Ladies and Gentlemen: WOW. WOW. WOW. I called last week’s episode as the most Billions-y in a while, and as a game theorist, I declare this week’s episode the most game-theoretic to date. Hats off to Billions writers who are at the peak of their powers. I cannot imagine better or smarter writing. And since alliances shift like sand in this show, I really cannot see where we will end up by the end of this season, but I know we are in for an epic roller coaster. Bring it on!
They gave the first hints of Covid-19 hitting New York in Episode 9 Implosion with Chuck telling Kate to “go home and stock up on canned food for the coming plague” and Swerdlow (I cannot bring myself to call that man Dr. Swerdlow!) telling Chuck it is great Senior is having his operation before the hospitals are overrun because of the “Chinese bug”. And now Covid-19 has arrived at Axe Capital.
The new episode picks up months after the pandemic hits. It seems like Axe Capital found some loopholes to have as many employees as possible vaccinated before they were eligible and today is the first day back at the office. As the market bell rings, Victor likens the markets to the Spanish Boot, Mafee mentions Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast, and Dollar Bill talks about Iron Maiden the torture device.
What tortures Wendy is what she sees upon her arrival at the office: the painting that Tanner poured a bucket of black paint on is being hung on Axe Capital walls. And before she even reaches her office, Wags lets “He Most Exalted” know that his head of HR is not happy. So comes the first Facetime call of many between Axe and Wendy in this episode…
…Well, that is Axe’s painting. And they are his walls. Wendy was supposed to make Tanner work productively and she could not. So, if there is someone who should be upset, it is Axe. UGH. Oh, and Wendy should keep her phone close because Axe needs her today…
…it turns out Axe has been exposed to Covid-19 thanks to his pilot so he is in quarantine at his country house (what a clever solution to make things work smoothly when Damian had to be in London during filming). And so the boss is now on a giant screen thanking everyone for their hard work during the worst of the pandemic and then… firing everyone!
Axe Capital as we know it does not exist anymore. There is Axe Holding Company with Axe Bank and Axe Asset Management Division. And while they will hire many of their employees back, some employees need to see Wendy for their exit interviews – that is why Axe needs her today! Oh, and Axe calls out Lauren specifically, in front of everyone, asking her to choose between Axe Bank and Axe Asset Management by the end of the day.
As Taylor is trying to calm their team down and guarantee them that they will not work for a bank, Rian is not convinced. And who can blame her given that she and Taylor are supposed to find Axe “unplowed fields” where he can harvest big deposits?
How about frontier Rapidly Growing Markets looking for a safe home for their money? While Axe likes the idea, he knows that securing this kind of money would take at least six months to a year and he needs the money now. So Taylor mentions cannabis money: a multibillion dollar opportunity as companies in medical marijuana markets are ready to expand as states legalize recreational use. Traditional banks hesitate to take their money. Taylor points out that while cannabis money has potential, it is a “yellow light” opportunity since it is not safe until federal legislation changes. But Axe is intrigued.
When Taylor mentions cannabis money in their zoom meeting with Axe, Rian looks totally surprised because she told Taylor earlier that cannabis money was a “red light.” And when she later asks Taylor why they recommended cannabis money to Axe, she receives Taylor’s “trust me” piece.
So… is this THE plan Chuck, Prince and Taylor agreed to as they plotted to take Axe down? I have now flagged the word cannabis and follow it closely in this episode. And, yes, we hear it again later from Taylor’s new partners-in-crime: Chuck and Prince!
Chuck is organizing a Jeffersonian Dinner at home with in-person and zoom guests! This is the kind of dinner meetings Thomas Jefferson used to hold at Monticello with public and private elite to talk about important issues. The essential thing is that there has to be ONE conversation – one person speaks at a time and the entire table listens. No cross-talk allowed. If you are interested in holding one, here is the list of rules!
As they are waiting for the guests to arrive, Ira – who we find out loves his carrots! – gives Chuck some good news. Wendy is ready to set up a payment plan for their divorce settlement and write out a check for Chuck as soon as possible. But Chuck is not content.
Chuck knows that Ira has alreay had a demand for disclosure drafted up for him and he wants it to be delivered to Wendy NOW. Chuck is keen on looking into Taylor Mason Carbon financials! Or is he?
Now tell me. If you are Chuck, and you are holding this Jeffersonian dinner with the likes of the NY governor, a NY senator, the Manhattan DA, the Solicitor General and Mike Prince of all people. Would you actually like your soon-to-be-ex-wife interrupt your dinner with a Face time call?
