I’m a sucker for episodes contained to a single, specific period of time, which means I’m a sucker for this week’s episode of Billions.
“New Year’s Day” takes place on, you guessed it, New Year’s Day. It’s supposed to be a quiet time, a holiday for most, but that’s not the case with the characters on this show. Over at Axe Capital, Wendy is about to go through a mock trial in order to prepare her for her session with the medical board. Chuck, meanwhile, is supposed to meet with Krakow because the bank financing Chuck Sr.’s development is back on the bad list. Taylor is having their own meetings about the medical board review, and Bryan is all up on the wiretaps. There’s a lot to ring in the new year.
Let’s start with Wendy’s prep work. Bach insists that she take this very seriously in order to best prepare for what’s going to be thrown at her, but she’s clearly in her own head. She’s overwhelmed and frustrated and angry, and on top of that there’s this little voice in her brain telling her that she did do something wrong and that she should be punished. She can’t square the circle, and that means she does terribly during the mock session. She lashes out at Chuck, fumbles questions, gets angry at the interviewers — including Spyros, who’s more than happy to role play being a doctor, white coat and all — and leaves everyone thinking that she looks and sounds guilty.
Again, it’s because she kind of is. She used Taylor’s personal information to win a business battle. Even Wags knows Wendy is guilty, and he’s rather maudlin about it. It turns out he’s feeling that way because he had a moral reckoning while on vacation, where he slept with a 22-year-old who promptly stole his father’s watch, which meant the world to him. Now Wags is seeking help through professional cuddling, at the urging of Wendy, and he finds his inner zen…if only for this episode.
Anyways, with Wendy losing it on Chuck, he decides to leave her with the Axe Cap team and instead focus on his own issues. He and his father meet with Krakow to talk about the bank, and the meeting quickly turns into Krakow shaking down the Rhoades boys for more money. He says he can bury the bank financing deep in government bureaucracy, but that such a move changes their deal. He wants a cut of the development. Chuck Sr. has no choice but to agree to the “finder’s fee,” but that’s hardly the important part here.
What’s important is that Bryan is listening to all of this. He hears everything that sounds like corruption and fraud and a number of other charges, but the recording stops before “the good parts” because of Ira’s attorney-client privilege with the Rhoades. Bryan’s been ordered to be very careful with these wires, and Kate is playing the role of keeping him in check and working for the office and not against Chuck specifically. But Bryan is getting closer to going off the deep end, and putting himself in danger of going to prison, just to screw Chuck over.
To be honest, there isn’t much else in terms of plot in this episode. Axe deals with some paintings that’d cost him a fortune in taxes if Victor didn’t know a guy who could store them, and there’s some slight movement on the Saler’s front, with Taylor trying to lock down the business’s appliance supplier — oh, and Bryan seemingly hires his brother to crack Chuck Sr.’s safe, which is a great moment to end on — but it doesn’t even matter that there’s not a lot of action. That’s because this episode is all about shifting relationships. There’s monumental movement on that front, as the season’s endgame comes a little more into focus.
Axe and Wendy grow a lot closer when Axe reminds her of the moment he knew that she was the only person he wanted to work with, the only one he truly needed at Axe Capital. It was after 9/11, when she stayed loyal to him in public but held him to account privately, making sure he worked to get money to the families of victims like he promised. This story, coupled with Wendy’s circumstances with Chuck, make it seem like there’s a genuine romantic connection growing there, or at least something more intimate than before. The show doesn’t lean on that dynamic too heavily or anything — there’s no real sense of that affection from Axe — but it does portray Wendy as rather taken with Axe’s appreciation of her. Of course, that doesn’t have to be sexual, but there’s hints of that here, enough that it makes me wonder where this relationship will go in the final two episodes of the season.
In essence, this season really is all about Wendy. It’s her struggle that defines the season. Everyone else has decided who they are, for better or worse, but Wendy is in limbo. Her marriage is crumbling, she crossed a personal and professional ethical line, and yet she’s found acceptance and purpose at Axe Capital. She makes a last ditch but seemingly honest effort to apologize to Taylor, who clearly suggests to Wendy that she should be punished, and that what they tell the board will define her as a person for the rest of her life. Wendy then goes home to Chuck and asks him to describe the single moment where he knew he had to marry her. He pauses, ponders, and can’t come up with anything. “I don’t remember,” he says before getting the kids for dinner. Maybe that’s not a big deal in a lengthy marriage, because there are moments built on moments that begin to create a life. To pinpoint one could be difficult, but in this moment, it’s devastating to Wendy. With the board review coming up, and her loyalty to Chuck wavering, Wendy is about to find out who she really is.