Season 3, episode 11 of Billions — ”Kompenso” — is a reminder of why we watch Billions in the first place. This narratively tight episode, which takes place over the course of three days, showcases the personalities, complexes, hangups, and aspirations of main characters in all their glory, without much screen time given to new (and only semi-welcome) characters like Jock Jeffcoat (Clancy Brown) and Grigor Andolov (John Malkovich). The dialogue was perfectly over-the-top ("talk to people who make you feel dirty"); the references were bracingly literary (The Outsiders, Hamlet, and Leonard Cohen at the Chelsea Hotel); the Ari Spyros (Stephen Kunken) outbursts unforgettable. This show is one big inside joke, and damn, it feels good to be on the inside.
This episode had two running themes. One was reconciliation. Various characters sewed up old rifts: Ira (Ben Shenkman) and Chuck (Paul Giamatti), Dake (Christopher Denman) and Connerty (Toby Leonard Moore), Lara (Malin Akerman) and Axe (Damian Lewis), Lara and Wendy (Maggie Siff). The other theme, I’d say, would be Axe and Chuck’s empires of dominance being slowly chipped away at. The dudes we thought were infallible may not be so infallible. More specifically, the dudes we thought were infallible may have trained their second-in-commands too well.
When we first encounter Chuck in this episode, he’s watching Kate (Condola Rashad) watch Salt Bae sprinkle salt over a steak and drool. In his quest to indict Jeffcoat, Chuck is trying to teach Karl (Allan Havey) and Kate how to go through life the Chuck Rhoades way. According to Chuck, the Rhoades’ even have their own Games of Thrones-esque family motto: “Never say sorry.” That’s right up there with repaying debts.
Chuck gets distracted by Ira Shermer, who’s eating at another table. As you'll recall, the former best friends double-crossed each other, and now the their relationship is mired with guilt and wrong-doings. It only takes about two minutes for Chuck to weasel his way into a reconciliation. Ira fills him in on his main Life Event: He used Axe’s payoff money to finally marry Taiga (Comfort Clinton), the woman who loves Ira’s money more than she loves him. Apparently, Taiga is starting the yoga studio equivalent of Soul Cycle. Chuck looks concerned the same way your mom would be if you told her you were dating someone starting the yoga studio equivalent of Soul Cycle.
Chuck sets forth on a noble mission to “out” Taiga’s gold-digging ways, whether or not Ira asked him to do so. He recruits a former Wall Street guy turned convict turned high-tech gym founder, and offers him a clean slate in exchange for tracing Taiga’s money trail. As Chuck suspected, it’s all a fraud. Taiga’s having an affair with another man, and they’re buying an apartment with the money, not opening a yoga studio. Ira, our buddy, is not surprised by Taiga's wandering — but he still wants things to work out. He's a sad-eyed puppy! I want him to end up with a really sweet librarian who will appreciate him.
Chuck works to undo the pairing. After barely three minutes of Chuck-powered intimidation, Taiga’s lover cracks and gives back the money. In his father's apartment, Chuck convinces Taiga to sign a post-nup so she can divorce Ira without financially gutting him. Chuck’s dad (Jeffrey DeMunn), listening from the other room, thinks he has a better idea. He bursts into the apartment living room and delivers an outrageous, scattered speech about waiting seven years of marriage to get a divorce, making a baby your marriage’s project, not bringing home the clap (“it’s uncivil”). This guy is so unpredictable. Anyway, it works: Ira gets to keep Taiga, which is what he wanted all along.
Chuck’s so distracted by this good deed he doesn’t realize that he’s still being screwed over. Connerty over at the FBI was ordered by Jock Jeffcoat to run through every agents’ text, email, and messaging. Connerty comes across an agent who carried out one of Chuck’s plans. Unsure how to proceed, he consults with a newly bearded Dake in D.C. The two morally righteous men finally realize now’s their time to take Chuck down.
Chuck might be able to catch Jeffcoat before Connerty catches him. He recruits the Attorney General of New York on his plan to catch the big fish. The AG of NY will bring up a case against Texas South Cable, knowing full well Jock will try to stop the case. The second Jock intervenes, they’ve caught him. They’ll bring him up on obstruction of justice charges. “Topple the man and then be the man,” Chuck coos to the AG’s ear. It works.
