Billions ep 5 – The Good Life: Tete a Tete Sur L’Herbe

imageedit_4_8000993631Five episodes into Billions, and I’m thinking that instead of repeating a recap of the episode, already so expertly done by Damianista mere hours after the episode airs, I’ll keep these Wednesday posts to the facets I enjoy the most in any drama: the psychology and emotional reality behind the story.

We’re getting to know all characters more deeply, none more so than Robert Axelrod. Gotta say he was a bit of an ass in this episode, keeping all his most loyal confidantes out of the loop on the facts behind his supposed closing of the shop. Remember how he showed Lara his phone screen when Birch got bit at the fundraiser? And how Wags was always in on every single move Axe ever pulled?  Well, there’s no sharing of the screen here and Wags gets the brush off too, even as he’s imploring Axe with a deeply felt “Come on, you can tell me” in their one on one in the media room in Axe’s Xanadu.

Similarly, we’ve seen Wendy Rhodes as the onsite shrink at Axe Capital in the know on a lot of the company secrets. But when she tries to reach out and present a convincing “We’re all looking for our authentic selves” in order to get Axe to share and open up, she gets shut down. She’s got professional insight, albeit apparently fed by the Tuesday science section of the NYT, that mid- life crisis is not bullshit:

For most of human history, we would’ve been dead by now, we get to this age and think “What the fuck am I still doing here?” It’s disorienting.

Hear, hear,  Dr. Rhodes. But all she gets in return from Bobby is “You have nice legs.” What is Axe playing at here? This isn’t the Axe of the prior episodes, but it’s not a complete non sequitur either. He’s shielding himself from something; in self-preservation mode.

As for the other half of the story, Chuck Rhodes’ US Attorney’s office. All I got is how fun that the DA’s office needs a journalist to give them the scoop on the fact that one of their targets is pulling money out of the market. Surveillance, shermailance, if they can’t get that basic info before the journalists get it. And the journalist, Dimonda? Nice to see him back. I like this kid! Chuck quips about this not being France and how Americans think noblesse oblige is a new entree at Olive Garden. HA! And, okay, let’s talk about other juxtapositions. Both Axe and Chuck visit farms! Axe to get the eggs for his hand crafted French toast, and Chuck to put the screws to an Iowa farmer.

How schmucky of Chuck’s office to harass a poor Iowa research scientist farmer with a child needing medical care for cystic fibrosis? Chuck shows no qualms in bringing a man at the mercy of market forces beyond his control, to his knees. Really, law and order, why must you be so blind to humanity?

And par for the course, this show does have the tendency to throw a curveball every time. I did really think Bobby would stay out of the game for longer than one episode. But, here we go: we see the boat and the trip to Galapagos planned to take the family, take Axe, out of play, released, free. Bobby can taste the freedom, briefly. Alas, the siren call to make even more money, to win even more plays, to budget even more freedom, even if that freedom remains elusive,  brings him right back to his desk.



The trip to Galapagos is off at the end, I imagine. In which case,  I’m not sure I would like being his wife or his kids. In this episode we see Axe behave as if it’s his world and everything else revolves around him. Sure he apologized to Lara, but, still, this constant threat of family upheaval Bobby brings to Lara: Bags packed ready to go, kids home from school ready to fly to summer adventure, and then last minute cancellations. No way to live, Axelrod family!


But, lucky for him, Lara knows Bobby. She anticipates his big dreams, expects his big plans, and trusts that ultimately he’ll pull it all together. An admirable trait in Lara, her infallible belief in her man. I’ve said it before and it’s worth repeating, this show, unlike any other, is about working marriages. She loves him, he turns her on, he satisfies her, he’s the father of her children, and, therefore, she hides his secrets, supports his endeavors, whatever they may be. Ride or die, baby. And she does this all without once appearing like a doormat, like a weak woman perpetually taken advantage of. Even if Bobby IS being an ass, taking her for granted, she knows the score and deals with it, even-handedly.


Lara and Bobby’s tete a tete sur l’herbe harkened back to the vision of Paul Reynolds amidst various nubile bare-breasted maidens sprawling on vast lawns in the BBC drama Friends and Crocodiles. Damian played Paul, a wealthy dilettante, a creative genius without a practical bone in his body. It was a wonderfully rich theme, the idea of natural brilliance wasted on lack of discipline and structure, a theme which unfortunately didn’t really take off in the film. You only really got the full import of it all when you heard the director talking about what he had attempted to do. Nonetheless, similar to the images in that piece, the picture of Bobby and Lara sur l’herbe was idyllic. You could practically smell the pool, the sex, and the fresh mown grass, all perfectly. And Bobby, the lord over all.


