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Billions Season 7, Episode 3 Recap: Hamster Wheel

Classic Billions Sabotage

by Sarene Leeds | Vulture | August 25, 2023

It’s pretty hard to beat “Winston Dick Energy,” but if I had to give this episode a different title, it would be the overlong “How Wags, Wendy, and Chuck Got Their Groove Back.”

With no Axe in this week’s episode, Billions is forced to return to a business-as-usual model. The three major plots are entertaining enough, but none of them seem to be heading toward a strong season-long arc. Case in point, the best storyline of “Winston Dick Energy” is Wags’s orchestrated humiliation of Winston, his highly inappropriate brand name, and his risk-management software. Classic Billions sabotage and I loved every minute of it, but I don’t see how or if this plot device will affect Mike Prince’s presidential campaign. The narrative about Chuck losing his killer instinct is meh, relying mainly on an 11th-hour cameo by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and a delightfully cringe anecdote from Senior involving the Bedminster golf club. And I’ll always wonder if I’d even care about Wendy feeling threatened by a rival psychiatrist if said shrink wasn’t portrayed by the glorious Holland Taylor.

On that note, the Wendy storyline this week is relatively straightforward: Ben Kim lets it slip that everyone at Prince Capital is cheating on Dr. Wendy Rhoades with Holland Taylor’s Dr. Eleanor Mayer — and that Mayer is the bee’s knees. Wendy’s confidence, understandably, is shattered, especially when Taylor Mason offers sick burns about Mayer and her “safe atmosphere.”

Wendy visits Mayer, and how could you not want to tell this kindly, whip-smart old lady your problems over cookies and milk? Now that she knows everything about everyone at MPC, Mayer forces Wendy to confront some hard truths about her own role at Prince Capital: It’s Wendy’s job to keep the Prince Cappers on a “hamster wheel” — which Mayer calls “a prison.” And that’s when Mayer goes in for the kill, suggesting Wendy could do with a little therapy herself.

After some sneering, scoffing, and soul-searching, Wendy eventually returns to Mayer’s office, hat in hand. Mayer then asks the question I’ve been asking since last season: Why can’t Wendy bring herself to leave Prince Capital? Whatever the reason is, they’re going to work together to figure out the answer. And I have to suspect that someone is pulling the strings behind Mayer … (Axe? Prince?)

As for the traditional finance-scheme storyline: No innovative ideas here, just an amusing opportunity for Wags to reignite his badassery by neutralizing a supercilious former Prince Capper.

During a gathering for the 35th anniversary of Michael Lewis’s book Liar’s Poker (with no Damian Lewis this week, Billions really leaned into the special guests for “Winston Dick Energy”), Wags learns that his reputation has taken a serious beating since Axe skipped the country and Mike Prince launched his presidential campaign. None of his old-school finance cronies are interested in investing with MPC, with one offering the ultimate insult, saying that Wags now has “as much edge as Barry Manilow.”

So when Winston starts shopping a new piece of risk-management software literally eight hours after his Office Space–level Prince Capital farewell party, it raises a few eyebrows. Technically, what Winston is doing is illegal, as anything he created while employed at MPC is owned by Mike Prince. And Wags wants in on the brutal takedown because it’s the only way he can come back from “the whole cast of Liar’s Poker dancing on his grave.”

While Taylor and Philip try negotiating with Winston using, you know, reason, Wags bursts into Winston’s apartment, threatening multiple lawsuits. Yes, this was all a bluff, but who cares when we get to watch David Costabile literally grunt at Will Roland — psycho Wags at his finest.

Why all the dramatics, Wagsy? Well, first, he needed to get inside to slap a wiretap on Winston’s desk. Then he needed to scare the hell out of Winston so he would start talking. As in, calling all the COOs he pitched WDE (get it? WDE = Winston Dick Energy) Risk Management to so they would fast-track the software licensing agreements. Once Hall — oh, Hall — had those phone calls on record, as well as intel from Rian about Winston’s hacking history, then the real fun could begin.

