Just two episodes in and we have received terrific news that Showtime has renewed Billions for a second season – Woot Woot! The news is not surprising given the quality and the instant popularity of the show; however, man, THIS WAS FAST! Congratulations to the entire cast and crew, we are over the moon for you and yeah, for us, too!
We find everyone busy playing mind games in Episode 3. Axe is busy dipping his finger into yet another pie. Chuck is busy working for the public good at several fronts. Lara is busy keeping the family reputation intact. And Wendy is busy with a dilemma of her own. All four are all lost in their own worlds that we don’t really see them hang out with each other much in this episode.
We know September 11 lingers in Bobby Axelrod’s mind and life. It is now lingering further in Episode 3; in fact, a storm is brewing that could further damage Axe’s “man of the people” image. June, the widow of Rake, Axe’s partner who died in 9/11 attacks, has a 70,000 word story to tell!
Her memoir is titled September 12: The Day After. Now, it’s no secret I have been dying to learn more about Axe and Rake history since I heard June’s comment in Episode 1 that it is wrong Axe, and not Rake, who is standing there… However, I lower my expectations about learning the story the second Lara finds out about the manuscript! Lara has her ways to get June’s attention. No gym for June. No golf for June and her friends. No Stanford for June’s son (Axelrods made a big gift to the university and Axe holds a honorary doctorate — I wanna see a pic with the gown, the hood and the tassel, please!) And, lo and behold, Chapter 10 will never see the day of light!
Well, if I were June, I would take my memoir to Chuck who would personally see to its publication 😀 But it’s too late. June signs a non-disclosure for Chapter 10 when she comes apologetically to Lara’s door and finds out Stanford President personally told Lara about the mistake they did with June’s son’s application that he’s very likely to be a freshman at Stanford next year. Congratulations! And, I really don’t wanna know about whether such manipulations is possible in academia when huge gifts are in the play.
In the meantime, Chuck finally convinces me he’s working for the public good. No, not in the US attorney’s office, but on Brooklyn Heights Promenade of all places — one of the best places to view Manhattan skyline as well as the Brooklyn Bridge by the way! Chuck yells at a guy who does not clean after his dog. Forgetting the bag at home is no excuse. “You have hands!” As a New Yorker, I applaud the US attorney. Don’t tell Axe! 🙂
But taking back the reins of the Axe case is not as easy as making that guy collect his dog’s poop. It turns out, as the Southern District was tailing the “riderless horse” Ari Spyros has made the Eastern District to look into Bobby Axelrod. And, hey, they even have one of Peter Decker’s guys in, and he seems to be pretty chatty!
Chuck convinces Lonnie, who has worked on the Statue of Liberty attempted bombing case around the clock for the last two years, to take one for the team. Statue of Liberty case goes to Eastern district as Peter Decker of Quaker Ridge — who Team Chuck sees as the key to bagging Axe — comes back to Southern District with Ari Spyros attached to it. Spyros is so looking forward to working with the “rock stars.” If only he did not wear that cologne 🙂
Chuck shares his game plan for Peter Decker with Bryan and Spyros. And, hey, Billions impresses me once again by bringing in game theory with Prisoners’ Dilemma — the game we usually teach in the very first day in a standard Game Theory course.
Now… Feel free to skip this paragraph if you are not interested in finding about Prisoners’ Dilemma. But if you are, here it is in a nutshell: two criminals from the same gang are arrested. Each one is in solitary confinement and cannot communicate with the other. Prosecutors do not have enough evidence to convict both so they simultaneously offer each prisoner the following: Each can either cooperate with the other by keeping silent or betray the other by testifying that the other one committed the crime. If both criminals betray the other one, they both serve a 2-year sentence. If criminal 1 betrays and criminal 2 keeps silent, criminal 1 will be released and criminal 2 serves a 3 year sentence and vice versa. if they both choose to keep silent, then both serve a 1 year sentence. Now what do you think happens? Suppose you are criminal 1. Given that criminal 2 cooperates, what is the action that gives you the best outcome? Betrayal. You go out of prison, and the other one stays in for 3 years. Now, given that criminal 2 cooperates, what is the action that gives you the best outcome? Betrayal. At least you get the lesser prison sentence. The same applies to criminal 2 given what you choose to do. That is, regardless of what the other side does, betrayal always gives the better outcome – we call this “dominant strategy” in game theory. Both criminals play their dominant strategies and the equilibrium is that both criminals betray and serve a 2-year sentence.
So, Chuck tells Decker that, they had another guy that did the same Pepsum trade that he did in the US attorney’s office two hours ago, and he was very cooperative. It now comes to who flips on Axe or “First in gets the lollipop!” Decker is not interested in the lollipop. He sees Chuck’s bluff and leaves the room with no sign of caving in.
Kate comes to the rescue. It turns out Decker’s parents, a retired 8th grade teacher and a sales clerk, have an 8-figure net worth. It is very likely they do have no clue that their son is managing their accounts very liberally. They were even in the Pepsum play! Chuck now has the power to bring in Peter Decker back into the room and probably make him sing! Kate misses Don Pasquale — nice dress! — but gets a seat on the Axe case in return.
