Promotion for "Billions," the American television series that entered our lives January 17, teased perspective viewers with the complex, brutal battle between New York's U.S. Attorney, Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) and the billionaire hedge fund founder of Axe Capitol, Bobby "Axe" Axelrod (Damian Lewis). In the first two segments of "Billions" I kept loudly telling Lewis to return to "Homeland" and Carrie Mathison, where he belonged.
However, the overlooked fascination in this superbly written, highly addictive melodrama (that has offered thankful diversion from our country's political chaos, as well as insights into it) is psychotherapist Wendy Rhodes (Maggie Siff).
In differing ways, both Bobby and Chuck would be lost without Wendy, whose name cannot be a coincidence in a show written with such strong psychological intelligence. Perhaps, if asked, the creators of "Billions," Brian Koppelman, David Levien, and Andrew Ross Sorkin, will not confirm that the name is intentional. However, theirs is surely a creation that values unconscious pulls we all face. Wendy is caretaker-wife to each Bobby and Chuck - one in the office, one in the home. The battle in both "lost boys" involves a monster within that has made psychological and ethical maturity impossible.
Wendy is the resident shrink/coach/upholder of blood sport at Axe Capitol. She helped Bobby build his billions and has been with him for more than 15 years. She works in concert with Bobby to pump up their team and kept killer instincts focused and sharp. Yet, despite obvious ethical violations in her role, Wendy does care about the personal well being of her clients.
Wendy is also the wife of Bobby's most potent enemy, Chuck Rhoades. Her relationship with Bobby predates her marriage to Chuck. As the weeks of "Billions" have unfolded, we see myriad ways that Wendy lifts each Chuck and Bobby from the clutches of their inner demons - as best she can. We also see how each, in differing ways, would be lost without her insights, support and devotion. This was made clearest in the most recent episode, number 11, entitled "Magical Thinking" where the meaning of this phrase is evidenced: We learn of depths and intricacies of choices and relationships that cannot be justified or understood by mere observation. Instead, they must be carefully examined.
The first episode of this drama about ruthless, manipulative, yet intriguing people shows Wendy as Chuck's BDSM sadist partner, with all of the accoutrements necessary for his release and satisfaction. We learn subsequently that when he goes to other settings to fulfill this need, he will only participate with Wendy's permission.
In this last episode become aware that Wendy went to Chuck's most trusted dominatrix to learn the tricks of her trade in order to please him. In this episode we also see what a sadist Chuck's father, Charles Rhoades Sr. (Jeffrey DeMunn), is and learn more about his son's hatred of him as well as his childlike dependency. Charles is the wealthy, controlling, duplicitous, philandering New York power maker whom his son goes to for help to destroy one in the way of his determination to bring Bobby down. In an earlier episode he had made a feeble and childish attempt to put his father in his place. Now, promising to help, his father insists on an apology. In his sadistic tone and action he could have been using a whip, showing what his son endured throughout his childhood. Many believe that men who gravitate to BDSM do so to relieve the pressures of their demanding lives. My clinical experience concerning a consuming attraction to extreme pain always reveals abuse known in developmental years.
Bobby's ambition for wealth as compensation and escape is also more fully developed in this segment. The abuse he knew as a child was far different from Chuck's suffering. Bobby's father abandoned his family, leaving both economic and psychological devastation. Bobby has used the lowest of tactics to secure his billions. Bobby's wife, Lara Axelrod (Malin Akerman), joins him in his pubic generosity, but also knows of his filthy dealings and stands by this, despite the fact that her brother, a firefighter, died during the September 11 horrors, and her husband had bet on these deaths to achieve billions. The funds made in this dealing now support the families of those lost to terrorism.
Lara distrusts Wendy because of the man she is married to, but also because of her husband's need for and devotion to her. In this latest episode more of the Bobby-Wendy relationship comes to light. They had been lovers, and Wendy ended this part of the relationship. Yet, after she said it must end, she slept with Bobby one more time, something he has not made peace with. Still, in a scene that was viewed partially by her stalking husband, Wendy helped Bobby see that his latest betrayal of a loyal and trusting colleague was a tipping point. If he did not learn to feel and to care, he would become a sociopath. However, his desire to understand reasons for a self-defeating and reckless financial decision showed both he wanted something different and the choice was still his. Bobby showed concern for Wendy's conflicts, and she most likely could have seduced him during their long, intense exchange. But Wendy wanted Bobby to return home to love and share more deeply with Lara.
Through this scene we understand that Bobby's relationship with his sons is not an attempt to undermine his wife's parenting wishes. Instead, he both wants them to have a childhood completely unlike his own, as well as experience some of his lost dreams. We also learn that Bobby weeps at films when men return from battle to their loving, welcoming homes because it is what he has yearned for, and this is now in his grasp. Because this is essential to him, in an earlier segment he turned down a seduction from a beautiful, young, aspiring artist in the kindest way.
Chuck deep down must yearn for this also. Yet, he is destroying trust in his home and the love his wife has felt for him. In his marriage his choices seem destined to lead to a hazardous awakening. "Magical Thinking" concludes as Wendy is on their marital bed, typing case notes, her predictable glass of wine next to her. When she goes to shower, Chuck returns, reads her case notes, and covers his tracks (it seems). Not his first betrayal of his wife, he has crossed the line that Bobby does not wish to cross.
Intriguing questions remain: What really happened between Wendy and Bobby? Why did she leave him? Why did she marry Chuck? What meaning does blood sport hold for her? My guess is that Wendy yearned for a trusting life of intimacy and fulfillment, believed in Chuck and loved the honor he convinced her he had, but that his more and more obvious slippery slope has begun to torment her. How long can Wendy remain in her exhausting dual role, asking so little for herself emotionally? In other words, will she become fed up with Never, Never Land and set herself free?