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4.8 Fight Night
In last week’s Infinite Game, the gestating plans of Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff) reached the final, simmering stage of their poisonous brewing when, armed with the knowledge of Taylor Mason’s (Asia Kate Dillon) attempts to rekindle their relationship with their estranged father Douglas (Kevin Pollak), Axe Capital threw the mother of all monkey wrenches into the reunited family’s big plans. The result? Government bureaucracy and late stage capitalism at their finest. The Masons are no longer on speaking terms and Bobby Axelrod’s (Damian Lewis) can now flourish unimpeded.
Unfortunately, not everything is as peachy as the episode’s concluding pizzeria dining experience would have you believe. Things are becoming increasingly worse for Wendy and her husband Chuck (Paul Giamatti). Their marriage is on ever-shakier grounds and their respective careers seemed doomed to similar forms of self-immolation. (For Wendy, it’s her inability to retain control despite being a controlling person. For Chuck, every cover-up begets another, so much so that the federal government won’t have to do much to take him and his father down.) And then there’s Mafee’s (Dan Soder) simple observation that Wendy, Bobby and everyone else at (or affiliated with) Axe Cap is a “garbage person.”
With this week’s Fight Night, writers Alice O’Neill and Lenore Zion take Mafee’s declaration literally with the designated hedge fund face-off between Mason’s lieutenant and Axelrod’s bloodhound “Dollar” Bill Stearn (Kelly AuCoin). Yes, that’s right - these two former co-workers are going to duke it out the ring, complete with a professional boxing announcer and everything. To make things even more official, Mike “Wags” Wagner (David Costabile) of Axe Cap and Sara Hammon (Samantha Mathis) of Mason Cap, each their respective company’s CEO’s right-hand person, exchange bets in view of a third party and shake on it.
Yes, this is really going to happen, and yes, it isn’t going to solve a single thing for any of these garbage people. Especially since Mafee and Dollar Bill’s publicized corporate fight is just the public face of what’s really going on between these two companies and the many, many other people who’ve got their hands in the collective cookie jar.
Not that anyone’s going to focus solely on whatever hand, finger or cuticle just so happens to be in or near said cookie jar. This is Billions we’re talking about. Just about everyone is using their free hand, if not their feet, ears and other appendages, to grab onto whatever else just so happens to be passing by - especially if it can be of value to them against the other players. Hence why, in order to retaliate against Bobby and Axe Cap for tanking their attempted business venture with their estranged father, Mason goes on CNBC to badmouth the company and steer the public interest (and the market) in another direction.
Mason, of course, isn’t in the room at Axe Cap to see if their strategy worked, but those of us at home tuning in know full well that it did. “Enough of this f*cking horsesh*t,” he exclaims as he turns the TV off. “Okay, personal attacks aside, thoughts?” Anyone who has been watching since season one knows precisely what Bobby and his team are going to do. They’re going to try and push the market in the direction they want it to go legally, at least so they can point to such methods if certain questions are asked of them. Otherwise, they plunge headfirst into alternative methods for pushing the legislation along that they’ve been betting big on.
Meanwhile, outside the show’s chosen realm of business malpractice lies Wendy, who is dead set on selling her and Chuck’s house despite the latter’s protestations. He has a deep connection to their home, one that includes his attachment to her and their children, as well as one that he’s relied on to supercede past abuses levied by his domineering father. Despite these admissions, however, Wendy - who still feels betrayed after Chuck publicly revealed the nature of their private relationship to garner favor with voters - does not relent. Even when he cooks her a full breakfast following a morning workout, “just because,” she stands her ground.
At least until her medical licence, which she uses to inform her work as Axe Cap’s in-house counsellor and head of human relations, come under threat from the licensing board. Wendy and her career are now under a microscope, and if the board ultimately rules against her, her career will be over. Everything she has fought for and kept throughout the past three and a half seasons will be gone. All because she, erm, misused her access to the records of previous Axe Cap employees to help Bobby and company gain an advantage.
Again, as Mafee said in Infinite Game, garbage people.
Season four has gone to great lengths to advance an odd development in Wendy’s character, one that most of the other persons who populate the world of Billions seem to be wholly lacking in: a conscience. As she admits to Bobby following her interrogation by a board representative, she “almost spilled everything.” Of course she actually didn’t do this, instead thinking about “what [Bobby] would do” and “kept [her] mouth shut.” Even so, she’s not entirely happy with the sudden moral quandary she finds herself in. Nor is Bobby too pleased to realise that one of his top aides, the person whose very job it is to keep him and his company in good psychological standing, doesn’t seem to have a strong footing for herself.
“Taylor attacked and you’ve just stood your ground. It’s what we do,” he exclaims. “So self-immolate later, or better never. You’re Dr. Wendy f*cking Rhoades. No one’s taking your license, and even if they did, what does it matter? You’re still the best at what you do.”
Except, of course, she’s not in this moment, because Wendy should be prepping him for an interview segment on CNBC to respond to Mason’s previous comments. As a result, Bobby swings wide with various attempts to discredit his former protégé, which only makes the situation even more heated when Taylor calls in to respond live during the broadcast. The result? Taylor holds the high ground, especially when they opt not to respond to Bobby’s attempts to up the ante on the two company’s impending fight night with Mafee and Dollar Bill.
Well, at least it appears that way. More than anything, Fight Night is all about appearances. Billions often is, but a character’s ability to do or say one thing while doing or saying something completely different has been a mainstay this season. Some of the best recent episodes, like A Proper Sendoff, have managed to follow this line perfectly. In this case, the real winners are Mason, whose public posturing to push Bobby one was was all mean to better Mason Cap’s standing in a fracking venture.
That, and the one guy who bet big money on the fight being a draw.
Watch Billions season four on NOW TV.