Bobby has the Replacements plugged into his ears as he swims. He comes up for air not a happy camper. Seems neither meditation nor exercise are quieting the demons these days.
Meanwhile the Axelrod kids are spending $100 bills of their chaperone’s money on squirt guns at an alcohol-serving arcade. The chaperone, as somewhat less wealthy than the Axelrods, seems to make much of the inequity, drowns his sorrows in beer after beer, then proceeds to screechingly and veeringly drive his charges home.
His slurry “I got your precious fucking babies home” totally deserves the quite credibly delivered “I will kill you, you mother fu..” and the tight middle-weight cross to the nose delivered by Axe. And there we have the title of the episode: The Punch. A totally morally justified punch as one book end to this roller coaster-y, yet still somehow thought-provoking, episode. Morally justified punch, but not quite legal. As is the premise of this entire series.
Bobby spends much of the episode torturing himself over this punch. He gathers the posse: his lawyer, his communications person, the wife, and a retired cop on the Axe payroll.
They all proceed to crank up the machine of spin control as if Robert Axelrod is a man elected to public office and this punch will be the end of his career. And Damian paces like a pent-up beast over Bobby’s problems.
A man trusted with millionaires’ investments may as well be a man trusted with the public good? I genuinely don’t know the answer to this question, one of many unanswerable questions this show is making me ask. Mostly Bobby is tortured over the example he’s setting for his boys, that a punch is a legitimate way to solve a problem. He demands more of himself.
Let the other dogs drool when the bell rings. I wait for the food to turn up, that way I get fed, while the rest get to howl in the wind.
Bobby’s not so confidential confidante Yale-educated Donnie Caan offers his scholarly retort:
We don’t get to choose how and when we react, that’s what the experiment proves.
Yes, Donnie, Pavlov’s experiment showed classical conditioning in dogs. Are we no better than dogs, is the question Bobby is tearing himself up over. All I gotta say is Damian is loading up Bobby with tons of sympathy right now. (there’s a back-channel theory here at the blog that Bobby is actually playing Donnie, that Bobby purposely racked up Donnie’s stack, gave him Rubinex, just so he’d be compromised and have to prove his loyalty. And we’ve seen how Donnie is sort of clueless at work and is torn up over having to rat out his friend. All of which is to say that if Bobby is playing Donnie, sympathy for Bobby flies out the window, right? Sure. But not so fast, with Damian playing this character, eh?)
Back across town, Wendy is meeting with a headhunter to talk over her options. She wants the impossible: to do the job she loves without the pain of being the shuttlecock bounced around between her husband and her employer. Handsome headhunter Chase offers a succinct summary of her issues, which is actually a succinct summary of an issue with work anywhere. He tells Wendy she won’t find anywhere else the unique combination of hand-on personally fulfilling work and fat paycheck she has at Axe Capital. No mystery there: Hands-on personally fulfilling fast turnaround work rarely pays well.
Bobby’s struggle continues at a team meeting where his dipshit peons laud his punch. And he wants no part of such a celebration. He’s ashamed of himself, he expects better of himself. He wants to be above and beyond such impulsive hood rat moves. He’d much rather be known, celebrated, feared, and adored for the more elevated and refined tactics he’s used to achieve success.
He finds a moment of peace closing the door after walking into Wendy’s office. I know I’m in a total minority here, but, did she or did she not avert her gaze (again!)…failing to make eye contact with him until he sidled right up to her face…at which point she locked eyes and momentarily forgot how to breath. Maggie Siff has those eyes you can see like five miles away and she uses them to great effect. Have no idea if they teach such things in acting school, but the extent to which pupils dilate can give away a lot of emotional truth. Yes, pupils dilating is a totally involuntary reflex. What I’m saying is that when Wendy looks at Bobby, there’s nothing voluntary about what I see in her face. Wishful thinking, I know, I know. Anyway, back to what everyone else saw on screen: Bobby set Wendy straight on what happened in The Deal, who had what to lose and who threw the first punch in that case. By the time he walks out, she stands corrected. I wish this scene had lasted longer, is all I can say.
Still on spin control, Bobby learns that the journalist Diamondo has the video of the punch and he’s ready to publish, unless…. Everyone has a price it seems. and oh-so-righteous journalist dude agrees to sit on the story in exchange for a fly-out and a sit-down with the folks planning a new Charlie Rose.
I forget about bribery in this entire game. I forget about the bags of money we’re seeing change hands in every episode and see all of those bags as incidental, mere props. Instead, what I see is a bunch of people simply willing to look the other way for the sake of supporting a King. A King who personifies the goal of all Americans, ie to flout authority and to win at all costs.
But, yes, everyone has a price. Journalists, prosecutors, competitors, alike, all have a price. Bobby is contrite before the Southampton Police, but something behind the eyes knows: they too have a price.
Lara is trying to teach a lesson to her boys, despite what their dad just did to win the day, despite what she knows is their future as trust fund babies, sheltered from all work and responsiblity. The effort is half-assed: clamming in cold Long Island south shore waters, but at least she’s trying. Meanwhile, Wendy, after a night of gnocci with insufferably cute friends, gets her rocks off and continues to explore her options. And her very lucky (at least in Wendy’s world) hubbie the prosecuter does the maniacal moustache twirl (if he had a moustache to twirl) over yet another Axelrod victory. He’s hell-bent on evening up the crap shoot table with sawed off legs. A great speech by Chuck this episode:
We’re sold the idea that the playing field is level. But we both know the playing field is tilted like a craps table in Tombstone Arizona. Bobby Axelrod is the one who is sawing the legs. …I am willing to stare into the abyss, beyond conventional morality, and do what needs to be done to even that fucking table back up.
A noble idea, no doubt, but not really executable,, not in the smarmy ways he’s employing.
Now for the book end at the other end of this episode, A scene that left me with a bad taste in my mouth and sort of sick. Lara has sent her kids away to an overnight “survival” camp to teach them a thing or two about discipline and self-denial. The younger of the Axelrod boys blatantly lies to the camp leader about the electronic device in his pocket, and proceeds to call dear dad to the rescue. And dear Dad arrives as summoned to rescue his boys from camp. Now, nevermind that the camp leader is probably paid like $15 an hour to take care of these brat kids and make sure they survive a night out in the woods, and nevermind there are probably elaborate sign-in and sign-out procedures in place, especially at an overnight out in the woods camp. Bobby Axelrod flouts all authority and all morality as he kidnap/rescues his kids out of this camp, gives them a cursory “now you’ve learned your lesson’ and then proceeds to take them all out for milkshakes in celebration of their kick-assed exercise of liberty, freedom and the American way.
What Bobby does at the end of this episode is pretty disgusting and hateful. But can we hate him for it? Not really, right? Does that make us complicit in it? Yep, it sure does. This man who struggled so much the entire episode with an illegal but morally justified punch is now breaking his kids out of camp, immorally, but legally. Is he thinking about the example this is setting for his boys? We don’t know. The ideas of morality vs. legality are turned on their heads in this episode. Rendering it one that should probably be required viewing for first year law students, and parents too for that matter. This show is showing us the choices set before all of us in free society. And how one man is dealing with the choices set before him, as he negotiates against the forces of self-preservation and the drive to win at all costs. Sinister, maniacal, and so, so, very American. Bobby Axelrod, all grown up to be a debaser.