Well, I give it to the Billions writers that Episode 5: The Good Life has an opening like no other: A No Trespassing sign exactly like in the opening scene of Citizen Kane!
Welcome to Citizen Axe’s Good Life!
We leave Axe at the end of Episode 4: Short Squeeze telling Wags to sell everything: Sell 5% of all positions across the board first and then sell sector by sector starting with Telecom.
And now we’re finding him on his Passoni bike, a hand crafted Italian beauty, cycling to Axe Hills, no less, to collect fresh eggs from the chickens. He suggests Tito to “franchise that fucking hen” with the double yolkers and trades his Passoni with Tito’s well-worn bike… But we already know Bobby “Axe” Axelrod is the man of the people, don’t we? 🙂 Axe brings the eggs, cooks “Grandma’s recipe” – his mom was a waitress – signature dish at Empire Diner, an iconic New York City institution, for family breakfast and makes an announcement: The new boat is coming Friday afternoon. What about a trip to Galapagos? Lara does not fall for the idea right away since mid-summer is a crazy time for her restaurant, but it seems some afternoon sex in the pool followed by lying on the lawn with her better half is quite persuasive. She is in! They will be free and say “fuck you” to gravity together.
As Lara needs to go to work, Axe will take doctor’s orders and watch Citizen Kane. If only Wags and Wendy and the FBI just leave the guy be 🙂
Wags calls Axe to ask if he is still sure about getting out of the game and Axe seems not to give a flying fuck about it. He just tells Wags to talk to their top investors about the company winding down. Wags tries to tell the PMs they are pruning slowly, but they do not see the strategy. Wags believes Axe is going through some “bullshit midlife meltdown” and needs Dr. Mojo’s “black magic.” Wendy advises Wags to make it REAL for Axe. It should be Axe, not Wags, talking to top investors.
Wags pays a visit to Axe as he is getting ready for his Citizen Kane screening. Wags’ reference to Xanadu, the fictional estate in the movie, is hilarious… and not so far from the truth.
However, their conversation is not as hilarious. Certain investors deserve a sit down with Axe, including Raul Gomez, NYC Police Pension Fund. It was a game changer for Axe Capital when they got their business back in the day.Wags is doing his best to make Axe FEEL it. But all he gets back is Axe saying they need to get out of telecom by tomorrow. Axe needs the REAL black magic. He NEEDS Dr. Mojo.
Axe seemingly takes the kids to Kiddyland (real life Playland in Rye, New York. The Dragon Coaster makes a cameo for a second!) and meets Hall at the shooting star only to learn that the guy he did not feel right about a few minutes ago is, in fact, an FBI agent on his tail. Hall says the US attorney’s office is either desperate or getting closer, and it may be a good time to disappear for a while. That’s exactly what Axe is planning to do.
Axe Capital is slowly but surely turning into The Lord of the Flies. Wendy suggests Wags it is time for one of his offsite team building exercises — how about Body Sushi at the joint strip? — as she drives her Porsche to Xanadu and into a very highly anticipated scene… We get to see Wendy and Lara together for the first time. I applaud Maggie Siff and Malin Akerman for fantastically portraying the awkwardness in their relationship: Their hug is seemingly warm but formal. They do some small talk that does not go anywhere. They are kind with each other but there is no real connection. They do not really like each other, do they? I am so glad that this episode’s writer is a woman: Heidi Schreck. I don’t want to sound sexist, but I think only a woman can express this awkward encounter between Lara and Wendy. SPOT ON! I can’t help but laugh when Lara says “Of course!” to Wendy’s “This is not fun. For any of us. You trust me on that, right?” I wonder if Wendy knows “Of course!” seems more of a “My ass!” in Lara’s dictionary. And, hey, remember we have no idea about Lara and Wendy’s history. Was Lara already an Axe girl friend when Wendy got into the picture after 9/11? Or was Wendy there when Lara got into the picture? What were their first impressions of each other? Hope we find more about their history as the season unfolds.
