New Year’s Irresolution
by Sean T. Collins | New York Times | May 26, 2019
Season 4, Episode 10: ‘New Year’s Day’
“All is quiet on New Year’s Day.” Fat chance, Bono.
U2’s wintry hit “New Year’s Day” may kick off the “Billions” episode it shares a title with, but Bono’s opening line certainly doesn’t describe it. Directed with verve and humor by Adam Bernstein and written by the series creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien — always a sign that the game is well and truly afoot — “New Year’s Day” has the feel of a turning point for the season. Nothing shocking or momentous takes place, but the air is electric.
This, despite taking place on a traditionally low-key holiday. On a day when the rest of the world is nursing hangovers, watching bowl games or simply kicking back and chilling out, these workaholic characters are preparing for the fight of their lives. Or the fight of their year, anyway. (They do a lot of fighting.)
The focus of the episode falls on Wendy, who has become the show’s protagonist since Bobby and Chuck declared a cease-fire on her behalf. Her license to practice is on the line because of her unethical handling of Taylor Mason’s personal information, and her normally professional facade is being eaten away before her colleagues’ eyes.
Taylor sails smoothly through a mock medical-board hearing, augmented by Chuck and Wendy’s one-time friend Lonnie Watley (Malachi Weir). But Wendy flunks her practice session royally. Recognizing his wife’s dire straits, Chuck suggests a bargain: accept a suspension and probation in exchange for eventual expunction. When he advises her to take the deal instead of make a deal, though, the jig is up.
Wendy knows now that he expects her to lose and has made face-saving arrangements behind the scenes. She suspects this is as much about his own convenience as it is about her well-being, and she sends him off.
Her work husband succeeds where her real husband fails. Taking her aside, Bobby reveals the moment he knew she would be his partner for life. It wasn’t when she read the Riot Act to a roomful of grieving 9/11 families who were demanding that Bobby, virtually the lone survivor in his firm, immediately pony up the money he’d promised them. It was when, after defending him publicly, she told him that if he didn’t deliver, “I’ll kill you myself.”
Loyal to him in public, loyal to a greater cause in private, willing to hold him to his word and call him on his mistakes: This, Bobby says, makes Wendy the ideal ally. It is also why, much as it pains them both to do so, he advises her to approach Taylor and simply apologize for what she did.
Stepping out of the Taylor Mason Capital elevator, her dark clothing darker still in the low light of the closed office, Wendy does what Bobby suggests. Then she adds some ill-advised advice, telling Taylor not to be the vengeance-seeking creep that she and Bobby have become.
That’s the moment that lets Taylor know, if there was any doubt, not to buy what Wendy’s selling. “Your apology isn’t real,” Mason says. “This, like everything with you, is now merely transactional. That’s who and what you are.”
So Taylor makes a demand: Only if Wendy asks Taylor not to testify directly, laying bare the quid pro quo behind the mea culpa, will the hedge-fund genius relent.
But even that gets weaponized in the feud. Taylor knows that in effectively forcing Wendy to decide her fate for herself, she will face a judge harsher than any medical board could ever be.
It should be noted here that Taylor has experience on both the vengeance and self-judgment sides of the equation this episode. While Mason Cap plots to take over the No. 1 appliance supplier to Rebecca Cantu’s ailing department-store chain in order to stick it to her boyfriend, Mason Cap’s founder is confronted by its major-domo, Sarah, about, ahem, extracurricular activities with the company’s investor relations specialist, Lauren. It’s one thing for Mafee to be interested, but Lauren is Taylor’s employee. Is that the kind of hedge-fund hot shot Taylor wants to be?
What of our other major players this New Year? Chuck appears to blithely waltz even deeper into corruption, cutting a deal with Treasury Secretary Todd Krakow to free up the funds needed for his father’s construction project.
Bobby, meanwhile, hauls in both himself and pretty much every Axe Cap character with a speaking role on the holiday. He has pretexts for each: He has to help Wendy prepare; he has to defend against Taylor’s takeover of that appliance company; he has to come up with an appropriate tax-evasion scheme to offset the 18 fine art masterpieces he purchased on a whim at Art Basel; he needs Wags to deliver Joe’s Stone Crab takeout from Miami Beach; and so on. But he really just wants them to feel the same unceasing drive he does.
“What’s the point of being rich if you can’t [expletive] enjoy it?” Wendy asks, before convincing him to send everyone home again.
“I’ll let you know when I do,” he replies.
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