Damian’s character is brilliantly cerebral. Everything’s fast and light and facile, and I feel like I’m doing a ballet with him. —Maggie Siff
It is the most intriguing relationship in Billions. It is personal and it is professional. It is sincere and it is strategic. It is friendly and it is flirty. It is complex. It is intense. It is delicate. It is difficult. It is delicious.
It is Bobby and Wendy.
Maggie Siff’s words inspire me to look at them in a new light: A ballet indeed. I will take the next step and say it is a ballet of three acts and dive deep into it!
Let’s first hear from one half of this relationship! I had the wonderful opportunity to ask Damian about his take on Bobby and Wendy after his appearance at Times Talks in June. You can hear it below and I am also transcribing Damian’s answer for our non-English speaking readers who prefer written English to spoken English.
“The important thing to remember is he and Wendy knew each other and worked together before she married the US attorney. So they have a longer relationship than her marriage. And she considers herself to be responsible for building the Bobby Axelrod empire as much as he is. She considers herself a partner and he is very reliant on her. So, I think, we don’t deal with it explicitly within the drama because I don’t think it would be interesting to but they obviously had a conversation about the fact that she was going to marry the US attorney and they clearly had a conversation in their marriage about what would happen if Bobby ever came under investigation. We’re now at that point, Bobby is under investigation and she doesn’t want to leave her job. She likes it so much so she thinks why should she? So that conflict will continue and I think it will be useful for the success of the show so I think we want to keep that going.”
WE ALL WANT TO KEEP THAT GOING! And as we cannot wait to have more of them, let’s talk about what we have seen so far.
Bobby and Wendy: A ballet of three acts. The Good. The Bad. The Ugly.
Act I: THE GOOD
A short act.
The first scene we see Bobby and Wendy together attests to the close bond between them. The way Bobby talks to Wendy is obviously different from the way he talks to anyone else at Axe Capital. He is warm. He is kind. He refers to her beautiful eyes. She calls him “player.” They are flirty and sweet with each other.
The time they started working together is key to their close bond: Wendy and Axe met when he was at his most vulnerable. Most fragile. Most transparent. Wendy put him back together after 9/11 and has been “in the trenches” with him since.
Wendy may not know what is in Bobby’s mind but she knows how his mind works. Bobby, on the other hand, seems to know what is in Wendy’s mind. He is right that she is considering leaving the company. He is sincere when he says her value to the company is absolute and he is strategic as he tries to extract from her why she wants to leave. I don’t think Axe believes Wendy wants to see other kind of patients, but I believe him when he says “I want to” when Hall asks if he still trusts Wendy. Bobby wants to trust her because he cares about her. Besides, as Damian suggests, Bobby is very reliant on Wendy.
Bobby Axelrod has multiple fixers. There is Wags. The COO. The valet. The bad cop. There is Hall. The ultimate “black bag” man. Then there is Wendy. She does things others cannot do: She “fixes” minds. And she keeps Bobby grounded, too. The way Wendy gets into minds is mesmerizing. The spiel she gives to Victor in Episode 2: Naming Rights is no different than the one Cromwell gives to Harry Percy in Wolf Hall. As I have said before Wendy may be a modern day Cromwell.
Wendy, in Maggie Siff’s words, “can swim with the sharks.” The fun part is the BIGGEST sharks she swims with are her husband and her boss. Siff further explains: “As a female character, to be able to play someone who is equally powerful to these titans… You just don’t come across it that much. She knows what a lot of these men need… and it gives her kind of an edge.”
Indeed. Knowing these two men closely and loving them both genuinely in different ways, Wendy is in a unique position to hold power over both and she refuses to wear a team jersey! She, using her most powerful tool of understanding human nature, plays her own game and I cannot help root for her!
Act 2: THE BAD
Bobby and Wendy have never let each other down in the last 15 years. The relationship starts going downhill only when Chuck stirs the hornet’s nest and makes this mutual trust to be put to some serious test.
The BAD starts with Axe not sharing with Wendy about the life boat drill at Axe Capital. We see Wendy is not just the only one Bobby uses “please”, “sorry” and “thank you” at Axe Capital but she is also the only that she can storm into Bobby’s office and be quite direct with him: “Last chance” she says and Bobby is suddenly this little kid finally coming clean to mommy that it was not the cat but it was him that broke the vase: “I left you out on purpose.”
Wendy cares about Bobby. But she also, as Damian points out in our interview, loves her job. Wendy tells a friend: “This thing I do… I get so fucking turned on doing it…” So knowing what these alpha males need and feeding them THAT is Wendy’s best option to keep her life as it is. She is rational: When she goes and “fixes” Victor, she is doing it for herself as much as for Bobby because Wendy knows WHY Bobby has not shared the drill information with her and her BEST response is to prove her loyalty to Axe Capital.
