As the credits roll, 9/11 widow June, wife of Axe’s deceased business partner, Rake, seems to have penned a manuscript and is thanking her publisher for giving her a book deal. Bryan is getting in good with the FBI. Meanwhile Axe sips his morning coffee as a truck pulls into his driveway. Again, the Billions writers seem to have effectively taken the beep-beep-beep of a truck backing up and the cranking chain sound of its opening door out of the strict purview of the mafioso drama.
The truck contains pastries packaged in plastic ala the Hostess stuff we all grew up with. The brand here is YumTime. And Axe seems on a mission.
The FBI, in bed with Bryan, hears word that someone is going to rat out a guy, Decker, who works for Axe. Before Bryan calls in the news about Decker and the prosecutorial wheels are set in motion, we see Chuck enforcing scoop law on the Brooklyn promenade.
Back at YumTime headquarters, the reigning CEO, Hutch Bailey III, hears that Axe has purchased a large stake in the company. Then, lovely upbeat music plays as a smiling mail guy tosses packages of YumTime treats to workers at Axe Capital.
I won’t be going into detail on the next scene: Wags in session with Wendy. Suffice it to say, we learn a lot about Wags. He’s a bit gross, deeply insecure, and not very nice. He wants to make Maria Saldana, the lone woman in the boy’s club, pay for making motions towards leaving the firm. Main takeaway from this scene is Wags’ declaration:
You cannot leverage us
That is to say, there is no bargaining with Axe Capital, no negotiating. It’s the company’s terms or nothing. This is a lesson that’ll rise up again and again in this series, methinks.
Lara learns about June’s 9/11 memoir and promptly calls for back-up. She’s calling the Communications officer at Axe Capital, of course. Lara shows us again, it’s all about the numbers you have on speed dial. She called in a favor to get the wheels turning for Axelrod Hall in the last episode, she does it again here, and she’ll do it yet again later in this episode re June’s son admission to Stanford. Her special power is a Rolodex inlaid in gold (a byte size version, of course) and she knows how to use it.
Next, Bobby is in conference with the older guy from the pilot, Donny, the one who couldn’t see the matrix past Apple. Axe is tripling Donny’s stack, giving him more work, more accounts, more decision making power, more power to make more money. Donny’s a new star on Axe’s fantasy ’78 Yankees team (ie. if baseball had fantasy teams).
Now, speaking of leveraging, who refuses to do it (Axe), and who has no choice in the matter (Chuck), we cut to Chuck trying to horse trade with the District US Attorney’s office: Chuck wants to get the guy who’s ratting out Decker in exchange for “a couple of old goombahs throwing elbows over garbage pick-ups in Queens”.
We witness lots of frustration in Chuck’s office, rasping papers, endlessly ringing phones slammed down, grunts overcrowded in the cubicle bay under stifling low ceilings.
Kate intuites something afoot between Bryan and Ms. FBI. She sidles up to him and catches wind of the District holding tight to “Decker’s junior”. “You have all the leverage you need”, she says. “No such thing” Bryan says. Kate now has the name Decker in her head and she leaves to confer with her own gold-plated Rolodex.
Bobby is in conference with the YumTime board of directors. Wags affirms their demand, already officially stated in an “activist” letter, of a seat at the table and a say in management decisions.
I’m not here as a declaration of war, but a beacon of hope.
This idea of activist corporate raiding is a new one (to me). Unlike what we conventionally think of as corporate raiding, the goal of taking the activist position is not to rape a company, make a quick buck, cut and run, leaving a family-owned empire destitute. Thru his own experiences as a consumer of Scrumpets back in the day, and thru his own research, Bobby has learned of the company’s negligence and wastage. The board defers the deal to its chairman Purk. Axe is not deterred, he simply has more information now than when he started this thing. Namely, that a key member of YumTime’s board, Evelyn, is visibly perturbed by the dealings so far.
