Got no religion, don’t need no friends
Got all I want and I don’t need to pretend
Don’t try to reach me, ’cause I’ll tear up your mind
I’ve seen the future and I’ve left it behind
Supernaut – Black Sabbath
Happy Friday from “From the Trader’s Desk”.
Axe is living it up in an absolutely stunning castle in the north of England. If you need to be in exile, well that is the way to do it! Besides the chip off the old block Gordie, Axe has no friends with him; he’s got all he wants and he don’t need to pretend! But does he really?
Let’s get into “Original Sin”….
Everyone on Billions is always strategic and thinking ten steps ahead. It’s almost as if everyone is a student of three-dimensional chess, most famously played by our favorite Vulcan, Mr. Spock. Chuck moves his rook, Jeffcoat to get his SDNY job back, Prince is moving his queen, Andy to get to the White House, and Taylor, Wendy and Wags are trying to move their king back to the US. Axe is contemplating his moves, that is for sure, I’m just not clear what they are – yet.
And speaking of Star Trek, I recently found something that was a nice coincidence. Back in Season 4’s episode “The Oath”, I wrote about how there must be some Trekkers on the writing staff, as there were several references to Star Trek in relation to the story line regarding Craig Heidecker’s space travel project, FarPoint. Wendy was tasked with psychologically evaluating the pilot, Elena, who would be heading into space. In the episode, Wendy does not give Elena the all-clear, but she did get into space eventually! The actress who played Elena is the wonderful Melissa Navia, who currently plays Lt. Erica Ortegas, helmsman of the USS Enterprise on “Strange New Worlds” (which is also streamed on Paramount Plus!).
If Axe and Wendy are not together in only 5 out of 100 alternate universes, then that is the same odds that a political candidate’s “character” matters. A running storyline this week was Prince basically bending over backwards to get Bradford Luke to run his presidential campaign. Luke makes it clear that the only way for Prince to run and win as an independent is the “Eisnehower Path” – to be excellent in his chosen field and seem to do good for and be more like the “common man”. Now I know this is how it must be for this story (to set Prince up like a bowling pin for Axe, Wendy, Chuck, et al to knock down) but in this real day and age it wouldn’t mean a thing. We unfortunately live in an age where despite how poor a politician’s character is (and in some cases because of how poor it is) they get elected. Divorce, affairs, plagiarism, lying, stealing, cheating – have any of those things stopped some of our current elected officials from getting nominated and elected? No, and in fact, in some cases, has made the “base” love them even more. So, I doubt an “open marriage” would be that outrageous to the voters (hell, some guys would vote for Prince because he was able to pull it off!) if Prince was still promising a goodie bag of treats to the public. Sadly, we live in an era where “ask not what your country can do for you” has been replaced by “ask what freebies your candidate will promise you”. OK, enough politics. That is not what we are here for!
Isn’t great to have Dollar Bill back where he belongs? Bill knows he can’t trade the name his Spartan Ives buddy asked about, but the next best thing is playing names related to or around that name. Someone asking about Walmart? Then maybe trade Target. Can’t touch Mattel? Well hello Hasbro. The reason you wouldn’t trade on that info is that it would be considered front running a friend. And in this business, there will be times you will certainly need a friend. We are also happy that Mafee and Bill have finally made up. Maybe we really are putting the band back together!
Philip earns the respect of Dollar Bill by playing (cheating at) Liar’s Poker. (The Michael Lewis book of the same name is where the infamous phrase describing a trader as a “Big Swinging Dick” comes from). Bill, being an old-school trader, would have certainly played his fair share of this classic Wall Street game in his time. “Cheat to Win” (a chant most often used at the jousts at the New York Renaissance Faire) was certainly Philip’s mantra. Bill may think Philip is a badass, but I don’t trust him, and neither should Bill.
At Castle Axelrod, Taylor, Wags and Wendy are trying the three bears approach to convince Axe to join their crusade in stopping Prince and his presidential run.
Taylor’s approach is a little too hard. They are trying to use Axe’s anger to get him join them. Axe enjoys the banter, he always has, but he is not taking the bait. No, he is not ok with letting someone best him, especially someone as false as Prince, but this new “Zen” Axe turns the discussion around on Taylor. Axe asks Taylor why aren’t they out yet? Taylor originally wanted to get to $100M then get out but has upped that number to $1B (this shows me that it’s not all about the money for Taylor, no matter how many times they say it is; it’s being in the game just like Axe). Axe wants to know if Taylor will feel free after taking down Prince or will they self-sabotage and wonder why they are not where they want to be. Axe knows Taylor so well. It was one of the reason I still believe that of all the adversaries Axe has had over the last 7 years, Taylor was always his fiercest one. Strike one.
Wags takes the soft approach, the “we need you my liege” path. Appealing to Axe’s ego while sharing a whiskey is totally a Wagsy way to get someone on your side. Axe will only go back to the US if he is protected, has an escape route, and has the freedom to do what he wants. Wags plays to Axe’s ego – of course you can make that happen Godfather! Look what you have built while in exile. Axe is bored of this conversation and changes the subject to Wags’ love life. Of course he was keeping tabs – he will always be “my Wagsy” to Axe. Strike two.
Wendy thinks her attempt will be just right. Using their closeness will surely sway Axe. Who else can stop Prince but “us”. Wendy can’t sit by, and watch Prince try and shape history and do nothing. Axe’s Wendy should be able to re-program Prince into a force for good, but for Wendy that is a step too far. She doesn’t want to be involved in a presidential campaign. If she came to Axe, laid out the plan, and Axe decided to join them, she would have no doubts that stopping Prince is the right course of action. It’s almost as if she is asking Axe for affirmation of their plan. Yes, Prince is in Axe’s head, and he thinks about how it’s not right he is sitting in Axe’s office, but is he ready to join the fight?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. Axe doesn’t think they are wrong, he just no longer engages in wars of attrition. America is not the land of the free for Axe (especially with Chuck roaming the wild), so he has a better idea – why don’t they join him. As tempting as that offer must be, all three bears decline. I think Axe knew they would, but if you don’t ask, you never get.
Taylor won’t abandon the fight because they think the damage Prince could do is too great. Wags knows he can’t ditch the plan, because if things in the US are bad enough for him to bail, then things are bad all over. And Wendy is too tied to this strategy and the remnants of Axe Capital to give up.
As the three despondent cubs are leaving Castle Axelrod, Axe gives them some advice: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! If they help get Prince elected, he will be out of their hair for good.
It’s not a move I saw coming from Axe, and I’m not sure how I see it playing out, but I’m absolutely here to see it!