A painting. A drawing. A kidney. A patent. Oh, and an IQ test!
This fast-paced and clever Billions episode gives us an extremely fun hour in which Axe, Chuck, Taylor and Wendy all have to play fast chess to deal with both personal and professional matters. Anything is fair game to get what they want. Some win, some lose and some get, well, outright creepy!
While he has received a solid no from Ms. Calder in Episode 5 Contract, Axe does not seem to be giving up on his state charter. He is now meeting the SEC chairwoman at Axe Capital to convince her that his bank will always fight for the consumers like his fund always has for the investors. But as Wags is trying to market the boss as “a ravening mountain lion whose only prey is value” the chairwoman looks at the record and sees a man whose prey is the entire financial system and when he is done even the buzzards cannot find anything left on the bones. Yikes!
Moreover, Axe bringing in Spyros, who claims to have had close relationships at SEC, does not help, either.
We learn that while Spyros thinks his nickname at his former workplace – “Mr. Roomba” – is about him locating every single piece of financial dirt, the chairwoman gives him the real story behind his nickname:
” We called you Mr. Roomba because you sucked. And You snuck up on us. And you creeped us out.”
Plus she knows that the Mensa (the high IQ society) pin Spyros is wearing is a knockoff!
The chairwoman is a tough cookie who knows her NY Stock Exchange history well. They established the NYSE to keep out a crook – one William Duer who was responsible for the first stock market crash in 1792. And, according to her, Spyros seems to think they would not even have known about Duer if Duer had had someone with Spyros-like hoovering skills.
Axe looks at the story from a different angle. It was Francophiles “with mops on their heads” who established the stock exchange to have a club where only they would have the right to trade. Axe personally hates clubs but when he gets into one, he makes it bigger and better.
Their conversation ultimately encourages the SEC chairwoman to write a letter but not the one Axe expects her to write. She will warn the FDIC and the Federal Reserve about the regulatory armageddon coming their way.
As Axe is planning to figure out his next move for his bank, the trio that means “bad news” when seen together show up at Axe Capital: Danny Margolis, Victor Mateo and Sean Ayles.
Remember the freeport from Season 4 Episode 10 New Year’s Day?
A freeport is a storage area at a private airport where one can store their art works that are permanently “in transit” so the owner does not have to pay customs duties and sales tax. Filed under things I never knew existed before Billions, this kind of outrageous stuff people do for tax evasion never ceases to amaze me! Margolis owns a freeport in Newburgh, and he is happy to store replicas while Axe enjoys the originals at home. You can read about the role of freeports in global art markets here.
As soon as Margolis and Victor break the freeport news to Axe, he is on his way to go meet Hall at the apartment and make the original paintings disappear. He thinks this is a targeted move on him because how come do the Feds know about art hunting?
What Axe does not know is that promoting his business had Margolis go on the State AG office’s radar! When Kate brings in the inventory stored at his freeport, Chuck is reluctant to make a move since the laws on the freeports are ambigious… until he spots the Van Gogh he saw at Axe’s spare apartment where Wendy is staying. Kate points out that most billionaires store their paintings at the freeport and hang replicas, but Chuck has a feeling that the painting in Axe’s apartment is the original. I am sure he is having an orgasm just thinking about getting Axe for tax fraud!
It is not Hall but Chuck who greets Axe at the building entrance with a big smile, open arms and a silly excuse that he is there to pick up the Nintendo Kevin left there when he stayed with his mother. But once they are in the apartment, Chuck is interested in everything else but the Nintendo – especially the Chateau Haut-Brion 2010 (a first growth Bordeaux over $1,000 a bottle!) which turns out to be Axe’s house red! 😀
Axe and Chuck would make a good headline like Steve Wynn and Steve Cohen made back in 2006 if Axe did not have to pretend that the painting is a replica when Chuck “accidentally” pours wine on Van Gogh’s “Noon – Rest from Work“. But he has a fast enough reflex to protect the priceless Van Gogh that Chuck now has the answer to his question and does not need to pretend anymore. Allerd will now keep the building entrances under watch and Kate is pursing a subpoena to bring an authenticator to have the paintings tested. And Hall is tasked with bringing a swift solution to Axe’s “painting problem” – but only after sending in a restoration crew for the Van Gogh.
