I love the saying attributed to Woody Allen that “90% of life is showing up.” And while I believe it applies to the 99% of the population, 90% of life for the top 1% seems to be begging, bribing and bullying their way into everything – business, art, and yes even education. Written by Ben Mezrich, and set around these three actions, this episode gives us a wonderful hour that provides food for thought about essence of a person – the soul – as well as fathers and sons.
As Father and Son– one of the best songs ever written by one of the greatest songwriters of all times – opens the episode, we find out the apple does not fall far from the tree.
The son in question is Gordie Axelrod who is turning his dorm room into a bitcoin farm to make money – lots of it! But exactly like the bitcoin farm Kate busted in Episode 1 The New Decas, Gordie’s bitcoin farm needs so much power that it does not only cause outage in the school building but also in the entire town.
Axe, who has not received a call from the school about Gordie’s troubles yet, is having another major headache thanks to the cuddliest monster on Wall Street. It is obvious that Prince has found out about Wags arranging a preview for Axe to see the abstract painter Nico Tanner’s new “Implosion” series before the painter’s show starts. And Scooter secured the paintings for Prince’s beach house.
And I cannot help yell “Bullshit!” at my screen when Prince says he did not mean to scoop Axe and Scooter claims buying off people is a Wags’ move.
You paid Vanity Fair for the solo cover!
You paid the shaman to get him on your side!
Yes, you paid the dealer, too! I bet Wags is right, you had to buy some “second rate dog shit” to secure the paintings!
Now, I am not saying Axe would not do it, he definitely would, but the thing is he accepts who he is and embraces it while Prince is in complete denial that he is a monster. I think he truly deserves the Biggest Hypocrite awards he has been collecting from Lady Trader for the last two weeks.
As Wags is embarrassed to have failed the habibi and determined to send that dealer back to the armory like a disassembled M-16 in a crate, Axe is already thinking about his next move.
“If you can’t buy the art, buy the artist.”
While Tanner has the reputation of someone not giving in to collectors, and directly tells Axe that he does not paint for money, Axe believes he says so because nobody has paid him enough yet.
Axe starts with arranging an artist’s studio for Tanner to paint for him. He even moves his critical meeting with Ted Krakow and Robert “Hard Bob” Beaufort about how to get into banking to the artist’s studio.
As “Hard Bob” is harder than ever in telling Axe there is no federal bank in his future, life happens: Bobby now has to get on his plane and show up at Skinner Prep Academy to get into the bottom of Gordie’s bitcoin project. He makes Hard Bob and Krakow to accompany him and Wags on the trip so they can explain further and Krakow says it the best:
“As in all things, sequence matters.”
The bankers may have almost bankrupted the economy but the thing is they got their banking license way before they fucked the Average Joe! Axe, on the other hand, has had his share of legal troubles which would make it impossible for him to pass the FDIC background checks.
But we are talking about Bobby Axelrod here. Whe he asks for an alternative plan, Krakow recommends a state charter with different and fewer regulations, possibly more tolerant to “begging, bribing and bullying” but still Axe must have an airtight board, an unassailable CEO, high level of liquidity and get along with the corrupt state politicians. Ha! Did you know that the State AGs are the new bank regulators per Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act? This is going to be FUN!
So what did Gordie want to do exactly? Bitcoin mining.He set up the hardware to facilitate the crypto-currency transactions in the decentralized bitcoin market. His plan was to receive bitcoin as a reward for completing these transactions and put the reward back into trading for bitcoin.
The downside for “bitcoin mining” is that the hardware is a serious investment, and the more powerful the hardware is, the more electricity it is going to require. So Gordie had to consider his desired hardware’s electricity consumption, and even though they thought about bypassing internal fuming – Gordie’s friend Siena who makes this point gets an instant job offer from Axe! – they did not expect their hardware to cause a power outage.
I believe the meeting with Headmaster Kessel could have gone way better if Axe had started with a sincere apology rather than treating the headmaster as Senator Leary – the corrupt US senator in The Godfather, and trying to figure out how many zeroes he wants on the donation check. It is totally Axe’s doing that the headmaster is now talking about Gordie dishonoring himself, dishonoring the school and that he is leaning to expulsion for something that is, as Axe also points out, not more than an “independent lab project gone bad.” And when Kessel who is determined not to let Axe put a price on Gordie’s soul, especially in front of Gordie, quotes The Godfather…
“I am no band leader.”
… he finds himself threatened by Axe that the last person who said these words had lost his precious racehorse! What the fuck? It seems it does not matter whether it is a bank, an artist, or a headmaster. Everything has a price for Bobby Axelrod.
Wags who has not been even able to find one DUI ticket in the headmaster’s past, recommends the reform/rehab schools he attended in his youth for Gordie, but Axe is determined to bully his way to make Gordie stay at school. Axe is not pissed with Gordie because he ran a scheme, he is pissed because he ran a scheme with such a high risk/reward ratio. They now need to ruin a good man so Gordie stays at school. And since they cannot squeeze the headmaster they have to squeeze the school through donors.
