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'Billions' finale recap: 'The Conversation'

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Jeff Neumann/Showtime

Billions

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
seasons:
1
run date:
01/17/16
performer:
Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff
broadcaster:
Showtime
genre:
Drama

There are a lot of tough jobs out there. Construction worker, welder, Donald Trump campaign manager. But probably no job out there is as hard as Wife on Billions, possibly the least attractive career path for any young person to pursue.

Just think about all the nonsense you have to endure as a professional Wife on Billions. Say that your less-than-honest hedge-fund husband makes a costly, possibly criminal error at work. Then it’s on you to pay for his mistake by, in a moment’s notice, having to abscond to another country with your children and a new identity. Or imagine that your husband not only breaks into your computer but also sees a dominatrix without your consent, spies on you at work, and calls you a crook (among other things), leaving you to wonder whether you’re even his partner or rather just a pawn in the childish games he plays with your employer.

These are types of situations one must anticipate before becoming a Wife on Billions, as we learned from the show’s first season finale, which saw Bobby Axelrod and Chuck Rhoades plumb the depths of morality in order to best one another, much to the chagrin of their spouses.

Wendy Rhoades

Let’s start with Wendy Rhoades. As many of you predicted, her little clothes-free jaunt in the pool with Bobby Axelrod a few episodes back has come back to bite her.

We’re supposed to believe it’s Christmastime, what with all the wreaths and talk of holiday bonuses. And Wendy’s bonus is especially generous: In addition to a cool $2 million, Axe surprises her outside of her Soho SoulCycle studio with a brand new Maserati. It’s a special little present for the blockbuster session they had in the last episode, which helped him boost his confidence and get his mojo back.

But things quickly go sour when Axe finds out through his sources that Rhoades is investigating the Danzig Incident from earlier this season, when Axe had to bribe a few Greenwich, CT cops to get his boy out of trouble. (Sidenote: Being a Greenwich cop might be one of the best jobs out there.) Needless to say, he places all the blame on her. And while she’s stunned to find out about this, it doesn’t take her long to figure out how it might have happened: Her husband snuck onto her computer behind her back.

This leads to a big fight between Chuck and Wendy, the one that we’ve all been waiting for. Things between them have, after all, been simmering, boiling, bubbling, and other-cooking-word-here for a long time. And the actors really made the most of it, knocking the scene out of the park with impressive range and emotion. She calls him an untrustworthy, unworthy bottom-feeder. He calls her an immoral crook. Paul Giamatti even cries. Acting!

NEXT: All you need is a little audio evidence[pagebreak]​

But the fight served a second purpose as well: She secretly taped Chuck saying that he found out about the Danzig Incident by breaking into her personal files — not by Wendy telling him. She takes the audio to Axe, who apologizes for his mistake surprisingly quickly. He offers to make it up to her by increasing her bonus from $2 million to $5 million, and even wires the money to her account on the spot. (I mean, isn’t it a little weird that someone as paranoid as Bobby immediately believed the recording Wendy played him? If he suspected her of teaming up with her husband to backstab him, might he not wonder if she and Chuck recorded the audio with the intent of tricking him?)

But I digress. Once the $5 million is safely in her account, she informs Bobby that she’s quitting. Why? Because as much as she hates to admit it, Chuck was making a lot of sense during his fight. She is working for criminals, and no amount of explaining by Bobby or anyone else will be able to convince her otherwise. Besides, she’s tired of all these games — the immature battles played out by the men-children in her life. It’s easier to just leave it all behind. Wendy out!  

Lara Axelrod

As has been the case throughout the season, Lara’s story line tonight has the least meat on its bones compared to the rest of the Big Four characters. Heck, friggin’ Connerty is better fleshed out than her. But the always-game Malin Ackerman still makes the most with what Lara’s given.

And what she’s given is the task to clean after her husband’s mistakes. With very little lead time, Lara has to put together what amounts to an escape plan. She quickly rounds up a villa in Europe near good schools for the kids, a getaway plane that can fly undetected, piles upon piles of hard money and gold bars that can live off-the-books, and a heavy heart.

Fortunately, Axe tells her that they might not be needing to execute the plan just yet. It’s a relief for her — she’s worked hard her whole life to get to this point, and she wasn’t looking forward to having to run away from it. Lara craves not just status but also stability, a sense that she’s made it. If she has to leave her home country and live like a criminal abroad, is she really better off than she was in the old neighborhood? Had she really changed at all?

It doesn’t help that Axe tells her that even though they won’t be jetting off into the night, it might be a wise idea to keep all that cash in the basement — just in case. She was eager to put it in the bank. That would’ve meant that everything was okay, that they were legitimate. A bunker full of gold and piles of cash in the basement is what you’d find in Walter White’s house, not the Kennedy compound.

