The King is back. He loves what he does. He, in fact, lives and breathes what he does. Real or not, he tries his hand a bit in having the good life — collecting fresh eggs in the morning, quality time with wife and kids, prospect of getting on his new boat and sailing to Galapagos… And maybe, just maybe, there is really a moment where he thinks there could be another life he could be living.
But the fact is Axe Capital is where the good life is for Axe.
Maybe not the perfect life as the smug on his face is gone the moment he comes eye to eye with the Windbreakers raiding Axe Capital to get to “Dollar” Bill… But it must be something about the game that he just cannot give up… Axe advises Danzig after his “deer shooting” spree: “What drives you does not understand enough.” It’s obvious what drives Axe does not understand enough, either. Is it the adrenaline? Is it the sweet feeling of winning? What drives Axe?
Damian Lewis tells NPR’s Marketplace that the hedgefund guys are “taking risks that others aren’t prepared to take…And in many ways they are (underdogs) because they’re betting against the market and they’re in the minority. But I think what was interesting mostly is that even though it’s a nice metaphor to think of Wall Street as just a big casino where the odds are set by the house and the house is Wall Street.” He also points out, in a Billions promo, that the hedgies he met to prepare for the role are a particular psychological type. They think “I think I’m right, nobody else has seen it, and I will back myself up to do this.” This is not necessarily a pathological type, but some particular type that is driven by risk-taking, adrenaline flowing and winning. Always winning. He LOVES it, and will not allow Chuck Rhoades “just walk around, using rumor and hearsay and destroy lives and businesses.”
Si vis pacem, para bellum. If you want peace, prepare for war. Those Romans were damn smart.
Episode 6 The Deal starts in a spa pool of all places with Hall courting Wendy there to meet Axe. Naked.
Axe: “It’s been a weird couple of days.” We’re going back 72 hours in time.
At General Chuck’s Headquarters:
War drums are rolling in General Chuck’s headquarters — Bryan can insert a General Tso’s chicken joke here! It is good to see Dollar Bill is not tied to a rack and being stretched until he sells out Axe. Still, Chuck and Bryan are grilling him with Orrin Bach, Mr. 1K an hour, sitting in as Bill’s lawyer. Axe is not taking any risks. Bill is taking no deal. Moreover, Bach advises their case does not have merit. Bill has made good friends with a farmer, and been moved by his sick child that he helped with transportation and medical care for her. No jury of citizens would think of this as constituting an illegal benefit. Bach’s argument seems compelling to Chuck that he is all over his team to get Dollar Bill. And he assures Bryan this will not end in a fine and a family office. Axe is no Steven Birch. Chuck vows to beat the 14 years Skilling got for Enron.
Bill’s weak point is owning two identical minivans: “Nobody has two minivans.” Team Chuck is ready to twist a knife in this: Bill has a second family! Chuck and Bryan have a hard time containing themselves as they tell Bill about their big discovery, but the guy does just press the “send” button to share the email he prepared a day before with his wife: The whole story about his second life. Chuck is amazed that Bill is blowing up his family for Axe. Yes, Bill may be Keyser Soze – a great shout out to The Usual Suspects – arguably the best villain ever. And, Sandy, his wife, along with the email, receives a basket of muffins along with enough cash from Lara to cover their mortgage, property tax, insurance, and school tuition.
Bryan’s disgust for Axe is quite amazing. The way he calls him a “filthy money pig” sounds way personal to me and even makes Orrin Bach remind him: “You know you just work here, right?” I just have got this impulsive hunch — which is probably wrong — that Bryan may have something personal against Axe. Or, he just hates rich people. Except for one certain trust fund baby 🙂
Things do not go as planned for Chuck. It’s not just the frustration with Bill, but also Adam from Attorney General’s office says the “the maestro” is not very happy with Chuck’s involvement in this case. Adam pushes “conflict of interest” as a problem; however, the real reason seems to be that it’s election year and, hey, the administration needs Wall Street money for the campaign. Politics. Finance. Law. Going hand in hand in the United States of America.
