Billions recap: Short Squeeze
In which Axelrod rocks out with Metallica in Canada
On the night of the Super Bowl, the Broncos and the Panthers weren’t the only two teams that clashed. Team Rhoades and Team Axe butted heads as well, and the drama was enticing enough to draw Metallica’s attention. But first, it all started with a gun, some deer, and one angry banker.
Eat, move, s—- (a.k.a., The Prologue): Late at night when everyone in Greenwich is sleeping, Ben, the midlevel Axe Capital staffer who’s been having trouble with his “mojo” lately, walks out onto the lawn with an automatic weapon and a bottle of Steven Soderbergh-brand brandy. He proceeds to start shooting his weapon at the deer in his backyard, all to the tune of Andrew Bird’s “Oh No.”
Needless to say, the police arrive pretty quickly. He gets arrested, of course, but it’s not long until Axe drives over with his fixer Hall to pick Ben up from the police on the side of a highway.
“I was blowing steam,” a more sober Ben tells Axe over a tense breakfast. For a while now, he’s been numb to the job, numb to the numbers, numb to the ungodly amounts of money that flow into his accounts and on his monitor every day. He can’t even feel his wealth, which is the worst thing that can happen to a rich white man in America. But when he saw those deer, he flew him into a rage. “Eat, move, s—. Eat, move, s—.” That’s all they do — and he’s not them. So he willed himself to feel something again.
This is the prologue for a reason, as you’ll see later.
Queen for a Day (a.k.a., Chuck’s Play): Rhoades and Connerty hold a “Queen for a Day” session with Pete Decker, who they expect to be their source for dirt against Axe Capital. “F—ing egg noodles and ketchup,” Decker snidely mutters under his breath, referring to the great last lines of Goodfellas. Connerty, who traded Glengarry Glenross quotes with his FBI lover last week, smirks in acknowledgement. These are macho guys who see themselves as the guy in the Scorcese or Mamet movies. It’s no wonder they behave the way they do.
Decker then tells us what it’s like to go through a day in Axe’s considerable shoes. “When you’re at his level, you’re more like a nation-state than a person.” Decker’s got a knack for hyperbole: battleships, aircraft carriers, cheesesteaks. He’s definitely fond of metaphors. When Rhoades asks where Axe gets his information, Decker responds, “Where does rain come from?”
But the takeaway is: When everyone else is plugging away, Axe sees the whole board.
Outside the room, Tara (who, remember, has been blackmailed into becoming a spy for Axe’s fixer) is trying to get some information out of Kate. But Kate isn’t your average loose-lipped junior staffer: She’s a rising star who knows better than to lift the veil too soon.
This leads to a game of cat-and-mouse between Kate and Tara, who might be the worst spy ever. She walks into Rhoades’ office while Rhoades is in it to glimpse at who the snitch is. Then she spends a good minute peering at Rhoades’ assistant’s desk calendar in plain view of Kate. It’s all too much for any person of reasonable intellect to handle, so Kate finally busts her red-handed in the bathroom stall. She grabs Tara’s phone and finds a two-word text message sent to Hall. It reads “Pete Decker.”
The whole office learns she’s been compromised, but instead of firing or pressing charges against her, they decide to use her. Only problem is that it doesn’t work at all, because Hall watches a lot of House of Cards or something and can tell when a sting operation is afoot. The play goes sideways, so the Rhoades team is left with little. All they have now is Decker’s advice: Look into “Dollar Bill” Stern at Axe Capital and you’ll get closer to what you’re looking for.
NEXT: Who is Konstantine?
The Big Short (a.k.a., Chuck Sr.’s Play): The elder Rhoades, meanwhile, gets a tip from a golfing buddy: Axe is going to short Cross Co. Trucking. The news that makes him the giddiest golfer this side of Jordan Speith, because now he’s got a way to get Axe back for messing with his mistress last week: He’ll “short squeeze” Axelrod.
It works, and once Axe gets word from Wags back the HQ, he starts panicking. Axe calls up Farraday, the British broker in charge of his fund. A lot of yelling transpires. I think there was spittle.
So what the hell does all this mean, anyway? It’s somewhat complicated stuff, full of financial and technical jargon. But luckily for those who don’t know a lot about how the market works, Bobby’s old neighborhood pals stand in for the audience when they ask him, what is happening, anyway? Bobby gives the CliffsNotes: He’s being short-squeezed, as in, “Somebody is trying to make a stock go up, and I need it to go down.” But I have an even simpler version: “BOBBY NO HAPPY!”
Axelrod eventually deduces that Papa Rhoades is the one squeezing him. In the same scene, Axelrod also finds out from Hall that the younger Rhoades is working with a witness against Axe Capital. These Rhoades boys are really ruining his day.