The next morning, Wags hijacks Winston’s big pitch meeting right before the COOs show up. In front of Kate Sacker, Taylor, and Philip, Wags stages a twisted version of This Is Your Life (an old TV show enjoyed by members of the Greatest Generation), though Winston only has himself to blame for his pathetic internet search history — and his hacktivism.

In true Billions form, Winston is given a choice: Surrender the software to MPC, or Wags’s performance goes public. Ironically, Wags is the most empathetic of anyone in the room, telling Winston he knows what it feels like to “have your purpose sucked out from beneath you.” And it’s not like MPC’s deal is that shabby: If Winston cooperates, he can come back and run the software himself.

Finally, we have the Chuck storyline, which is the only one poised to affect the final season’s long game. Or it could be a red herring, because, Billions.

Now that he’s settled into his new/old job as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Chuck Rhoades is … confusing the shit out of everyone. After bulldozing his best friend, Ira Schirmer, into becoming his deputy, and making sweeping promises to his staff about throwing criminal billionaires behind bars, his subsequent indecisive behavior is more than a little head-scratching.

Looming in the background is Mike Prince’s latest ruse: Launch a sketchy Super-PAC to get Chuck’s attention, which will then allow Prince to anticipate the U.S. Attorney’s next moves. Except Chuck spends the entire episode ignoring the Super-PAC, even though it already has several red flags (foreign donors, etc.). He’s too busy second-guessing every single case and decision that crosses his desk and nursing his bruised, yet still-overblown, ego. We’re treated to signature Paul Giamatti monologues about the “king-like” auras of federal prosecutors and how the only way he can return to that exalted clan is through sheer perfection — and avoiding “egg on [his] face.”

Everyone tries giving him a pep talk: Ira goes the “people went to law school just to work with someone like you” route. When that doesn’t work, Senior can always be counted on for a dose of tough love paired with emotional trauma: He calls his son “limp as a noodle,” before following that up with the aforementioned tale of how he bedded the late Ivana Trump — in the same location as her future final resting place — as a reward to himself after remaining faithful to Chuck’s mother for, wait for it, five months. LOLZ.

What does work is a late-night intervention at Grant’s Tomb with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. (Ah, Billions — they do this because they can.) Because when you’ve been born with a silver spoon in your mouth, maybe you should try listening to someone who has actual perspective. The legendary basketball star cures Chuck’s “yips” with a single sentence: He grew up as a Black man in 1960s America, had leukemia, and open-heart surgery. (If that weren’t enough, he even once contracted food poisoning while co-piloting a plane from Los Angeles to Chicago.)

After skirting Prince’s Super-PAC throughout the episode, Chuck returns to the SDNY offices with a plan: He’s on to Prince and already suspects the Super-PAC is “self-funded,” but he’s ordering an investigation anyway, focusing — or so Prince thinks — on potential “violations of the ban on foreign donations and contributions in connection with federal and state elections.” He wants to use this investigation as a cover to dig deeper: “He needs to think he’s got me running in the wrong direction.”

So when Prince gets word that Chuck is charging him with violations on his Super-PAC, he is Montgomery Burns–level pleased. The foreign donation problem is about to be rectified with citizenship paperwork, and Prince is literally gloating over how he’s got Chuck running in the wrong direction. If only he knew …

It’s interesting that Mayer uses the hamster wheel metaphor to describe the Prince Cappers’ (and Wendy’s) situation. I could say the same thing about Chuck, Prince, and even Axe. They’re nothing without the constant fight. They need those fights to stay alive. Axe may have pretended to get off the wheel, but he wouldn’t have returned to the series if he didn’t still have some fight in him.

Loose Change
• Yeah, if I were Winston, I wouldn’t want an internet search history involving Jared Fogle or a penis rash going public either.

• I do like how Billions deliberately avoids any mention of the name “Trump”: Senior’s story only needed the words “Bedminster golf club,” and “his first wife,” to get the point across.

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