Billions Season 2 Episode 2 Recap: "Dead Cat Bounce"

One thing that is great about Billions is how little you have to know about hedge funds (or the law) to understand it. You watch for what the big moves symbolize … and it’s usually just fragile masculinity. And so I sit back each week and luxuriate in the sensational speeches, the heightened characters, and the appeals to justice all knowing that everyone will bloviate so much that I’ll get what is going on and why. But, in the interest of being fair to you, dear reader, I will briefly recap what happened “financially” in the episode. Even though if I could actually replicate it in the real world, we’d all be on my yacht somewhere. So here we go, just pretend I’m Margot Robbie in a bathtub.
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Axe Capital’s new star intern Taylor detects Axe’s “roiling antipathy” for Todd Krakow and suggests a way to screw Todd over. Also Taylor says their pronouns are “They/ them/theirs.” What I loved about this scene was how in character it seemed for Axe to respond, “OK, you have two minutes.” He values insight above all else. And Taylor instantly shows their value with some kickass deductions. Taylor researched Krakow extensively and realized that he’s using satellites to decide where to invest, then Taylor figured out what satellites he’s using and what microchip company he’s looking at. Then Taylor discovered that the microchip company realized that it was being watched and took advantage of it by trying to look busy, but it actually is just a shell company. So then Axe and Taylor find the company that is gonna be screwed over by this fake microchip company’s inability to supply microchips and they short the stock. Gah, did you get all that?
Basically, Axe screws Krakow over by capitalizing on Krakow being ill informed. So now what does that mean for our characters? Well first, it instantly establishes a bond between Taylor and Axe, both the smartest people in the room. Axe offers Taylor twice the average entry-level salary to stay, then a million. Taylor says that Axe Capital can be discomfiting. Axe responds that Taylor needs to value how they see the world differently. I get this as an inspiration speech, but I can’t help but feel like it doesn’t get to the core of the problem. I mean, maybe Taylor doesn’t want to be in an office where people are yelling about how hard their dicks are all the time. Anyway, Taylor stays on a week-to-week deal because Axe is so smart it’s seductive and clearly Taylor likes that he realizes their genius.
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Then there’s the obvious point that Axe still wants Wendy back, even more than he wants to take down Chuck (which is saying a lot). He’s so mad he goes after total-slime ball Krakow, who seems like kinda a small fish compared to Axe, even if they were at the same panel. Axe’s love for Wendy even prevents him from ensuring that Chuck would go to jail by lying and saying that the 5 million he gave Wendy was a bribe. It would hurt Wendy too, so of course it’s a no go. Apparently there are some real big Oliver Dake fans out there, which I only really understood when he smiled from being put in his place like a naughty boy by Axe in this scene and Wendy earlier. But I did like that Dake said they’d give Axe immunity because hedge fund guys will do what they do but Chuck reports to a higher authority: justice. It’s funny to me because it’s both such an idealized way to look at the world and such a tainted way. There are probably a million theses on who does and does not deserve immunity.
The final thing this Krakow feud represents is how reckless Axe is still behaving. Kinda like a killer whale playing with a seal Axe tells his people to keep going after at the stock, waiting for the “dead cat bounce” – which Google tells us means: “a temporary recovery in share prices after a substantial fall…” -- then whacking bids again. He still wins in the end, but Stephanie has to point out that he could be walking into a trap because he’s too dead set on hurting Krakow to see all sides.
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This episode being titled “Dead Cat Bounce” makes me nervous because… it’s obviously not just called that because Axe mentions it once, right? The writers are saying that’s what Chuck Rhoades is experiencing too, right?
Chuck is essentially a dead man (cat?) walking this week. He’s going to be fired by the Attorney General in 3 days unless he can find a juicy case so prestigious yet complicated that the AG wouldn’t risk some new person assuming his role and mucking it up. He sets his three best lawyers on the hunt for this impossible case, but speaks vaguely enough so they don’t know it’s his last-ditch effort.
His bombast makes them unsure of how to proceed. This leads to a lot of talk about gamesmanship between Kate and Lonnie. Kate wants to team up, Lonnie nope. Kate suggests going after Spartan-Ives, Lonnie shoots her down in the meeting, because he knows Chuck wants someone who the AG hates. Lonnie gives Kate some evidence because he doesn’t want to be the one who has to win the “impossible” case, but he also doesn’t want Bryan getting credit. Basically, the best part about these scenes is how much these characters just speak their motives out loud. It’s as if they have to state every single possible intention they could have to each other.