Given all the torment Axe so pointedly and gleefully brought to various trust fund babies in previous episodes, how perfect is it to now know that Kate in the US Attorney’s office is a trust fund baby too. But, Kate, much like Axe, is not like the other children.

Kate is a trust fund baby with eyes on the White House. She has meticulously planned it all out. You can almost imagine the timeline printed out and pinned to the wall behind the power suits hanging in the closet of her understated, comfortable, but not too spendy, Manhattan (or perhaps Brooklyn to save on the commute?) apartment. We learn that when everyone else was partying at school and learning about air hockey, foozball and quarters, she was studying, preparing for her future from the get-go. Great line she has this episode about the picture of Clinton as a smiling boy shaking hands with Kennedy.


Indeed, only the ones who think for the future can have any visibility into the future. Planning is half the game, as far as Kate is concerned. To date, she’s lived her life effectively curbing all impulses that may interfere with her long play.

Kate’s interest in Bryan is all kinds of cute, and I foresee many more moments of “will they won’t they” goodness as they traverse each others’ orbit, each with other partners or not. Bryan is “with” Terri, the FBI gal, but, as we learn in this episode, they aren’t really cuddlers. I foresee Kate having a guy friend later too, if not this season, then maybe next, with Bryan looking on as she and her guy leave the room together. In this case, I don’t care if I can already anticipate it, I LOVE that kind of stuff, predictable or no!! Will the little tingles she’s feeling for Bryan hold her back in her career trajectory? I doubt it. But, this episode sure did lay down some fun ground work on that question.

With Kate ,we got a nice trim picture of one view into the nature of ambition. Kate clearly seems to have had a secure, comfortable upbringing, loving parents, wealthy enough to fund her ambitions. She had the perfect foundation for laying back, taking it easy off her parents’ money like the other trust fund kids we’ve seen in this show. Instead, for Kate, the rock-solid strength of her foundation served as a stepping stone (as most well-to-do parents hope it does) for her to push herself forward into higher and higher roles in society. From a grunt in the US Attorney’s office, she sees a route to the Governship, the Senate, and, why the hell not, to the White House. She will not be an intern or Secretary of State; this is a woman who will be President of the United States.

Let’s examine as a counterpoint, Robert Axelrod’s foundation. He went to Hofstra, a safety school if ever there was one. We know he earned a much needed $16 a day working as a caddy. We know he ate pizza at a particular pizza joint in Yonkers and that he had a paper route as a kid. The words we’ve heard so far describing his upbringing paint a great picture, but I really hope the camera takes us back there too at some point. I really want to see a glimpse of the “nothing” he came from.

Suffice it to say, Axe probably worked just as hard as Kate did in school. Do you see Axe being a party-er, a spoiled-brat frat boy? No, not so much, right? He probably worked very hard. No one can have the head for numbers he exhibits in this episode without paying attention in class.


Okay, the scene with the Policeman’s Pension Fund: The fact that this investor was one of Bobby’s first big investors rung some disturbing bells. And when Bobby said “What a great day that was” was he calling back to June’s elusive Chapter 10 about 9/12/2001. Was that a great day for Bobby? One shudders to think. (and one can’t freaking wait to find out)

Indeed, Bobby went to the school he had to go to and, like Kate, he probably made all the right choices too, including marrying a girl from the block, it seems. (eventhough it may be that Lara and Bobby met and married after he was already a made guy in the financial game, as it were) He hasn’t taken anything he has for granted. He works, he acquires, he works some more. Rinse and repeat. And, to him, the work he’s doing, operating on information gotten from nefarious channels, is kosher. I don’t sense him trying to get away with something he knows he doesn’t deserve. I see a man knowing how to work the system, to squeeze results out of information. A man who is doing what everyone else with half a brain would do. He knows that the law is against him, but, to him, that’s the law’s problem, not his.


Yet still, even with that grand Hamptons house, even with the perfect wife and kids, a personal chef, and the ability to jet off to Quebec for a Metallica concert or the Galapagos at a moment’s notice, even with all the material wealth he’s gained, Bobby is still compelled by something deep inside him, the part that lives in glaring absence of the firm rock-solid foundation that Kate had. Bobby’s upbringing compells him to ask “How did I get here; Where else could I be?” In Axe, we see the function of class in America, hell, the very function that created America in the first place, that when the foundation has cracks, ambition built from that foundation is bound to morph into a perpetual hunger. A hunger that is perpetually insatiable. The dream perpetually deferred.

