Hello, and welcome back to our Billions recap, wherein we discuss last night's episode of Showtime's series about hedge fund billionaire Bobby Axelrod (AKA Shmeve Shmoen) and US Attorney General for the Southern District of New York Chuck Rhoades (AKA Breet Pharara). Will the fate of the fictional characters pan out just like those of their real life counterparts? We'll find out in 10 more episodes (or longer if there's another season).
The second episode was called "Naming Rights," and about half the time was devoted to Axelrod's need to have a building-- presumably the New York Public Library, 1 but it's never said-- named after his family. He wants the name "Eads" kicked off the place in favor of "Axelrod" for two reasons. One, he's rich and the rich like to put their names on sh*t so friends, foes, and strangers can be periodically reminded that they're rich. It's like pissing on a tree to mark your territory, if you're too good to piss on trees and instead write checks. (Just like in the first episode, in which Howard Lutnick's story of being the highest ranking employee of Cantor Fitzgerald out of the office on 9/11 and thus spared, was incorporated into Axelrod's bio, Stephen Schwarzman paid the NYPL $100 million in 2008 in exchange for the organization etching his name onto the side of the building.)
The second reason Axelrod wants the naming rights, we later learn, is that back when he was a kid he caddied at an old money golf club, for-- wait for it-- Grandpa Eads. Eads was apparently a giant prick and one day decided to fire Axelrod because he missed a shot, without paying young Bobby the $16 he was owed. Axelrod reminded the entire living Eads family of this fact in a board room of the museum where they gathered thinking they were getting a check for $25 million-- which they needed because they're in debt-- and gave them a check instead for $9 million. They're angry but there's not much they can do about it, because they need the money. Are there other decades-long grudges has Bobby held that he'll exact revenge for as his wife, sort of weirdly, watches and smiles and thinks "Oh yeah, that's my man"? Most likely. (I'm scared for the pizza place owner from the pilot.)
The other half of the episode is, of course, devoted to Chuck Rhoades's quest to nail Axelrod's firm for insider trading, and Axelrod's attempts to stay out of prison. To that end, he hires a bunch of compliance professionals to run a "drill," pretending to be Securities and Exchange officers who've stormed Axe Capital to interrogate everyone inside. Most of the traders are panicked but SURPRISE! The whole thing was just a test to keep everyone on their toes. Then, to really put the fear into everyone, Axelrod publicly fires one of his top portfolio managers. According to in-house therapist/motivational speaker Wendy Rhoades (i.e. Chuck's wife/dominatrix), Axelrod chose the exact wrong person to fire, because the PM Victor is a hothead who will want to get revenge for being made to look stupid in front of everyone he knows. Wendy seemingly smooths it over with the guy (and Axelrod pays him a bunch of money), but will we have to worry about him becoming some sort of cooperating witness? I FEEL LIKE WE MIGHT. (Particularly since he tells Wendy he knows all about the firm's "dirty edge" and also that he bribed oil company CEOs, which is never good.)
While Axelrod is running drills, his "fixer" Hall (who we met in a basement in the first episode when he told Axelrod to leak the story of Steven Birch's insider trading to a reporter) is doing...his thing. In "Naming Rights," that thing is setting up a young staffer from Rhoades' office to have sex with (and do cocaine off of) a comely young woman who secretly tapes the tryst.2 The following day, Hall is waiting for the staffer-- Tara Mohr-- in her apartment, where he proceeds to blackmail her into "watch[ing], listen[ing], and report[ing]" what's going on with her boss's investigation re: Axelrod. From her detective work-- which is literally just hiding in hallways and lingering in offices where she doesn't belong until someone's like "Umm, do you need something?"-- we learn that Rhoades decides to offer Birch a quick settlement (which Birch accepts), in order to keep everyone's eyes on the ball, i.e. Axelrod. (This decision is, of course, explained by way of a reference to Butch Cassidy and riderless horses.)
- Another issue in this episode is the worry that a major investor is going to pull his money, after seeing the NY Post story about how Axelrod dropped $60-something million on the beach house. Naturally, if there is a report about a hedge fund manager being investigated for insider trading, investors will be nervous/possibly want to pull their money but for buying a piece of real estate? That seems...entirely par of the course. Anyway, Axelrod's Chief Operating Officer, Mike Wagner, is dispatched to convince the guy to stick with the firm, and here's where we have a question for the group: if you're the COO of a hedge fund, do you typically take investors to massage parlors and make your case while getting a happy ending in the same room as them?
- Fans of the Hunt and Fish Club will have noticed that the dinner Axelrod interrupts with said investor and another hedge fund manager trying to convince him to take his money elsewhere takes place at the home of truffle tater tots that smell "like a petrol station on a very hot day."
- Axelrod tells one of his traders to short a trucking company that the guy sees no reason to short; Axelrod says he doesn't care. Is he setting him up? If so, for what? Just so the firm can have some losses and not look like every trade they make is based on inside information?
- This week's Things Only Fictional Characters Say award goes to AXE COO Mike Wagner, whose mouth gives voice to all of the following lines:
* "Go home and get your shine box"
* "You see an opportunity like that again you grab it like it's a horse c*ck and you're Catherine the Great"
* "We have to be more pure than the Virgin Mary before her first period"
Honorable mention goes to the PM who says tells Axelrod: "The stock is going to pop like a prom queen's cherry" and the one who tells the fake SEC officers that his trade was based on "A prom night promise...just the tip."
1. The actual building used was the National Museum of the American Indian of New York.↩
2. His thing is also something involving a midget in a sauna.↩
Earlier: Billions Recap: Don't Butter My A$$