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Chuck Rhoades

After a grueling stint in the Eastern District, Lonnie and his magnificent ‘fro are back in the warm, mahogany-swaddled offices of the U.S. Attorney. And within 12 seconds of walking into the building, Rhoades has a task for him: Dig into the Danzig Incident.

Thanks to Lonnie’s legwork, Chuck finds exactly what he wants — hard proof of bribery, enough to put Axe in jail. But unfortunately, because Axe and Wendy discovered the unethical way he came about the information, he won’t be able to use it against them — and so he must let it go.

NEXT: Chuck is downsizing[pagebreak]​

He also has to let go of his tony brownstone in Park Slope/Brooklyn Heights. (Which neighborhood does he live in? The two aren’t very close, but the show has made it seem like they could be living in either!) But anyway, after checking in to a small, drab room at the Yale Club, he becomes a man with nothing to lose. So he quickly goes back to his tricks, only this time he’s pettier than ever. After getting Kate to figure out who the second mole in their office is — that janitor who’s been skulking around all season — he decides to put some bad information in his ear, hoping it gets back to Axe. Chuck loudly proclaims that he’s got Axe Capital offices bugged with listening devices.

Bobby Axelrod

As we mentioned earlier, Axe has gotten his mojo back — as evidenced by him storming the offices of the white-shoe fund Carter Staley and strong-arming them into re-investing Axe Capital. “I’m about to go on the run of a lifetime,” Axelrod tells them convincingly, daring them to not trust him again.

It works — Axe wins their money back. But as the saying goes, you win some and you lose some: Shortly after notching the victory, he learns that the Danzig Incident is coming back to bite him.

He goes into panic mode for a while but eventually calms down again it becomes clear that Chuck can’t/won’t act on the information. But then another problem arises: He’s gets word that Chuck and the feds have bugged his offices.

So he and his man Hall bring in a crew to do a sweep of the place. Of course, they find nothing, but this only drives Axe more mad. “Go deeper,” he tells them. “All the way down.”

They completely rip apart the building. Floorboards are pulled up. Walls are town down. Art is taken apart. Furniture is completely dismantled. Even the ceilings are taken apart, with loose wires hanging menacingly from the ceiling like snakes. “We’ve gone down to the rivets,” Hall says, before telling Axe: “You can never be sure.”

And that’s when Chuck Rhoades strides — nay, swaggers — into the room. Here’s not just there to taunt Bobby, he wants to send a message. Chuck says he lost Wendy because of Axe. Axe counters by saying he (Axe) lost Wendy because of Chuck.

So they’ve both lost her, and now they’re ready to fight (with words). They start calling each other names. They even enter a sort of political debate, with Bobby making the conservative/libertarian argument that goes, roughly, “My money is mine, all mine!!! I hate regulations, they so dumb!” Rhoades counters with the liberal/progressive argument that goes, more or less, “Um lol no, you’re a crook and do bad things to the economy and have rigged the system and now you have to pay for what you did.” He even does that thing where he walks in a circle around Bobby as he speaks, which no one really does in real life but always looks cool on TV.

NEXT: The final blowout[pagebreak]​

After growling their civics lessons at each other, they throw down their gauntlets. “When I take a deal off the table, I leave Nagasaki behind,” Axe snarls.

Chuck considers that and hits Axe back with this: “The only enemy more dangerous than a man with unlimited resources is one with nothing to lose. And that is what you’re looking at right here.” He then rolls out of the building with the last word, with the Titus Andronicus song “Dimed Out” blaring on full blast.

Daaaaaamn!

BANK NOTES:

— Axe threw a perfectly good suit in the trash. Sad!

— Is there a more incongruous scene than having Axe speed through Connecticut in his Rolls Royce to the tune of Courtney Barnett, indie rock’s leading budget-slacker?

— The look on Lonnie’s face when Connerty tells him to “Give him the real” is priceless.

— Shoutout to Chinatown.

— Shoutout to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

— As one commenter noted, shoutout to the superb Gene Hackman surveillance/paranoia thriller The Conversation.

— At this point, I am fully convinced that the show’s writers have made an inside joke about the increasingly ridiculous places they’ve had Axe meet with his fixer Hall. An abandoned high school football field in the dead of night? Come on!!

— While eating pizza in the dark with Axe, Connerty got a very convincing job offer: Switch sides and make gobs more money by working with Axe’s lawyer Orrin Bach at his firm. The offer makes sense: Connerty’s efforts at his current position have been thwarted by Rhoades’ ego. Still, he tries to take the moral high ground and shut Axe down… the only problem is that he never tells Axe “no.” It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out next season — should he stay or should he go?

— “Because you’re a criminal, Bob,” will go down as one of Chuck Rhoades’ best lines.

— Does the fact that Rhoades gets the last word mean the show is implying he’s the one we should be rooting for? Is this series his story, or is it Bobby’s? Can the show go on with only one of them — sort of like how Homeland went on without Damian Lewis? All stuff to think about until next season! 

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