Tonight’s doozy of an episode begins with Wendy and Hall in a dark, gloomy underground facility filled with pipes (basically Hall’s natural habitat). He leads her to a bathhouse-style heated pool where Axelrod, wearing a robe and nothing else, is waiting for her. He disrobes and enters the steaming water with his entire body on display, and he expects her to do the same. Without breaking eye contact, she does.
Now, that paragraph I just wrote came perilously close to erotica, and even I’m a little uncomfortable by it. So let’s slow down a little bit and take a step back. How exactly did we get here? Let’s start 72 hours earlier.
Wendy and Chuck
Wendy finds out about Dollar Bill’s arrest as she’s leaving that musical she snuck into at the end of last week’s episode. Furious, she heads straight to Chuck’s office to dress him down about his power trip — and the stupidity of him going in for the arrest when he knew she was playing hooky because now it’ll make her look suspicious. But it’s hard to tell how much of her anger also stems from the fact that, you know, her husband is bringing down her place of employment. I suspect that may also have something to do with it.
Anyway, the next day, Rhoades strides confidently into a Law & Order-ish interrogation room to negotiate with Dollar Bill, “stingiest multimillionaire on the planet.” (I like this thread they’ve been weaving all season, Dollar Bill’s scrupulousness.) Chuck tries to flip Dollar Bill, threatening him with jail if he doesn’t turn on Axe. Dollar Bill just stares Rhoades down. “No deal.”
Surprised, Rhoades goes back to his team and tells them to go even deeper with Dollar Bill’s past — try to take it apart and find what makes him tick. That, after all, is how they nailed Pete Decker with his connection to his parents. But seeing Rhoades brimming with anger also clues us in to the extent of his motivation. “Skilling got fourteen years for Enron,” he tells Connerty. “I’m going to beat that. We’re going to put him in a cell, and everyone is going to see, in Washington and the f—ing press, there’s no better defender of the public trust than this office.” And by “this office,” Chuck Rhoades really means “Chuck Rhoades.”
This kind of thinking comes to a head at home, when he and Wendy try again at this whole “talking to each other like adults” thing. It doesn’t go well. She calls him out for choosing to stay on the case even though everyone knows very well that he could recuse himself — and then she storms out.
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Back at the office, Rhoades’ team is working the night shift, drinking tumblers full of scotch as they try to figure out how to nail Dollar Bill. These scenes — the Aaron Sorkin-y room full of people just talking and working moments where we see how the actual process works — are done really well on Billions, and I wish we got to see them more. They’re a nice break from all the snarling and frowning that dominates the hour. But at any rate, the crew does land on one clue: Dollar Bill owns two minivans, which, Connerty points out, is something no one does.
The answer? He has a second family. In addition to his primary clan up in Connecticut, he’s got a mistress and a litter over in New Jersey. Downright giddy, Rhoades and Connerty bring all of this intel back into the interrogation room to finally make Dollar Bill say uncle. Only he doesn’t — he doubles down by sending an email to his wife that tells her everything. “I’m Keyser Söze, motherf—er,” he tells Rhoades.
Later, Rhoades takes a meeting from a friend from the Attorney General’s office down in D.C. It turns out that they, too, think Rhoades’ conflict of interest is going to a problem, especially since fundraising season is coming up fast. They’re not telling him to not go through with his action — they’re just telling to make sure he gets it right.
So Chuck’s getting it from all sides. Even his father, who really hates Axelrod, takes Wendy’s side and tells Chuck to take a settlement with Axe. Finally, Wendy sits him down and tries to therapy Rhoades into settling. He considers it but tells her that they have to come to him. That’s the only way to move forward on the matter.
NEXT: Maggie Siff (almost) gets the boys to play nice
Wendy and Axe
Axe is standing on a desk trying to rally morale among his people, delivering a triumphant “Mission Accomplished”-style speech to the firm. He even likens Dollar Bill’s arrest to Pearl Harbor, which sounds overdramatic to us, but to them, it’s…also very overdramatic. But whatever.
Behind closed doors, though, Axe is a sweaty, panicky mess. “We’re f—ed,” he tells Wendy in his office. She, of course, is calmer and tries to talk him down from the ledge. But he’s not getting off it: Later, during a particularly tense workout session, he storms into Wendy’s office to ask why she took out $250,000 from her account at Axe Capital. (If you recall, she did so to invest in Maria’s new fund at her new job as a form bet-hedging insurance.) But what Axelrod is really questioning is Wendy herself, not her money. So she replies in the most badass way that can only be handled by an actress like Maggie Siff. “I am not going to be the shuttlecock that you two smack back and forth,” she says to her boss. “You two just sniffed each other one day and decided you didn’t like the smell. So now you think you have to do this thing, but you don’t.”
It was an all-time great moment for both Wendy the character and for Siff the actress.
But back to business: Axe’s lawyer meets him in the locker room to tell him that, judging by the behavior of Rhoades’ team, now is the time to make a deal. This only angers Axelrod even more. This isn’t about the law anymore — Axe wants the moral victory. He doesn’t care about “winning” as much as he cares about Rhoades not winning.
Lara Axelrod, meanwhile, goes to the Stearn household to give Mrs. Dollar envelopes and envelopes full of money in order to ensure their lifestyle (and their loyalty, of course). But while this ordeal is costing her family actual money, it’s also taking a far more serious toll on them: They’re losing social capital. Lara has already awkwardly found out that her kids weren’t invited to another child’s birthday party in Montauk. “And nothing has even happened yet,” she tells Axe, trying to convince him to do what’s best for his family, lest he wants them to become social pariahs. But Axelrod won’t budge.
“I don’t get on bended knee,” Axe says. Replies Lara, “That’s f—ing stupid.”
And now, we’re back to Axe and Wendy in the water, naked. The nudity aspect ensures that a) Wendy isn’t wearing a wire and b) we, the viewers, pay attention, sexposition style. It’s a win-win!
So, with everyone’s attention in her possession, Wendy lays it all out for us. She’s not there for Chuck, and she’s not there for Axe. She’s there because Axe Capital is as much her company as Axelrod’s — she helped build this thing from the ground up, and she doesn’t want to see if fall apart on account of the egos of two men.
Axe hears her and empathizes. He doesn’t want to see if fall apart, either. After some thought, he decides to give in and take the deal.
And what a deal it is: A fine of $1.9 billion (the biggest ever for a banker, we learn) and a reduction of Axe Capital down to a family office, meaning he can only pour his own money into the company, no outside capital. Plus, a plea of guilt to conspiracy. Basically, he’d be a neutered dog but at least he’d still be able to walk.
Interestingly, the same goes for Rhoades. As his father so kindly points out, Chuck has always been one to avoid fights he thought he couldn’t win. He’s not winning; he’s just not losing.
When Team Axe and Team Rhoades actually get in the same room, the testosterone is simply too much for the world to handle. It’s like a scene written with Sorkin-Scorsese-Mamet-Fincher levels of masculine in there. Chests start puffing, peacocks start peacocking. Rhoades and Axe taunt each other until they both finally crack — Axe grabs the check and tears it into shreds. No deal.
The gloves are off now. Only there’s a twist: Rhoades finally decides that he will recuse himself from the case. Or at least officially — he’s still going to have Connerty secretly keep him in the loop on everything, à la Hall and Axe. It’s a daring move and a dangerous one. If he gets caught, it’ll be his name that gets dragged through the mud, not Axelrod’s.
Connerty: We will follow him to the end of the f—ing Earth until he’s walking in shackles.
Orrin: You know you just work here, right?