Billions recap: 'Dead Cat Bounce'
While Axelrod goes to war with Krakow, Chuck comes up with a new plan to save his job.
Bobby Axelrod isn’t exactly the type of guy who just sits idly by while someone else basks in all their glory. Axelrod wants his own damn glory, and he’s going to make it known. That’s evident at the top of the episode, as both Axelrod and his new enemy Todd Krakow are on a Global Thought Leaders panel hosted by Lawrence Boyd, the Spartan-Ives CEO who previously jilted Axelrod by leaving him hanging at an NBA game. After Krakow starts going on about how he’s made his money and kept himself clean, Axelrod digs into him, reminding him of a $45 million fine he paid at one point. The two get in the most pretentious alpha-male argument you can imagine before Axelrod storms off the stage.
Later, Axelrod feels the need to apologize — rare for him — to Boyd for letting things get out of hand. Boyd’s having none of it. In fact, Axelrod’s blown fuse is exactly what he was looking for. As he puts it, “The only reason you put Ric Flair in the ring is to get heat from the crowd.” Now everyone will be clambering for tickets to next year’s Spartan-Ives panel. Axelrod doesn’t love being used, but at this point, what can he do? (That’s foreshadowing, by the way, so stay tuned.)
Meanwhile, last we saw Chuck he was fully prepared to be fired by the Attorney General and spend way too much of his time dealing with those 127 lawsuits organized by Axelrod. But after meeting with his lawyer, Ira, Chuck decides he’s not exactly ready to accept his fate. Instead, he wants to make a play that will make it impossible for the AG to fire him. That means taking on a huge case that seems impossible to win — the kind of case that most attorneys avoid because the powers they’d be up against are too influential. Chuck puts Lonnie, Kate, and Bryan on it, asking them to find him that case, even if he doesn’t reveal the motives behind his decision.
While Chuck is focused on saving his own ass, Axelrod meets Taylor, Mafee’s seemingly genius intern. Mafee brings them (Taylor’s preferred pronouns are “they, theirs, and them”) into the boss’ office, and they lay out a fascinating discovery. Essentially, Taylor notes that AR Metrics, a company that Krakow uses, has been using satellite imagery to maybe get information about certain companies in order to help with their investing. Taylor digs into AR’s most viewed images, assuming Krakow is the biggest player there, and that leads them to a microchip factory owned by Anata-Tek, which Krakow is heavily invested in. Based on the movement of the trucks and the seeming lack of a product, Taylor believes it’s a shell company used to milk investors; show a bunch of trucks moving around, and you can fool a bunch of millionaires into thinking you’re doing something important with their money.
It’s just the beginning of two intriguing threads: Axelrod working intently to hurt Krakow for merely meeting with and trying to hire Wendy, and also his embrace of Taylor as a protégé. It’s nice to see someone else, who isn’t an old white male, working on the same level as Axelrod. Taylor’s proven their worth at Axe Capital, and there’s a good chance this Anata-Tek play could prove to be great for Axe Capital and Axelrod’s ego, which is quite the one-two punch. The only question is: Can Axelrod convince Taylor to stay past the end of their internship?
NEXT: Couples Therapy
While Billions does a good job of working Taylor into the story, immediately establishing the importance of another character, Wendy gets a bit of a bum deal in this episode. Usually she’s a force, but here she’s more of a pawn. First Chuck Sr. lambastes her for threatening to ruin his legacy by separating from Chuck Jr., then she’s questioned by Dake in regards to that $5 million bonus that makes Chuck look like he took a bribe. It’s not the most thrilling Wendy story line, even if she does help Chuck get out of the woods with the AG.
Speaking of the AG, Chuck is having no luck finding a case to take down one of her enemies in a bid to keep his job. In fact, Lonnie, Bryan, and Kate are all hesitant to present any ideas because they think it’s a trap of some sort. They’re worried they’ll be strapped with a win-less case, and the promise of becoming Head of Criminal Prosecution doesn’t seem to sweeten the deal for them. Kate does suggest going after Spartan-Ives, but Chuck shoots that down. Spartan-Ives is seen as cozy with the AG; he needs an enemy.
Eventually, Lonnie finds a case that could work, but he doesn’t want to take the risk. Kate’s willing to, though, so she takes the evidence to Chuck, who thinks it’s a slam dunk. The case is against GoodStop, a retail giant that has been screwing its workers in overtime pay and a number of other areas. Kurt Williams, the CEO, has given the AG hell for years, and now it’s Chuck’s turn to do her a favor, offering to pursue him with the full force of his office.
Unfortunately for Chuck, nothing goes as planned. Sure, the case comes together, but the AG seems to have no interest in Chuck’s sly move to save his job. She still wants him to come in and meet with her, which means she’s still prepared to fire him. Chuck has no play now. He’s at his wit’s end, and Ira is telling him to settle. Chuck doesn’t want to, but he might not have any other option.
Back at Axe Capital, Taylor’s play totally worked. Krakow, sweaty and flustered, calls Axelrod and threatens him, letting him know that this is only the beginning of their feud, and that soon enough he’ll get the upper hand, maybe with Wendy by his side. While Axelrod is basking in his glory, Wags is getting angry at young suits not respecting the art of sushi, which is the most Wags story line I can imagine. But seriously, it’s interesting to see Wags start to crack, worried about his role at Axe Capital and maybe needing to take comfort in the outsize, overly macho lessons of the company’s new therapist/big game hunter, Dr. Gus.
So, while “Dead Cat Bounce” finds time to cement some mutual respect between Axelrod and Taylor, as he convinces them to stay on after the internship by offering up quite the lucrative, flexible deal, ultimately this episode is about Chuck and his bid to save his job, and maybe his marriage along the way.
NEXT: Delaying tactics
Despite their differences and their current state of separation, Wendy and Chuck have always made a good team. They give and take with each other, and while they’re both opinionated and stubborn, there’s also tremendous love and mutual respect between them. So when Wendy gives Chuck a bit of advice, telling him that the best players do a complete 180 when they need to, Chuck takes it to heart.
He has a moment of clarity: He sees that taking down an enemy for the AG won’t work. Instead, he has to go after a relative friend: Spartan-Ives. By going after the giant, he forces the AG to let him stay on, because if she did fire him, the office’s cozy relationship with Spartan-Ives would make that firing look an awful lot like obstruction of justice. “All you’ve bought is time,” says the AG, but time is exactly what Chuck needs. He’s getting what he wants, at least for now.
And so the episode comes full circle. Lawrence Boyd, suddenly in Chuck’s crosshairs, has no choice but to reach out to Axelrod, the man he played just days earlier. He needs to know how to beat Chuck, and Axelrod is the only man to ever do it. Axelrod, of course, can’t just give his help. He has to cut down Boyd first and then deliver a rousing speech that’s more appropriate on the front lines of the battlefield than inside a multi-million dollar penthouse, but that’s what you get with Axelrod. Now, Chuck and Axelrod are once again circling each other, another confrontation looming, and a number of players are surely ready to be disposed of in their battle of egos.