Home front is not much different, either. It’s not just Wendy asking Chuck to recuse himself from the case but it’s also his dad — who celebrates the good news Garth Sykes is now dumping Axe Capital for Vista Verde crowning Ken Malverle as the Highlander — pushing him to have a plea deal with Axe rather than a conviction which could take years. I am telling you. That gubernatorial campaign will happen in Chuck Sr’s lifetime 🙂
At King Axe’s Headquarters:
The King, standing on a file cabinet is giving a history lecture. Bill’s arrest is Axe Capital’s Pearl Harbor and Chuck will regret what he has done. The king is determined to “mobilize the war machine. “And those that are trying to bring down our house… will see their houses fall.” And he tells Wags to liquidate 2% of the fund to make their war chest!
Things do not go as planned for Axe, either. Both Wags and his lawyer are slowly but surely embracing the idea of turning Axe Capital into a “killer” family office. Wags says it’s no problem downsizing the staff, he cannot stand half of them anyway. But Axe does not want to be another rich dick playing the market with his own money even if, in Wags’ words, he will be the biggest dick. He is not taking his lawyer’s advise, either. He does not want the best deal Bach could put together for him. He will not give a win to the guy who cannot even take him to trial. What Axe needs right now is some public endorsement. If only one of the big guys, say Lawrence Boyd of Spartan-Ivers, who would never bet on a bad stock, has him at a game or at his box at Barclays Center. Wags sends Boyd a bottle of Chateau Latour ’61 and picks up his dinner courtesy of Bobby Axelrod. Axe will get into the healing waters of Lourdes at Barclays Center.
Wendy also openly tells Axe: “Open war is not good.” He is sarcastic with her: “For who?” “For noone.” Wendy obviously sees Axe more like a wounded animal on that file cabinet than a real king ordering his troops to live free or die… And she once again reminds me of Thomas Cromwell, in particular the first ever conversation he and Henry have in Wolf Hall.
Henry: “You said, in Parliament, in a speech, some six years ago, that I could not afford a war.”
Cromwell: “Wars are not affordable things.”
Henry: “When I went into France, I captured the town of Therouanne which you called…”
Cromwell: “A dog hole, majesty?”
Henry: “How could you say so?”
Cromwell: “I’ve been there…”
Henry: “So have I, at the head of an army! You told me I could not lead my own troops. You told me if I was taken prisoner, the ransom would bankrupt the country. So what do you want? You want a king to huddle indoors like a sick girl?”
Cromwell: “That would be ideal, for fiscal purposes.”
I have said it before and will say it again. Wendy is a modern day Cromwell! And she will find a way to have these guys kiss and make up one way or the other… if only Axe lets her…
The king is restless. He cannot meditate. He risks a blow on his Achilles as he is blowing steam on Jacob’s Ladder and getting paranoid about Wendy. His entering into her office without a knock to ask about why she did take 250K out of the fund (remember Wendy investing 250K with Saldana after her move to Zenobia Capital?) is way out of line. Knowing THIS will get only worse before it gets better, Wendy needs to take things into her own hands!
Wendy, still pissed off with Chuck for having Bill arrested in her absence, is still ready to open “the book on Axe” to her husband. She tells him Axe needs to at least have a small win in every endeavor, every exchange. And if he can’t get THAT, he plays a different game, a game whose rules are unknown. He may get out of it with a loss but makes the other side suffer even more: “Axe comes from nothing. So he unconsciously fears, no, he may even expect, that he’ll have nothing again.”
Ha! This is typical new money, isn’t it? I wrote about this in my first Bobby Axelrod sketch; and it seems apt to revisit: Old money has been there for generations, and because they have been able to keep the wealth in the family for generations, they feel secure and confident about their status in the society even though there is always a possibility that they lose it all. Even when they lose the money, it takes time for them to lose status. Status is sticky! NEW MONEY, on the contrary, is always on the fence about losing. Because they know how hard it is to climb the socioeconomic ladder, they can do whatever it takes to protect what they have. NEW MONEY is anxious, NEW MONEY can be ruthless, and Bobby is exactly THAT. He can get completely merciless when wounded — an “Axe” in every meaning of the word!
Chuck does not seem eager to play with THAT Axe. He feels he may just go ahead with a plea deal rather than hope for “12 random crazy people” to decide his way. It’s Bryan’s turn to get pissed now. He just needs a bit of time to make this a guillotine for Axe. Chuck was talking about the rack for Bill and now Bryan is talking about the guillotine for Axe. What is wrong with you, people? 🙂
Home front is not different for Axe, either. Lara is a card carrying member of Team Peace!
