Billions ep 4 : Short Squeeze

But they are not the Me myself.
Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle,
Looks down, is erect, or bends an arm on an impalpable
certain rest,
Looking with side-curved head curious what will come next,
Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering
at it.           —-Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

Billions, episode 4, Short Squeeze set the bar for pacing and it set the bar for tension and for all that, the writer, Young Il Kim, deserves to be called out. Bravo, for finding that astounding sweet spot to so perfectly show the anxiety of Bobby Axelrod as he becomes a hunted man.

Witness the military precision as he gets out of bed to answer a call, his feet firmly on the ground. Axe has so many layers of insulation around him protecting him, that when he gets a call at the wee hour of morning he knows it’s going to be serious, and he is on his toes before even answering the phone. Or else, with all the data in his head at all times and a refusal to leave a paper trail for fear of entrapment, he’s just constantly vigilant, even in sleep.


We see in Short Squeeze, a Bobby Axelrod wound tight. Not tight like a fetal ball or a pretzel, but more like a twizzler, on tiptoe, sometimes leaning against a wall to keep from keeling over with the long lean tension of being a targeted man. And a guilty man. Bobby’s body doesn’t hold the same tension as Brody did, in his broken man trying to force his skin to hold together his brokenness one fleeting minute at a time. Bobby’s body is more like a spring, ready to pounce, ready for action, perpetually ready for self-preservation. He’s a survivor (something Brody was decidedly NOT). It’s in the camera shots and the direction and writing, this twisting thing, but it’s remarkably there in Damian’s body as well.

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In this episode, Bobby seems to be perpetually on the phone, perpetually getting some bad news, perpetually trying to put out the fire.

That inimitable New York-ese: “What the fuck transpired?” Axe is trying to help Danzig, the bloke we saw losing his mojo in the pilot: “what drives you doesn’t understand enough.” There’s an element of horror in the money, the numbers, and an element of horror that it could all be lost in the blink of an eye, in the idle motions of mindless deer eating, shitting, moving on. The scale of it all  doesn’t make sense to Danzig, and, for the first time, we see it lose some sense for Bobby too. But Bobby still has the wherewithall to know that they can’t let the horror of what they do in. They can’t give “a wedge to law enforcement, a way in”.

Cut to Decker spilling his guts to the US attorney: “what you need to know tight these guys are with each other.” Decker goes on with various florid metaphors on Bobby’s pervasive power and all-knowing reach: “While the rest of us are plugging away, ants, he sees the whole board.”

Axe catches wind of Metallica’s only North American gig, and, that very night books his jet, back stage passes, and a suite for his boys from the hood. What prompts Axe to reconnect with child hood friends we don’t learn, but it seems Axe has never really fallen out of touch with these guys he grew up with. They know each other and still talk to each other like they’re trading fisticuffs in each other’s basements in Yonkers. They seep nostalgia in the plane ride to Quebec, scoping the groupies backstage, and rocking out to Metallica. Midst all the big-ups, Axe is interrupted by word that someone is screwing with this short play on Cross Co. the trucking firm connected to YumTime. Did Bobby finnagle himself on to the board of YumTime and then turn around and bet on the failure of the trucking company contracted with YumTime?  It’s complicated. All Axe has to know is that there is “no paper” that says one is connected to the other.


Decker tells Chuck: information is like rain, it comes. Apparently to all sides, because, next we see Chuck Rhoades Sr. is getting an earful about Bobby’s short position on Cross Co trucking from a golf buddy. The golf buddy, Quince, apparently got the info from a British guy Farraday. It’s like a maze the route information goes in this series. This episode uniquely captured the dizzying nature of that maze. Like we know that Bobby’s friend eavesdropped, got wind of Cross Co, and ticked away at his phone right after. But was he the catalyst for Chuck Sr. getting wind? We don’t know for sure. That friend does seem to have some lingering issues with Axe: ‘You’re still reckless, you just mask it better; you still need to crush, not just win”

Suffice it to say, lots of calls are made, numbers fly up when they were expected to go down. The positions held by all are so huge, the stakes so high, it’s all really palpable in a way I don’t recall stock market drama ever being. Witness, if you please, the full body winding up, the New Yorker sturm and drang of it all, the eye rolls and the cursing and the hand motions. Like Damian traded in his very spine for Bobby’s.

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And in the midst of it all is Metallica, a quintessential American metal band, with songs of self-determination, of bored frustrated suburban kids sticking it to the Man. There’s an anthem running through this episode. An anthem of nostalgia, of the impossibilty of ever going back balanced by the danger of stepping into uncharted terrain.

