We have left Axe saying “I am ready” on the phone at the end of Pilot. Now we find him in Episode 2 Naming Rights with some time in his hands — he is about to derail Chuck’s plans by presenting the US attorney’s office with Steven Birch’s head on a silver platter — to figure out ways to be ready!
While Pilot opens with a bound and gagged Chuck in his underwear on the floor in submission to a dominatrix, Naming Rights opens with Axe his underwear telling Pete Decker on the phone Gold Standard is never coming back and if it did, the world would be so fucked up that he would buy space travel… while his secretary as well as his COO are on standby to dress him for his next gig!
Axe is the King of his realm.
A comparison to the other king Damian Lewis has recently brought to life is inevitable. Do Axe and Henry have anything in common?
Well, for one, both “axe” heads! 😀 And they both get a little bit help from their “fixers”! While Henry VIII in Wolf Hall seems to do well with one brilliant “fixer” in the form of Thomas Cromwell Axe needs multiple fixers to keep it up in today’s complicated and fast paced world! There is Wags. The COO. The valet. The bad cop. There is Hall. The ultimate “black bag” man. And there is Wendy. She “fixes” minds for Axe and keeps him grounded on the side. The way Wendy gets into others’ minds is mesmerizing and the spiel she gives to Victor later in the episode is no different than the one Cromwell gives to Harry Percy in Wolf Hall. Wendy Rhoades may well be a modern day Cromwell.
Wags has some bad news for Axe. The beach mansion news has turned off a client, a Garth Sykes from Kentucky, who runs Flagship — a pension fund for teachers — with its $1.5 billion being invested by Axe Capital. Sykes is considering to move the money elsewhere. Axe is worried about a domino effect and tells Wags to keep him in. Wags believes the key to keeping everyone in is through a low profile. Axe says “Who is low profile than me?” and jumps on his “low profile” chopper and plants one on his beloved Lara! They are on their way to NYC for a charity event held at a building Axe finds beautiful except for its name: Ellis Eads Hall. Lara seems to be the master of turning the negative into positive: “How much?” She’s on it.
As the cream of the cream in NYC stands up to show their financial support for the charity —with a FUN cameo by Penn Jillette — everyone gets “fresh from the oven” Birch news on their phones… The crocodile tears Axe has for Birch in that scene is Priceless! Whoa! But, hey, cut Axe some slack, will ya, Birch short-squeezed him on the HMOs last year 🙂
In the meantime, Hall puts a mole in the US attorney’s office to track the movement regarding Birch and Axe. I guess the office forgot to give the “no tinder” blurb to poor Tara… and even though she has training against blackmailing, she cannot do much other than “watch, listen, report” when she realizes her video snorting off cocaine going viral would not do her any good.
Axe Capital aka “the camp” has a PM meeting with Wags obviously playing the bad cop to Axe’s good cop. Man, this is brutal. No wonder Saldana, a female PM, calls them “animals” before getting into the meeting. But, hey, she is one of them ,too: “Expectations will prop up the stocks like a prom queen’s cherry.” What? Alphas are breeding alphas in that room. The arrogance. The language. The insult. Oh My God! I now understand how bad Mick Danzig may feel because he’s down 4% while everyone’s up! I would say I am smart enough to do that kind of job, but it is obvious that smarts is not enough and you need the personality to match. Well… Let’s say I would not last a day at that table.
We learn at this meeting Axe Capital is a 3/30 hedge fund meaning that their investors give them 3% of their investments and 30% of their profits. Lady Trader tells me the standard is 2/20 and only the funds that can consistently keep double-digit returns can get a 3/30 kind of deal. No wonder Axe and Wags constantly refer to how they crush the S&P — Axe Capital is way ahead of the returns S&P 500 index foresees for the market.
The meeting is raided by a SEC team that interrogates every single PM and analyst about any suspicious activity detected in the trade logs. And every answer starts with an “event-driven strategy” (adopted to take advantage of a merger or a restructuring that can result in a short run mis-pricing of a company’s stock) but ends up with “a tip” except for… Dollar Bill who consistently gives the same answer: “Lawyer.” 😀 Joke aside, Lady Trader says analysts also have gut feelings. For example, when she was on the buy side, she covered Marvel Entertainment (yes, the super hero company!) and she had a gut feeling that a much bigger media company would like to have that franchise. And guess what, when Disney bought it for $5 billion, it was a good day to have that name in her portfolio! It was not any paper trail or any specifics, but it was a gut feeling on her side. She thinks Axe Capital analysts give up too quickly during the interrogation which turns out to be a life boat drill Axe has run as part of the extraordinary measures he is taking to protect the company against the SEC, the US attorney’s office and ultimately the Windbreakers. He lets the team know they all sank in the drill.
Axe now needs a scapegoat to “axe” in front of everyone to make sure all get their shit together and he finds THAT in Victor. Lady Trader sees Victor almost as a Wall Street cliche: loud, cocky and taking too many risks! If you have a position that is 38% up, yes the SEC may think it is suspicious.
Dr. Mojo is pissed off with Axe not just for leaving her in the dark about the drill but also for firing Victor in the very public way that he did. Wendy is the only “fixer” Axe uses “please” with. Could Wendy please go and fix the Victor situation? Wendy gives her 200% to convince Victor that revealing the recipe for the Axe Capital “secret sauce” would not be the best strategy for him… unless he is rich enough not to take another job. She reminds him of some Warren Jaffin who used to be a hot shot but then made the mistake of badmouthing Axe at a job interview… Axe personally made sure he would not get another job. Anywhere. What is he doing today? “He has a blog.” WHAT? Blogs may sometimes do well! Well… Have you seen the Billion Dollar Check Axe has written in our name? 🙂 The story is here. Tell Warren he can do better!
