“Damian tickles you and delights you with his charm and his wit.” — Maggie Siff
Well, while we already know how charming and witty Damian could be, it is still a treat to hear these lovely words from Maggie Siff, who along with Damian brings to life one of the most intriguing and complex relationships we have ever seen on TV. It is sincere and it is strategic. It is friendly and it is flirty. It is personal and it is professional. It is delicate. It is difficult. It is delicious. And while I believe Season 3 has revealed there is no romance in it, it has also revealed there is real partnership. Bobby and Wendy find meaning in what they have built together and can draw the best out of each other. In case you have missed my earlier posts on these two, you can find them here, here, here, and here.
Bobby and Wendy have a bumpy ride, to put it mildly, in their relationship in Season 2. And their reconciliation comes only after Bobby gloriously fucks up in Ice Juice and asks Wendy to meet him where the entire Axe Capital story started, World Trade Center, in Season 2 Finale Ball in Hand. Bobby sees his only exit in Wendy:
“Would you help me find my way back?”
“Yes, I’d like that very much. That is exactly what we’ll do together.”
Wendy has tears in her eyes as Bobby faces what he has feared the most, windbreakers, maybe because she feels it would never have come to this if she had not banned Bobby from sessions with her. But she keeps her word and they restore their relationship to its best in Season 3: True Loyalty. Real Trust. Total Transparency.
I tend to think of Wendy more of a rock than a performance coach in Bobby’s life. She did not only put him together after 9/11 but has also been able to keep him grounded for years. As much as he exudes confidence, Bobby Axelrod has one major weakness: the capacity to act on an impulse and fuck up. Wendy seems to be the only one that can have Bobby do the right thing when he does not feel like doing it, and this is especially true in Season 3.
Wendy is the first person, except for his kids, to set foot on Bobby’s new bachelor pad in Episode 1 Tie Goes To The Runner. And she does not hold back when it comes to diagnosing Bobby’s move to the city:
“Guys like you head to the city when their marriages fall apart for the same reason birds fly south instead of freezing their asses off. It’s in the genetic code.”
She then scoffs at Bobby’s assessment that JFK was not under as much pressure as he currently is during the Cuban Missile Crisis, does not listen to his whining about what Chuck has done to him, and ultimately gets direct with him: She knows he changed out of his pajamas only three minutes ago. He may be indicted with his assets frozen by the government and he may not feel like going to office but his employees are getting frustrated with the boss nowhere to be seen.
While Wags tells Axe Capital employees that they sent emissaries and gifts to ensure Axe attend the Ideas Dinner later that week, Axe confesses to Wendy he had to his way into the dinner because he believes this is the only way to respond to the “crooked” Bobby Axelrod story the government is writing at the moment. He needs the world to see he is not cowering, not hiding, not defeated. But for the first time in his life, he feels he cannot do it and he knows why: Rage.
Wendy runs a Dickens Process to analyze the rage: This is a technique based on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in which the Scrooge meets the ghost on Christmas morning and is shown how his future would be like if he kept up his current behavior. The painful process turns him into a kinder, gentler man.
But can Bobby Axelrod take the pain?
We travel back to Bobby doing a fake memorabilia sale in fifth grade. He sells some rich kids an Islander jersey and a Koho hockey stick “signed” by star players like Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier 😀 And he enjoys his new sneakers and an Atari (if you had one like Axe and I did, then you are generation-Axe!) until the kids find out! Bobby vividly remembers how angry he was with those kids, with his parents for not having enough money and with himself for getting caught. But it was that rage that worked like jet fuel for years and made him the man he is. Wendy pushes him further. Holding on to that rage, where does he see himself in 5 years? 10? 20? Happy? Fulfilled? Lonely? Bitter?
This may first look like Bobby is not giving a shit about the exercise. But it is actually him being terrified because he cannot see anything but jail in his future and so he walks away from the exercise. Still he takes Wendy’s advice and shows up at the office.
A soon as Bobby arrives at Axe Capital, he gets the scoop from Dollar Bill: The employees are like the Czechoslovak Gymnastic team in 1970s, ready to defect if things go on like this, and the PM meeting was a shit show. As Bobby is trying to find a scapegoat, Wendy openly tells him the business will go back to normal only if they are liquid again and there is only one way for it to happen: Bobby needs to give up on his license to trade which he sees equivalent to giving up on his license to breathe.
Wendy knows Bobby like the back of her hand: She knows he is worried about Taylor, and not him, being the public face of Axe Capital if he gives up trading. She presses that as long as it is his money it is still Axe Capital no matter who is making day-to-day decisions.
“Are you sure?”
“It’s not me that has to be sure.”
Ah I love these little moments where Peter, ahem, Bobby lets Wendy sew his shadow!
Bobby takes Wendy’s advice and signs the papers. Yet, given he is a trade junkie, he goes cold turkey! We find him late at night on his terrace in Episode 2: The Wrong Maria Gonzalez calling Wendy to say he cannot not trade. The man who does not regret the crime he committed and feels rage for only getting caught believes the law has got in his way. But I agree with Wendy that it is not the law that made the deal necessary. His disregard of the law did. And I am positive that, as he hangs up on her, Wendy KNOWS Bobby will find a way to trade behind the scenes. And I completely understand why she does not see the need to confront him: Now that he has given up his license to trade, Bobby Axelrod has a lot to process: He has to give up on his Bloombergs, he has to live with Ari “Zapruder” Spyros recording his office visits, and Taylor asking him to leave the office because when he is around people do not know who the boss is! When it is too hard to shut off for him, Wendy is there to remind him that if he cannot, then he will not only lose the battle but also the war.
