by Sean T. Collins | New York Times | April 28, 2019
Season 4, Episode 7: ‘Infinite Game’
Wendy Rhoades really cares about her husband. In spite of his grasping ambition and her position in the crossfire during his now-ended war with her boss, and in spite of how Chuck outed them both as sadomasochists, she wants him to be happy. She hates that he has been made to suffer.
But Wendy is suffering, too, which is one reason she wants to sell their home. When Chuck responded by divulging a story of emotional abuse from his childhood — in which the lesson from his mercurial father was that all women crave domination — Wendy was horrified, of course. She isn’t out to compound Chuck’s anguish by destabilizing his home. She is selling the house not to punish him, but to move beyond her own painful memories. And she’s probably doing it for his sake, as well.
But Wendy’s thoughtfulness does not extend to everyone. Indeed, her mind can be a pretty dark place.
One person she isn’t fooling is Mafee (a never-better Dan Soder), Bobby’s ex-employee who is now the lieutenant of his nemesis, Taylor Mason. He sees fully now that what was behind her smile wasn’t the benevolence of “some serene and wise teacher.” He screamed as much in full view of Bobby and everyone else at Axe Cap.
“It hid a sick, vicious phony,” he shouts. “Now I know what you really are: a [expletive] monster.”
As security halls the furious man away, in part to keep him and Dollar Bill from coming to blows, he closes out his tirade: “You’re a garbage person, Wendy! That’s what you are! That’s what you all are!”
It was very, very difficult to come away from Sunday night’s ruthlessly cruel episode without drawing the same conclusion.
For once, the plot of “Billions” was actually pretty simple to summarize: By faking a chance encounter with Mafee and renewing her therapeutically friendly relationship with Taylor, Wendy figured out in last week’s episode that the Mason family dynamic was its weak link. Turn Taylor against Doug, she surmised, and the whole edifice would collapse.
So Bobby and Chuck this week formed a sort of bucket brigade of back stabbing, bribery and blackmail. Aided by a series of very funny cameos — the sight gag in which the towering Clancy Brown and the tiny Danny Strong stand at adjacent urinals is one for the ages — they induce the Bureau of Industry and Security Secretary (Chelcie Ross), a man known as Hard Bob, to shut down Doug’s aerospace project on national-security grounds.
And all it took to persuade the secretary — an adult film enthusiast, of course (see: Hard Bob) — was the help of a few real-life porn stars: Lisa Ann, Cory Chase (Audrey Joyce Leon), and Rayveness (Gina-Raye Carter), adding three more cameos to the list.
The choice left to Taylor was stark and simple: Mason Cap could stay committed to Doug’s project, mounting a quixotic challenge to the bureaucracy while hemorrhaging other clients who wanted no part of the battle; or it could pull the plug on the project, and on Doug, sending him packing with a check while selling his life’s work to the government.
Taylor chose Plan B. Doug retreated in rage, furious that his dreams meant nothing to a child who had grown cold. Taylor was furious, too, taking his reaction as proof that he got back in touch only in hopes that his mega-rich and mega-smart kid could further his own ambitions.
The firm is intact, but everyone involved is broken. It was pure disgust that moved the usually laid-back bro Mafee to storm into his old office and go berserk at the woman who helped manipulate the entire affair.
Bobby being Bobby, he sees Mafee’s meltdown as a sign of success; the dinner party he throws after buying out his old pizzeria boss, Bruno, takes place later that night. That’s one way to process being a garbage person.
But not everyone is so inured to her own garbage-ness. When the assembled merrymakers (including Axe’s estranged friend Freddie Aquafino, played by Noah Emmerich) bite into their slices, Wendy isn’t there. She has put her home on the market for real this time, complete with a freshly baked pie to, you guessed it, manipulate potential buyers.
Chuck, who spends the episode embroiled in a cover-up over that gun permit he secured for a bigwig earlier in the season, is told by the real estate broker he can’t eat the pie. But he sure gets a mouthful of the symbolism.
What does Wendy do instead of party? She runs through the night, compulsively, until Mafee’s words and her own guilt and pain catch up to her and she clutches a railing to cry. It’s awful to see this preternaturally composed and brilliant person break down. It’s also a tremendous payoff for the work Maggie Siff has done in creating Wendy’s aura: She may not have been invulnerable, but she always did come across as invincible. Not anymore.
Directed by Laurie Collyer from a script by the series creators and showrunners Brian Koppelman and David Levien, Sunday’s episode showed the “Billions” crew at its worst. Often, we feel compelled to measure these characters by their best behavior, even when we know we shouldn’t — a testament to how well-drawn and well-acted these characters are. But this week challenged that good faith. Perhaps we shouldn’t be giving them so much benefit of the doubt after all.
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