Billions recap: The moral reckonings of Wendy Rhoades and Taylor Mason
Wendy’s been real close to going off the deep end for a while now. When Billions began, she was a neutral force between rivals Chuck and Axe, expertly being the professional she needed to be at Axe Capital while remaining an integral part of her husband’s political ambitions. Over time though, she became more important to Axe and his business, and she started to feel like there might be more for her than simply acting as a therapist for the stressed-out employees. Add in a very public reveal from Chuck this season, and suddenly Wendy is more conflicted than ever, more willing to wade into the weeds. She’s been claiming her own space, but at some point, as it always does on Billions, there had to be a cost to doing business that way.
When “Infinite Game” kicks off, it looks like it’s going to be a throwaway episode of sorts. That’s not to say a bad episode, but rather the kind of episode that dives into a few fun tertiary, one-off plots, allowing Chuck, Axe, Taylor, and Wendy to do their thing without pushing the season’s main story much further. “Infinite Game” does feel like that at times—it’s a little too meandering, especially when it comes to Chuck’s dog-killer problem—but by the time the credits roll, things have changed in a big way, and that’s impressive. It bumps a solid B episode into B+ territory simply by showing us how these characters are reckoning with decisions they’ve made. Cause and effect, baby; it’s a reliable storytelling tool.
Things kick off with the aforementioned dog killer. The man Chuck secured a carry permit for has shot his neighbor’s dog in the middle of the night, and that could mean some serious blowback for the new state’s attorney should the news get out. So, Chuck sets about rectifying that situation. He comes together with a lawyer who offers the neighbor money and a new dog, but he refuses because he sees Chuck in a tight spot and decides to extort him for more money. That’s a bad idea, and Chuck eventually backs him into a corner that sees him accepting the initial offer of some cash and a pup.
Like I said, seems like the kind of story told on an episode that’s fun but doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. And sure enough, the dog killer doesn’t matter, but the rest of the story does, because the meaninglessness of Chuck’s business here is contrasted with the severity of his crumbling marriage. He can’t seem to find any way to fix the situation with Wendy, to heal the wound he inflicted with his betrayal. He tells her a devastating story about his father’s cruelty to his mother, and while Wendy appreciates the psychological excavation, it doesn’t have the power to instantly heal their relationship. Chuck’s maneuvering, so adept in covering up what he did for the dog murderer—well, there is that wiretap that he has to worry about, but for now Bryan is just collecting audio clips of favors he’s handing out to his father—he can’t seem to fix the thing that’s intensely personal and important. When he comes home to a quiet house that Wendy is putting on the market, and a pie he can’t eat because it’s simply meant to project the ideas of warmth and family, it’s a blow that truly hurts him.
Pain is at the center of this episode. Sure, there’s some reprieve here and there—Axe listens to Rebecca and discovers that perhaps Bruno the pizza guy would rather have a cozy retirement in Flordia right now rather than stick around and create some sort of transition and financial plan with Axe, which leads to a rather heartwarming farewell dinner at the restaurant—but for the most part there’s no shortage of emotional trauma. The main source is the relationship between Taylor, Axe, and Wendy. It’s a fraught one, with Taylor trying to give Wendy the benefit of the doubt in their newfound friendship, and Wendy essentially working undercover to help Axe take Taylor Mason Capital down.
“Infinite Game” pushes that three-way relationship to the brink, and the result is devastation. Wendy and Axe use a government agency to thwart Douglas Mason’s lattice fin project, in some ways forcing Taylor to decide between their business and their father. I say “in some ways” because the decision is still Taylor’s, and Doug sees the government buyout, which means his tech is now out of his hands, as a betrayal. Taylor sees his incessant focus on his idea and that idea alone as a betrayal too, of their relationship; Taylor also sniffs out Wendy’s true intentions, but it’s too late to change anything. No one wins here, even as Taylor says they “will win.” “Maybe. But I can guarantee you, it won’t feel like it,” says Doug.
It certainly doesn’t feel like winning to Wendy. This has been her mission for a while now, and it’s finally complete, and everyone at Axe Capital couldn’t be happier. Then, Mafee storms into the office and really lays into her for what she’s done, saying that he always thought she was different from everyone else, but that she’s proven to be one of them, a “garbage person.” Dollar Bill offers to fight him, and Axe sees the outburst as a source of pride, but Wendy’s face is different. She’s not reveling in this hostility like it’s a badge of honor. She sees what she did—whether out of spite for her husband’s actions or because she’s just been at Axe Capital for too long, who knows—and she’s ashamed. At the end of the episode, while Axe and a bunch of the other important people at Axe Capital eat merrily at Bruno’s, Wendy breaks down crying while out for a run in the dark. Taylor sits alone in the dark too. Two broken people, but at least Axe is happy as can be.