There’s always one question, above all else, that Chuck and Axe have to be asking themselves: who are they comfortable getting into bed with? It’s a question with a literal and figurative meaning. “Arousal Template,” perhaps more than any other episode, explores the way sex and power are intertwined, especially in this world of high finance and dirty politics. So, this episode isn’t just about Axe deciding whether to invest in a robotics company, or Chuck thinking about who he needs by his side for his next move on his way back to prominence, but also the ways that sexual relationships are all part of the cost-benefit analysis.
We’ll get to all the sex in a bit, but there are other things to cover first. Now that Axe has been warned by Grigor to lay off Taylor, he’s looking for ways to bleed the company dry in subtler ways. Or, so he says. Axe isn’t the most subtle guy, and when Taylor meets with a number of banks looking for money to use for the Quant program and is stonewalled by every single one, they all suspect that Axe is behind it. Sure enough, this is just the first stage of Axe’s plan. When he meets a very rich woman and fellow capitalist vulture named Rebecca at a robotics pitch, he begins to see another plan.
He’s in awe of Rebecca, and the surefire way she pokes holes in the investment pitch. He likes her ambition and her no-nonsense behavior, but he also likes that she represents an opportunity. So, after Wendy and Wags tell him that he can’t just be buying stakes in crappy companies simply to spite Taylor, he decides to pivot. He needs a true partnership with someone who can help him take Taylor down. He gets his employees to dig into Rebecca’s portfolio. We don’t know exactly what he wants, but he seems intrigued by a janitorial company called Eureka that’s skimming the wages of its immigrant workers.
With that knowledge in his back pocket, he sets up a dinner with Rebecca. The two instantly have chemistry; they’re basically the same person. They talk money and power and rooms full of people that don’t see how brilliant they are, and then Axe pitches his partnership. He wants in on some of what she’s got just to be a team. When she lists a few ideas, offhandedly, Axe jumps on Eureka. She seems suspicious that he wants that one so bad, but can’t quite figure out his motivations. One thing is clear though: she’ll let him in on Eureka, and she’ll sleep with him. There was just no way this meeting was ending without them going back to a penthouse and having sex.
The sex may or may not be part of the plan, but it does tell us that Axe and Rebecca are ready to work together in a number of ways. It doesn’t take long for Axe to keep scheming though. He sends one of his employees undercover at Eureka, where they record a video of the boss taking “his share” of money from the workers on payday. Then, Axe gives that video to a reporter he has in his pocket, and it makes the news. Rebecca sees what he’s done, and she’s both pissed and impressed. She reams him out for forcing his way into a partnership, takes back half of her shares, and then goes to lunch with him. As they say, all is fair in love and war.
Axe, of course, isn’t the only one making more power plays. Taylor, attempting to outmaneuver Axe, meets with Grigor. He tells them that he has some friends, the Kozlovs, who can give them the money they need for the Quant program, so Taylor takes a meeting. The thing is, these guys are dumber and more dangerous than Grigor. Taking their money could be bad news, but not taking their money could end up offending Grigor, who could then leave with his money. Taylor is forced to come up with a plan where they accept the money, but the Kozlovs are unable to follow through.
It’s a storyline that doesn’t get much play in this episode, but it’s fun enough as it is. Taylor puts in a sneaky call to the Patriot Trust bank, knowing that they’ll go right back to Axe with the information that the Kozlovs are about to invest in Taylor Mason Capital. That means Axe orders Patriot Trust to squeeze the Kozlovs, which gives Taylor exactly what they want. On top of all that, Grigor isn’t upset, but rather impressed. It turns out he was testing Taylor, seeing what they’d do under pressure. Taylor, feeling confident and like they earned Grigor’s respect, tells him to use his influence to get the banks back on her side so that Taylor Mason Capital isn’t solely reliant on his money. He grins and agrees to the proposal.
Lastly, we can talk about Chuck. He’s moving swiftly back into power, or at least close to it. He gets even closer with the police commissioner, Richie Sansome, in this episode. After securing the concealed carry permit as a favor, he’s moved on to making deals for the man. Sansome thinks there’s some shady stuff going on with the police pension fund and asks Chuck to look into it, specifically into the activities of its administrator, Raul Gomez. Chuck does what he’s told, and comes to understand that Axe and Gomez are definitely earning money off the fund. He doesn’t have all the evidence to back it up, but what he does have is a different plan. When he meets with Axe to ask him about the fund and getting rid of Gomez, Axe says he can’t do it. But, he does offer up an alternative, which is getting rid of Michael Panay, the disgraced investor that both Axe and Chuck have had run-ins with, who helps run the fund under Gomez.
That sets in motion a new plan, as Chuck tells Sansome that the best move here is to get Gomez to fire Panay. That leaves an open spot on the fund for someone more friendly to the commissioner’s interests, and Chuck assures him that the replacement will be a good fit because the replacement is Axe. As Axe says, “everybody wins…and maybe Panay loses.” With that deed done, Chuck makes his move, asking Sansome to endorse his run for Attorney General, an offer that Sansome is quick to agree to. He knows a good partnership when he sees one.
So, like I said, everyone is sharing beds right now. There’s all sorts of power and influence swirling around, from Axe and Rebecca’s new financial and sexual relationship to Bryan threatening to ruin Chuck during his run for A.G. Then, there’s Wendy. She’s growing closer to the people at Axe Capital, enjoying her role more than ever, and that means she’s seeing some distance between her and Chuck, a distance underscored by the fact that their sex life is always on his terms. She indulges his kinks at all times, and then she’s left wondering what she wants for herself as Chuck slumbers and snores. There’s nothing wrong with Chuck relishing in his victory, in getting one step closer to reclaiming his throne. But he’s in big trouble if he forgets the ruthless queen who helped get him there.