This episode halfway thru the season opens with a scene I didn’t expect to see until series end. That’s where we start and that’s where we’re taken, into an episode that feels like a season finale. I’ll get to that starting scene in a bit. First, we must draw all hands to deck, look up and witness the King. Axe climbs up on office furniture, his head nearly grazing the dropped ceiling, and he gives his troops a war speech worthy of Patton.
Yesterday we came under attack from an unscrupulous adversary…
Unblinking, unflinching, determined righteous passion. Despite the zeal, Damian somehow keeps the speech from being over the top. It’s a rapid spitfire rallying speech, then, just as rapidly, Damian draws the energy he just exerted right back in. It’s this masterful balance between release and stillness, between exertion and absorption. Wendy watches from the sidelines and she feels the rawness too. Witness her halted breathing, and the decidedly dilated pupils watching Axe on stage, then the averted gaze as he descends and walks past her, spent. I’m making this all sound vaguely sexual aren’t I. Well, probably because it IS.
Meanwhile Dollar Bill Stearn is sitting in the cooler, saying nothing. In fact, the only thing he does finally say via his lawyer is that he does not recognize the authority of the Office of the State’s Attorney. Snap. Eventually, the paper trails Bryan and Kate and the FBI have been chasing lead to the revelation that Dollar Bill Stearn is a man with two minivans, which in turn shines light on his precarious position of having two homes, two families, kids with baseball schedules helpfully staggered over the season. He’s caught, tied to insider training for Pepsum Pharm, which ties up Axe too, if only Bill would spill about how involved Axe was in the deal. Our man Stearn stands firm, and he doesn’t give up any info on Axe. Instead, he blows up both his families Keyser Soze style. “I’m Keyser Soze mother fucker” is a line that surely demands pause from the most staunch defender of truth, justice and the American way. But – you see how a maniac guilty of filicide is referenced in this story as a badass? It’s not just a great line. It’s a comment on the ethics of the entire game being played here.
We saw Bobby standing tall rallying the troops, but from then on, we see him repeatedly slouched over, sort of scrunched inward. Damian, again, bringing his body into the psychology of this character. Bobby is closing ranks, closing in on himself, in self-preservation mode.
Okay, letting my geek girl flag fly here, does the Wendy Rhodes character remind anyone else of Deanna Troi? Thoughtfully observing all, always the first to have the Captain’s ear. When the single crew member capable of empathically reading all human interaction has something to say, the Captain listens. And so it goes with Wendy and Bobby. So far.
Queen Lara takes muffins to Mrs. Stearn. And some cold hard cash. They take care of their own where Lara is from. And protect their own asses in the bargain, of course.
We learn from the Rhodes that the Tiawanese are now doing Scotch better than the Scots. Chuck feigns contrition at raiding Wendy’s place of employment. The only thing really certain about Chuck Rhodes’ psychology is a deep-seated need to prove himself, to his father, to his wife, to the State of New York, and beyond. With Wendy, Chuck operates with the idea that it’s better to apologize after the fact, than to ask for permission before. A handy philosophy, no doubt. Wendy wants Chuck to punt the case against Axe for her sake, for the sake of her job. They both love what they do, it’s tough.
Bobby can’t meditate (who the heck CAN? Not I!). So he decides to blow out his Achilles tendon on a stair master. Before nearly killing himself, Bobby rushes over to Wendy’s office, wondering about the $250K she recently withdrew from the fund. Are employees obligated to invest a certain amount in the fund they work for? At the very least, in the offices of Axe Capital, the amount employees do invest seems to be transparent, all the way up to the eyes of the CEO. (recall that Wendy gave the $250K bit of loot to Saldana as an investment for the fund she left Axe to join) Bobby is not just asking about the money, he’s asking about Wendy’s loyalty to him, her fealty to the King who signs her paycheck. Bobby is all hopped up from the exercising and sweaty. Wendy tells him she’s not a shuttlecock to be knocked about. Then she drives home her analysis of the game:
You two just sniffed each other one day and figured out you didn’t like the smell. So now you think you have to do this thing, and you don’t. You don’t have to do it.
Bobby finally makes it to the shower.
And then he gets dressed.
All while asserting his position to his lawyer, Orrin Bach. Everyone is telling Bobby to fold and take the loss. His refusals border on petulance, but does he have a point? Like I said before, it seems that for Axe and his minions, the fact that what they do is against the law is incidental to the fact etched much more deeply into their very souls: the law is the problem, not their refusal to work within its boundaries. How dare the law even establish such boundaries? They’re just a bunch of boys, working hard, trying to make a buck. Who are they hurting? The Libertarian “Don’t Tread on Me” creed personified.
Speaking of the politics of the thing: Bach, in an exchange with Bryan, talks of guys playing both sides depending on election cycles, funding cycles. Putting away financial criminals one day, and coming back to rake in the dough working for those same criminals the next. On a similar note, Dr. Joel Fleischman in the guise of someone from the Attorney General’s office, makes a visit to Chuck, and asks him to ease back on the crusade against Axe.
It’s fundraising season. The administration needs Wall Street money to compete.