When Axe talks to a donor who made a $800K donation to the athletics department, he learns that the donor actually made a $1M donation. So where did the $200K go? As Axe and Wags believe they got their break, Hall arrives with bad news: Headmaster Kessel is actually Robin of Locksley aka Robin Hood. He redirected the excess $200K to a scholarship program for Syrian refugees that the school refused to set up. Three of these refugees reside on campus this year with their families.
An envelope passed under his rundown hotel room at The Campus Inn late at night brings Axe what he needs to ruin Kessel. And my hope that this crisis might bring Axe and Lara closer for the sake of their kid fades away when Axe calls Wendy, a professional, rather than Lara, Gordie’s mother, to ask whether he should fix it for Gordie! I may actually have to give Axe the benefit of the doubt here since he knows Lara will tell him to do whatever it takes keep Gordie at Skinner.
As Axe enters Kessel’s room donning his Rainbow t-shirt the following morning, he is there for destruction – whenever Axe puts on one of his old metal t-shirts, he is ready to rock and roll the world… and the school auditorium, too, in this particular case. The headmaster, who takes newly arrived immigrant families in, gives in to him because Axe is right that these people helping around the house may look like cheap labor, even worse, slavery!
Yet… isn’t it interesting to see that Axe is a Keynesian when it comes to his own child? The man who believes in markets coming to the right equilibrium when left alone cannot let the markets decide his son’s future and takes an interventionist approach. I think Axe knows, too, deep down that invisible hand is invisible because it is not there.
When Wendy explains to him the pros and cons of letting the market do its work, it seems that Gordie will end up with a drinking problem when he is 28. And Axe cannot stomach that. And that is what I cannot stomach the kind of capitalism he promotes on the school stage where he encourages young people to be like him: to be hungry, to be greedy. While I agree with Axe that capitalism has been the most successful economic system in the world, I argue there are varieties of capitalism and I support the version in which the government looks out more for its citizens’ basic needs: housing, health care and education.
And while I am at it… I mean – what kind of a life lesson is Gordie taking from this experience? That his father always has his back. And that he can “beg, bribe, bully” his way into anything. I hope Gordie proves me wrong, but the look on his face (Hats off to Jack Gore!) is that of a child who will grow up to be an adult with serious issues.
Axe closes the evening with Nico Tanner at the artist’s studio with take out pizza from Una Pizza Napoletana – probably the best pizzeria in the city where Axe and Rebecca had a double date with Chuck and Wendy in Season 4 Episode 5 A Proper Sendoff. Note that Anthony Mangieri, who believes his pizza should travel from the oven directly to the mouth, lets the pizza travel only for Axe. And while Tanner who could care less about the praises Ben Kim has to sing for Bobby Axelrod earlier in the day, seems to come around as he finds out more about the man who thinks of himself as The Medicis and Tanner as Michelangelo. The argument is simple: Do we like the Sistine Chapel less because Michelangelo did it on commission? No. Tanner does not need to sell his soul to Axe, he will just create his next eight paintings for him and leave.
Remembering Axe had convinced Mr.Purkheister to remove the CEO of Yum Time in Season 1 Episode 3 Yum Time with a perfect slice at Capparello’s, I bet Mangieri’s pizza helps Tanner, too, with understanding that Axe knows greatness when he sees it. And Axe saying Mangieri is his new pizza guy makes me wonder if he still keeps Capparello’s open.
The Rhoades side of things also presents a father and son story this week in which the son is looking for his soul, which he lost long ago, at his alma mater.
Now that he has lost his budget, along with his criminal cases, to the Manhattan DA’s office, Chuck is after civil cases with huge settlements. Kate brings him cases worthy of $5M and receives the compliment of being Hector Elizondo, the proud plumber who is very good with his hands in The Flamingo Kid yet another movie reminding me of my childhood.
Chuck who cited Yale Law School Library as his safe place at his ERDM therapy in Episode 2 The Chris Rock Test, is now sitting in the Dean’s office at his alma mater discussing his visiting professor appointment at the Law School. And I laugh out loud when the dean talks about Chuck probably picking up the tools he needed to ascend to the job at Yale. Well, I think Chuck got some home-schooling for that! 😀
Speaking of Chuck Senior – the Dean has a favor to ask from Chuck: While Rhoades family is woven into the tradition at Yale, Chuck Senior who made a pledge to give $100K every year to the school has never paid it.
This is clearly strategic on the dean’s end because the kind of pledge Chuck Senior has made will help the future generations of Rhoadeses to get into Yale and we already heard Chuck telling De Giulio that his daughter is going to Yale in a fun, if pretentious, exchange in Season 1 Episode 8 Boasts and Rails 🙂
DeGuilio: And the sad thing is, it’s so competitive now. Half the Chinese are applying to the Ivies. All our kids are gonna end up in second-tier schools.
Chuck: Not Eva. She’s going to Yale.
DeGuilio: Like I said.
Chuck: Oh, you fucking Harvard guys.