As Chuck is saving the day in the office, Wendy is troubled by a confidential session with Wags who is actively planning to sabotage Saldana’s career because he thinks she is not a loyal soldier. They value and prize loyal soldiers at Axe Capital. We, for example, see Donnie, who could not see the matrix in the last PM meeting, has his stack tripled because he is a loyal soldier. On the other hand, it turns out Saldana receives a huge offer from Zenobia Capital which she wants to use to increase her comp at Axe Capital. Isn’t this the standard way though? I know, in my own world of academia, an outside offer signals your market value to your institution and gives you a leverage in negotiating your salary. What’s wrong with that? So, keep an eye on Wags. “Rapacious scumbag” indeed. And I wonder if Axe knows about Wags’ dirty plan about Saldana. Now… the doctor – patient relationship is obviously confidential… but where do you draw the line? What would a doctor do if a patient told her about his plans to kill someone? Given that killing someone’s career is not that far away from killing that someone in today’s world, where does Dr. Mojo draw the line? Well, she does her trick and talks Saldana into leaving Axe Capital for the kinder and gentler Zenobia capital without even telling her what’s going on. Moreover, she reverses the doctor-patient relationship with her $250K invested with Saldana’s new company. Wendy is certainly a team of one! What would Axe think if he heard about this? Would this count as betrayal?
Oh, where has Axe been? Well, he OWNS the juiciest story that names the episode: Yum Time! We see Axe in Episode 2 telling Pouch to short Cross Co — a medium size trucking company with a distribution contract with bakery Yum Time. The company seems to be doing well and Pouch does not see the short play. Axe does not need him to see it, he just needs him to do it.
Axe is now at home with Ben Kim aka “Stanford-Wharton” literally and metaphorically. It turns out Ben also has blue collar background with Korean immigrant parents running a deli in Kew Gardens. Both Axe and Ben grew up eating Yum Time‘s scrumpets. They taste it now and are underwhelmed. The recipe has changed. Corn syrup instead of sugar now! Axe cannot let Yum Time fail him. He now owns 4.9% of the company and plans to buy more.
No wonder we next see Axe and Wags in an informal meeting with some of the Yum Time board members who do not seem very happy about being there! Axe is going in as an activist investor. Activist investors buy large numbers of a public company’s shares and/or tries to obtain seats on the company’s board to affect a major change in the company. And not surprisingly, it is often the mismanaged companies that become the target of activist investors. Axe now owns more than 5% of the company’s shares. He wants a seat at the table and a say in management decisions to correct what’s been going wrong with Yum Time: profits constantly going down for the last eight years while the board member compensation going up 300% during this period. WTF?
I am no financial expert and I may get cynical when it comes to big hedge funds. However, when you hear this kind of stuff, even the cynical in you sees a point in Axe’s claim at Delivering Alpha conference that hedge-funds are white cells of the financial system and they are there to protect the investors. Yum Time may be an extreme case but it seems some boards do not really care as much about their shareholders as they care about their comps!
Axe and Wags, again, seem to play good cop and bad cop, respectively. As Wags yells at the board members, Axe does very kindly present himself as a “beacon of hope” for the company — this guy’s modesty brings tears to my eyes as I laugh my ass off! And he finds out it is the chairman, Jerome “Purk” Purkheister, that he needs to convince. Purk’s a folksy guy. Axe’s turf.
And, hey, Chuck Sr. and his playbook make a wonderful comeback this week! We know stakes are very personal in Billions. And Yum Time turns out to be particularly personal for Mr. Rhoades! Chuck Sr in a bathrobe on the bed telling his mistress, Evelyn Benson — who we have just seen in that informal board meeting with Axe? Chuck Sr tells her this move is not about Yum Time. Axe is signaling to Chuck Sr and Evelyn that he knows about them. Evelyn, the persuasive woman that she is, should convince “Purk” that Axe should be blocked. Evelyn is fired up and ready to go to Purk immediately… but hey Chuck Sr has already taken his Viagra and has other plans now… which will be followed by an anniversary dinner with his wife at the old school but classy NYC institution La Grenouille… I wonder, given that Evelyn has been waiting for Chuck Sr to divorce “Betty Fuckin’ Crocker” for some time now, if she knows about the anniversary plans 🙂
As Evelyn is on her way to persuade “Purk” not to give in to Axe, Chuck Sr uses his persuasive tone with his son to tell him he should find a way to “bury the son of a bitch.” He’s concerned Axe and his game plan may delay his dream of seeing his son as the governor of NY.
Axe takes “Purk” out for some pizza at Capparello’s where wine is served in water glasses – LOVE IT! Axe tells him about how Bruno and his San Marzano tomatoes have never failed him where as Yum Time has. He tells “Purk” if he does not let him in, Yum Time will go down like Ebinger’s. Ha! Ebinger’s was a famous family run Brooklyn-based bakery that was established in 1898 and closed in bankruptcy in 1972. Their Blackout cake is long gone but not forgotten. I bet the show creators, New Yorkers themselves, know a thing or two about that cake! Well, it seems Ebinger’s story is pretty persuasive 🙂 The “reasonable” board members start with firing the CEO Hutch Bailey III before he blows Yum Time and follow with removing Evelyn from her seat so Axe can have a seat on the board.
And the smug on Axe’s face as he follows Miss Persuasive’s exit from the board room with his eyes is just PRICELESS. He’s having some Yum Time. A Yum Day indeed.
The day ends differently for the two couples. Axe comes to the bedroom having read Harry Potter with the kids Awww, how sweet! It seems they are reading Book 5: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — oh yeah I read them all — and Axe thinks Dolores Umbridge is a real bitch. Does he not see the fact that Lara can certainly give Umbridge a good run for her money in “real bitch” department? Men 🙂 Instead Axe finds his wife worthy of a Nobel Prize when she tells him about June’s manuscript. A problem that has disappeared even before Axe finds about it. The family reputation is intact and the Axelrods have a fun evening while the Rhoades do not have the fun Wendy has planned for them because Chuck is not mentally there… It seems he is slowly buying into Chuck Sr’s concerns about Axe or maybe thinking about his gubernatorial campaign… So, it’s just Pecan ice cream and TV for them tonight. I wonder what they will watch.