Season 5: Episode 5 of Billions ("Contract"), Reviewed by a Finance Guy
Things got extremely horny this week
Every Sunday night, we’ll be diving into the latest episode of Billions — the best finance-driven dramedy on premium cable — with a technical assist from Elliot Grossman, a veteran of the financial services industry. Since Billions is loosely based on real characters, we’ll be homing in on how the show tracks with the real world events and situations that inspire it. But of course, we’ll also be celebrating its wild excesses, shoddy ethics, endless cringes and highly questionable dancing.
Last week, we tackled Season 5’s highly existential episode, “Opportunity Zone.” This week, we’re jumping into the extremely horny “Contract.”
Nel Nome del Padre
All season we’ve been watching Chuck and Axe in the process of radical transformation. Our beloved Chuck is reforming his methods, cleaning up his ethics and even having some conventional, missionary-style sex. Axe, on the other hand, is headed the other way — he’s getting angrier, more monstrous, more tribal and defiant.
Pouring gas on the old Oedipal fire this week are two subplots involving Chuck and Axe and their fathers, which befit their respective pushes into humanity (Chuck) and the diabolical (Axe). Bobby Axelrod’s father has been a cipher-in-wait, and after four-plus seasons, the man who left home when Axe was 12 returns — not with a bang, but a whimper. Papa Axe, after flunking out of his West Coast life, is back on the East Coast, riding the bus to look for work until he finds his way into taking the Lexus that Axe gave his mother. By the episode’s end, that Lexus is a crushed cube on the street outside Axe’s pop’s apartment.
There’s a lot to unpack here! Axe spying on his own mother. Axe threatening to cut off his mother. Axe, after bailing on meatloaf dinner with a younger version of himself (Savian), in his childhood home no less, returns to then buy his childhood home. To top it all off, he and his posse put a community bank out of business! What is going on, Axe?!
Then there’s Chuck, Sr., whom we see flirt with mortality and vulnerability after keeling over during a play session with his infant daughter. And, all of a sudden, the man who’s been shaming, hectoring and belittling poor Chuck all these years is in need.
But where Axe called in the demolition crew to handle his childhood tormentor, Chuck finds himself moved by the sight of his enfeebled father. After visiting Connerty in jail, it’s the episode’s second punch in the face for Chuck.
A House Divided
Speaking of two stubborn forces moving in opposite directions, let’s dissect what’s happening between Mase Capital and Axe Capital. They share a roof, they seem to be in competition and contrast with each other and, in this episode, Taylor announces the full-blown creation of an impact-driven subsidiary (Taylor Carbon).
This is one dynamic I’ve been truly curious about. How exactly does this work? One (perhaps dumb) parallel I’d been thinking of, is the Gap/Old Navy/Banana Republic/Athleta conglomerate. They’re all under the umbrella of Gap, but theoretically they do slightly different things, while also generally drawing from the same target audience. Elliot, our guide through the wilderness, explains that a better example might be ad agencies.
“If you watched Mad Men you see those conflicts when the agencies merge or are taken over,” he writes. “The bosses kind of divide the world up and discard the people or clients who are too insignificant in their new world. There have been some notable mergers in the hedge-fund industry in past years, but I have to admit I don’t know that much about what happens after these mergers take place.”
What sets this example apart though, is that the redundancies in Billions-land haven’t been sent out on the ice floes yet. (Although “corporate douche” Will Roland came close this week.) “Typically these mergers are done to improve scale, reduce costs or gain exposure to new areas of business,” Elliot adds. “I am sure there is competition over which PMs get which assignments, over specific trades and certainly bonus pool money.”
In this season, one major beneficiary of Axe Cap’s capture of Mase Cap has been Wendy, who strikes a deal with Taylor to become a partner at their all-new venture, Taylor Mason Carbon. But in spite of this new alliance, when Axe calls in crisis, she drives to Yonkers to sit with him in his old bedroom. Between Axe’s crushed Lexus, Nico Tanner’s demolition sites and Taylor’s climate-themed impact fund, Wendy is getting deep into the mire. It’ll be a lot of fun to watch where all this goes.
Odds and Ends
- Yes, there are Stevie Wonder truthers. It’s nuts out there, people. But for those of you looking to indulge, it’s Stevie’s microphone assist during a Paul McCartney performance of “Hey Jude” that has the conspiracy aflutter.
- It’s a low-trafficked entry, but Urban Dictionary does have an entry for the word “swick,” which newcomer Rian dispatched in her interview with Taylor. Use with caution.
- Okay, I get it. I get it. The Billions obsession with Godfather references is probably true to life. But that doesn’t mean it’s not irritating as hell. So when Chuck, Sr., pulls a Vito Corleone, I did wonder if he’d moved onto the bad place. Good one, guys.
Until next week, since we can’t have a steak in Paris or Vegas, let’s just settle for a steer.