Back at the office, Taylor and Wendy (anybody else has noticed that Wendy is wearing more color than ever this season?) are about to jump on a new investment Rian has come up thanks to an algo she built that scraps social media and see what is popular among the leading Venture Capitalists.
Marithane is a company that harvests methane bubbles seeping from the ocean floor. The seeps suggest that methane’s contribution to climate change has been underestimated and so harvesting methane from hydrates in the sea floor has already aroused commercial interests around the world.
Maybe because he does not know any other way to express his crush on Rian, Winston tells her that he finds her algo simplistic only for Rian to put him back in his place. Microchip and pasteurization that revolutionized the world exist thanks to insight and initiative and not because someone tackled a highly complex technical problem. While Winston may have found the optimal way to unload TMC’s non-green investments, Rian does not want to be a one-hot wonder like him 🙂
Taylor and Wendy arrange an immediate visit with the CEO of Marithane, and take a different route than other impact investors: They know the risks involved and want to hear from the CEO about how they can help him so he can do his best: and it turns out that a former employee left the company with a piece of the company’s technology.
The meeting is interrupted as Taylor spots Oscar waiting outside – not a surprise since all leading venture capitalists are interested in working with Marithane at the moment.
Taylor invites Oscar in as “an old friend” so they can pitch head-to-head. Better yet, Taylor does Oscar’s pitch on behalf of him – warning the CEO about the bad apples in business like Bobby Axelrod who corrupts everyone he touches! 😀
Back at Axe Capital, now that everyone has found out he is a fake Mensa, Spyros is preparing to take the high IQ test.
He blames people with bias and jealousy as he cannot answer any practice question Ben and Tuk are asking while Mafee answers them at light speed. And Tuk is absolutely right that when he fails the test, Spyros will lash out and mess with all their trades – so for the sake of all Axe Cappers on the floor, Spyros should get that damn pin!
Axe finds out that Van Gogh is not his only “painting problem” when he visits Wendy to tell her that Chuck is using their kids as an excuse to tear apart his apartment like Keith Moon at the Holiday Inn.
As Wendy tells him that while Chuck is not her problem anymore but it seems Oscar is still Taylor’s problem, Axe detects, among Wendy’s papers, the drawing Tanner made of her that very morning which Wendy wanted to keep: It is true that it reveals the way he sees her and that she brought this drawing out of him. And Axe who violates Wendy’s privacy by pulling out the drawing gets sarcastic:
“You posed for this? Or was it from memory?”
One may think that Axe is getting sarcastic because he hired Tanner to create a series of paintings for him and the first work he sees from him is a drawing of his lover on bed after sex. Yet we have all seen Axe making a clumsy move on Wendy in Episode 4 Opportunity Zone so I can feel the jealousy in his sarcasm.
Yet he has to deal with the freeport problem first since he knows, if they get him for tax fraud, Axe can only see a state charter in his dreams!
While Chuck thinks he has got the Axelrod tax fraud case, Allerd lets him know that he had a McCluskey visit from the NYPD, and Manhattan DA Maryann Gramm drops by to tell Chuck that she has the subpoena and the art authenticator is coming from Boston tomorrow. Chuck will think about his next move to get the case back after he visits his sick father.
Chuck finds Senior, who has sent his wife and kid to their people, sitting in the dark and facing his own mortality. And when Chuck asks him it may be time to reach out to the “previously unreported bastards” Senior gets it: Chuck is not a match. He is not surprised since if Chuck had carried his blood in his veins he should have been the president by now! According to Senior, Chuck has got more from his pinhead uncle – which is obviously beyond rude to call a person with microcephaly. And when Chuck points that out, he only gets the criteria for being a cretin, an idiot, an imbecile and a moron as an answer! Only as he is leaving, Senior tells him that the bastards are not matches, either. He seems to have reached out to them out of desperation.
In the situation room set up at Axe Capital, Bach informs Axe that he cannot have the art move from his apartment until they are tested by the authenticator tomorrow. As they are out of legal options, it is time for Bach to leave the room so the rest of the team can talk dirty stuff. Bach is right – only if Bruce Cutler had had a friend like Bobby Axelrod! 😀 When John Gotti was indicted for the murder of Paul Castellano (which Chuck and Commissioner Sansome had re-enacted in Season 4 Episode 1 Chucky Rhoades’ Greatest Game), the judge disqualified Cutler from representing Gotti citing evidence from wiretaps that Cutler knew about his criminal activity.
