This Billions review contains spoilers.
Billions Season 4 Episode 11
If you ever find yourself in a position that requires you to explain what Billions is to a person who has never heard of it, let alone seen an episode, it’s best to stick to ambiguities. So, instead of coming clean and describing the Showtime soap opera as a hyper-dramatic look into the cutthroat world of hedge funds and Wall Street trading, go with something more flowery. Something like, “it’s a heartless show with heart.” Because more than anything, Billions is exactly that: an incredibly passionate program about groups and individuals who, more often than not, act in an incredibly cruel manner.
Such is the case for “Lamster,” the penultimate episode of the fourth season of Brian Koppelman and David Levien’s brutal series. Following the tumultuous events of last week’s “New Year’s Day,” in which Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff) struggled to prepare for her upcoming medical board review appearance, the good (or bad?) doctor finds herself doing something on the fly. Something that neither her boss, Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis), nor her estranged husband, Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), would have ever advised. She tells the truth.
“I did,” she answers one of the board member’s rhetorical questions about whether or not she abused her medical license to enact Bobby’s plan of revenge against Taylor Amber Mason (Asia Kate Dillon) earlier in the season. “I am a doctor. Taylor Mason was my patient. I failed to respect patient confidentiality and used information revealed from session for my own personal gain. Or, if I didn’t technically gain, at least, my own ends.”
When the board asks her to repeat the on-the-fly statement, Wendy unequivocally agrees to do so. “Yes,” she answers them, “because it’s the truth.”
It’s a shocking moment, not only for Wendy but for the season (and the series) as a whole. After all, the majority of what her boss and her husband have been doing throughout the show’s history has involved the exact opposite. Almost nobody in Billions tells the truth, and whenever they just so happen to let it slip into the otherwise normative cascade of lies that inform their daily interactions, it’s never accidental or sudden. Everything has a motive behind it in this world. Sure, Wendy’s admission here may spark questions like, “What end does this serve?” As “Lamster” continues, the audience will find out more about what’s happening, and why, but it’s surprisingly not as nefarious as most viewers will assume.
Which is weird, because unlike the aforementioned “heartless show with heart” description, Wendy’s actions at the medical board review — which happens in the first act of the episode, no less — feel more heartful than not. So too does Rebecca Cantu’s (Nina Arianda) behind-the-scenes efforts to strike a deal with Taylor, who has repeatedly tried to sabotage her new venture at the Saler’s department store chain simply because of her professional (and personal) affiliation with Bobby. The former employer and employee have been at odds with one another all season, and many of their respective friends, family members and underlings have paid the price. Rebecca recognizes this now and, since she does not want to become yet another casualty in Bobby’s war, decides to broker a deal with Taylor to save Saler’s while also saving Taylor’s own investments.
Mind you, as Rebecca herself describes it to Taylor, it’s a “brutal f*cking deal” and it’s not going to be easy. “Take controlling interest of Kling, strip you of all decision making,” she says. Of course, as Taylor immediately notes, the deal doesn’t include Rebecca buying her entirely out. “I want you to have flesh in the game,” Rebecca tells her. Why? So that she can be “[tied] to future suffering in order to prevent it.” So, yes, a “brutal” arrangement for sure, but one that pales in comparison to the many revenge plots that Bobby has enacted, concocted or not even thought of yet. It’s also far more characteristic of Billions’ typical actions that Wendy’s earlier admission.
The question is, will any of this influence Bobby’s continued efforts to destroy Taylor or Chuck’s power consolidations for the purpose of taking down the attorney general’s office? At least the latter is trying to save his father from what would likely be countless federal charges regarding his continued financial and political misconduct, but still… it’s not what one would necessarily qualify as being “good.” Of course, it’s nothing like Rebecca’s efforts to broker a peace with Taylor and absolutely nothing like Wendy’s decision to lose her medical license and reinvent herself in a more honest manner. But still… the question remains.
And it lingers. “Lamster” does nothing to indicate precisely which direction either Bobby or Chuck are going to go. This is especially true of the former. Wendy, despite having lost her license, offers her counsel to her boss. “I’m not gonna say ‘don’t compete against Taylor,’ but I am gonna say ‘compete on the battlefield you’re meant to’ and ‘take solace in beating Taylor’s returns,’” she tells him. “You need an enemy, or you think you do. Without that gravitational pull, you’ll go flying off into nothingness. No edge, no drive, no Axe… What if you just put this to f*cking bed?”
“Doing the right thing eventually becomes the thing that makes you feel right,” she adds. “It’s not the Hedonic experience, believe me. It doesn’t happen quickly.”
Rebecca’s approach, however, is a bit closer to the Hedonism that Wendy refers to, the same Hedonism that Bobby has practiced for the past four seasons. “Before I met you, I went deal to deal scooping up businesses and profits,” she exclaims. “And then you want to be my partner on a deal or two and I can’t make a move without a booby trap going off in my face.”
Hell, even fan-favorite character Wags (David Costabile), Bobby’s chief lieutenant at Axe Capital, advises him against the more vengeful path that he’s used to — hell, that he’s practically built his life and career around. But by the time the the episode’s end credits roll, the ambiguity remains. We have no idea precisely what Bobby is going to do in the Billions season four finale. There’s no real indication of its merits, good or bad.
So, audiences will just have to wait until next weekend to see if, thanks to Bobby and Chuck’s next decisions and moves, the show ends on a more heartful or heartless note.