While Opportunity Zone as a golden opportunity of tax breaks for the rich stays at the heart of the story, all kinds of opportunities – pursued, missed, noticed, favorable, fitting, promising, unique, rare, ample – abound in this week’s episode! Oh, and I think love is in the air for some!
The Bobby Axelrod that I came to like – the boy who grew up in Yonkers and beat the odds to become the billionaire that he is today – makes an appearance in the first few minutes of the episode…
Guess what – Axe is visiting his childhood home in Yonkers. He has already met the mother and her son Savion (Akili McDowell) currently living there and is now chatting and shooting hoops with Savion. And as you start to feel that Axe may actually be a human being and that he may have wanted to go back to his childhood home especially after the incident with Gordie in the last episode…
The whole thing is staged for a photo op. Randy Kornbluth from The Journal and his iPhone appear out of blue and Axe starts to talk about how he created his own opportunities while growing up in Yonkers.
They used to (and apparently still) plow Yonkers streets late on snowy days, and Axe used this as an opportunity to set up his first business! Identifying a niche that is underserved, young Bobby started shoveling for others, then hired friends and ultimately extended the business to other neighborhoods. He used the money he made from the shoveling business to invest in his other ideas. So Yonkers made Bobby Axelrod who he is and now he is ready to return the favor. Huh?
And when Savion’s mother invites him to dinner, she is making meatloaf, Axe thanks for the invitation and tells her he will make this extra special by having his chef come and cook for them all in the house where it all started!
As the two Chucks are having a delicious breakfast at Senior’s place, we find out what the show Axe puts on in Yonkers is all about. Opportunity Zone is a Trump Administration policy giving unprecedented tax breaks to investors in selected “Opportunity Zones” with certain level of poverty and unemployment – exactly the kind of giving Axe loves! And now that Yonkers is an opportunity zone, who is a better candidate than a native son coming back home to save his community?
Chuck, who thinks Axe knows no bounds, now needs Chuck Senior to suit up and get in the board room to pitch for an opportunity zone in Yonkers!
It does not matter if he wins or loses – what he needs to do is to put pressure on Axe so he feels the urge to do something illegal and Chuck “Dexter” Rhoades will get him for the right reasons. I am confused. Who is the man who knows no bounds again?!?!
What Chuck does not know is that Senior does not even have to get involved because Axe already has a worthy adversary in this: Scooter cuts the one-on-game Prince is playing at the The Summit NYC basketball court with Dominique “Human Highlight Film” Wilkins one of the best dunkers in the NBA history. The boss needs to deal with another one-on-one in Yonkers when he is done here 🙂 And I love the contrast between the two basketball hoops that we see in the episode. It reminds me of a brilliant photo exhibition Hoops that I saw a few years ago.
As soon as he arrives at Axe Capital, Axe tells Wags to get him in a room with Daymond John and Wendy gets him in a room with Taylor! It turns out I was right when I thought Taylor was sincere when they said “it is not the right play” to Sara when she offered to buy the shares the Lawrenceburg University was divesting from – which Axe actually did! But I wonder why they did not share the right play with Sara so they would not leave TMC.
So what is the right play? Taylor has a list of universities and colleges whose endowments are ripe to divest. But thanks to Axe buying the shares of the companies Lawrenceburg has divested from, they have now missed the opportunity. And let me jump in here to tell you that this is an on-going trend – here is a recent article about Cornell University divesting from fossil fuels.
Wendy, with her mediator hat on, holds both Axe and Taylor responsible for missing this opportunity but she wonders if they can still use this as a unique opportunity to ensure that the “fundamental” and the “quant” work together. As soon as she asks if they can use this as an activist move, the “fundamental” argues they can pretend they bought the fossil fuel company shares only to push it to clean up and put in place initiatives the schools will like and the “quant” approves they can sell it as policing from inside.
As Taylor leaves to get the ball rolling, Axe says he does not like Wendy “dressing him down in front of a junior.” And I am sure Wendy does not like Axe talking to her like that. Knowing that every single exchange in the show is there for a purpose, I wonder how this will play out in the long run.
While Axe Capital is getting ready to revolutionize the petroleum industry with green initiatives, the New York State Attorney General is getting ready to revolutionize the criminal law class at Yale Law. Chuck is on his way to his first class as he is greeted by a woman whom he knows by reputation: Catherine ‘Cat’ Brant, a professor of sociology at Yale. Welcome to Billions, Julianna Marguiles – you were there sharing the moment that changed my life in 2012!
