Billions recap: Naming Rights
Rockefeller. Guggenheim. Frick. Axelrod?
Some of New York’s finest institutions are inseparable from the rich-white-dude names attached to them. Once those names are up, they’re pretty hard to take down; Carnegie Hall won’t be turning into the Zuckerberg Hall anytime soon. But it’s certainly not impossible to change the lettering — especially when our boy Bobby “The Bob” “The Rod” “The Axe” Axelrod is in the building.
The building in question here is the fictional Ellis Eads Hall, one of those grand, Carnegie-style concert venues that well-heeled New Yorkers flock to for society functions. “Such a sh—y name on such a great building,” Axe says to Lara as they stand out on the street, vaping in secret. Who is this Eads, anyway? Why do stiffs like him get a building? Bobby Axelrod, hedge-fund magnate and local-pizzeria investor, is a billionaire. Is that not good enough for you snobs?
And so Axe begins his quest to rename Eads Hall. That’s the fun, splashy, Page Six-friendly diversion of tonight’s episode. But a lot of plot-impacting hard news goes down, too, so let’s dive into all that first and circle back to Eads Hall later.
Not far from the $25,000-a-plate charity dinner, Chuck Rhoades and his sidekick Connerty are at the U.S. attorney’s office discussing their Axelrod strategy over cold take-out. That is, until they get an call from the office’s communications chief, Tara. She’s just wrapped up a hot, cocaine-fueled lesbian sex session, but that’s not what she’s calling about — she’s just learned that the Financial Journal is running a story that implicates hedge-funder Stephen Birch in illegal trading. This is the first Rhoades is hearing of Birch’s wrongdoing, and he’s not happy about it — the press are making his office look bad by doing his job better than him, all thanks to that thirsty journalist who buddied up with Axelrod.
Back at Eads Hall, Axe is having a chat with his lawyer Orrin (played by yet another That Guy — Glenn Fleshler, whose credits include a murderer’s row of serious cable dramas: Boardwalk Empire, The Knick, Hannibal, and True Detective). Orrin warns Axelrod that Rhoades has committed himself on bringing down Axe Captial, so he should consider laying low and making sure his money isn’t “too smart.” Nah. Axelrod spontaneously decides to donate a cool $1 million to whatever the gala’s cause is (…reading?), earning the attention of everyone in the room — including Steven Birch himself.
Then the phones start buzzing. Everyone looks at their push notifications and sees the same Financial Journal news alert. There’s a criminal in the room, and amazingly it’s not Penn Jillette. All eyes are on Birch while Axelrod has to hide his grin.
The next day at work, Axe Capital begins with business as usual. Axelrod starts a staff meeting with his best clear-eyes-full-portfolios speech — the company is up 32 percent on the year — before publicly quizzing each analyst on their performance. Everyone responds in obnoxious alpha-speak, shouting things like “whiff the numbers,” “bang the short harder,” “p—y on the short side,” “grab it like it’s a horse c— and you’re Catherine the Great.” Someone even quotes Goodfellas.
One insecure analyst named Donnie Caan, though, is less cocksure. “I think Apple still has room to move north,” he offers. The room goes silent in awe of Donnie’s incompetence. It’s like a baseball manager telling his team, “I think we should try hitting the ball with a bat.” Axelrod is disappointed.
Luckily for Donnie, there isn’t much time to dwell on it, because the company gets a surprise visit from the SEC. Everyone’s portfolios and trades are getting inspected!
The result of the investigation is, for viewers, an A+ montage of how different staffers react to pressure. Some respond with nonchalance along the lines of “I got a tip.” Others are less cooperative — and some downright hostile. Dollar Bill keeps repeating “lawyer,” while Victor asks the auditors how much they make.
But everyone can just chill: It was simply a drill, Axelrod announces, and the fake SEC officers are the firm’s new compliance department, installed to safeguard against what happened to Steven Birch. Or as Wags says, “We have to be more pure than the Virgin Mary before her first period.” But the red-team drill does expose on thing: Victor is shady wild card, and so optics-conscious Axe makes an example of him by publicly firing him (and making sure the press and investors know about it).
What he didn’t anticipate is “Victor’s psychological profile,” which is prone toward vengeance, but that’s why he has Wendy. It falls upon her to make sure that Victor doesn’t raise a stink on his way out. He knows things, after all.
You know who else knows things? Hall, the Thomas Cromwell-ian fixer to to Axelrod’s Henry VIII. He’s obtained video of Tara’s two-woman coke party and uses it to blackmail her — he wants regular updates on what Rhoades is up to.
