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
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.
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 is..how 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.
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.
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.