When I first read about Marguiles joining the show, my first reaction was that, given Chuck and Wendy are not on very friendly terms, she could be a love interest for Chuck – you see Brant’s physical similarity to Wendy, don’t you? Like we have figured out Axe’s arousal template last season, I think we have Chuck’s as well: Beautiful, smart, ambitious, highly educated, dominant women.
It turns out Chuck read Brant’s book that everyone read, and that Brant is teaching Chuck’s speech -the one everyone saw – in her class this week. And while Chuck kindly turns down Brant’s invitation to her class to answer questions about his speech because it would feel like a root canal, he would love to have her sit in his first class.
I am as shocked as his students when Chuck starts his lecture. As soon as he introduces himself, Chuck brings out a class roster and calls some Mr. Kelly to talk about Borderkircher vs Hayes which he sent as an assignment via email earlier. And Mr. Kelly says “I pass” only to hear that “There is no pass. Only fail.” Well, as the blonde student explains, we do not teach like this anymore. I have not taught law school students, but I have ben teaching undergraduates as well as PhD students for almost two decades right now and while we know that they are not children we almost spoon-feed them and are extra careful not to embarrass them since as the next student points out they cannot learn well in a high stress setting 😀 So I do not think Chuck’s teaching method would fly in any classroom. But Professor Brant makes it fly using the words that I have identified most with in the history of Billions:
“Holyshit, guys. And yeah guys. I’m calling all of you guys, males, females, and enbies. And I have tenure. So suck it if you don’t like it.”
Academia is one of the rare professions that give you tenure – a guaranteed job – for life. And I can tell you the path to tenure is quite painful but totally worth it!
Brant is absolutely right that having a professor like Chuck Rhoades – who sat at the desk the students are now sitting on and moved up to the highest levels in public service – is the rarest opportunity for any law student to have in their professional training. That said it is obvious that Brant is doing this with a purpose – this is her opportunity to tempt Chuck that he ultimately shows up in her class!
And he does, quietly, as the class is discussing his speech. Chuck is obviously intrigued with Brant who argues that he was being submissive in the speech to actually dominate. And I wonder, given Wendy is not in the picture anymore, whether Chuck will take the opportunity called Cat!
And now that Chuck is not there anymore, it seems Axe and Wendy have working dinners at Axe’s penthouse. While Dollar Bill is probably sorry about his book and Axe is definitely sorry for his earlier behavior. As he says he knows that Wendy was right about Taylor I wonder if Wendy is sick and tired of taming the tiger for almost two decades now.
They talk about Yonkers. The community roots angle is working well and while his meeting with Savion was basically set up for PR, Savion is who Axe was at that age and so Axe will dig deeper to see if Savion is dying to get out of Yonkers like he did when he has dinner with him and his mom. Oh, and could Wendy please help with that painter Axe hired? Tanner seems to have a painter’s block.
It is hilarious that Axe, like a shy teenager, does have difficulty finding the words but he is finally able to say it: this – the two of them- is much better with Chuck out of the picture. Yes it is less complicated for sure but I wonder, and I know you wonder, too, whether it is more than that for Axe. The man has not felt happy for quite a while and I bet he has not found what he was looking for in the model he “tried” in Episode 2 The Chris Rock Test, either. Oh yes I had to say that!
Axe is now sitting next to the woman who has probably impressed him the most in his life and guess what: he is single and she is single. I have to say I find it utterly delicious that these two have constantly been dancing around that thin line and never crossing it. I hope they stay the way they are but I cannot deny the romantic vibes I am getting from Axe at the moment. The fan girl in me congratulates Wendy for resisting, well, this!
Axe’s efforts coupled with Chef Ryan’s Eggs Benedict with hollandaise sauce are not enough to convince Daymond John to partner with the boy from Yonkers. John knows that Axe needs his “brown face” to reach out to the minority community and he does not want to be Axe’s puppet. And, by the way, why doesn’t Axe ever bring him the projects he would bring to Bensinger or Buffett? Fair enough.
