In the past, Billions was all about tug-of-war. Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) would win an inch of territory; Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) would push back three feet, but in doing so shoot himself in the foot — which Chuck had been planning for. And so on, and so on.
The fourth season of Billions is different. The fourth season has been leading toward a reckoning, an implosion of the whole game. And Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff), not the men of her life, is the focus of this tremendous arc.
For years, Wendy has helped Chuck and Bobby with their personal crusades (essentially, she’s been Hand of the Kings). In doing so, her reputation as a doctor has been dragged along and muddied. A small tally of Wendy’s smashings of the Socratic Oath: Wendy broke doctor-patient confidentiality by exploiting Taylor’s (Asia Kate Dillon) relationship with their father to take them down earlier this season. She designated Dr. Gilbert (Seth Barrish) a fall guy — and he wound up in jail. Then, there are the mundane transgressions: She listens to all of Axe Cap’s employees as they rattle on about illegal insider trading schemes.
Now, Wendy’s medical license is under review, thanks to Taylor’s complaint with the board. On New Year’s Day, a war room assembles to help prepare for the hearing. Bobby and Chuck are back to bickering; this time, about the right strategy for Wendy to take to save her license. This much is clear: Of the two men, only Bobby would do anything for Wendy. Remember, when faced with the opportunity to get Wendy off the hook earlier this season, Chuck didn’t take Connerty’s (Toby Leonard Moore) deal. Bobby, on the other hand, flew home from Fiji like a knight in a tight grey shirt. Now that's sacrifice.
This much is also clear: Wendy and Chuck have lost the ability to speak to each other without venom seeping into their sentences. Their crumbling marriage contrasts with Bobby and Wendy’s relationship, which is in full bloom. He sees her. He appreciates her. Always has, even back when they first started working together after post-9/11. Wendy’s “marriage” to Bobby will survive, but I doubt her marriage to Chuck will. Chuck hasn’t even passed Wendy 101: Understanding why she would refuse to “take the deal” that he’d pre-negotiated. It’s giving up and giving in, which Wendy doesn’t do! Hello, Chuck!
This episode, Billions writers are doing THE MOST to make sure we pick up on how differently Bobby and Chuck value Wendy. Bobby can name the precise moment he needed Wendy in his life forever (“what kind of man would I be if I couldn’t?”). Meanwhile, when asked to identify the moment he knew he wanted to marry Wendy, Chuck can’t do it. Womp womp.
Wendy’s taking a major risk by going through with the trial. This could have huge ramifications for everyone she’s ever known. Once Wendy goes on the stand, secrets are going to come out. So far, the plan is to position Taylor as a client, not as a patient, so their information isn’t protected under doctor-patient confidentiality. But that also means nothing that other Axe Cap “clients” have told Wendy would be protected, and could thus be dragged into the trial.
It’s also worth nothing that Taylor’s personal life may also be dragged into the trial. What corrupt things has Taylor gotten up to?
Funny that you ask. Currently, Taylor’s trying to sabotage Bobby and Rebecca Cantu’s (Nina Ariadna) Saylor’s department store venture. So while Bobby’s helping Wendy, he’s putting out that fire, and trying to get out of paying taxes on with 17 Picasso originals. Bobby might be busy, but he still shows up for Wendy (unlike Chuck, who leaves because he has “other things” to get to).
Aside from pre-trial cram seshes at Axe Cap and Mason Cap, this episode also filled out the characters of two supporting players: Connerty and Wags (David Costabile).
Wags is the Fool of Axe Cap — there for cheek pop culture references, hedonism, dressing up in gowns. Yet it’s increasingly obvious this behavior has grown around a deep emptiness. While on vacation, his father’s watch was stolen by a 22-year-old woman. Wags returns bereft. He craves and sorely lacks genuine human connection. The real kind. So, he weeps in the arms of a professional cuddler.
Meanwhile, Connerty realizes that in order to take Chuck down, he’ll have to become Chuck. So, he’ll have to become a petty criminal.
Connerty almost has Chuck Sr. & Jr. nabbed for fraud, money laundering, international violations — a whole host of misdeeds. Through a wire tap, he learns the Rhoades made an illegal deal with the Secretary of the Treasury Krakow (Danny Strong). Krakow will get a $5 million cut of the housing development in exchange for unfreezing their accounts. The only problem with the wiretap? The Rhoades’ talk about the deal with their lawyer, Ira Schermer (Ben Shenkman), making it protected under attorney client privilege. Connerty can’t use it.
But Connerty is tired of losing while Chuck gloats. Tired of the rules, which hold him back from pursuing actual misdeeds. Now that he’s under the influence of a charismatic, ever-sweaty performance coach, Dr. Gus (Marc Kudisch), Connerty is just unhinged enough to go Full Criminal. Connerty heads to the bars of his youth and enlists his robber brother to help pick the Rhoades’ safe to get his hands on that signed document.
Yes, you read that right. A brother! Connerty has a brother! Connerty's backstory is so underdeveloped, it’s possible to think he was born a full adult in court of the Southern District. What past is Connerty finally leaning in to? What will we learn of our Bryan? Well, we know something already: He's mimicking exactly what he loathes in Chuck.
Attorney client privilege and patient client privilege both drive this episode. These concepts are upheld by trust and nobility — qualities most of the characters don’t have anymore. But is there a way to restore trust?
Wendy hopes so. She meets with Taylor in a parking lot (where else do these two meet, anyway?). Wendy asks Taylor not show up to the hearing. Surprisingly, Taylor agrees. “There is someone inside of you who knows right from wrong. I’m giving you a chance to save yourself,” Taylor declares. Taylor gives Wendy the chance to fight for her license, and fight to be a person who won’t ever screw over a client again.
The tug-of-war this season isn’t between Chuck and Bobby. It takes place within Wendy: She has to choose what kind of woman she’s going to be.