Billions recap: Boasts and Rails
This episode has it all: Treachery! Existential crises! Clowns! There’s a lot to get to, so let’s start at the beginning.
Fed up with how slowly things are moving, Connerty gives Donnie a one-week deadline for actionable, case-making dirt on Axe. But while Connerty is yelling at him, a janitor nearby is keeping watch — a janitor that, somehow, has been enlisted as a spy by Axelrod’s fixer, Hall.
So the word that there’s an informant gets back to Axe, though he doesn’t have a name. So he’s forced to the play detective at the office to try and ferret the mole out. He promises all of his underlings that he’ll find the “quisling” and punish them, which a scary threat for the five or six guys in the office who know what a quisling is.
Axe gets an IT guy to look into everyone’s works computers for suspicious activity. Three employees have deleted their hard drives and made them unrecoverable. Donnie is one of them. Axe convenes a meeting with the three guys, and it doesn’t take long to figure out who it is: Donnie literally runs out of the room to vomit before Axe even says a word. Basically, he’s screwed.
To make sure he’s got the right guy, Axe has a man tail Donnie for the rest of the day. That doesn’t work, so instead Axe goes one-on-one with Donnie in a conference room. Donnie doesn’t confess to anything, but he certainly wilts under the heat like a guilty flower. Connerty immediately recognizes that Donnie’s damaged goods. So, they come up with a plan B: Doctoring an SEC inquiry into another employee, known as “the Pouch,” to make him look guilty. Axe finds it, as expected, and fires the guy, unaware of his innocence. You’d think this might be the kind of thing that could haunt him.
But the U.S. Attorney’s office, too, is able to scrounge up some off-the-record dirt on Axelrod. Remember how Axelrod’s reputation as the New York financial world’s beloved knight in shining armor came from the goodwill tied to his charitable 9/11 work? Well, the always enterprising Kate manages to get her hands on that redacted chapter from the 9/11 widow’s memoir, thanks to a friend at the publishing house. (Kate seems to have more friends in the five boroughs than the mayor himself.) We’ve known about this illicit chapter for some time now — Lara went to great lengths to bury it — but we never knew what it contained.
Now, we do: It turns out the reason he wasn’t at the tower on that fateful day was because he was at his lawyer’s office, going over a severance package — he was about to get fired from the firm due to some suspicious and possibly illegal trading. The fact that all his colleagues died is the only reason he was able to take over the firm. Moreover, Axe’s claim that he was a part of the rescue efforts is also a lie; he was busy making himself richer by taking advantage of the market amid the chaos by shorting such industries as aviation, hotels, and shipping. The man is a charlatan and a fraud. It’s not illegal, but it’s horrifying and tarnishing enough to make the public want his conviction.
This makes Chuck’s day. Of course, he’s not officially allowed to even know this, given that he recused himself from the case, but they tell him anyway. Their plan: Give it to that journalist everyone hates (you know the one) and get it published.
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Needless to say, the news becomes a major headline, and soon everyone in the city knows about it. It’s on every newspaper and cable-news network around. Lara’s sister finds out. Their kids get pulled from school for the day. At work, Axe’s team looks at him with a mix of sadness and fear.
But Axe doesn’t let it get to him. He tells everyone what he says is the truth — that he made those trades before he knew it was terrorism and that he did it because he knew the families of the victims would need the money (which turned out to be $750 million in just one day).
He feels more or less like s— the rest of the day, so he goes to the only place he can be himself: That Queens pizza place he invested in.
Chuck takes his son to a circus-clown fundraiser — “Clown Cares” — where Axelrod happens to also be in attendance. The two enemies briefly cross paths and have an awkwardly polite but strained hello for the sake of Chuck’s kid; they’re both human enough to think of the children. But Wendy senses Chuck’s simmering rage and hates it, so she finally tells him that she’s been seeing a headhunter and has gotten an offer. The offer, though, is less than she’s making with Axe Capital, which could be untenable if they want to send their kids to the same $70,000-a-year private school Chuck and his father went to. And he does, very much so. So, once again, Chuck and Wendy are at an impasse.
But eventually, Chuck starts to feel the pressure from a higher force: time. There are little things thrown in throughout the episode to show how he’s generationally out of step with his peers. The carb-heavy food he eats at lunch, everyone’s morning green juice, his own diminishing squash skills, those stupid ball-chairs at the office. It’s a young person’s world, and Chuck is starting to feel it, so he sets up a meeting with a headhunter himself and tells him he’d like to test the waters at the private outfit Hovarth, which we’re told is a top Supreme Court litigating firm in D.C.
During his meeting with a partner, he gets a pretty sweet offer. His current annual salary would be what he makes every week at his new gig. He’d get eight weeks vacation and the freedom to do, literally, whatever he wanted to do every day. They don’t really care if he actually works or not, they just want his name and his prestige and the access that brings them — it’s a thing any firm would pay big money for.
Ultimately, though, he turns it down. Why? Because he decides he can count on Connerty. Getting the Pouch set up to get fired shows that Connerty will do anything he can to get the job done. That inspires Chuck and instills a greater sense of loyalty. You get the sense that he sees Connerty as a protege and he doesn’t want to give up that feeling for all money in the world. Otherwise, without someone he can mold in his own image, he becomes immediately irrelevant. He’s basically dead without Connerty. He needs to feel that he’s still needed in this world, even if the sad truth is he might not be.
He takes those feelings home later that night and reveals to Wendy why he really hates that Wendy still works at Axe Captial: because he knows that Wendy and Axe share a different form of love, a bond that’s stronger and harder to put a name on. She’s been “with” Axe longer than she’s been with Chuck. And all of it tears Chuck up. She knows it and soothes him, telling him she loves him — and that the way things are going at Axe Capital can’t go one forever.
At the very end of the episode, Axe and Donnie meet under the cover of night. They’ve been in cahoots this whole time, we learn. Axe has been feeding information to Donnie to tell Chuck and his team all along. The reason he had the Pouch fired was just so that Chuck’s guys could feel secure in Donnie being legit. Team Rhoades has been getting played by Donnie the whole time — and Axe has plans to take things even further.
- For what I believe is the first time, Chuck makes a passing reference to the possibility of Axe Capital being a Ponzi scheme. He seemed to be mostly joking (it was while he was talking to Wendy about pulling out her money from the fund if she gets a new job) but still could be worth noting.
- With Kate’s parents in town, she goes out to dinner with them and brings along Connerty, which is a sort of strange situation but not that weird. Weirder is the fact that Kate’s father knows pretty much every thing about the Axelrod case — even about the contents of the redacted memoir chapter. That’s a little worrisome.
- Lara’s sister’s farm-to-table restaurant has earned a Michelin star, which is good news. But it’s not all good news: The farm side of things is under watch from immigration officers. Lara learns that they’re employing some undocumented workers and is forced to let them go. But now her paranoia is fueled, so she’s looking into all her employees’ backgrounds. Nothing much comes of it so far, but it’s something worth keeping an eye on.