Now that they know Prince who has already had success with Opportunity Zones in Atlanta and Detroit, is talking to community leaders in Yonkers, Axe has to partner with a diversity business leader with a clean track record immediately. And lo and behold, we find him in his tennis attire playing against Franklin Sacker who seems to be a Nadal fan. As they laugh about the people who invented court tennis would never imagine gents like them would play the game (Henry VIII was a big fan of tennis and Mary Queen of Scots played regularly) the time is ripe for Axe to make Sacker an offer: What about the two of them partnering for the Opportunity Zone in Yonkers?
Sacker, exactly like Daymond John, knows why Axe needs him. But he appreciates that Axe, who typically dumps money from above, is now putting the boots on the ground for his hometown. And as soon as he agrees to work with Axe, he finds himself in war with Prince: The saintly Mike who likes to say “there is enough for everybody” seems to think there will not be enough for him if Axe gets the Yonkers Opportunity Zone. And so he buys blocks of shares from Sacker’s company and three board seats that come with the shares give him power to oust Mr. Sacker as the CEO. Sacker is lucky to have Axe who knows what to do to a man who ruins the buffet at Harrow Club.
Axe appears out of a back room as Prince is threatening Mr. Sacker and tells him that he will make sure the press knows the saintly Mike is trying to remove an African American man from his C-suite. I said it before I’ll say it again. Prince’s namesake Thomas Aquinas should be turning in his grave.
Axe backing him seals the deal for Sacker. and he tells his daughter about his new partnership when he visits Kate in her new Yonkers apartment with his housewarming gift, a Breville Custom Loaf Breadmaker, in his arms. Kate is smart enough to know she cannot run a congressional campaign from a classic seven on the Upper East Side, but she will gladly accept contributions from her dad’s friends who live in classic sevens. But she cannot figure out how come her dad is not smart enough to see Axe is using him as a pawn.
“You’re not the only person who’s walked into a kissing booth with Bobby Axelrod certain they would not come out pregnant.”
😀 😀 😀
As I am thinking Franklin Sacker’s partnership with Axe could lead to a delicious conflict of interest between Kate and Chuck, Kate is keeping her side of the “transparency” pact with her boss. Kate arrives at Chuck’s place to find him and Senior having Johnnie Walker as Chuck is folding the family socks to share the news: Her dad is partnering with Axe but also Axe and Prince are like “two dogs fighting over the same bone” in Yonkers. By the way, did you know what you think about sock folding says a lot about who you are?
The man who knows no bounds, Chuck that is, invites Prince to his office and advises him to commit to a donation to Yonkers to be made after the Opportunity Zone decision is made regardless of what the final decision is. This would provoke Axe to bribe the committee or do something else illegal to get what he wants and Chuck will be right there waiting to get him.
Prince: “I give you your opportunity zone and you give me mine. ”
Chuck: “Well put.”
Unlucky for Chuck, Prince seems to know his bounds at least when gets a crazy offer from a man he does not know and does not jump on the opportunity.
There are three people pitching for the Opportunity Zone project at the Ceremonial Court Room in Yonkers City Hall. Chuck Senior shoots himself by telling the board that the Yonkers community, while they always got the short end of the stick, never knew what to do with what they had. Prince presents evidence on his success in similar projects in Chicago and Detroit as well as evidence on Axe’s failure in, well, Sandicot! Prince’s special guest Marc Capparello tells the court that Bobby Axelrod basically came, saw and fucked Sandicot. I mean – Axe has made so many enemies over the seasons that a fantasy series ending I have for Billions is all these people come together to get Axe – Murder on the Orient Express Style 😀
When it is his turn to present, Axe immediately buries Senior as the person who moved his casino elsewhere and fucked Sandicot. And then he puts on a brilliant theatrical performance by taking everyone in the room outside to talk about the Yonkers he knows – complete with his old friend ‘Ike’ on his left (the past), Savion Williams, the young guy who currently lives in the house Axe grew up on his right (the future) and a few tears in his eyes (love): From Ricky’s Clam House where they could afford three baked clams to Dicey Reilly’s where they had their first beer with a fake ID to Park Hill Theatre where they took dates and sneaked into the theater thanks to their friend Freddie being an usher there. Note that these are real places and mentioned in this “21 Things That You’ll Never See in Yonkers Again” article. Axe also makes sure to mention Capparello’s – a Yonkers institution that he keeps open even though Bruno retired and that he is committed to keep open as long as he is alive. Yes, he may have left Yonkers for a while but he is now back ready to work with the board for the future of kids like Savion!