Given that Chuck certainly knows Wendy will get pissed and give him a call as soon as she receives the papers, why doesn’t he make Ira send them to Wendy tomorrow morning and have his dinner party in peace?
BECAUSE, I CLAIM, HE WANTS WENDY TO CALL. I AM CALLING IT, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, CHUCK WANTS WENDY TO CALL, SEE THE MEETING AND LET AXE KNOW ALL ABOUT IT. THIS IS THE TRAP HE AND PRINCE HAVE SET UP FOR AXE.
Notice that Chuck does not even try for Wendy not to see anyone at the table; on the contrary, he lets Wendy see Prince on the screen.
Chuck is a chess player. He knows that once Wendy gives Axe the news about the dinner, Axe will give a call to Senior, who is as game-ready as Julius Erving in 1976, and make him crash the party at Chuck’s!
Bummer. Bummer. Bummer.
As they are having heritage birds genetically identical to those in the founders’ time, it is really not very hard to imagine Chuck with a wig and a tricorn, is it? I believe this is the Billions writers’ tribute to Paul Giamatti playing John Adams in the wonderful HBO production.
The conversation topic at the table is Liberty. That of banks in particular! Are banking laws a threat to liberty or is it the banks without regulation that are the real threat? These are the words Chuck especially wants Wendy to hear, that is why he does not answer his phone but lets her call Ira, so that she knows Chuck is kicking off a new initiative to kick Axe’s ass.
And when Ira passes the phone to Chuck, the conversation is not pleasant. As Wendy claims he wants one last control over her, Chuck argues he only wants what he is really owed. He is sure that the accountant at Taylor Mason Carbon manipulated their private Jonathan Mardukas who has come up with the numbers. If Wendy does not want him to demand financial disclosure then she has 48 hours to make him a lump-sum payment.
Wendy is a smart woman. But since she is now distracted by the thought that Chuck wants to look into TMC books she does not even think about the timing of the envelope delivery. Oh My God. This is Billions writers at the top of their powers! Hats off.
As soon as Axe hears from Wendy that Chuck is plotting against him, he calls his bank trustee Senior – exactly as Chuck wants him to IMHO – to attend the special dinner party as his spy. In parallel, his newly minted Axe Bank is having his own special dinner party for two…
…with Chelsea, a young woman – young enough to be his daughter! Since Wags is too busy to leave the office tonight, instead of taking Chelsea to Chef Tom Colicchio’s new restaurant Vallata, he brings in Chef Colichhio himself to cook and serve them in the office.
Now, many readers of this blog know that I wrote a Billions Restaurants Book which is now out. And my lovely husband threw a surprise book launch party for me and a few close friends at Craft, Chef Colicchio’s legendary flagship restaurant – the one where Ira proposed to Taiga in Season 3 Episode 3 A Generation Too Late. I would love to take the opportunity here to thank the restaurant staff one more time for taking very good care of us. I will keep my personalized menu forever!
Back to the romantic dinner… Wags is there to make a good impression on Chelsea as he needs to attend to people, varying from Hard Bob who wants to train him about banking laws to Tuk who asks utterly stupid questions, that constantly interrupt his romantic dinner. And as he is sure that Chelsea will drop him there and then, we find out Wags is indeed a substantial suitor! It is up for debate this is because he is not a lap dog but a Rottweiler, but Wags is one step closer to the child he will raise right 🙂
Chuck Senior arrives at Chuck’s place with Swerdlow probably at the time Chuck thought he would be there. It is Prince’s turn to talk and, guess what, he is talking about Hypercube, his latest venture – the digital equivalent of a brick-and-mortar bank!
And why am I NOT surprised, not one bit, when the topic at the turns to cannabis? Chuck and Prince seem to be at odds on the issue. Prince is all for legalization, sees it as a source of tax revenue, while Chuck talks about moral decay. And, of course, there is Swerdlow who knows how it is like to experience “a goverment-driven, pharma-grade, jump juice” 🙂
And what does our Solicitor General have to say about it? Well, De Giulio argues, it may be a conservative court, but as the cases for legalization pile up, the SCOTUS may change its position on marijuana.
“SCOTUS isn’t the Vatican.”
The debate goes on and gets heated to a point where Prince calls the participants “John Birch Society types…” And I think this is exactly what Chuck and Prince want Axe to hear (notice that Prince tells Chuck it is so critical to deliver the solicitor general!) and he does, via messages and phone calls from Senior as well as Swerdlow.
