Or should I say “Bobby Axelrod: The Boy Whose Dad Finally Came Back”?
The Opportunity Zone project in Yonkers brings Axe a golden opportunity not only for receiving tax breaks but also for facing his past. Big time. I obviously knew Bobby’s dad was not a good husband or a good father, I mean the guy walked out on his wife and his 12 year old son, but still I never knew that Bobby has such a heartbreaking story where the wounds are still open and excruciatingly painful.
As he sits on the floor of his childhood room, a place where he thought he would never set foot again, Bobby shares with Wendy a story – this is not the entire story but only a glimpse into a very painful childhood – about how it was back then.
Think about it: A boy understanding the evening will turn bad from the way his dad’s car gets into the driveway and then his keys jangling in the lock. A boy trying to distract his dad by telling him about a fight he had or a kid’s ass he kicked – probably the only kind of thing his dad would see as an accomplishment – so dad does not beat his mother… knowing all along that it will eventually happen… A boy sitting in his room feeling completely powerless and promising himself he will grow up to be someone over whom nobody will have the kind of power his dad has over him and his mom.
When I hear his words and feel his pain – Damian Lewis was born to play broken souls, wasn’t he? – my heart goes out to this boy who was able to pull himself out of this deep shit but was still not able to pull the deep shit out of himself. It is well known that people who go through traumas may choose to leave it behind and forget it rather than dealing with it. And Bobby, while we know he shared some of his daddy issues with Wendy in the past, seems to have done exactly that. He has never visited his childhood home. He, in fact, thought he would never set foot in his childhood room ever again. Yet, today, he finds himself exactly there, sitting on the floor and facing his past like he never did before. And as I feel his emotional pain, I completely understand why he does what he does – especially in Episode 4 Opportunity Zone that has received criticism after the episode aired!
Bobby is back to his childhood home at the beginning of Episode 4 Opportunity Zone for an obvious photo op: He is seemingly hanging out with Savion Williams, a young boy who is currently living in the house with his mom. And guess what – Savion’s dad walked out on his wife and kid, too. As Randy Kornbluth from The Financial Journal and his iPhone appear out of blue and start filming Bobby’s conversation with Savion, we all know that Savion is just a prop for a new Bobby Axelrod project which will bring in billions!
Bobby tells Savion that they used to (and apparently still) plow Yonkers streets late on snowy days, and how he 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. That is how Yonkers made Bobby Axelrod who he is and now he is ready to return the favor with, we learn later, taking on the Yonkers Opportunity Zone that he has been eyeing: 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 our favorite billionaire loves 🙂
And when Savion’s mother invites him to dinner, she is making meatloaf, Bobby thanks for the invitation and tells her he will make this extra special by having his chef come and cook for them in the house where it all started! A viewer’s take at this very moment may be that Ms. Williams’ cooking is not good enough for Bobby Axelrod and so he offers to bring his chef along next time for a princely feast… But no. It is probably because I have thought about this man so much that my first reaction when Bobby kindly says no to Ms. Williams is…
“Oh My God Bobby is not able to get into the house.”
Not because he is filthy rich and finds Yonkers beneath him. Not because he lives in a multi-million dollar penthouse in Tribeca and finds his childhood home beneath him. Or not because he now only eats at Michelin-starred restaurants and finds a Yonkers mom’s cooking beneath him. We all know that the place that Bobby feels most at home has always been Bruno’s – a truly authentic and casual pizzeria in Yonkers. We also know that he is still in touch with his old friends from the neighborhood that he even takes them to a Metallica concert in Quebec City on his private jet in Season 1 Episode 4 Short Squeeze.
It is the house itself that Bobby cannot bring himself to enter. And the explanation lies in the exchange he and Savion have before Kornbluth shows up:
Bobby: “This was my favorite place in the house. Even though it’s not technically in the house.
Savion: “I come out here most every day, too. Even in the winter. My mom’s worried I’ll catch pneumonia. But I still do it.”