NEXT: Axe’s revenge
So what is Rhodes up to? A lot! He’s busy:
A) belittling journalists outside apartments (“What are you, Glenn Greenwald all of a sudden?”);
B) getting harangued in front of his kids at Prospect Park by a white-collar criminal who’s going to jail tomorrow thanks to Chuck Rhoades; and
C) making a deal with Birch in exchange for intel on Axelrod.
That’s right, making a deal on the slam-dunk Birch case — something Rhoades never does. He’s that intent on taking Axelrod down. As he tells Connerty, it’s like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Only they don’t get to be the cool outlaws everyone roots for — so instead, they have to be the best good guys they can be.
So, Axelrod has Tara on the inside of Rhoades’ office, and Rhoades has Birch’s cooperation against Axelrod. The pawns are moving.
Now, back to Eads Hall. The Eads family, we learn, has their name on the building in perpetuity, so it won’t be cheap to take it down. Luckily, Axe has done his research and learned that the clan has more or less run out of money. So, he makes an offer: $100 million to the hall for much-needed updates and renovations and $25 million for the Eads family to use however they wish.
Or at least that’s the offer Axelrod makes to get the Eads family into the room. Once there, Axelrod, strolling in with his Metallica T-shirt on (to contrast with the uptight Eads family’s Brooks Brothers uniform), switches things up. Bobby, you see, has an axe to grind (sorry). It turns out that Bobby had a summer job as a caddy at a country club where he carried bags for Ellis Eads, the family’s deceased patriarch who fired Bobby from the club for basically no good reason. And to make up for this childhood humiliation, Axe is reducing his offer to the family: $9 million, take it or leave it. That’s $16 million less, to make up for the $16 he used to make on an hour-hour shift as a caddy. The Eadses, desperate for a cash infusion, take the money with their tails between the legs.
Bravo, Bobby! And then, weirdly, a construction crew starts taking down the “Ellis Eads” lettering right then and there, as if the thing was subject to no paperwork or board approval or even press notice. Which, come to think of it, should be an issue, right? After all, look what happened when David Geffen did the same thing in real life — the press were all over it. If Axelrod’s men are worried that the purchase of some lousy Hamptons estate will be enough to turn the public against him, wouldn’t renaming a cherished cultural institution be even higher on the list of unseemly activities that’d capture the public’s attention? Maybe, maybe not. Guess we’ll have to wait ’til next week to find out.
- (In actuality, they’re looking at the Alexander Hamilton Custom House, which houses the National Museum of the American Indian.)
- The episode starts with Axelrod getting pitched on the return of the gold standard, LOL.
- “Just like smoking in the girls’ bathroom at St. Mary’s, you had to be quick or you’d be over a nun’s knee,” Lara declares at one point, never missing a chance to remind everyone what her deal is. She brings up her middle-class background so much, it’s almost suspicious. I’m starting to think she played field hockey at Choate.
- Interestingly, one of the newspapers featured on the show is real (the New York Post, which printed the “BEACH BUM!” cover story”) and the other is fake (the Wall Street Journal-esque Financial Journal). And yet WSJ and the Post are both owned by the same company, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
- Shout out to Schott’s Miscellany!
- One subplot that’ll become more important later in the season: Bobby tries to prevent one of his key clients, a Kentucky investor, from bailing on Axe Captial and taking his money to a safer, more mainstream firm that doesn’t find itself in the tabloids. If Bobby loses him, it could cause a domino effect. He fails, for now.
- Another key story line to keep an eye on: Wendy’s unhappiness with not getting a heads up on the red-team drill. “Cut me out again, and I’m gone,” she tells him — just as Axe gets a text saying that her husband is resuming focus on him.
- And another item of note: Bobby advises Butch (nickname “The Pouch”) to short a trucking company that operates as a national distributor of the YumTime snacks brand. You can bet that the other shoe will drop later on.
- I feel like “I may be from Kentucky, but I’m no rube” is a thing no one from Kentucky would ever say in real life
- “Have fun with your plugger” is a pretty funny line that can be used in several contexts.
- Two more That Guys, one of them female: Dollar Bill is played by Kelly AuCoin (House of Cards and The Americans, where he’s nearly unrecognizable as Pastor Tim), and FBI agent Terri is played by Susan Misner (Nashville, The Good Wife, and also The Americans).
- Hall is seen siting in a sauna when, out of nowhere, a dwarf comes up to him and disrobes. Billions! I get the feeling we’re going to learn everyone’s sexual proclivities by the end of the season.