Well, apparently, Chuck Sr. has had his own interests in YumTime, namely, Evelyn, with whom he’s had a long-running affair. She shows him Axe’s activist letter. Chuck Sr. reads much between the lines. He determines that Axe knows about him and Evelyn and Axe’s move towards YumTime isn’t really about Scrumpets afterall.
Lara’s call to the Communications officer from Axe pans out, she gets June’s manuscript and a heads up about Chapter 10. In this scene, we also meet Lara’s kid sister, the chef in Lara’s restaurant. The woman’s got her gold rolodex and a sister who makes morel and asparagus beggar’s purses for her. Combine all that with the fact of one Bobby Axelrod in her bed, and you’d think we’d all hate her, right? Nope, not even a smidge. More on that later, probably.
Next we see Chuck stealing a juicy case away from one of his soldiers to give it to the District in exchange for Decker. More leveraging. The juicy case is the attempted bombing at the Statue of Liberty. (this was a real case, no? something to look up later) Parly? Wampum? Did Chuck just channel Jack Sparrow there for a bit? And, you see, just as Wags, speaking for Axe, asserted they will never be leveraged, the Leverage is the only weapon Chuck has, and will ever have I think.
Wendy, finally, seen over cocktails at home with an old (stunningly gorgeous) classmate from med school. Wendy confesses her desire to help the folks at Axe who come to her for help without judging them. Her friend wisely recommends triage: help those you can, cut the rest loose. And if that doesn’t work, leave. Ah, the thin line between HR and psychiatry when all your clients know each other.
Meanwhile, Wags is telling Bobby some details about Purk’s folksy midwestern ways. And if we didn’t know it already (which we did!), we do so now, electric blue is Damian’s color.
Back at Chuck’s office, the District office likes the Statue of Liberty bombing attempt case, and, in exchange, Bob’s your uncle, Chuck gets the Decker case. But the district wants Chuck’s old pal Spyros to tag along too. Paul Giamatti’s delivery in this scene is so darn funny. Poor confused SEC hack Spyros.
Bryan and FBI pick up Decker. And Lara seeks advice from the lawyer for Axe Capital re June, the authoress. He gets his zingers in, but Lara already has her arsenal full. Interestingly, I hadn’t heard the t-word since maybe 1988. It has been supplanted quick throughly by the c-word. Nice to hear Lara bringing back some old school. We then see Lara’s shots fired all over and around June.
Chuck has a sit-down with a lawyer-ed up Decker. Spyros, in his cheap cologne infused wisdom, brings up the Prisoner’s Dilemma (Damianista has probably already told you about this, so I won’t). Found this cute video cartoon-splaining it for the non academics among us. 😀 Seems like Axe and his guys occupy the mutual cooperation box of the game theory grid in this game: Decker doesn’t budge. But another round of Chuck vs. Spyros more than make up for any futility one may sense with this scene.
Bobby has his own sit-down, a folksy one at his old pizzeria with the folksy Purk. He waxes nostalgic about the Scrumpets of his youth and convinces Purk he only wants to make things better. Yes, we know the subtext is that this is Bobby’s roundabout intriguingly delicious way to stick it to Chuck. But, Damian also makes us believe Bobby just wants his Scrumpets back, dammit. The Scrumpets of his youth. And he’s got the money to do something about it, so why not? That is the whole point of having FU money, is it or is it not?
He truly is “different from the other children.” Do such men exist? Given what we know about the research the showrunners and Damian did, of course such men do exist. And maybe these are the real heros of our age? Axe is a man flush with power. But it’s worlds away from the sheer demonic asshole power you see in politics or mainstream big business. Neither is it a power manifest as bleeding heart self-righteousness and the compulsion to do good and make sure everyone sees him doing good. Axe holds his power closer than either of those extremes. He doesn’t need to show it to anyone actually. He simply projects his power out into the world silently like a fifth appendage. He projects his success out into the world rendering that success incontrovertible. He got his name on that building in “Naming Rights” not by simply signing a blank check for it. He got it ethically and justifiably. Likewise, he has taken over the reigns of YumTime not simply because he can. It’s kind of personal. He’s all about keeping things verace. True and real. At least superficially so.