Don’t get me wrong, Kate has a hunger too. And something to prove, no doubt, as an African American woman. Whereas Robert Axelrod is a white male with a full head of hair, and, as such, the sky’s the limit (wanted to link to Jack Donaghy saying that very thing, but YouTube failed me). Yet, still, this is about familial foundation, nurture vs (superficial) nature, leading to a qualitative difference in that hunger between Kate and Axe.

Now, for my requisitely predictable fangrl gushing love: In Bobby Axelrod, you see Damian with a center of gravity missing in other actors. So many actors, including some on this show, take the words they are given at face value. They deliver the script with passion and expression to the best of their ability. But they don’t take the extra step of transforming the script. What Damian does is re-imagine the script, he absorbs it, cogitates over it, chews on it, before letting it out. He exhibits this incredible capacity to pull it in, draw the emotion driving his character close, almost physically close. Imagine, if you will, Damian holding Bobby to his chest. He holds him there and releases him softly and carefully (ie, care, but not in any conscious way) in soft direct increments. So that you’re not overwhelmed by this foreign being in your vision, this Bobby Axelrod. This character of Bobby Axelrod has been processed and released into the wild by an deft professional, skilled in body and mind (but, again, not in any pre-cogitated or “planned” way). I must emphasize, there is no conscious re-invention going on here. Damian isn’t re-writing the script. He is, in fact, taking the elements of the script he needs to create this man, and leaving the rest that he doesn’t find useful. And me, I tend to think about the delta between what he’s presenting and what was on the page for him to present; I see that delta he must see, and it’s a beautiful thing. But, I’m a rabid fan, so, go ahead, take what I say with a grain of salt.

Now excuse me while I reach into my own golden rolodex to find the number of a sculptor friend to whom I can send these images, as a model for a statue I would forever be satiated to see on the lawn of my fictional grand Hamptons estate. The statue would need to capture the constellations of freckles, in their fiery heat, and the cerulean blue of the eyes, but my sculptor friend is really good, and she may just be able to pull it off.



12 thoughts on “Billions ep 5 – The Good Life: Tete a Tete Sur L’Herbe”

  1. Very nice report, but what I like the most is the beautiful Damian, shirtless, I love many freckles that cover his body, I love it!
    It is still a special feature of Damian, making it, he is different from all other men!
    That’s all that we love him so much!

  2. Wonderful blog! You do it again and get into the mind of Bobby Axelrod in which I find the most FUN. Believe me, not even the freckles bring me that much fun. I find your comparison between Bobby and Kate fascinating. I really think there is someone with potential to be the POTUS in the US attorney’s office. And guess what it’s not Chuck 😀

    I am sure, we will think and talk and write about Damian transforming himself into Bobby Axelrod time and again, but what you give us as a rabid fan – LOVE the description – in this post is so spot on! I have been expecting Axe to be more of an “at your face” character compared to Brody, and he is; however, there are little moments that Damian once again holds on to his guns, and tells a million words with one look. That look outside the plane window in Episode 4 on their way back to NY: Lewisto says that look, coupled with his “I’m the King” look on the lawn as Lara is leaving, deserves an Emmy and I second him!

    When you call your sculptor friend, make it two, maybe she will give us a discount 🙂

  3. Great analysis. I love that we get the plot recap, and now the social/interpersonal recap. Fun ways to analyze the same thing.

    I love Damian’s approach to his roles. He absorbs all he can, knowledge-wise, and uses it to create a character. I appreciate his dedication to his craft.

    ps: make it three-order in bulk!

    1. Consummate dedication.
      In fact, TBkWrm’s comment below this makes me think that maybe my sculptor friend is Damian, himself.

  4. Ahem, rising to 4!

    Wonderful blog, JaniaJania. That is a fantastic spot about Bobby and Kate. Kate certainly leaves no ambition on the table. I think you are correct in saying she probably does have it all mapped out at home, I do think Bryan has the potential to interfere with that plan be it this season or next.
    You did quite well at sculpting yourself – I am referring to that wonderful picture you weave of Damian transforming himself into Bobby.

        1. No Costco for this work of art. Nothing generic about Robert Axelrod! Eventually, down the line, perhaps, as he supplants all need for Cupids or Venuses or garden gnomes, he may end up in gardening sections around the globe. For now, he’ll stay just between us. 😀

  5. Love your blog
    Can’t read enough your analysis, and can’t see enough Damian
    I especially appreciate your description of Damian’s performance,

    That is exactly how I feel, his acting really works of art

    1. Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words! Love meeting the Damian needs of fellow Damian enthusiasts. 😀

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