So, the man is in the screening room and Wendy seems to know her way around the Axelrod house! She takes a peek at the luggages — I count nine of them — this will not be very easy. But we all know it is the challenges of the job that turns Dr. Mojo on.
In contrast to Lara and Wendy, Axe and Wendy are so comfortable with each other. They, as Axe points out to Hall in the Pilot, have been “in the trenches” together for 15 years.Wendy has built Axe Capital as much as Axe has. However, given that Axe now knows the FBI is literally on his tail, he may not trust Wendy 100%. Wendy wants to know how long THIS ONE will take for him to come back. Axe says this one is different. He just feels there may be some other kind of life he could be living and will sail to Galapagos next week. Wendy does her best to make him FEEL it, too. He needs to talk to his people about shutting down. He owes them that respect.
As Axe is readying himself for a trip to Galapagos, Chuck is readying himself for a trip to Iowa!
After Pete Decker gives them “Dollar” Bill for Pepsum trade, the US attorney’s office is all over Bill. Devoted Father. Sunday School Teacher. Volunteer Fireman. And… luckily, a Hotel Rewards Junkie 🙂
Team Chuck finds out “Dollar” Bill has got proprietary information from a research scientist, Clayton Grunwald, in Des Moines, Iowa, about a drug called Vaccarazine that makes cows “shit better.” But they need to place Bill in Iowa. And they do — Bill, who is extremely cautious in going all cash during his trip, cannot help use his Silver Elite Card at Downtown Marriott not to lose on hotel rewards points. Wrong.
Bryan may be feeling extra content to catch Bill. Because, as Bill is doing his fishy business and making the big bucks, Bryan cannot get a new rental apartment just because he does not have a year’s rent in his bank account. Welcome to NYC real estate market! I still remember an an open house where they asked us if we had 6 times the selling price in our bank account… And you ask “who has THAT”? Many do in New York! Bryan may not have much money, but certainly has good friends. We learn Kate is coming from a wealthy family and she opts to be Bryan’s guarantor… which he declines.
Chuck tells Dale to find some woman for him: Martina Slowis. She used to live in Cobble Hill and is a Brooklyn Law dropout. Mark this name. Then he gets a visit from Mike Dimonda, the journalist from Financial Journal who broke the news about Steven Birch. He is now asking whether the US attorney’s office is investigating Axe Capital because there are rumors in town that Axe is closing the shop. Chuck doesn’t give Dimonda an answer but wants Kate to look into this through his “hedgie” friends. And as Bryan advises it may be that Axe wants to quit while at the top, Chuck delivers the line of the week: “Nobody quits while they are at the top. This is not France. It is America.” Priceless.
Chuck’s line makes me remember Damian Lewis talking about money at New Yorker Festival, in particular pointing out the cultural difference between Europe and America: “You continue to succeed and do well the more money you earn here…” So true. And it is, in fact, one of the major questions, I believe, Billions is addressing. Given that you have made much more than you will ever need, when do you stop? Or, do you ever stop?
While Axe is having tensions with Wags and Wendy because he’s absent, Chuck is having tensions with Bryan because he is present. Chuck’s plan to tag along with them to Iowa makes Bryan uncomfortable. He does not want to get out of line, but he does, and tells Chuck that he may want to, at some point, recuse himself from the Axe case. But Chuck is coming, seeing and conquering the cornfields of Iowa and beyond 🙂
Ah the tricks Chuck has up his sleeve to make the key witness sing… We learn Clayton Grunwald, the scientist, has a daughter with Cystic Fibrosis and Dollar Bill approached them to help with their huge medical bills in return for information about Vaccarazine. Clayton felt like he was talking to a friend and how much difference it could make after all. Well, the difference, my dear Clayton, is a little tiny $89 million! Chuck vows to keep Clayton out of prison until his daughter graduates from high school. Clayton signs the document saying he shared the confidential results of Pepsum GMO Vaccarazine corn trials with Bill a full 24 hours before it was made public and then learns the US attorney’s office will be in touch in a few weeks about his arraignment. Oh, and by the way, he needs a lawyer, too.