Axe’s verdict: Chuck and Prince want him to think they are at odds. They are partners. Marijuana legalization will happen and these two are trying to make this money safe for Prince’s bank. So Axe should be there at the front of the pack. Oh God. Axe now tasks Bill with researching the marijuana laws along with public statements by the governor, the senator, and the Manhattan DA. They will be ready to pitch for major marijuana companies – medical, recreational, CBD, THC, paraphernalia, and what have you! Axe will take all the companies Prince is pursuing!
And I scream at my screen – “No, Bobby, no! Don’t do it!”
The high chief, also very busy with his phone calls with Wendy, admits he exposed Tanner because that man was not right for her in their third call of the day. He only accelerated the process, Wendy would see who Tanner really was anyway.
“He was a dime-store Pollock with a full head of greasy hair.”
BULLSHIT. If Tanner was a dime-store Pollock, why did Axe get a studio for him and commission four paintings?
But what I am really surprised about is Wendy not asking the question I am. It seems like she is so over Tanner. And she also appreciates Axe’s intent… Who knows maybe Dr. Mojo reflected a bit during the lockdown and figured she may only be with someone from her own world. And this can mean one thing only! Alas they cannot talk more since Bach needs a minute with Wendy.
It turns out Wendy does not have the cash in hand to lump-sum Chuck so she turns to Taylor for whom the only way they can get $25M in cash now is Danny Ocean! So how to stop Chuck from arriving at their office with his CSI coat on for a forensic investigation into their books? Someone with deep pockets looks like a plausible solution but Taylor does not want this person to be Axe.
And while Wendy agrees asking Axe may not be ideal, she goes ahead and calls him. Isn’t he the one who saved her medical license after all? And who gave her his spare apartment so she can live on her own, too? And now, he is saying things like he needs to come clean about why he hated Wendy and Tanner together… Wendy knows what is coming but she first needs to get Chuck out of the way. Would Axe be kind enough to buy her TMC shares and let her buy them back whenever she can?
DONE. Oh God. The love in these eyes. I think we have seen Axe looking like that only at Bruno before!
Wendy selling her shares to Axe is a huge blow to Taylor. Taylor has seen Wendy as their ally and now she is saying they can trust Axe?!?!
“He would not do anything that would hurt. I’m the only person in the world that’s true of.”
While Taylor may be right that whoever they trust have chosen to fuck them over, I do not think Lauren is one of them. Firing Lauren, not only from her position at TMC but also from their life together, may be Taylor’s first irrational decision. Lauren is honest with Taylor and what she gets is “IR girls are growing on trees these days” insult from Taylor. I register this as Taylor’s first slip. And I cannot help wonder if Axe knew about Lauren’s background and he put her on the spot deliberately to destroy Taylor’s alliance with her.
As one alliance gets shattered, another is getting stronger as Chuck and Prince smoke joints in Chuck’s living room in the wee hours. They are satisfied with their performance and their fake argument. As they talk about dinner participants pushing their agenda forward…
….they move to the kitchen as a hungry Eva shows up (now a teen!). And Billions does another wonderful movie tribute, up there with their Chinatown one in Season 4 Episode 3 Chickentown, as they reimagine the silent breakfast scene from Big Night with Chuck making an omelette for the three of them.
And these three are not the only people who are up in the early morning hours. We have Axe and Wendy also up and finally opening their hearts to each other.
“I’ve never allowed myself to really think, I feel the same things when I look at you.”
“I’ve waited so long to hear those words.”
You know – some fans have been waiting to hear these words for the last five years 🙂
Not me. I have always been, and still am, in the tiny minority that does not want Axe and Wendy to get into a romantic relationship. It is not that I do not think it is unrealistic or cheesy because some good friendships can organically evolve into romantic relationships over time (my husband and I were very good friends first so I know the experience!). I just think that a romantic relationship between Bobby and Wendy may not work out since they are both dominant and control freak. And while I wish them all the happiness in the world, I also know this is Billions. This is not a show for “and they lived happily every after” kind of story. So me thinks this relationship may be doomed from the get-go, courtesy of Chuck! I believe Wendy, unknowingly, may have dragged Axe into the cannabis money which may not end well for him. And now that Taylor knows about Wendy’s new relationship with Axe, their new partner-in-crime Chuck may have more room to manipulate – unless he does not drop dead because of a heart attack as he gets the news! I do not even want to think of Wendy as the Trojan Horse Chuck uses to destroy Axe. So my heart breaks as I hear my two most favorite characters saying beautiful words about love without using the L-word.