Bobby: “Mine didn’t like it, either. At night I’d even sneak out here after she went to bed. Just to breathe. Inside that house… eh, for me, this was better.”
Bobby cannot complete his sentence after he says “inside that house…” and he cannot even keep eye contact with Savion. His voice almost breaks. I know at that very moment that something terrible happened in that house. And I feel vindicated when Bobby kindly turns down Savion’s mom’s dinner invitation for that evening. The CEO of Axe Capital, who typically has all the self-confidence in the world, is now an insecure young boy from Yonkers who is scared that he may not breathe inside. He definitely needs time to get used to the idea of entering his childhood home. And so he tells Ms. Williams that he will bring his chef along to cook a feast for the three of them.
The boy from Yonkers shows up for his Opportunity Zone pitch at the Yonkers City Hall and gives a brilliant theatrical performance by taking everyone in the Ceremonial Court Room outside to talk about the Yonkers he knows – complete with his old friend ‘Ike’ on his left (the past), Savion Williams on his right (the future) and a few tears in his eyes (love for Yonkers): 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. Bobby also makes sure to mention Capparello’s – a Yonkers institution that he keeps open even though Bruno retired and that he is committed to keeping it 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!
And once he has got the Yonkers Opportunity Zone project, Bobby definitely knows the dinner at the Williams home is the right thing to do but he cannot bring himself do it. 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.”
And when Bobby sends Chef Ryan in to feed the family while he gets out of “this dipshit town” immediately, he gets a lot of criticism from the viewers. I feel the viewers, it is incredibly rude of Bobby not to break bread with the Williamses. But, believe me, Bobby’s decision has nothing to do with them. It is all about the house and the terrible childhood he had there. The house STINKS just because of what happened there when Bobby lived there with mom and dad. I am positive – watch that scene again! – that Bobby is already dragging his feet when he gets out of the car in front of his childhood house with Chef Ryan and before he gets a call from Prince.
His terrible memories should be haunting him at the moment. And add to this Prince’s words on the phone, and Bobby does the unthinkable.
But when a local reporter finds out that Bobby was no show for his dinner with Savion and his mom in Season 5 Episode 5 Contract, Bobby needs to return to his “dipshit town” to solve the problem with a game of billiards and a $500. Savion gets the money but calls Bobby’s bullshit. He knows Bobby used him to get what he wanted and is now bribing him to save his ass. So he can go and fuck himself.
Since he needs to make sure Savion and his mom keep mum about the dinner – extremely bad optics for his bank venture! – Bobby’s last resort is his own mom. We find out that Ms. Axelrod is well respected in the old neighborhood – probably because while her husband left her and Bobby alone, she kept her head high, worked hard and raised her son right – and so could she please pay a visit to Savion’s mom and remind her of the local code: “Don’t talk.”
A new headache starts for Bobby during this visit with mom: Why is she driving a Honda Pilot while he bought a Lexus for her? While Ms. Axelrod says she wanted a simpler car and so sold the Lexus, Axe has Hall look into her auto registration and recent transactions. Well, I am surprised that Bobby Axelrod does not trust even his own mother but when Hall brings back news about Ms. Axelrod giving it to her former husband I understand Bobby just knows his mom very well.
It turns out Ms. Axelrod saw her former husband at a bus stop who told her that he had trouble finding a job and so she gave him her car and bought a Honda Pilot for herself. I bet she has no idea Mr. Axelrod fled California when got chased for bad credit, moved to Arizona for some home repair business, he had a bankruptcy and fled the state for New York. And he was probably waiting at that particular bus stop knowing that he would run into Laurel and could make her feel for him.
Even though Bobby having Hall look into his mom’s transactions and threatening to cut her off if she speaks to Mr. Axelrod ever again is not the nicest thing, I know that his anger may be justified when Bobby asks his mom how she could help Mr. Axelrod after all what they went through. It is certain that something terrrible happened in that house and Bobby’s dad seems to be a true predator.