I’ll say, while things were interesting in Chuck-town, they were THRILLING in Axe-ville. It’s comp season, and for Axe, comp season begins the same each year: He arrogantly pays for the breakfast of Bill McGann (Corbin Bernsen), who refused to give him a raise years ago. This year, McGann calls him soulless (and a "soc, not a greaser"). McGann’s accusation hangs over the whole episode. Even his mother wonders whether Axe has a conscience. Is Axe soulless? Is there a voice in his head helping him navigate between right and wrong, not between profitable and not profitable? No, there isn’t — if there were, he just would’ve given Orrin (Glenn Fleshler) that extra one million and helped out his entire law firm. But there are Wendy and Lara, the buoys bringing Axe closer to humanity.
It's comp season, so the analysts at Axe Cap are waiting to be fed multi-million dollar bonuses like they’re golden hens. Axe is having a hard time this season: For one, since they haven’t raised funds yet, the bonuses are coming out of his pocket.
Each of the analysts sit before King Axe and try to strut for crumbs of Axe’s fortune. Bonne (Sarah Stiles), my curly-haired queen and new favorite analyst, makes a high demand, because “You rarely get what you don’t ask for. That’s why I’m asking.” She gets rejected, but is respected. Mafee (Dan Soder) plays tough and gets two mil. Ben Kim gets promoted to Portfolio Manager, but no raise. So happy to see Ben Kim flourish! Wendy gets her Ice Juice money, doubled (does anyone know what that adds up to?). For his endless loyalty, Wags gets a stack of his favorite old porno magazines, which Axe had taken from his mother’s house — and $9 million.
There’s only one person unsatisfied with their offer, and that’s Taylor. Actually, Taylor’s just unsatisfied in general, for reasons including a) Axe sabotaged their relationship with sweet, sweet Oscar and b) Axe has been gradually pushing Taylor away. Taylor wants $50 million for their work saving the company. Axe refuses to offer more than $20 million. But the issue, for Taylor, isn’t just the money: It’s feeling stuck and under-appreciated. Axe recognizes he has a gem on his hands — but instead of using Taylor and their quants, he regards them as competition. Meanwhile, in another building elsewhere, Taylor is grooming her quants to be Axe 2.0.
Taylor explains as much in conversation with Wendy. “I need forward momentum above all things, even money,” they say. And they’re not getting any in the stifling environment of Axe Cap, where Axe is still grappling with the fact that he’s no longer invincible. He may be rich, but as Wendy says, he still has to deal with people who want things (like Taylor). “There’s no amount of money that frees you from being a person,” Wendy says.
Axe doesn’t budge until Wendy pulls a classic maneuver. She convinces Lara to talk to Axe by bringing up the one subject Lara will always talk about: the state of the fortune (“The money, Bobby. Don’t lose it.”). She reminds Lara that she’s the largest primary stakeholder in Axe Cap. Doesn’t she want it to succeed? If so, she has to help him through comp decisions like she used to.
Lara unexpectedly pays a visit to Axe at the bachelor pad. To think, only weeks ago, an orgy spun in those very same walls. “I’m right about a lot of things,” Lara tells Axe — and she is. He’d be right to take her back. They kiss, but she leaves before things get “messy.” Please, get messy!
Axe finally listens. He offers Taylor $25 million – and a seat at the capital raising table. He feeds them the same line Taylor fed Wendy ("forward momentum above all things") and it makes Axe seem like, for once, he's not the mastermind — Taylor is. Taylor’s undeniable stoked. But they’re also stoked about the other project. Their sole quant, that deliciously smarmy guy (Will Rolan), has mastered an algorithm that’s the equivalent to Bobby Axelrod’s mind, only without all the irrationalities and strutting. Really, though, how did the quant put that together so quickly? Taylor is officially opening their Taylor Mason Capital, with a perfect logo, I may add. And they’re going to Andolov for seed money.
During their comp meeting, Axe dismissed Taylor for not having accomplished anything or started anything as early as he had. But, as we see in these final moments, Taylor might be more talented than he is. More capable. Taylor has none of the hang-ups or need for peacocking Axe has. They would never get involved in a war with Chuck Rhoades. They’d make sure they never had to.
It looks like Bobby Axelrod just got some new competition, and I’m suspicious as to whether this is competition he can actually beat.