Lara does not give a shit about Chuck Rhoades (she’d better do). Her reasoning is simple. Their status depends on what they have which is always the case with new money. And Axelrods, even before anything has really happened, seem to be in trouble already with their status… well at least, in kids’ birthday parties! Dean and Gordie got uninvited to Bancroft twins’ party. What the fuck? Who does THAT to kids? Besides, I believe Bancrofts are acting a bit too fast on information, and it may (read “will”) come back and haunt them in the near future. We all know Axe NEVER forgets. Remember 16!
It seems Chuck is right when he tells Axe “they may be cheering now, but they are dying to boo.” Axe finds no miracle in the healing waters of Barclays other than a room of 20 year old “dipshits.” It is mailroom night. This major blow makes Axe reconsider “getting on bended knee and pledge fealty to the king.” And not being able to get into the healing waters of Lourdes, he tries his chances with the healing powers of Dr. Mojo… which brings us back to the spa pool where Axe tells Wendy they are sitting there like that (read “naked”) so no one but the two of them is listening.
Now the creepy part: Before he meets with Wendy Axe has a conversation with Hall about ways to compromise Chuck. The easiest way is use the conflict of interest against him. They can show Wendy as being involved in fraud or as having an affair with Bill, or even with Axe. What the fuck? Axe does not say no. He just says he’ll let Hall know. So we have no idea if Hall was there taking pictures in the spa pool as Wendy is telling Axe why she is staying at Axe Capital. She put him back together after 9/11 and she feels she has built the company as much as he did. She has found meaning in it. She still does. And, as Axe is smiling at Wendy, and telling her that he is going to make a deal, I am just thinking: Is this genuine, or is he posing for pictures? Can you imagine these pictures as Breaking News? OMG.
I am just hoping Billions has just thrown us another curveball and no picture from this meeting will ever see the day of light!
Axe and Chuck are in the same room for the first time since their “Fuck You Money” conversation at Delivering Alpha conference. In an interview with Elle Magazine, Billions costume designer Eric Daman says “when Axe does wear a suit, it’s like a punch to the face.” Not just to the face, I’d say. To the stomach, too. SIGH. Axe is looking terrific in his Cifonelli pinstripe.
And he has the check ready: Biggest “insider fee” to be ever paid. He will turn Axe Capital into a family office and Axe Capital will plead guilty for conspiracy.
As Axe and Wags chat about the fine not being a shark bite, not being a bee sting, not even a horsefly, and maybe a red ant that cannot ruin the picnic, Chuck brings out his game theory playbook: We see another perfect textbook “signaling game.” Axe is a man that has constantly said he would never settle. He should not agree to settle to signal he has nothing to hide. So, if Axe says he is not settling, he signals he is innocent, but if he settles he signals he is guilty. This is not cheap talk at all. Axe taints his public image by agreeing to settle. So, no family office for Axe. He will not be able to manage even his own money. Chuck does this deliberately knowing Axe will not agree to it and he can now tell others he tried a plea deal but it did not work out. Chuck is determined to take the case further and put Axe in a cell. Why Axe? Nobody knows. What we know though is that whatever drives Chuck does not understand enough, either.
Last straw for Axe. Here’s to the paper wars!
Axe is in that room “to do the right thing for all.” Leaving that room, he probably does not feel like someone else anymore. He seems to FEEL IT again as he drives his Rolls Royce (Bentley) convertible like crazy on Henry Hudson Parkway to home in Connecticut. He may seemingly have lost this one battle, but he is there to win the war. And as Wendy points out to Chuck earlier, he’s most likely ahead of Chuck. He will play his OWN game with unknown rules.
Chuck, for the good of his marriage, recuses himself from the case and has some good sex with his wife. Then he walks the dog and secretly meets Bryan who is now running the case! Chuck is “out of the game” exactly like Axe was out in Episode 5 The Good Life. Bottomline: This isn’t France. It’s America. Nobody quits while they are at the top. As Metallica sings “Master of Puppets” Chuck seems to be ready to pull the strings behind the scenes.
Billion Dollar Question: Will Bryan obey his master?