And when Bobby buys a house for Savion and his mom in Scarsdale, we all know why he is doing that, don’t we? Now that his dad is back in town preying on his mom to have a piece of what his son has that Bobby knows that Savion’s dad will do the same at some point. And he does not want this young boy to experience it. Bobby wants to give Savion a better life – a debt free life with access to better schools in Scarsdale along with some fatherly advice. In Bobby’s fatherly advice to the young man lies his own life:
“I want you to know that your father will sniff you out. He will find you in the rarefied air of Scarsdale. And the even more rarefied air of living debt free. He’ll want to reenter your life. Try to chip off a piece. Don’t let him.”
We ultimately find out that my initial feeling about Bobby is right, and it is not about Yonkers, but it is about his childhood with an abusive father that makes him not get into that house – so much so that he does not want anyone to live in that toxic space. Now that he has bought a house for the Williamses, he may have this house demolished so it does not exist anymore.We find out about young Bobby’s heartbreaking childhood as he shares it with Wendy who comes to find him in his childhood room as soon as he calls her.
As Neil Young’s “Old Man” closes the episode, Axe takes the advice he has given to Savion and does not let his dad chip off a piece from his life – The Lexus! We see the destroyed Lexus being dumped in front of Mr. Axelrod’s house where the old man comes out and looks at the junk in surprise. I do not know if he knows it is his own son who did it to him, but I know that he totally deserves it. And he probably knows that it is time to leave the city.
Some fans were talking on social media about who would be good to play Bobby’s dad after the episode aired. Honestly, I do not think we will ever hear his voice, see his liking, or know his first name. Like Damnatio Memoriae or “condemnation of memory” in ancient times indicating that a person is to be erased from official accounts like he never existed.
And the episode leaves me hoping that facing his childhood head-on will help Bobby see the mistakes he has made in his own parenting.
Bobby constantly played good cop to Lara’s bad cop while they were married. Lara was not happy that the boys were growing up with no street smarts. She wanted them not to take their comfortable life for granted, respect others — especially working people like Chef Ryan — and not have it easy all the time. From taking kids to clamming to sending them to camp — an experience cut short thanks to dad — to having them pack gifts for Donnie’s “Secret Santa” project, she believed in teachable moments. And she got pissed when Bobby went against her wishes and made it easy for the boys every single time.
While I am not making a case for Bobby, it is not hard to understand where his parenting is coming from. It is plain wrong when Bobby picks up the boys from tough-love camp late at night night when they text him to come rescue them in Season 1 Episode 7 The Punch! But he does not do that to go against Lara’s wishes — Bobby wants the boys spoiled, and wants them to enjoy their childhood like neither he nor Lara did growing up. He wants his boys to know that dad always has their back. He wants to be everything to his boys that his own dad was not to him. But in doing that, he makes mistakes that may come back and bite him in the ass when the boys are 17!
We have seen a recent example of Bobby’s bad parenting in Season 5 Episode 3 Beg, Bribe, Bully. when he is called to school after Gordie’s bitcoin mining leads to power outage not only in the school building but in the entire town.
I believe the meeting with Headmaster Kessel could have gone way better if Bobby 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!!! And when Kessel, who is determined not to let Axe put a price on Gordie’s soul, quotes The Godfather…
“I am no band leader.”
… he finds himself threatened by Bobby 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.
And it does not stop there. Bobby and Wags spend the entire day making calls and figuring out how to squeeze the headmaster!
As Axe enters Kessel’s room donning his Rainbow t-shirt the following morning, wee know he is there for destruction – whenever Bobby Axelrod puts on one of his old metal t-shirts, he is ready to rock and roll! And the headmaster, who apparently takes newly arrived immigrant families in, has to give in to him because Bobby is right that these people helping around Kessel’s house may look like cheap labor, even worse, slavery!
As Gordie stays at Skinner Prep Academy, I wonder what kind of a life lesson we should expect him to take from that experience! That his father always has his back? That he can get away with anything? That he can “beg, bribe, bully” his way into anything? All of the above! 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.