But news of the squeeze makes Chuck just as unhappy. And having to hear it from SEC weasel Spyros adds insult to injury. His father’s brash and impulsive move could severely jeopardize his own play against Axelrod (not to mention his father’s well-being), so Chuck makes a deal: The SEC will look the other way on Rhoades Sr.’s short squeeze, and Rhoades Jr. will give Spyros more respect.
Ride the Lightning (a.k.a., Axe’s Play): After getting a call from a mysterious acquaintance named Konstantine, Axelrod informs Wags that he’s going to be out for the day — Metallica is playing only one North American date, and there’s no way a kid from Yonkers like Axe is going to miss that. So he meets his crew — ol’ pals from the hood — on the runway before takeoff. Two of the guys are the kinds of loyal pals who’ll always be at Axe’s side. And then there’s the friend played by one of the most preeminent That Guys on cable TV: the great Noah Emmerich (The Americans, Master of None). He’s a bit of a leech,. When an Axe Capital worker bee speeds up to the runway to tell try to get Axelrod to chill with this Cross Co. stuff, Noah Emmerich hovers around, picking up all the intel. You get the feeling this will lead to something bigger because, well, you don’t cast Noah Emmerich for the role unless he’s gonna be up to something.
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On the private jet ride to Quebec City (I guess Axelrod didn’t hear that Metallica was also playing on Super Bowl Eve in San Francisco this year?), the four buds play a game of cards that reveals the group’s power dynamics. Axe has always been the alpha, and Noah Emmerich has never appreciated being first among betas. It’s always worse when you’re a beta who thinks you could be an alpha.
NEXT: Meet Axe’s good friend, James Hetfield
But Axe is clearly the one true alpha, the kind who can immediately capture the attention of the lead singer of Metallica’s opening act, a young, vivacious, flaxen-haired, wisdom-spouting old soul in loose jewelry and a romper? Axe and Opening Bang Girl meet before the concert during rehearsal, and the two hit it off immediately with some very stilted, hammy flirting in which we the audience are supposed to believe represents chemistry. Instead, it feels forced and obnoxiously overt. “I like the classics.” “I like new things!” Hey, Billions writers, WE GET IT. Also: She spends her entire rehearsal singing right at Axelrod, never breaking eye contact. Also, the song is Ratt’s “Round and Round.” It’s all just too much.
As is it happens, it’s not just the opening act that digs Bobby. “Hey, Axe, are you okay?” That’s what the lead singer of Metallica, James Hetfield, asks with concern when seeing Axelrod’s frowny face later during the band’s rehearsal. So I guess they’re close enough friends that Hetfield would know when Axe is blue? Sure!
During the actual concert, Axe slips out to the bar where he runs into Opening Band Girl, who starts getting straight to the point: “I wanna do sex to you,” she tells Axe (more or less). But Axe must decline. “If there were two of me, I would,” he says. “But there’s not.” This stirring speech — “I will not cheat on my wife!” — somehow wins Axelrod praise and applause and even respect from both Opening Band Girl and the audience. The guys gets a prize for doing what normal people are supposed to do.
After the show, he meets Konstantine in an undisclosed location in Quebec City. They talk about… something, who knows.
Axe gets back to the hotel suite and finds Noah Emmerich looking at his laptop in distress. Noah Emmerich admits to everything: piggybacking Axe’s play, messing it up, losing almost all his money. Axe agrees to help him out, but not before giving him a thinly veiled speech about how to cut losers whenever you spot them. So it’s no surprise when, the next morning, Noah Emmerich finds that Axe and the gang have already left town on the jet, leaving the loser back in Canada.
When he gets back to the office, he seems to be another person. His vibe is almost meditative. “Eat, move, s—, repeat,” he mutters to himself. He then drops a bombshell on Wags: Starting tomorrow, start selling everything. As in, all of their assets. Is Axelrod quitting the game while he’s ahead? Did Konstantine have something to do with this? Or is this all just another play?
- Hall is a ridiculous man. Who is this guy? Why is he always walking in and out of underground facilities and gloomy boiler rooms? Does he have a home or does he just spend his nights walking up and down stairwells? Does anyone love him? Can anyone love him? Nobody even has his name saved in their phones, it’s always just comes up as “Unknown.” Is this any way to live?
- Axelrod looks terribly ridiculous in that punky black leather jacket with too many zippers. Never let him wear it again.
- Those boxes of Shake Shack takeout at Rhoades’ office during the Bobby Decker sessions were a nice touch.
- Chuck and Wendy carpool to work? Also, where was Wendy all episode? We see a little of her at the start, and then again at the end. But this show could always use more Maggie Siff.