Photo: Courtesy of Showtime.
Picture: Malin Akerman as Lara Axelrod and Damian Lewis as Bobby Axelrod.
Bryan doesn’t offer much but spends the whole episode seeming pretty spooked. Which I guess means he did do something wrong, because Oliver Dake, again, is not actually intimidating. Bryan calls Orrin and they reminisce about when Orrin was his professor and then talk about how the moral path seems less straightforward now, with too many vagaries. It was a nice little scene because it felt so genuine and nostalgic. Of course the law you learn in the classroom is purer than what you actually practice. Still, I wish someone on this show would show a little more that they really still have a grasp on what “justice” is. That might be Kate. Man, I hope she gets the promotion.
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The lawsuits against him are another thorn in Chuck’s side and his lawyer, Ira (who sidenote: looks super hot in his IMDB picture), says there’s no way the judge will throw the case out because some former Assistant US Attorney’s are going to say he used intimidation to get results. Which… seems true. Sometimes on this show I’m not sure if what Chuck is doing is actually illegal or just frowned upon. Like Dake is gonna go after Chuck not really being recused next but… is that illegal? Anyway, he seems pretty screwed on all sides, but this lawsuit thing is for another day.
Also because of trying to write a quote correctly I had to watch that frickin’ part where lawyer Ira says he’ll slide his date and her friend some gift cards like five times and let me just tell you it gets sadder every single time you watch it.
The final terrible part of Chuck’s terrible life right now is his separation from Wendy. His dad — who is just an old-timey misogynist villain at this point, but again, a lot of these characters play-to-the-rafters so we gotta just go with it — tries to step in with a huge ring. Of course that’s not Wendy’s thing… even though she did kind of trip over how much she loved that car Axe gave her last season. But the big moment that seems to thaw some of the ice between Wendy and Chuck comes when he tells her not to lie for him, he doesn’t want her going down too. I can never 100% tell if Chuck is being genuine, but this scene did a lot to warm my heart too. Also at the end of the episode Wendy gives him his big idea.
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But before we get to Chuck’s big pivot let’s talk about my other new favorite character (besides Taylor): the insane performance coach, Dr. Gus. He enters his office and places two metal balls on his desk, he yells at a guy to keep it hard in front of everyone, he confuses and intimidates. His scene with poor Ben is comedy gold! And he says random things like “I have an elephant dick of a memory” like constantly. IDK if this guy is genius or, more likely, escaped an asylum, but I’m here for it.
So back to Chuck: his Hail Mary plan is to go after a big retail company that the AG hates (because they hate her). Kate gives him emails from a whistleblower proving the company screwed employees and it goes up to the highest levels. Now, honestly, this would’ve been a storyline I’d have liked to see this season. But the AG is having none of it and it seems like Chuck’s time might be up. Except, of course, then we wouldn’t have a show! (Except, thinking long-term, I assume one of these guys will be in jail next season). So Chuck does what he should always do: he listens to the women. Wendy tells him he needs to do a 180. Kate told him to go after Spartan-Ives.
This was a genuinely thrilling sequence. Chuck has Ari call up a journalist and deny that the SEC is going after Spartan-Ives (can’t speak for the US Attorney), Chuck gets a call from the journalist and expertly plays him, then Lawrence Boyd, of Spartan-Ives, gets a call and looks peeved. So when Chuck does finally go to the AG she is pissed! She says now she obviously can’t fire him, it’ll look like she’s trying to protect her friend Lawrence Boyd. He won this round, she says, but he only bought himself a little more time. Then he moonwalks outta there. Well, not really, but he leaves smiling.
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Now, that would’ve been a great end of the episode. But instead we get this extra scene of Lawrence Boyd asking Axe for help defeating Chuck. Boyd says he’s been “an exemplar of rectitude” – I know this is hack but: that’d be a great band name – and is pissed he has to deal with this. Axe tells him he’ll help but he has to know if Boyd is a bastard who will do whatever it takes to win. You gotta assume Axe is rock hard in this scene. And Boyd is like “No duh… I’m obvs a bad guy too.” Because again, I know we’re supposed to practice moral relativism with this show but… come on. If you’re saying you will go outside the bounds of morality to win then you are probably not a good guy. Hopefully Chuck will actually be able to catch someone this season! His career depends on it!
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