US Attorney’s office has a meeting with the FBI. The Birch case is crystal clear. A CFO that has been passed over for CEO at Arcadian Railroad interviews at Piedmont Capital, a meeting confirmed by both side’s secretaries, and Birch trades half an hour later. Man, couldn’t you wait for a few days? Is it greed or what? And, it’s such a pleasant surprise to see Susan Misner from The Americans as FBI’s Terri McCue in Billions!
We learn in Episode 1 that what Bobby fears the most in life is the Windbreakers. I would suggest him add white boards to that.
As Chuck is looking at the Birch Board, the Axe board that is pushed aside to make room for Birch catches his eye… Chuck already knows someone has fed the Birch information to Mike Dimonda who denies having written the article… And who would benefit the most from having the US attorney on Birch’s tail? The A-HA moment for Chuck!
Chuck is as alpha as Axe that he would never let anyone “fix” him, either. He decides to do something that his office has never done during his tenure — settle with Birch and go back to Axe case. Chuck will not let Axe’s “riderless horse” to trick him! Well, well, well… And I am sorry, Chuck, but WE ARE still THOSE KIDS rooting for Butch and Sundance! 🙂
Chuck and Bryan take it slowly but surely. All three guys who run the small hedge-funds with suspect trading patterns seem to be former Axe Capital employees. And, one of them, Pete Decker from Quaker Ridge — he is the guy we see Axe talking on the phone at the beginning of the episode — is on top of their lists. Decker hires young and pays at the top of the range. These young guys get used to it that they are desperate to to keep it. US attorney’s office is now tracking all analysts and traders at Quaker Ridge and waiting for one of them to make a mistake…
The game is ON.
Busy day for Axe. He first gives a short to Pouch: Cross Co. Pouch knows about this mid-size firm in a distribution contract with the bakery Yum Time. Doing well. He does not see the short play. Axe does not want him to see it, wants him TO DO it. This may seem like a scene that does not have much weight; however, my educated guess is this story will develop into Episode 3 titled Yum Time.
Neither the erotic massages Wags treats Garth to nor the face-to-face Axe has with him does the trick to keep Flagship in. Garth wants to keep things “nice and comfy” and is going forward with an older hedge-fund guy, Ken, who is working with a more conservative strategy for his investors — he’s only 2% up whereas Axe is 32% — who he thinks is part of the “firmament.” Lady Trader’s baseball analogy is apt. Ken, a nice singles hitter with a high batting average, may work better than Axe, a home run hitter with a lower batting average, for a pension fund.
The scene where Axe meets Garth and Ken was filmed in a steak house NYC Hunt and Fish Club that I blogged about in our Billions NYC locations tour post. No wonder the restaurant is owned by a couple of hedge-fund guys — this world seems to be all about hunting, fishing and bringing meat back to camp after all!
Axe comes to Wendy’s office to say thank you. Victor will keep quiet. Wendy tells him she did it FOR HIM. Because they never crossed each other for the last 15 years… Hmm… Did Wendy really go to Victor for Axe? I just believe she knows what these guys need and feed them THAT and I just love it! I really don’t think Wendy wears a team jersey but her own: Team Wendy! And it seems Chuck knows this about his wife. “Everyone feels like you’re on their side” he says. And, Chuck, how come anyone can feel like you are on her or his side? We’ve just seen you giving 20 bucks to the man you are sending to jail to buy donuts for his kids. And I am not judging the sentence mail fraud being a federal crime and all. But, man, this is cheap… Find another way to feel human, please!
Axe gets “Cut me off again… and I am gone” from Wendy and a text from Hall that US attorney’s office is resuming the case on him now that they have settled with Steven Birch for $386 million in fines plus voluntary shuttering of his fund and turning it into a family office — meaning Birch cannot handle outside money again but can help manage wealth through outsourced solutions… Axe is like a little boy apologizing to his mom now: “I won’t.”
Is Wendy’s ultimatum real or is she bluffing? Does Axe really feel Wendy is on his side? Does he know her as well as Chuck does? Or does he just believe in keeping his friends close and his enemies closer? Time will show.
Axe is a man of two worlds. He is the ruthless hedge-fund king most of the time but there are moments he lets neighborhood kid Bobby out and it is young Bobby’s MOMENT at the meeting with Eads Family. He is in the room with his Metallica “Master of Puppets” Tshirt! Master of Puppets is a 1986 album and I bet young Bobby is listening to this album during the summer he gets a caddy job at the golf club. I don’t know about you, but I want to cuddle that young kid, put some money in his pocket and tell him to go and spend it with girls. Bobby is HAPPY for the job, makes $16 a round until Ellis Eads fires him, not from the round, but from the club, because he witnesses his grandson making fun of him. Too much… So Axe is a BAD BOY today. Even though he promises to give $100 million for naming rights and $25 million for the family to remove their name from the hall, he subtracts $16 million from that check. Ha! As much as it’s some proud OLD MONEY, Eads family does not really have the luxury of closing the door on Axe’s face. That check seems to be their only way out of looming bankruptcy. They quietly accept the check.
Well… this is one small step for Axe, but one giant leap to be part of the firmament… And if you want to read a real-life “naming rights” story it’s here.