Kings will be crowned, and the word goes around
From father to son, to son
“Father to Son” – Queen
Welcome back to the Trader’s Desk. This week Billions seems to have Daddy issues! I’ll get into that, some observations, and then my thoughts on Axe and his audition for the role of modern day Gorden Gekko!
I think it was fitting that this episode opened with the song “Father and Son” (and a big thank you to Damianista and Gingersnap for educating me on the singer and the song, as I had never heard of it!). We all know that Axe and Chuck have some major Daddy issues, and those were on display this week, along with Axe setting some up for his son Gordie. Also, did anyone else notice the plethora of The Godfather references? Now that’s a movie about Daddy issues! And let’s not even start about the state of Wags’ kids because he was an absent father. This episode should have been shown on Father’s Day!
I think we can all agree that Chuck is the way he is because of his Dad. All you need to know about Chuck’s childhood, and his Dad is the pancake story from Season’s 4’s “Infinite Game”. Chuck plays the games he plays, and acts the way he acts because, in equal parts I think he wants to get approval from his Dad, but also dislikes the man. You know he wanted to go off on his father when giving the toast at the wedding but held back. The conflict Chuck feels about Senior was on full display right there. I do think Chuck is shocked at how his father is now a “hands on” Dad with Willow. Perhaps if Senior had been a real dad to Chuck, Chuck would be a better man.
Are we seeing a new Wags? He now wants to be a part of his kids’ lives (how many kids does he have?) after witnessing Axe being a parent. We know Mandy was an exotic dancer, but he has lost touch with his older sons. When he does meet up with George, he finds he has found Jesus. Not necessarily what Wags was expecting. Wags thinks he has failed as a father, but is being an exotic dancer and finding religion really that bad? We know who Wags is – a “rapacious scumbag”. Perhaps his kids were better off without him? Who’s to say their choices would have been any different or better if he had been involved in their lives? As we can see with Chuck, perhaps having no Dad is better than having a bad one.
Which leads us to one of my MVPs of this week: The Best Worst Parent, Bobby Axelrod. There was so much going on with this storyline, I don’t even know where to start.
We can see the influence Axe already has on his son: Gordie blacks out the town while trying to run a multi-crypto mining scheme all in the name of getting rich! This kid is set for life with a decabillionaire dad; but he still feels the need to play the game, get rich, and win (sound familiar?). And you know his whole speaking in the third person routine is classic Axe. I for one think that Gordie hatches this plan for several reasons (money, impressing Siena) but could it be the main reason is to impress his Dad? What do you think would impress Axe more: good grades, or a crypto mining program? I think we know the answer to that.
Axe is going to swoop in and save (buy) the day. He is showing his son that any problem can be solved as long as you have enough money to do so. Or, if money can’t buy you a get out of jail card, then the next best thing is to destroy the person causing the issue. Personal responsibility? Adhering to rules? Caring about the people you affected by causing the black out? Yeah, none of that matters if your last name is Axelrod. Gordie is learning from his dad that being a bully is the path to being successful. Now, I’m not saying teaching your kids to be strong and tough is bad, it’s not. However, what Axe is displaying is not that at all; he’s teaching his child to be a tyrant.
I think even Axe sending Gordie to that school was probably a bad decision. He most likely wanted his son to go to the school not because it would be a good fit for Gordie, but because it was “the” school to send him to. This school has a code of conduct that Axe (and his kid) just would never adhere to (he even says so in his speech in front of the kids). Axe has said he made so much money so that he never had to follow any rules, and this now applies to his son as well. Axe is not upset with his son because he broke any rules – he’s upset that he got caught and didn’t “game out the scheme”.
Axe does have a moment of doubt about how he is dealing with the situation and calls Wendy. She lays out a few different outcomes depending on what Axe chooses to do. It either must be tough love or white knighting it all the time. Axe chooses to save Gordie, and even though Damianista thinks it’s Axe’s Keynesian side peeking out I think it is something else. Axe doesn’t trust anyone. I don’t think he trusts that Gordie would be able to deal with Axe “letting him dangle”. Axe must control all things, at all times, and he doesn’t trust that his boy has the intestinal fortitude to come out of this unscathed.
Axe tells Wags that “fathering ain’t easy”, but is that even what he is doing? I wonder how much of this is just Axe being Axe, and how much of this “fathering” is because Axe didn’t have a Dad to show him how to be a real father.
This is stupid but I have to say it: what the hell with those paintings? People buy stuff like that? Really? I grew up in NYC during the 70’s and 80’s and I’ve seen graffiti on the side of subway cars that was better than that! I’ll stick with the Ninja Turtles of painters, thank you very much! And, I don’t have a good feeling about Nico. Don’t know why, just not feeling him.