Well, it is refreshing to find out for a third time that Axe draws the line where someone may/will die. So when Victor offers to put the apartment on fire, Axe turns it down like when he turned Andolov down when he offered a final solution to his “Taylor problem” and like when he flew all the way to Arkansas to stop Dollar Bill from providing a final solution to their chicken problem!
Leaving his team to find a quick and an effective solution to his “painting problem” Axe goes to meet Todd Krakow who has got a taste of Margolis’ freeport services as well. Axe lets him know there will be a crackdown on freeports and also kindly asks him to put a good word for his bank.
The Secretary of the Treasury is fine with Axe having a bank ATM at every ass crack but the thing is that the SEC is an independent agency. Yet Axe’s offer of his own portrait being painted by Nico Tanner works wonders with Krakow that he promises to help Axe with the bank as long as he does not have a Cubist portrait in which he has his eye left eyeball next to his nut sack 😀 😀 😀
It is hilarious that Axe guarantees a portrait for Krakow before talking to the artist who is supposed to paint him first! But Axe being Axe, he probably knows that Tanner would not give him a hard time with this even though he does not particularly like doing portraits and does not give a shit about who Krakow is. But I think, and I believe Axe does, too; Tanner agrees to the job over some divine pizza at Una Pizza Napoletana only because he cares about Wendy and does not want her to feel responsible about this special portrait commission.
Oh, and we find out that banking is not the only sector Axe is planning to venture out thanks to a conversation he has with Chef Anthony Mangieri and his NYU Stern Business School graduate fictional cousin to bring the Una Pizza experience – pizza, sauce and gelato – home! As someone who has been lucky to have Mangieri’s pizza several times, I AM IN!
Senior’s desperation makes Chuck pay a visit to Wendy who wants to hold on to her kidneys for her kids or her family and who would never ever allow Chuck to have their kids tested! It seems Chuck has taken his dad’s words about taking after his uncle quite seriously that he is talking about being different from his dad at a cellular level and he feels guilty because he is not a match.
Wendy’s interpretation is different. She believes that Chuck is feeling guilty because he actually does not want to help his dad. And as Wendy talks about why Chuck may be feeling so she effectively starts the process for Chuck to take the subpoena back from DA Gramm:
“From the way he let your uncle ‘make a man of you’ to the way he let you know that he’d tried her, too.”
“The sex worker. Yeah.”
“That’s what we must call them now.”
“I’m not gonna get into the semantics of this with you right now. Ask your colleagues who are trying to make that fact law. Or your girlfriend. She’s a renowned expert.”
Chuck needs Cat’s library and her expertise immediately. Cat’s life work is about the Nordic Model approach to prostitution – a model that criminalizes the demand side whereas decriminalizes the supply side as well as offers help and services for the sex workers to leave the sex industry and awareness and education for the general public. Cat and DA Gramm are on the same page regarding sex workers and, not that Chuck is opposed to their points of view, but he needs to have a counter-argument to threaten the DA now so that he can get his case back! Chuck gets the help he needs from Cat on the condition that he will only threaten the DA but not follow up on his threat.
As DA Gramm is served her Pac-Man dumplings for lunch by Ed Schoenfeld himself at Red Farm (the UWS branch they shot the scene is literally across the street from our apartment and it is Brian Koppelman’s favorite neighborhood joint!) Chuck drops in and threatens to go against her in sex work cases.
“I will do Rudy Giuliani style, will prosecute with a crazy eye and absolutely no sense of boundaries.”
Well, by the end of their conversation, Gramm agrees to take the missiles out of Havana, and Chuck leaves the restaurant not as Giuliani but as JFK.
One surprising twist in this episode is we find out that Oscar Langstraat is a monster, too, when it comes to winning! He visits Taylor to let them know he is overpaying Marithane (2x) to make a point. He may appear as polite and smiling but he is also an Oakland Raiders fan who loves to beat the shit out of the opposing fans.
As Taylor realizes Oscar will do this every time they go head-to-head, Wendy gives them good advice and no it is not about moral compass. Taylor needs to make their own risk/reward ratio calculation and take an action accordingly.