Wendy repeatedly tells Bobby he needs to take the current state of the world into consideration before he acts. A great example comes from Episode 4 Hell of A Ride: The charity World-Aid is trying to kick Bobby out of their executive board because of the indictment. As Bobby’s rage dictates him to be an army of one, fortified, and remind each and every one of the board members how he made them rich in the next board meeting where they will remove him from the board, Wendy gives him priceless advice.
Even though reputation is important to people in finance, their reputations are buttressed by their money. Philanthropies, on the other hand, ONLY have their reputation. And as long as they see him as damaged goods, Bobby needs to adjust his optimal strategy to win.
Bobby takes Wendy’s advice and VOILA! He provokes the board in a bold and brilliant way to make them vote in favor of a proposal they were reluctant to support in the first place. It does not matter if he is removed from the board because World-Aid now owns Rayveon Solar, a company Axe Capital has invested in, and Bobby will make a lot of money as the stock sky-rockets. This is fundamental game theory: Bobby has just incurred a small loss for a real big win. And, in fact, we saw him teaching this to his boys in Billions Pilot. But I think when it comes to Bobby accepting a small loss, he needs to hear it from Wendy 😀
Knowing both Bobby and Chuck very well and caring about them genuinely in different ways, Wendy is in a unique position to hold power over her “lost boys” and refuses to wear a team jersey! She gives her 100% to both men, as they operate behind the scenes to remove any uncertainty in their way, and she does not intervene until she knows there is no other move to be made.
Now, let us take a step back and see where Axe and Chuck stand at the beginning of Season 3. Wendy’s two favorite boys seem to be stuck in a chicken game driving cars towards each other at 120 mph. They can either go straight or swerve. The best outcome for both is that they go straight where as their opponent swerves. The one that goes straight is the hero and the one that swerves is the chicken. The second best is when they both swerve to avoid the damage and they are even. The worst outcome is obviously when they have a head-on collision and lose everything they have built in their professional and possibly personal lives. No wonder this kind of game is used to describe the mutual assured destruction of nuclear warfare and, in particular, to explain the brinkmanship in the Cuban Missile Crisis. And Wendy is the only person that can convince them to choose the second best.
The Ice Juice investigation has the potential to bring “mutually assured destruction” to our beloved trio in Episode 6 The Third Ortolan thanks to Spyros of all people! Even though he tells Chuck he is well respected at Axe Capital, when the latter tries to use him against Bobby, Spyros knows his colleagues are not taking him seriously. Feeling the urge to prove everyone he has the ability to save the boss, Spyros dives deep into Ice Juice IPO trades and identifies Wendy’s short along with two critical facts: Wendy has not traded at all before in her whole history at Axe Capital. And, more importantly, she shorted the Ice Juice stock while in Chuck’s office. And he goes full le Carré and gives Wendy’s short to Bryan.
You feel Axe’s pain as he is taking down the stairs to go tell Wendy what the fuck just happened. Oh what a heavy burden to carry on his shoulders. His swagger is completely gone. I worry he will have a heart attack. And Damian conveying the emotion with his posture blows me away!
I completely agree with Axe that Wendy did what she did for her loved ones: I believe, knowing Chuck will lose a lot of money in Ice Juice, she acted on her maternal instinct – it may be an emotional but also a rational response – to protect her kids’ future. Axe is ready to hire the best lawyers for Wendy and wants her to tell him the words she needs him to say to feel safe.
“Are there any? Really?”
“No. Not really.”
There may exist no words but there exists an action Bobby can take to save Wendy from jail. And so the man who was ready to take unnecessary risks to avoid jail earlier in the day is now considering to take the plea with a minimum 7-year sentence! While Bach thinks surrendering his empire for one loyal soldier is not a good idea, Axe believes Wendy is the “fucking spirit animal” for Axe Capital. She does not only put the people, who come to her unglued, together but also make them better than ever before. And, hey, even Bach owes Wendy for his place at Sagaponack (a lovely town in Southampton) because Bobby would not have Axe Capital without Wendy. So we now know what Wendy says to Bobby in Season 1 Episode 6 The Deal is TRUE.
“I built this company as much as you did.”
While both Axe and Chuck are considering to turn themselves in so Wendy can go free, Wendy has a better idea thanks to a man with whom she has much in common: Black Jack Foley, who has found the most satisfaction and success on the sidelines, knows there is always a play when there is no play.
“If a situation is untenable, Mrs. Rhoades, you break that fucking stick.”
In Episode 5 The Flaw in the Death Star, we see Wendy telling Wags about the good old days when Chuck was in private practice, and he and Bobby liked each other plenty. And now that their only objective is survival, it is time for Bobby and Chuck to put the measuring tape aside, sit together and help each other as well as Wendy to get out of the huge pile of shit called Ice Juice. And while Axe picks on Chuck when he sits down as soon as Wendy tells them to do so, I think Wendy has both of them well-trained. Black Jack is right in his assessment of her:
“I am not sure I’d know how to operate with the finesse and delicacy that you do, Mrs. Rhoades, serving two masters, or should I say, having them actually serve you.”
Wendy knows Bobby and Chuck do not trust each other, so what they both need to do now is to trust her. They do.
Axe: “Full transparency. I give you my word.”
Chuck: “You want transparency? How fucking clear is this?”
And now that they have a game, we are all about to find out how good Wendy can be at being bad.