Bryan and Kate bond over a few drinks at the hotel, with Bryan taking a break to pay a short visit to Terri in the middle 🙂 We learn Kate has higher office aspirations that goes all the way to the White House. And she may consider Bryan for the attorney general position. Reading The Naval War of 1812 could be a prerequisite. Bryan gives in and accepts her offer to help him out as the guarantor. It is just a signature.
Chuck’s evening is more colorful than that of his team. He has dinner with the governor, and then casually checks out a website called kinkplayfinder.com in his hotel room and, lo and behold, we see him in his car in front of a BDSM club desperately calling Wendy to tell her he just cannot help it. Oh, so, THIS is not confined to their house. “Take me with you” she says. What happens in Iowa stays in Iowa. Sure. But there is so much juice for Hall in here that he can bath in it.
Conflict of interest is looming large for Chuck upon their return from Iowa. As Chuck and Bryan chat over their delicious Knishes from Yonah’s — yet another node to an iconic NYC institution that has been selling Knishes at their original place on Houston Street since 1890 — Chuck gets a call from Dale who is leading the FBI surveillance on Axelrod house telling him HIS WIFE has just arrived at Axe’s house! If this is not conflict of interest, WHAT IS? And it’s not just that but Mike Dimonda is on Chuck’s tail, too. He convinces Lonnie — remember the Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) from whom Chuck gets the Statue of Liberty case for Peter Decker horse trade with the Eastern District — to tell him the backstory about Axe Capital case and argues, in his article, Chuck is taking things slowly thanks to HUGE conflict of interest in his own home. Does Chuck have the balls to tell Wendy once again he is the one working for the public good and, yes, daddy’s job is more important than mummy’s?
Enough is enough for Chuck. He calls Wendy to make sure she is not in the office. The black magic Wendy has tried on Axe seems to have worked on her. She has taken her dancer legs to On the Town on Broadway to indulge in her first dream of being a famous Broadway dancer! So, Chuck arranges for an arrest warrant right away. He will deal with the domestic problem later.
Axe is meeting his NEW boat whose name gives this episode its title: The Good Life. The Good Life is tempting for him until he gets a text that brings him The Better Life 🙂 Chuck is right. This is not France. It’s America.
What did I tell you last week in my recap? “Axe squeezes in a secret meeting in Quebec City with his old friend Constantine, who has worked at Mundia Tel all his career, obviously a Telecom company. Konstantin gives a tip to Axe that he knows Axe would know what to do with. Axe tells Wags to start selling with Telecom. Oh no, he is not out. Yes, it’s a zero sum game. And Axe is there to kill and eat. And not be eaten.”
I have not believed even for a split second Axe was getting out of the game. Now that the big picture is out in the open, I am also buying into my partner Bookworm’s argument that the Metallica trip was just a cover for Axe’s meeting with Constantine.
Well, the King appears at Axe Capital seconds after Wags has his A-HA moment: CEO of Mundia Tel and office presidents in six countries have been caught cooking the books! And for some reason, I have saved this gif under GreekGod1.gif 😀
Holy Shit indeed. Yet, Axe’s smug is short-lived as his worst nightmare is coming to life at Axe Capital: Windbreakers. Axe may be thinking they are coming for him because he instructs Wags to call Orrin Bach, his lawyer, and Lara. Both Terri and Bryan are looking at him in the eye as they approach so I wonder if it is a moment of relief for Axe when they do not come directly to get him but turn left to get Bill. Bill knows what to do: “Lawyer.”
The nod between Bill and Axe pinpoints an understanding between them. I am not uncertain Bill will not give much away. They are tight. They are coming from the same place. From nothing. And, hey, it was Kelly AuCoin’s birthday yesterday so I just hope he had a much better day than Dollar Bill did last evening!
So, the King is back. He loves what he does. He lives and breathes what he does. THIS IS his good life. And in him we trust for having the last laugh and the best life 🙂