Yet, how personal can these little victories be if he doesn’t really have anything to lose if they go wrong? He wants this move against YumTime to be a message to Chuck, but we still don’t know what is really at stake for Bobby. A question the answer to which this show is still guarding closely.
And isn’t it remarkable that everything Bobby has said so far has made unequivocal sense? He doesn’t have to bully anyone to see his way. Why? Because he’s always right! The only mistake he’s made, if it can be called that, is buying that house on the beach. Other than that slip, he’s simply gone about doing his business, speaking his mind when it suits him, and getting exactly everything he wants.
In the meeting with Purk, Bobby gives us the story of capitalism in a nutshell.
It’s classic, from time immemorial: Hutch I starts it, Hutch II grows it, Hutch III blows it. Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.
Bobby makes it to the board meeting with Purk and he says his piece, winning the day for sugar over corn syrup. And he bags another Dingdoodle and Kookoonuttie eating trust fund baby.
Next we see Wendy choosing who gets priority in her triage of the situation. She therapies Maria into standing firm, taking a stand, and leaving for greener, less assholey, pastures.
Lara puts the final screw into June by somehow getting her son off of the legacy acceptance list at Stanford. Now, that is cold. going at her through her kid. But, who knows, the kid may be just as unlikable as June is. Regardless, this viewer is still on Team Lara in this battle. Safety school: Eff U. HA!
Wags looks on longingly as Maria leaves. He’s a little little man, this Wags.
Kate, dressed to go to the opera, brings in some meat to Chuck’s camp. She found Decker’s Achilles Heel: his parents. In return, Chuck and Bryan invite her to ditch the opera and come on board the Get Axelrod by Getting Decker train.
June turns up at Lara’s door, thoroughly dragged and contrite. She tells Lara she has retracted Chapter 10 and offers to sign a non-disclosure agreement about its contents. Lara, ever prepared, just happens to have one printed out with a fresh pen right next to it ready to go.
Night has fallen, and Chuck and Wendy have the cattle prod out, but, much to Wendy’s frustration, Chuck has Axe on his mind. And soft butter pecan. As she leaves Chuck to “stew in it”, she checks in with Maria and offers her a hefty investment in her fund. Maria had vowed to not take any money from Axe, but Wendy has found a “doctor patient confidentiality in reverse” way to do just that. This is her way of punishing Axe for distracting her husband from the cattle prod play.
Night has fallen over at the Axelrod household as well. Bobby comes in from reading Harry Potter to the boys. (yes, Dolores Umbrage IS a bitch!) Do we spot some books on Bobby’s night stand? Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, okay, makes sense. Then Murakami? Well, the film (and book) The Big Short quoted Murakami, thereby giving the author some resonance in the world of finance, I guess. The quote was from Murakami’s novel “IQ84”:
Everyone, deep in their hearts, is waiting for the end of the world to come.
Whatever Robert Axelrod gleans from Murakami remains to be seen. But we do know (maybe?) that one of these things is not like the other. This isn’t the last we’ll see of Chapter 10.
We did see a lot in this episode. None of it as certain as the tale of two marriages. We saw both women firm in their convictions, but equally firm in their loyalty towards their men. Neither marriage has a hint of adversarial feeling within it. Such a rare thing to see on TV, I don’t quite know what to make of it. They aren’t perfect marriages, if such a thing even exists. What they seem to be is rock solid stable, ride or die, commitments, with each member of each partnership giving the other the space he and she need to shine, in whatever way they want to shine.
Wendy was great in all her work this episode, but Lara did tend to shine a bit brighter. All her hard work, finding just the right numbers at just the right time, is no easy task. So to her go the spoils of a day’s work well done.