Oh, you fucking Ivy League guys! 🙂
When Chuck visits the newlyweds – so Chuck Senior remarried and also kept the apartment?!?! – he realizes that it is more Roxanne than Chuck Senior himself who does not want legacy donations to Yale. And, no, this is not anything to do with Yale mistreating the indigenous peoples, this is about the Rhoades family mistreating Roxanne and her young child. This is enough information for Chuck to talk about sanctity of family, and visit Wendy to trade favors. Not that he openly says that…
…but Wendy knows he needs something in return when Chuck tells her he knows putting a restraining order on their marital assets was an overreaction. What a motherfucker! You know what? Axe and Chuck are long lost twins. Remember Axe dropping the civil cases he brought against Chuck to make Wendy return to Axe Capital in Season 2 Episode 6 Indian Four? Chuck is now doing the exact same thing to Wendy – lifting the ATRO to make Wendy join a family gathering which ensures Chuck Senior keep his financial pledge. And while her baby aunt confuses Eva a bit, her granddad delivers yet another piece of wisdom:
“The world is whatever the hell you make it.”
As Chuck saves the academic pledge Senior committed to, Kate saves the $5M Governor Sweeney asks them to write a check for through a guy – I cannot stop laughing about the Florsheims!
Kate looks into it and finds out Chuck does not need to propose Sweeney a duel at dawn in New Jersey! 😀 It turns out the State AG office can designate the funds they get before they land with them – before the governor can redirect them – to a public good, say to “a law school clinic earmarked to do certain work by a certain person.” Bingo – Chuck is now going back to his alma mater and taking the funds with him! And, yeah, when Kate cuts a joint, it stays.
The third and final father and son story in the episode comes from Wags who is constantly inspired by Axe’s exemplary(!) parenting during the crisis at Skinner Prep and decides to reach out to ALL of his children!
So Mandi is not Wags’ only child. He at least has another 14 year old daughter who says “whatever” when her dad tells him he will call her again soon and two older boys who cut their contact with Wags long time ago. He heard Georgie, his eldest, had a legal cannabis business in Colorado at one point but he has not heard from him since his business crossed state lines!
While Gordie may have Winklevoss aspirations, Georgie who arrives at Axe Capital late in the episode definitely does not. That said the apple has not fallen far from the tree! And not only physically… Georgie is into spiritual experiences like his father. But while Wags has a religious experience eating ortolan and meets “the creator of souls” at an Ayahuasca retreat, Georgie has his personal relationship with Jesus Christ himself. I have to say the look on Wags’ face when he gets the good news is as priceless as when he found out he failed The Chris Rock Test.
I have kept the story that I find the most fascinating to the last. I really think Taylor is playing the long game!
Winston is running a Natural Language Processing software to see whether the Chancellor at Lawrenceburg University, a potential investor they want to approach, means what he says in a speech. The student body is putting pressure on the administration to divest from fossil fuels in the university endowment And the software Winston uses “reads between the lines” if you will and finds that even though the chancellor says he and the board of trustees will not let the students run the university, he does not mean it. How about having Lauren set a pitch?
Sara imagines this is not an easy lawrencsell to some of the board members that she knows. According to her, Taylor has not been an effective leader for some time, losing Oscar’s money has been bad enough for the company, and so it is high time that Taylor shines!
Taylor visits Wendy to ask for help in convincing the Lawrenceburg Chancellor to do what is rational. They think there are people who are rational and who are not. Wendy corrects them that there are people who are not rational and who think they are…
…and a quick demonstration based on Jonathan Haidt‘s The Righteous Mind shows that even Taylor is not a computer – even though Taylor does not believe in soul, they hesitate to sell it – and there is a gap between their rational thought and rational rational action! The Lawrenceburg chancellor obviously hates it that the pressure to divest is coming from the students and Taylor has to make sure he understands the regret he will have if he makes the wrong move. Before leaving, Taylor reminds Wendy she should have asked her about Lauren before appointing her as the Head of IR.
Taylor succeeds in conveying the message to the chancellor, yet he cannot convince his board of trustees – especially the chair, one retired admiral Bill Karrass known as “Wild Bill” in the Navy. This is Sara’s moment to shine and she comes back not only having made the general “crumble like a rock candy” but also with a smart plan: How about taking the same position they are unrolling the university endowment from and making a backdoor deal with the oil companies to avoid the publicity that will come from the divestment?
Now, the Taylor I have come to know in the last three seasons would not say no to this. They may not be a computer but they are extremely rational when business is concerned. It was Taylor who proposed to fuck Sandicot in Season 2 and kept Andolov’s money to protect TMC in Season 3. And I am sure they know as much as Sara does that they are not here for a climate rally! I bet they have a plan in place and they are sticking to it when they tell Sara it is the not the right play! Yet when Axe implements the exact plan Sara had in mind, Taylor cannot keep Sara at TMC. I wonder if Sara has taken her idea to Axe, if she is leaving the building or just moving over to Axe Capital right now and whether Taylor wants to make sure their best people have key positions at Axe Capital so they have access to the information they need to take down Axe.