Who is the most loyal creature in Billions? Is it a father? No, definitely not — they’ll psychologically abuse you or hit you up for funds for their aerospace company. Is it an employee? No, they’ll betray your trust. Is it a boss? No, they’ll sabotage you. Is it a husband? Definitely not, as Chuck’s (Paul Giamatti) latest stunt shows. Okay, then: It must be a dog, man’s best friend. But no! It’s not even a dog. As Chuck points out while talking to the trembling would-be extorter Shelby (Peter Jacobson), dogs will eat their owners.
In summary: All relationships in Billions are doomed for either a) betrayal or b) loyalty to the point of moral corrosion or c) brawls on the floor of Axe Capital. Yum! So, don’t count on Bobby (Damian Lewis) and Chuck’s alliance, even if they team up to ambush Treasury Secretary Krakow (Danny Strong) for his offshore accounts.
In this episode of Billions, characters’ loyalties are tested. More specifically, the reasoning behind their loyalties are tested. In the end, why should anyone be loyal to terrible people?
Such is the arc of this thought-provoking season of Billions. The majority of last episode’s recap was devoted to speculating how the heck Bobby and Chuck’s relentless feuds are perceived by outsiders, especially the women in their lives. That continues this episode – only now, some characters entrenched within the system are beginning to perceive their hamster wheel of vengeance as a tiring, futile exercise. After so much time submerged, what does the fresh air feel like? Cold, probably. Uncomfortable.
I’m talking about Wendy Roades (Maggie Siff). Lately, Wendy has been running alongside the East River to take her mind off things — “things” being her vindictive boss and her husband, who outed their kinky sexual proclivities in order to further his already craven career.
Wendy’s evening runs are a physical manifestation of what she’s been doing since the sun rose on the Billions empire. She’s always been running back and forth between two outposts, two powerful men who require so much of her. In the first two seasons, she played referee; this season, she’s playing doubles tennis alongside Bobby, taking out enemies. But is it worth it?
Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon), who went through the “awakening” process last season, recognizes that Wendy’s boxed herself in with her men. Maybe Wendy wants to be loyal to her self, not to Bobby and Taylor – but she hasn’t decided. And since she’s not sure of the game she’s playing, the audience is definitely not sure. I’m mystified by the end-game of her interactions with Taylor this season. Is Wendy playing Taylor, as she tells Bobby, or is she yearning for Taylor to help her break out of this mess?
Because more and more, Bobby and Chuck just seem like terrible people — too terrible to sustain relationships with. Wendy is left unmoved by Chuck’s sob-story about his (admittedly disturbing) childhood. In a rare pirouette of interiority, Chuck divulges that his father (Jeffrey DeMunn) used to surprise Chuck’s mother with deliberate and willful cruelty, because women “want” to be dominated. But all the story shows is how similar to his father Chuck has become, how similarly willing to betray his wife.
So, Wendy puts her house with Chuck on the market — but she’s still helping Bobby scheme. With Wendy’s help, Bobby spends this episode devising yet another attempt to sink Taylor’s already shaky ship. The key? Aim straight for Taylor’s tenuous relationship with their father, Douglas (Kevin Pollack), by forcing Taylor to sell out the IP to his aerospace tech.
Wendy and Bobby’s plan works. In exchange for a threesome with porn stars arranged by Bobby, government agent Bobby Beuford seizes Taylor’s tech as the government’s — it’s “vital” for national security. Taylor has to choose between dumping their father’s company to keep the firefighter’s pension on board, or staying loyal to their father.
In typical Taylor fashion, they devise a test to make a decision. They pretend to have folded and taken the government’s buy-out, then wait for their father’s reaction. Douglas responds with selfish vitriol and a declaration to walk out of Taylor Mason Capital — nothing’s keeping him here. Clearly, Douglas had never been invested in creating a relationship with their kid. But in his final speech, Douglas makes a good a point: Winning requires throwing relationships under the bus.
No one knows that more than Chuck. Thanks to his past actions, Chuck’s first days as Attorney General are consumed by cleaning up petty messes — it’s a recreation of the “old New York,” sustained by favors, that he dreamed about with the police commissioner in episode 1. Earlier this season, Chuck went on a quest to get a man a carry permit. This episode, he goes on a similar odyssey to undo the drastic results of that carry permit after the man kills his neighbor’s dog.
Essentially, each relationship in Billions is attached to a dangerous weight. Chuck’s relationship with his father is poised to deliver major repercussions on his career trajectory. Thanks to the wiretap he got last episode, Connerty is listening when Chuck promises to help his father overcome a “financing snag” with his development, through some backchannel contacts.
There’s no escaping from this world — or from this "infinite game," as the episode is titled. Not that the characters would want to escape. For Bobby, there is no end to scheming. To planning. To work. But this episode of Billions also reminds us that Bobby is not a normal person — this relentless way of conducting life is not the only way of conducting a life. Take a look at the self-described “paesano” (Arthur Nascarella) who owns the pizzeria. He wants to go to Florida. He wants to really retire.
While Rebecca (Nina Arianda) understands the friendly pizza man’s desires, Bobby doesn’t. These people are all rich, yes. They have all the world at their fingertips. But they are trapped in that world. As Joni Mitchell sings in the final song, “I wish I had a river I could skate away on.” I, for one, am hoping Wendy finds her river.