Wendy’s “Cut me out again and I am gone” is credible enough that Bobby the little kid puts his shit together and behaves: “I won’t.” Bobby does not really want to cut her off so his “I won’t” is sincere. Having said that, he also knows, Chuck being on his tail, he may need to cut her off so his “I won’t” is strategic, too. Bobby being a little kid with Wendy makes me a believer in Tbkwrm’s argument Bobby Axelrod may be the boy that never grows up!
Wendy, being a dominatrix in her personal life, obviously loves holding the strings. And Chuck having Dollar Bill arrested at a time Wendy is not in the office — a pretty low blow by Chuck doing THIS just after he gets word from Dale Wendy visits Bobby at his house — does not only make Wendy lose control but also make her vulnerable at the workplace.
General Axe stands tall on a file cabinet and gives a history lecture likening Bill’s arrest to Pearl Harbor:
“…And those that are trying to bring down our house… will see their houses fall.”
We all know whose house he is talking about. Wendy is listening. Ouch. This should hurt BAD. It should hurt bad enough that forces Wendy to take matters into her own hands.
Bobby may seem like a general ordering his troops to live free or die but Wendy knows what he is: a wounded animal at best. She keeps calm, tolerates Bobby’s sarcasm and makes her point: “Open war is not good.” And she once again reminds me of Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall where he tells Henry VIII wars are not affordable things! Once again, she is being sincere and strategic. She is sincere when she says open war is costly. It is. She knows Bobby can take unnecessarily big risks just to hurt his enemy. And she is strategic because she wants to move on with her life and thus needs to have the two men kiss and make up!
If Wendy is a Cromwell, Bobby is a paranoid Henry VIII. Thank God he cannot “Axe” like Henry. Bobby entering Wendy’s office, without a knock, to inquire about why she did take 250K out of the fund is way out of line! It’s HER money and she can do whatever she wants with it.
Wendy opens “the book on Axe” to Chuck so he knows open war is not good for anyone. Not giving Bobby a small win will only make Bobby play a different game with rules unknown. He may get out of it with a loss but makes the other side suffer even more: “Axe comes from nothing. So he unconsciously fears, no, he may even expect, that he’ll have nothing again.”
The deal is arranged at a very unusual spot: A spa pool. While I know that many fans feel this scene is just for us to see Bobby and Wendy naked together, I think it is is completely in character with both Bobby and Wendy.
Bobby is trying to figure out Wendy’s type (loyal or not) from her actions. We know his stand on loyalty from what he said to Mafee earlier: “You don’t try to be loyal. You just are. Or you’re not.” After all, it is loyalty that rules Bobby Axelrod’s billions.
Bobby plays a textbook signaling game: If Wendy does not meet him in her birthday suit, she is not to be trusted; if she does, she is willing to pay a cost to show him she is loyal.
Bobby stacking the cards against Wendy to test her tells me he really wants to trust her. Wendy’s value to the firm and to Axe is absolute. Her “bold statement” of “I have built this company as much as you did” is, in fact, a “true statement” and Axe knows this. He cannot drop her like he drops Victor. There are many Victors. There is only one Wendy.
Meeting Axe under HIS conditions is not cheap talk but a costly action on Wendy’s part. It is costly not just because Wendy is getting into a spa pool naked with her boss but if I can think of a possible photo/video opportunity in the pool, Wendy can, too! That is why one may see Wendy meeting Bobby naked as an “out of character” behavior for her. But, no, this is pure Wendy: she knows this is the only way she can get her message across to Bobby: “I am loyal.” So her job is THAT important to her? Oh yes, her answer to Bobby’s “Why are you still sticking around?” says it all: Wendy believes she has built Axe Capital as much as Bobby has. She found meaning in putting him together when his world was completely shattered. She still does. THAT IS why she is here: “Meaning matters to me more than happiness.” She wants to stay where meaning is.
Bobby’s quiet face speaks volumes: Part relief part embarrassment. He TRUSTS her.
The deal going awry at the last minute thanks to inevitable dick-measuring contest at the deal table kick-starts Act 3: THE UGLY which we will talk about next week.
Now that we have the intermission, can we just take a step back and look at these two sitting naked in a spa pool? 😀
Believe me, I am in that small minority who does not want to see Bobby and Wendy in a romantic relationship. But is it just me or are they really a bit too comfortable with each other? I mean, wouldn’t you feel a bit awkward, a bit nervous being naked next to a naked man even if he is someone you know well? I certainly would… unless I saw this man naked before 😀 I just cannot help wonder if they had a fling in the past. It’s no secret their backstory is one thing we are dying to find out more about and our collective blog Our Hopes, Wishes and Fantasies for Billions Season 2 is a living proof!