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- Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff, Malin Akerman
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Ominously enough, this week’s Billions opens with a shot of lower Manhattan, with the Freedom Tower in clear focus. Given what we know (or think we know) about Bobby Axelrod and his connection to 9/11, does this establishing shot establish more than just the setting? Indeed.
Since this episode is essentially a collection of people snarling at each other, let’s run down tonight’s episode by detailing each of its many battles. After all, as we learn throughout the night, the theme of this installment is, basically, “don’t get pooped on.”
Round 1: Lara Axelrod vs. The 9/11 Widow
You remember June Raichlein, the woman from the pilot episode who lost her husband — Axelrod’s former colleague at their old firm, located in the Twin Towers — on 9/11? The one with a vendetta? Well now she’s hooking up with a book publisher, having hot sex as Flaubert and Tolstoy look on disapprovingly from the bookshelf. Also on the publisher’s shelf: a manuscript of June’s soon-to-be-published memoir, titled 9/12: The Day After. At approximately 70,000 words and 279 pages, it looks to be a sensational read. And the publisher she’s banging can’t wait to start selling it.
Neither can Lara Axelrod. Concerned about what this rogue defector from the Team Axe camp might reveal, Lara manages to get her hands on a manuscript. Chapter 10 turns out to be a big problem. Axe, we learn, did some not-so-savory things around the time of the disaster, things that apparently would reflect very poorly (and perhaps very illegally) on him. We aren’t given the details of whatever indiscretion might’ve occurred (there’s talk of him having made some unseemly investments at the time), but it’s enough to concern Lara.
So she takes the matter to their company lawyer to find out what legal options she has to prevent the book’s publication. There aren’t many good ones, she’s told, since defamation wouldn’t apply here. Whatever the book alleges looks to be the truth. But that’s okay because it occurs to Lara that she has something more effective than legal options — social recourse.
And so begin’s Lara’s campaign to ruin the 9/11 widow’s life even more than it already has been. She effectively gets June blackballed from the most important facets of her life. Barre class? Her name’s not in the system anymore. Tee time at the country club? Mysteriously canceled. Her son’s legacy admission to Stanford? Suddenly declined.
Yes, those may seem like petty luxuries that Americans should be able to live without. But in their world, not making the barre class is essentially subhuman behavior. June is ruined. And it doesn’t take her long to figure out who’s behind this streak of bad luck.
So June comes to Lara with her tail between her legs and a “revised” version of her manuscript. Chapter 10 has been heavily edited, she tells Lara. Lara responds kindly…by telling June that maybe her son will get into Stanford after all.
Later that night, Lara fills Axe in on her “good” deeds. He’s impressed. They’re a perfect team.
Winner: Lara Axelrod
Round 2: Bobby Axelrod vs. Hutch “YumTime” Bailey III
As you may recall from last week, Axe has made a surprisingly strong investment in YumTime, a Hostess-like company that produces pseudo-Twinkies and other such treats. Now we see a truckload of YumTime products arrive at Axelrod’s doorstep. “Whenever you can, put a company in your mouth,” he tells one of his employees — advice they don’t teach at Stanford. (That honorable California university is, for whatever reason, the college of choice on the very East Coast-centric Billions.)
So what does Axe plan to do with his notable 4.9 percent stake in the YumTime company? A lot of people want to know, none more than Hutch Bailey III. He’s the CEO of the company, just as his dad was before him, and his father’s father before him. It was that first Hutch who founded the company, in fact. So when he gets wind of Axelrod’s large investment, he can’t help but wonder if he’s got an activist investor on his hands.
He does. Bobby has a meeting with the non-Hutch YumTime board members to tell them his investment is not a vote of confidence. He wants his minority stake to translate into a meaningful seat at the table, or else he’ll go Starboard-Yahoo on them. More specifically, Axe proposes that the company gets rid of Hutch Bailey III altogether. He’s an unfit scion who inherited a family business he wasn’t qualified to run, Axe tells them. Plus, Hutch messed with all the recipes.
But there’s a very Billions-y twist behind all this: Chuck’s dad is having an affair Evelyn Benson, a woman on YumTime’s board of directors. Chuck Sr. theorizes that this is Bobby’s real play — to send a “f— you” message to the Rhoades clan.
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To ensure his plan’s success, Axelrod gets some valuable intel on the most consequential member of the YumTime board. His name is Jerry Purkheiser, and he’s a real folksy guy, it turns out. So Axe turns up his Common Man knob by taking the guy out to dinner at that outer-borough pizzeria he invested in way back in episode 1. Over slices, he lays out what he thinks he’s wrong with YumTime. “It’s classic, time immemorial,” Bobby tells Jerry. “Hutch I starts it, Hutch II grows it, Hutch III blows it. Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.”
By this point in the series, it’s become clear that there’s one thing that bothers Axe more than anything: the undeserved spoils that comes with privilege. It’s the same theme that played out in last week’s episode, when he got revenge on the blue-blooded Eads family. Bobby’s a middle-class kid who clawed his way to the top, and he resents the idle rich who inherit — and, often, squander — their seats at the table.
So Bobby shows up to the next board meeting to make his pitch. Predictably, Hutch III resists, labeling Axe a carpetbagger and a raider. But it’s too late: The board has already made up its mind, and they quickly vote to remove him from his perch.
But then after that, a strange second vote happens. The board, mostly white and nearly all male, all raise their hands in favor of a sudden movement to oust its lone female member, Evelyn. Yes, this was part of Bobby’s plan to get at Chuck Sr. all along. But it also has a whiff of misogyny. When Evelyn profanely protests the move, calling Jerry a “c—sucker,” he replies, “The same could be said of you, my dear,” which seems, well, unfairly inappropriate and mean-spirited. The scene ends with her leaving the room in a huff.
At any rate, Chuck and his father have a little sit-down to discuss this, and the tension between them starts to boil. The elder Rhoades wants his son to take action against Bobby immediately while the younger wants to build his case slowly and carefully to make sure it’s bulletproof. He wants to run for governor someday, we learn — and governors don’t get elected for losing to bankers. But the real damage is the widening rift between Chuck and his father, which, of course, Bobby can now take credit for. Sly dog.
Winner: Bobby Axelrod
NEXT: Wendy hedges her bets