The uncharted terrain is a girl, ripe for the picking, with eyes focused on Axe.

Don’t even get me started. Yes, I’m tired of the trope of a young piece of ass forcing a man approaching middle-age to re-examine his life choices. It’s been done, to death. While I appreciate the plot point that her mention of Citizen Kane, as anachronistic as all hell given her age, will lead Bobby to queue up the film in his screening room later (we think, given the preview), really, did she need to be so young and so obvious in her intentions? But even in these scenes when Bobby is being so ruthlessly flirted with, the twist in Damian body is still there.

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Apparently Bobby doesn’t wear a wedding ring, which may have given her pause, but, methinks probably not, and she would have jumped his bones regardless of any platinum on his left hand.

Now, the way this entire thing went down for Robert Axelrod is beautifully new and refreshing and unique: he said “Thanks, but no.” Don Draper, in the same situation, would have slapped down some cash, crushed his cigarette forcibly into the bar, helped her on with her wee sparkly rocker-girl jacket and led her elbow in hand to his room, with her most likely on her knees servicing him in the elevator on the way there. Tony Soprano? He would have led her back to some dank supply room behind the bar and had her on her hands and knees before you could say uncle. Noah Salloway, another one who can’t say no, would have had that girl somewhere in between the elevator and a dank room, but had her he would have. Alas, no, Robert Axelrod is not like the other children. Yes, men have a biological imperative to spread their seed for as long as they live and well past the time when their chosen mates have stopped reproducing. Prime time cable drama, particularly the sort written and produced by men, has made good out of that biological imperative for time immemorial. But, alas, Robert Axelrod is indeed not like the other children. And as a grown ass woman I feel it is my biological imperative to assert that this very fact about this character of Bobby Axelrod makes him infinitely hotter than all the others combined. Bravo to the male writing team who saw this equation as well. Maybe Bobby was distracted, maybe he’s super faithful and knows that the wife would kick his ass and take the kids, or maybe he just has better things to do with his mind, his body, and his time. I choose to put my money on the latter, because that is what renders him the hottest.

Eventually it all ends okay for Bobby, but not before he’s exhausted every play in his play book.




Even meditation doesn’t seem to do the trick and, with this episode we’ve witnessed a character transforming from a cock-sure peacock to a hunted animal. What happens next is anyone’s guess. I just hope the writer for this episode sticks around for more, this season and next.



19 thoughts on “Billions ep 4 : Short Squeeze”

  1. It’s official – you are in the mind of Mr. Robert Axelrod! This is simply brilliant. The way you describe Axe going from cock-sure peacock (that he really was) to a hunted animal (that he really turned into) is so spot on that makes me just crave crave crave Billions in my office right now – like I need another reason to re-watch the episode. I really loved Billions from Day 1, but this episode has been a turning point in the sense that I wanted to see Episode 5 right after even though this one was pretty pretty loaded and gave us so much to digest. We are in for a real treat with Billions and kudos to you, partner, for pointing us to the best of the best in the episode! By the way, I am wondering if the screening is for Citizen Kane or Rocky for 8th time 😀 And, hey, your note about Don Draper… LOL LOL LOL you just dislike that guy!!! Axe may have a hint of DD (he’s Brian Koppelman’s fav character along with Tony Soprano) in business, but no, not in personal life.

    1. We don’t know the film, do we? Hm. 🙂 We do know who he watches with! Sunday can’t come around fast enough!

      1. It would be so much fun it were Rocky, but I still think it would be Citizen Kane… but what does it mean to watch Kane now? He watches it because Elise recommended that? Seriously? Or maybe Wendy also recommended that time and again and he ignored so far… and now it’s the time to see it… Oh yes, Sunday can’t come around fast enough!

        1. Yes, I have a feeling his viewing partner has seen the film before. 😉 Okay, now I need to re-watch it again too. All because of rocker groupie girl Elise. Gah.

  2. He totally goes from predator to prey in this episode. It really shows the good(omg you flew out to see Metallica in a private jet with your friends????) to the bad(omg you had to grovel to someone you consider beneath you!!) I felt particularly bad that his friend double-crossed him like that. Like, went behind his back! It, of course, was the friend who was late, who obviously doesn’t respect the friendship like the others do. Bobby, you are better off for losing him.

    I appreciated Bobby’s dedication and loyalty to his wife. He rewards loyalty at work, and it seems like its a trait that he personally embodies at home, as well. Even with all his financial dirty deeds, and manipulation professionally….he’s got a pretty good moral compass in other places. It also shows that he sees the “whole board” in many instances. Sure, it would be a fun roll in the hay, but the cost? Not worth it!