The action appears in the form of Hard Bob giving his no bullshit talk to the Marithane’s former employee which lets Taylor bring both the patent and the employee back to the Marithane CEO. Yay! As the CEO signs a contract with TMC, I believe Oscar needs to accept the fact that Al Davis, the legendary coach of the Raiders, is dead, and his team has not won a single title in decades.
The solution the Axe Capital boys come up with to keep Spyros happy is to hack Spyros’ computer with a little help from IT Greg so Mafee can take the exam and get the damn Mensa pin for him! And I have to brag I yelled “48!” at my screen before Mafee typed 48 for Problem 6. And I am happy to explain the solution, well in the name of learning! 😀 😀 😀
But, of course, Spyros quickly makes Mafee regret that he helped him by bragging about the elite club he now belongs to with the likes of Isaac Asimov, Geena Davis and Carol Oates! And is it me or Spyros looks at Dollar Bill more than others as he talks about his high IQ? 🙂
As Chuck and Mr. Hemlock, the authenticator, arrive at Axe’s apartment, it is Axe’s turn to greet Chuck with open arms and a big smile. Neither the apartment nor the paintings do belong to Axe anymore – they are all possessions of the Axelrod Charitable Foundation which has started a private art museum – in Ayles’ words “the real feather in our cap.” 😀
Chuck tries to corner Axe by asking how come they were able to bring in the original paintings since all building entrances have been watched. Well, not all of them. The operation is as brilliant as Ice Juice – no wonder Ayles has never got this excited since he wore a girdle in Hasty Pudding Theatricals during his time at Harvard! 😀
As the good old Burke brothers distract the police watching the building, a chopper – which Chuck should feel free to see from the security cameras on neighboring buildings! – lands on the roof from where men carry crates inside – the crates are empty, of course, since Axe already has the originals at home! By the way, not that Wendy has a residence problem but now that her temporary residence is a museum, where will she stay?
Even though she turns down Chuck’s offer to get tested, Wendy takes the test and she is not a match, either. When she tells Senior that she did for his grandkids and maybe for herself, too, Senior says that everyone around him turning into a Hallmark card is the second worst thing about dialysis – the first one being the deadpans!
One can read the worry in Senior’s eyes but he is not worried for his young daughter. She will not even remember him. He is worried for his son:
“If I’m not here to push him, to mold him, who knows all the ways he’ll fuck himself up?”
Given that Senior is not eligible for the kidney transplant, and that nobody in the family seems to be a match, Chuck may take a desperate action like buying a kidney, which is illegal, from someone and presenting this person as a good Samaritan who has volunteered to donate to Senior.
Krakow shows up at Tanner’s studio to pose like, but of course, Napoleon, for his portrait!
Chuck shows up at Cat’s place to find out her question about whether he has ever met a sex worker was sincere. So will they interview her or have a threesome, or both?
And Axe… well, he gets CREEPY.
Axe obviously has access to cameras outside and inside Tanner’s studio building. I am sure he has told Hall that he wanted the access to check how much time Tanner spends in the studio. But no, those cameras are for him to check how much time Wendy is spending at Tanner’s and I am lost for words. The only thing this reminds me of is Carrie watching Brody 24/7.
This is SICK.
Look at him, Axe treats the live camera as a TV show to binge – the man even has his dinner in front of the screen!
Axe is not sleeping all night to make sure he knows when Wendy leaves the building to call her and give her a feeling that she is being followed. What the fuck?
My heart still goes out to Axe for his sad childhood experience but no childhood wound can be an excuse for this kind of sick obsession.
Can it be something else? Billions being Billions, I am trying to figure out another reason for Axe to check on the studio building, maybe I am just trying to prove that Axe is not a creep, and I am not able to come up with one!
I understand Wendy is probably the most impressive woman Axe has ever met in his life and guess what: he is single and she is single. And I have to say I have found it utterly delicious that they have constantly been dancing around that thin line and never crossing it. I hope they stay the way they are. And while I am clueless about how this story will unfold, I know that the dinner Axe offers to have with Wendy and Tanner is not a dinner where Axe will show his appreciation for the artist. Wendy has told Taylor earlier in the episode that Axe registers every threat as existential. So while I am looking forward to the next episode, I am not sure if I am looking forward to that particular dinner.