You see life through distorted eyes
You know you have to learn
The execution of your mind
You really have to turn
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath – Black Sabbath
After a brief hiatus, the Trader’s Desk is back, and we are diving into Billions S7E7 “DMV”!
I chose the above lyrics from Black Sabbath because oh my, did Philip see Prince in a new light this week. And I think he learned something about himself as well.
I am going to break this week’s post into three parts: the driving test incident, Prince being a pure tyrant and possibly turning another employee against him, and Casino Night, which was my favorite part of the episode.
Charles Rhoades may have some of the best lines in Billions, but he really is an asshole! From bringing his grandson to the road test in a Jag, to trying to bribe the instructor, Charles just thinks he can do whatever he wants (that is a running theme with the men in this show, isn’t it?). Why would you want a kid who obviously can’t pass the test on the road? If he sideswipes a bus and kills someone, it’s certainly going to cost more than $100. And I doubt Chuck would be able to pull enough strings to get a manslaughter charge to disappear.
Once Chuck does get involved, it is a glaring example of how much of a hypocrite he really is. He wants to “hold the rich and powerful criminally accountable” except when it comes to someone with the last name Rhoades. Chuck would be calling for Axe’s head if it was Gordie in that situation. I think this whole scenario was a way to lay the groundwork for Chuck and Wendy to “communicate” better, which could lead to them getting back together. And to that I say no, No, NO! They broke up for a reason, and that reason hasn’t gone away. Chuck is still a self-centered, jealous, insecure man. Wendy is so much fiercer since she has been unshackled from that dreadful marriage. Let her stand on her own two feet. She has earned it.
Mike Prince is some piece of work! He lives in this fantasy world where he is the smartest man in every room he enters, and most certainly knows better than anyone else. The way he threatens Dr. Ruloff is just soulless. As someone who built something from the ground up, you would think he would understand how the Doctor feels about being browbeaten into giving up his life’s work. Its not all about money for Dr. Ruloff, it’s actually about making a difference. Prince wants this technology so he can campaign on it (and make some money) and being the bully he is, he’ll get it one way or another. If he can’t buy it, he will beat Dr. Ruloff into submission by patent sharking. And then using a story that Philip told him to really put the squeeze on the poor Doc? Ruthless. All so he can save it and use it for “four more years” after he is elected. Despicable!
Also in this process, he is making Philip rethink the idea that Prince is one of the “good guys”. I think Taylor saw this coming and was happy to let it play out this way so they can add another member to the “We Hate Mike Prince” club (by the way, I’m a unofficial member of that club). Taylor pointing Philip in Wendy’s direction was pure manipulation, and it was brilliant. Taylor knows a thing or two about not combining personal emotions with business. I think we all remember what happened to Taylor and their dad in S4, and how that didn’t work out well.
In that case, Wendy used Talyor’s feelings for their father against them, whereas know Wendy wants Philip to open up to her so she can use what he tells her against Prince. It was a no-brainer to get Chuck involved. And even though he couldn’t charge Prince with anything related to the patent sharking, getting the Department of Defense to classify the tech at least dinged Prince, for now. Philip tells Wendy he knows what she’s up to, but won’t join the posse, but I have a feeling this affected Philip more than he is letting on, and I’m sure he will step up when it comes time to take Prince down. Philip seems like a good guy, and I think the seed that was planted in his head by Dr. Ruloff about not being happy at MPC will certainly take hold.
Watching MPC Casino Night made me happy. I have been to a few Casino Nights at Gotham Hall and they are always a good time. The last one I attended was hosted by the NY Rangers to benefit the Garden of Dreams Foundation that helps children in need from the tri-state area. It’s a lot of fun playing games of chance besides your favorite hockey players, and the event space is spectacular. It’s no secret that I have been known to visit Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Foxwoods to lay down a bet or two so this storyline made me feel seen. It really gave me the itch to go back to Vegas!
However, as much as seeing the Roulette wheel spin brought a smile to my face, I disagree with the premise that observing people (without their knowledge) gambling their own or the house’s money will give you insight into how they will trade. From my point of view, it’s totally different. When I am at the Blackjack table or the Roulette wheel, I’m playing with my money so I can be a bit more aggressive with my wagering. If I’m playing with money that someone gave me to have a good time with, as the $5K was giving the Prince Cappers, then I’m really going to push my luck. Gambling at a casino or waging on sports is not my job – it’s entertainment. When I’m trading my money or investing for someone else, I’m much more careful and conservative. Is there some overlap of the skills and instincts that go into gambling and trading? Absolutely. Knowing the odds and having a gut feeling come into doing both. But good traders and portfolio managers know how to separate work from entertainment. Managing money for a pension fund means I’m trying to get a good return for the teacher in Sioux City, Iowa or the firefighter from Queens, NY. And I would never gamble with their money. I would invest it. Big difference. I also tend to have a few adult beverages when I’m playing cards, and I would never do that at work!
I also think the whole performance review kerfuffle was a bit overdone. Don’t get me wrong, performance reviews are a thing. It’s a chance to talk with your supervisor to see how you have done the past year, and to set any goals for the upcoming one. However, compensation and bonuses are rarely based on the review. Most traders and portfolio managers at hedge funds have contracts that specifically spell out your base salary, and bonuses are based on a formula. The formula could be derived from the returns of an overall fund if you are part of a team or based on your individual stock selection performance. So, you kind of know what you will be getting paid before the review. If you have done exceptionally well and the fund manager feels you are very valuable, they can certainly add more to your bonus to keep you at the firm. Or if you may have had an off year, but have a consistent track record, you may see a bit more than you are owed (or if you had a negative return year a little something to show the manager still has faith in you) in your bonus. I also do not think the “Mutiny on the Bounty” way that Victor and Rian handled the situation would fly. The traders, portfolio managers and researchers are key to any fund, but the head guy is the head guy, and I seriously can’t see someone like Steve Cohen or Axe putting up with those kind of shenanigans.
We are more than halfway through this final season of Billions, and I feel that the last few episodes are putting the pieces in place on the chess board for a rocking finale. I’m looking forward to Axe (and his metal t-shirts) back on our screens real soon!