    1. Hey there!
      Yes, Bobby doesn’t stick with losers. And, yes, his adherence to loyalty is thing of beauty. I made a gif of the scene when Elise first approaches him and he has that great “not just for the fuck of it” line, but forgot to get it into this blog. He’ll take risks, jump off cliffs, but not just for the fuck of it. He totally has sights on the big picture at all times. Chuck has to write it out board by board, but Axe keeps all his boards right up there in his head. This is yet another score where Robert Axelrod stands out from other male protagonists.

      1. That’s got to be incredibly taxing, to keep it all running in your head at once. His thoughts must look like the screens on the 24 hour news stations-with the things scrolling this way, that way, someone talking in the middle. Goodness. How stressful 🙁

        I am someone who is all about balance and peace, so I can’t even imagine. I am more of a “map it out ahead of me” and look at it, so I can see the big picture.

        1. When Decker was explaining about Bobby’s head and him seeing everything, I immediately thought of Charlie Crews’ conspiracy wall. That is what is going on inside Bobby’s head.

          1. Haha yes he has the entire wall in his head. It’s difficult to be Bobby Axelrod!

            I totally agree with you all regarding the direction the Danzig affair is taking. Hope he’s not up to a killing spree with his semi-automatic. No, he’s not taking it well. Not at all.

          2. Yes! And even more so. Not just a picture wall, but one with charts and graphs and historical trends and info on who used to work for whom and relationships between them. Bobby’s head is probably more like that rainbow wall Carrie created in her manic state: “My kingdom for a green pen!”

  3. Best episode yet and congratulations on your insightful review. Couple thoughts to add:

    Attempting to revisit our old friends and places yearning to recreate our childhood and the feeling of belonging frequently ends in disappointment and enhances our alienation.

    Danzig showed early symptoms of a depression a few weeks ago, Dr. Mojo treated him with a peptalk. In the last episode he became dangerous, serious symptoms of depersonalization and depression handled with a higher level peptalk. Question: are the writers planning for a major catastrophy in the plot line? Or did they miss a chance to educate the public that this type of behavior requires a psychiatric evaluation?

    1. Absolutely on point! I try to avoid spoilers like the plague for shows I care about, but the New Yorker piece on Damian had a pretty major spoiler about something tragic happening at Axe Capital later in the season. Whether it’s Danzig finally going full-blown postal or what, we don’t know. So, yep, you’re on to something for sure!

      1. I will be surprised if it is not Danzig. Agnes has it spot on.

        I felt that Bobby’s “don’t say a word to anyone” was a mistake. Danzig should have been right off to talk to Wendy and I feel Bobby should have picked up on it. Wendy is confidential so Danzig could have spoken to her without issue. Particularly in the last scene they caught him turning away in slow motion. That is not a man who has just taken well to being ignored.

        1. You know, since we’ve already seen Danzig’s meltdown, I have a feeling it won’t be him involved in the “major tragedy.” I’m expecting to be surprised 🙂 And have a feeling about who it’ll be, which I’ll keep to myself for now. 🙂

          I always say if all the fictional characters got themselves to therapy in time, we’d never have anything to read or watch. This point came up with Brody too…why was he not REQUIRED to get some treatment for PTSD? No story, or at least not nearly the same story, if he did, that’s why. 🙂

          1. I have to confess I have someone in mind and I have the story all written in my mind, too. Can we somehow tell it to a neutral referee and then do all the “I knew it” ritual when it happens? I am all about pissing contests now that I am addicted to this show!

          2. HA!!! Yes, we do love to slap the “I knew it” ace of spades down on the card table don’t we. HAHA! I think I may have mentioned my guess in one of our offline/online discussions. Just didn’t want to ruin the surprise for our readers here. Because, you know, my guess is the one that’s going to be right. :D:D:D:D

          3. Oh we LOVE it. I just LOVED it when we did it for Elise. My husband may keep saying I am jealous of her, and I can still tell her, take it, lady 🙂
            We talk so much I may have missed your guess. Hahaha yes don’t ruin the surprise 😀 😀 😀

  4. I love the delving into the way Bobby holds himself/moves. I really like the observation that “it is like Damian traded in his spine for Bobby’s”. Just wow. It really does make a refreshing change to have a character not jumping on the chance to cheat on their spouse and I appreciate the way you pull no punches on how tv has exploited that.

    The description of Bobby as going from peacock to an animal being hunted is excellent. I also love that we are now calling him Robert Axelrod. It just sounds so good.

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