Axe and his bank: The conversation on the plane between Axe, Wags, Bob and Todd was interesting, to say the least! The list of things Axe is going to have to do and need to become a state bank should be easy for Axe; having a high level of liquidity would be easy enough (just move funds into ETF’s or other types of easily tradable investments); an “airtight board” would be easy as well, as Axe knows lots of people (think Mark Cuban); and “unassailable CEO” could be very easy as it seems Sara just may be available; “rehab with the state pols” could be what leads Axe back to his old neighborhood of Yonkers in the next episode “Opportunity Zone”. I will say one other thing about the conversation – no hedge fund person genuinely believes that the “banks” were the ones who almost “bankrupted the country”. Axe would never say that because it’s not true. There were lots of reason for the financial crisis in 2008 (we can start with Andrew Cuomo’s HUD); “the banks” were only one small part.
I knew that Chuck freezing the marital assets was going to cause an issue for him, I just never thought he’d use it as a weapon to get Wendy to meet his new sister! And, as I have been saying the past three weeks, I’m really digging Wendy 2.0. She earned my “Best Line” of the week award when she wished Chuck was a “completely different man”.
Taylor is losing people left and right from TMC. Lauren is now working for Axe Capital, and now Sara is gone as well (possibly the CEO of Axe’s bank?). I know Taylor is playing the long game on Axe and Chuck, and they are brilliant at seeing things before others see them. But I worry that Taylor’s subterfuge is hampering their ability to do just that. As Wendy told them in their meeting, people are not computers, even if they think they are. We know Taylor is under pressure from many sides: Axe, Chuck, being efficient as the head of TMC. Continuing to lose the people around them that they trust can only hinder their capability.
Final observation: There seemed to be a lot of talk of the buying and selling of souls in this episode. We know Taylor’s soul is worth $10 to them, Headmaster Kessel won’t let Axe put a price on Gordie’s, and Axe is not asking to buy Nico’s soul, just his next bunch of paintings (Nico’s price for his soul is a pizza). I know that I’d only sell my soul for rock and roll!
Bobby Axelrod: The Modern Day Gordon Gekko!
I may disagree with Axe and his actions as a dad, but for the second week in a row, Axe’s speech is the highlight of the episode for me. He was giving me all the Gordon Gekko vibes, and I am here for it!
Axe feels Gordie’s reputation has been dinged (I’m wondering if Gordie is named after Gekko!), so what must Axe do to repair that? Well, give a speech in front of the school, that’s what! While in the 1987 film Wall Street, Mr. Gekko wears a very expensive suit to give his manifesto at the Teldar Paper stockholders meeting, Axe strolls on stage in his battle gear – a hoodie and a Rainbow Rising t-shirt. These two men couldn’t be more different, but their messages are oh so similar.
I remember seeing Wall Street as a 17-year-old, and it changed my life (the “greed is good” scene in particular). I knew right then and there I wanted to work on “The Street”. I wasn’t going to be Bud Fox; oh no, I wanted to be Gordon Gekko (well, before he went to jail anyway). I wonder if a 16-year-old Bobby from Yonkers did as well, and perhaps had the same experience.
Axe wants to educate the children on what their school has been keeping from them – the truth, as he sees it. He wants them to understand that the world is not the warm cocoon the Headmaster and their parents tell them it is; it’s populated by people who will “tear you apart” (as an aside, I know a few people who have sent their children to these types of prestigious private schools and Axe is not wrong. They do little to prepare kids for the real world, and then wonder why these same kids can’t handle the slightest bit of adversity).
Axe lets these kids know that it’s good to be hungry and to want to succeed; it’s written in their DNA. He wants them to know that capitalism is the reason for everything they have – would any of these kids’ parents be able to afford the school if they weren’t wealthy or successful? Someone in their family had the incentive to “get up off his ass” and “out invent” and “out earn” and do what others that are “less capable, less intelligent, less ambitious and less lucky” couldn’t do in order to make their capitalist dreams come true, and to afford to be sitting in this auditorium!
Does Axe go a bit medieval in his speech? Yes, I will say so (not for me, but for some candy asses I suppose). But it’s the essence of what he is saying that should be the focus. If we say we are greedy for money, people lose their minds. But the greed for knowledge, the greed for life, the greed for love has, as Gordon Gekko put it “marked the upward surge of mankind.” If, as Damianista put it, Axe was a Busted Keynesian earlier in this episode, he is back to the Axe I know and love, and back to his Milton Friedman roots.
Like Axe, Gordon Gekko also got a standing ovation after his speech. However, while Gekko strolls away to the sound of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me To The Moon”, Axe drops the mic to Ronnie James Dio singing Rainbow’s “Long Live Rock and Roll”. Rock on, Axe, rock on!