I’ll be honest: This was a real mixed bag for me! It’s a good episode (they’re all good episodes!) but as big Billions reveals go, “Elmsley Count” lacked the enjoyable punch of the Ice Juice double cross, or Donnie’s dying play, or even Axe and Chuck teaming up to save Wendy from insider trading charges. I kept waiting for a little something more to drop, and was … mildly disappointed? … when nothing did.
Even though I didn’t get the little something I particularly wanted, there were still lots of fun and shiny balls in the air, and it’s a mark of the show’s quality that I expected a few more of them to drop on someone’s foot when we least expected it. There’s been a fire wall between the Axe Capital Situation and the Southern District Situation these last few episodes, in that their respective problems are not elaborately interconnected for once, and it can feel a little creaky moving from one to the other with only Wendy as a commonality.
That being said: Wendy!! One thing I truly enjoyed about this episode (and the season in general) is that we are seeing the birth of a beautiful and stupendous villain in Wendy Rhoades. She is more comfortable with money than she’s ever been, and she doesn’t need to fantasize about doing more Real Work or Something That Really Matters. The satisfaction Wendy gets from her megabump on comp day speaks for itself: She’s finally been in the game long enough that the money is no longer just a nice perk that comes with helping people on their paths to personal growth or whatever nonsense. The money is the job, and she likes it. She LOVES being in that war room next to Axe, and the last little flutters of self-doubt that plagued her a few weeks ago are past.
Season-Finale Wendy? This Wendy would never have sold the Maserati as a form of self-flagellation. She’d be doing doughnuts outside Taylor Mason Capital in it, while giving them the finger. Now that’s a Wendy I’m excited to learn more about. Not someone who thinks she’s in any way too good for the job she’s doing. I like people who love their work.
Everyone is at peak Loving Their Work as we open on the much-anticipated capital raise. (Billions is so good at capturing the particular love that douchey finance people have for big douchey self-celebrations with other douchey finance people in expensive New York City venues.) From the gang pulling up to Citi Field in a variety of sports cars and deliberately un-fancy clothes to the rah-rah-we-did-it party afterwards — complete with a cameo by Brooklyn’s own The Hold Steady, which, as you would expect, seems a little dated in a way that really works in context — this is all exactly the way things are. This is what these people do, and it’s no wonder that Axe is sufficiently comfortable with the normalcy of the whole day to be utterly, utterly codswallop-ed when he walks in the next morning to discover that Taylor is gone and has taken most of the raise money.
When the eventual Axe-Taylor confrontation happens, it’s nothing like the Wendy-Taylor version, which really delights me. I wasn’t expecting Taylor to rip into Wendy at all — I mean, it WAS a job offer! — and Wendy certainly wasn’t expecting to hear that Taylor thinks she’s missed all the signs, misjudged her clients, and slowly succumbed to Axe’s own worst impulses over the last few years. The vitriol which Wendy meets this with feels extremely real, while Axe still seems to be processing how he feels about Taylor’s betrayal. He’s angry, but it almost seems more like he thinks he should be angry. There’s a lot going on there.
The question of whether he’s angry enough to let Grigor off Taylor or have Hall take care of it in-house is going to get tabled until next season — if I were him, I’d let Hall do it in-house, you don’t want Grigor holding that over you forever — but I just don’t think he has the fire in his belly for it. I guess we’ll see!
Back at the Southern District, Chuck expected to watch his big play take down Jock Jeffcoat, and the big twist is … it doesn’t, of course. We knew that the minute he walked into his office to see Sacker slightly barring his office door. By the time she reminded him that he’d always known she was a political animal, we knew who was sitting in Chuck’s chair with his feet on the desk. What’s unexpected is to see Jock sitting there in the company of Epstein and Bryan and Dake (who has had six lines since he got fired, poor lad, he’s still trying to grow out that beard). I’m pretty sure that Bryan has some kind of long game going on here, but it is really really quite delicious to see Chuck temporarily lost for words. (I say as an inveterate Chuck-hater.) He is completely and utterly deflated! He can barely spit out the mandatory lines about revenge and I’ll be back and so on. We’re about to discover how much of Chuck’s control over people was inherent to his office, and hence gone, and how much was based on his intelligence and ability to call in old dirty favors.
Speaking of dirty, dirty favors, I’m glad we got some clarity from Taylor’s final scene with Oscar. It’s clear that Taylor must have agreed with Axe that when they gave him the name of Oscar’s VC play, they were doing so on purpose, and had told Oscar that straight-up. It didn’t seem plausible to me then, and it doesn’t really feel plausible to me now, but it does help contextualize the Taylor who would walk out of Axe Cap and set up a competing shop without blinking. Taylor’s face as they watch Oscar leaving their life once more — leaving, it must be said, a very nice check for seed money — is pretty heartbreaking. I continue to feel we were done a little dirty by their plot arc, but I am prepared to put those resentments to bed at the current time.
Ending with Axe and Chuck and Wendy drinking wine in the brownstone and working through their revenge plays together is a nice touch, but it mirrors too exactly the identical situation back at Axe’s townhouse the night before planting the slide on our friendly neighborhood oncologist. This isn’t the first time, is the thing. It doesn’t feel that transgressive.
What does feel transgressive? Whatever the hell is coming at Taylor and Jock Jeffcoat, because I bet it’s going to be deeply, deeply unpleasant for all concerned.