Bobby gets a moment of respite and hope when Wags finnagles a sit-down with a broker further up the chain than Axe. The idea is that if Axe Capital has the support and endorsement of even bigger fish, their image effectively gets a spit and shine, “the healing waters of Lourdes, cleaner than a maiden’s honor.” What’s a few billion dollars worth of lawlessness if even bigger stakeholders, most likely just as lawless, are getting away with it, and support you getting away with it too? Gotta spend some more energy getting my head around the logic here. I hope to work it out before series end, hopefully. 🙂 Regardless, the big fish don’t bite, and, instead of a sit-down, Axe walks into a room full of 20-something dipshits on mailroom night.
Lara pours wine as she tells Axe what everyone else is telling him: Settle! The sound of the rain is lovely in this scene. And I want to call out this scene for students of acting. But I’ll save that for later: stay tuned!
Wendy explains to Chuck that since Bobby came from nothing, the fear of going back to nothing will always be inside him. And a part of the win for him is to instill that fear in others, that fear of having nothing, especially in those who have never experienced it. Taking out trust fund babies, one after the other, dragging them down to nothing. The thing is though, the nothing that comes from losing lifelong inherited wealth is not the nothing of growing up in poverty. The two nothings can never be equivalent. Bobby is chasing at windmills thinking they can.
Things are moving at breakneck speed so Axe needs to bring out the big guns, aka his man from the boiler room, Hall.
And, what a piece of nastiness this Hall is. He offers up Wendy on the block, offers the solution of leaking an affair between her and Dollar Bill, or, better yet, an affair with Axe himself. Wendy has become a woman in between the alphas, laid naked on a table, flat on her back, encircled by men holding knives and forks. She performs the game of control over the Southern District Attorney’s office, literally, with a whip and cattle prod. But are the leather and chains really tools of control at all? The way sex works in this series is riveting and brand new. Wendy has a spine and she speaks her mind, but, the game she is in the middle of has rules that defy her ability to wrap her very capable brain around them. No, I’m not saying the boys are out-smarting her (though they may very well be). I’m saying that the game between Axe and Chuck is about dicks, and Wendy doesn’t have one. It’s not a matter of the colloquial woman in a man’s world. It’s a matter of a woman quite literally in the middle of towering dicks all around her. She can observe, detached, and offer up her analysis of what’s going on. But she doesn’t really have the equipment to join the game and play along. Hall offers the fix to the situation via diveying up Wendy’s body, and what is Bobby’s reaction? He cringes and frowns, and pulls away in disgust at the thought of using Wendy in such a way, but, then once the nausea passes, he begrudgingly says “I’ll let you know.” He has to. The female body stuck in the middle of the situation is a commodity. Her body is up for negotiation. It has to be.
Axe, via Hall, makes her strip down to make sure she’s not wearing a wire. They have a friendly chat in the Tepidarium. Thoughts at the first several viewings of this scene were: There’s nothing tepid about that tepidarium! Now, as I watch again, it really does seem like a friendly platonic chat. A nice heart-to-heat between two insanely hot people both naked and doing such nice things to each other with their eyes as they talk platonically about work.
Wendy sums up the reason she’s not leaving, conflict of interest be damned. She feels a sense of ownership in the company, an investment in its success. And she wants a life of meaning. I hear you. sister.
I put you back together again when your whole world burned. And I found meaning in that…Meaning matters more to me than happiness.
My, we could stay in that Tepidarium for quite a bit longer, couldn’t we?
Moving on: Axe calls in the troops to let them know his plans for the negotiation. There’s a shot so Holbein-esque that I felt compelled to play around with some filters. Orrin Bach with the lawyerly tonsure, trusted advisor gadfly and comic relief Wags, and Ben Kim, stepping it up with the injera. All servants to the King.
Would the picture be more complete with Wendy in it? Afterall, she is another trusted advisor, isn’t she? Or is she, because she is a female, at the end of the day, just a body in the way. Remains to be seen, now doesn’t it?
Now for The Deal: the hearing, deposition, negotiation, sit-down.
Here’s a man holding a check for $1.9 billion, safe in the knowledge that he can easily make up the loss in a matter of months. Yet, how is it that Robert Axelrod does NOT come off as an entitled ass going into this meeting? Well, first, the suit looks great, but, it’s not the skin Bobby is most comfortable wearing. And discomfort is endearing. And, second, Damian manages, at least before the meeting goes south, to instill in Bobby an element of vulnerability. You sense he feels out-numbered, out-played. A Hofstra graduate being stared down by Yalies and Stanford Law.
Also from the hearing: just had to capture this gem in stage direction. Spyros, the over-cologned SEC hack, has joined in the gloat over the DA’s victory, in response to which, the DA’s office, all three agents of it in perfect unison, slide the SEC the side-eye. HA!
Ultimately, Chuck had the victory, he practically had that check in hand, an admission of wrong-doing by Axe Capital. But he couldn’t leave well enough alone. It’s his ambition and his ambition alone that kept his trap yapping, gloating, trying to get more out of Axe. Chuck Sr.’s mention of some childhood trauma that he had bailed Chuck Jr. out of didn’t help matters, to be sure.
So, no, there is no deal afterall. The fight continues, the game goes on. Lovely, engaging, riveting to watch and think about and write about game that it is!