Taylor wants to have their own shop and so they will work on eliminating Axe. I am sure Oscar saying he would not be affiliated with them as long as they are affiliated with Axe makes Taylor even more determined to take down Axe. Oh and I also think Taylor seems to bless their people taking new positions at Axe Capital to have the trust of the higher ups – Axe and Wendy in particular. They are playing their own game. And you know what they may not even need a monster.