It is official: Bobby Axelrod is the pied piper of Yonkers! Look at Mike Prince’s face – he knows he will lose there and then. So even though he tells Chuck later that he felt too much pull to his old greedy ways and did not want to push more, I think he may be saving face with the State AG.
Chuck and Chuck Senior are in Chuck’s office as Kate arrives to tell them her dad and Axe are partners now not only in Opportunity Zone but also in a new venture: banking! And if Axe is going for a state bank it is the State AG who regulates state banks per Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act! This is going to be FUN.
Axe is certainly dragging his feet when he and Chef Ryan arrive at Savion’s home for dinner. And on top of that, he gets a call, an insulting one, from Prince who seems to be attending a black tie event at Lincoln Center.
“Hell, man, Yonkers is you. You are Yonkers. You’ve never really left. It’s in your manner. Your bearing. You stink of the place. And now you’re back in it.”
My jaw drops not at what Prince says because he wants to get Axe rattled and knows what buttons to press, but at the fact that Axe gets rattled. So as much as he is proud to be a boy from Yonkers that beat the odds, his old neighborhood, and especially his childhood home seems to represent a toxic life where young Bobby used to go out just to breathe. I genuinely believe this is also the reason Axe kindly turned down the dinner invitation the first time, he could not dare get into that house. into his childhood. His terrible memories should still be haunting him. And add to this Prince’s words on the phone, and Axe does the unthinkable: He sends Chef Ryan in to feed the family while he gets out of “this dipshit town” immediately. I hope he makes it up to Savion and his mom soon.
By the way, I wonder if Prince thinks that the kids for whom he builds fields and courts in Opportunity Zones stink of the place they grow up, too. Shame on him.
As I have been thinking they are playing the long game, but it seems Taylor is having confidence issues especially when bad things keep happening.
Just after they lose Sara, Taylor’s meeting with the Argyra Petroleum CEO Dell Lambert goes south quickly. The man, who is on Keto Diet, does not even want to talk to Taylor and Lauren about green initiatives. It is Axe who bought a chunk of his company and it should be him sitting there putting in the effort. And as this is followed by Maffee looking much happier spending time with his old friends on the main floor rather than at the TMC office – I mean he is even okay being called the Pillsbury Doughboy – Taylor sets him free…
…and goes to see Wendy! Wendy’s suggestion is for Taylor to focus on the process where their genius comes out rather than focus on their personal wins. And when they go to Axe to have him arrange another meeting with Lambert, Axe advises Taylor to take Wendy along because she is the best in bridging the gap between different point of views. While Axe is absolutely right in his thinking, this could be, ladies and gentlemen, his BIGGEST mistake ever 🙂
Axe seemingly wins when Taylor and Wendy collectively deliver for Axe Capital. Their argument is simple and straightforward. Whale oil dominated the first half of the 18th century but the whalers were doomed when kerosene came up in the second half of the century. And the age of kerosene was over with the invention of electricity. So being a trailblazer in ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) friendly policies is the future and will give Argyra a golden opportunity to have the first look at the impact deals, set the terms, be a hero both in environmental sectors as well as on the street and make A LOT OF MONEY. Lambert is sold.
But what would Axe say if he knew Taylor offered Wendy to make TMC an impact fund together? If Wendy who typically knows what she wants to do needs a gut check here, it seems to me that she may be tired of taming the tiger and quoting The Godfather.
“We’re bigger than U.S. steel.”
Oh, and talking about Wendy: Is there anyone that does not fall under her spell? Tanner, who sees himself as a sellout because he is painting for money now, cannot feel special enough to start his work. And even though he mocks with Wendy who makes him sit, close his eyes and feel the work, he becomes a believer in a couple of days. Tanner is making progress and Wendy deserves to be the one who sees the final product first. And is it me or the chemistry between Wendy and Tanner can make Axe and Chuck friends again? 😀
And one person who notices that a new opportunity is waiting for him in this episode is… Wags!
Wags, who is willing to say grace over lunch with Georgie, is ready to finance his son’s ministry maybe with the hopes that the young guy will be the next Billy Graham. But he understands he has lost his eldest to Jesus after he has his mid-day swim in the River Jordan 😀 Wags feels equally bad about Mandy the stripper and Georgie the reborn Christian. But as he accepts the fact that he gloriously fucked up as a father, he has his “Eureka” moment. He may not be young but he still has an opportunity to have a child whom he will raise right. Can courts stop him from having another?!?!