By all accounts, Billions' Bobby Axelrod (Damien Lewis) should not be a character I actually like. In fact, just this past weekend, a group of men in finance were left speechless after I confessed I sort of, just a little, care for Bobby Axelrod. Even Damien Lewis says we shouldn't like Bobby. After all, he’s a blue-eyed capitalist demon, with no ounce of morals in the spine that holds him up. He’s good at what he does, and that is bad news for many, many people. Yet part of me has always admired Bobby and his brash confidence, his sense of purpose. I can imagine him when he was my age. Where I flail and second-guess, he probably bull-dozed through obstacles, knowing he was on his way to something more — to billions.
I excused my irrational, but stubborn, admiration for Bobby — he who famously sped up the dying process of his employee so his employee couldn’t testify against him, he who forced a town in upstate New York to declare bankruptcy — with one aspect of his personality. At least, I said, Bobby was a good husband. At least he wasn’t like his friend Wags (David Constabile), whose whole life was a string of cheating escapades and failed marriages. At the end of each bonkers workday, Bobby went home to Lara (Malin Akerman) and their two soon-to-be Large Adult Sons.
Billions made it blisteringly clear that Bobby was committed to Lara — in fact, there’s an entire storyline in season 1 to prove just that. In episode 4, “Short Squeeze,” Bobby meets an alluring musician, Elise (Kerry Bishe), who looks just enough like Lara for us to know that she is probably a temptation. They communicate solely through oblique and cheesy flirtation. Picking up on Bobby’s obvious interest, Elise makes a move. Bobby turns her down, saying, “If there were two of me, I would. But there’s not.” (Sidenote: If Bobby lived in the Altered Carbon universe, he would almost certainly be a meth, and there would probably be two of him. It is probably good that Bobby doesn’t live in the Altered Carbon universe).
This interaction proves that Bobby hasn't let tremendous wealth and power tamper with his respect for the terms of his marriage. It’s the equivalent of a “Lara Forever” tattoo. But all that changed with last night’s season 3 premiere, “Tie Goes To the Runner.” Season 3 catches Bobby and Lara in the aftermath of the great transgression Bobby committed last season. No, he didn’t cheat. He did something just as bad for Lara: He lied. As a result of Bobby’s manipulation, Lara kicked him out of their Connecticut estate. In the interim, Bobby has taken shelter in a Manhattan bachelor pad (clearly decorated as an homage to the aesthetics of Axe Capital).
The moment that shows how everything has changed for Bobby only for lasts a few seconds. At one point, he answers the doorbell and casually greets a blonde woman at the door. Is this a masseuse? A cleaner? A manicurist? Another therapist, maybe? It took a moment for me to register who this woman could be. Bobby casually asks if they have to do dinner first. She shakes her head. They go upstairs.
Oh – that’s who she is. For the first time on Billions, Bobby is sleeping with someone who’s not his wife. Of course, he and Lara are separated; perhaps they discussed sleeping with other people. But given the show’s precedent, Bobby and Lara didn’t discuss this (When Chuck and Wendy were going through a separation last season, their conversation about seeing other people was a pivotal scene. Bobby and Lara would likely have gotten the same treatment from the Billions writers room).
Whether or not Bobby violated the terms of his separation by sleeping with a sex worker, this scene proves that Bobby is taking a leap away from the one thing that had pinned him back to the world of humanity: his family unit. The trend is real: Bobby also fails to bring his sons to Little League practice, and sends the helicopter instead.
Without the family and their gingerbread mansion, who will Bobby be? Not that Lara never functioned as Bobby’s superego, no. Like Bobby, she was concerned with the Axelrod money and the Axelrod family above all — in fact, she encouraged him to send the New York town into bankruptcy, even when everyone else was balking at the obvious immorality of that move. But for all her Lady Macbeth-ness, Lara did keep Bobby grounded to a set of humanizing values, to a kindness and honesty that he never could exhibit in his ruthless, all-consuming workplace. Lara and the boys were reminder of the World Outside Finance.
Now that the World Outside Finance has officially shut him out and sent him to a bachelor pad, I worry for Bobby’s character. Although I don’t worry for the watchability of his character. Even if I no longer admire Bobby, his spiral will assuredly take Billions into new and exciting territory. And what does my excitement at this prospect say about my character? Someone call Wendy.
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