Damianista’s Note: Who should we turn to for moral guidance in Billions Season 4? Well, we are thrilled to have The Tail that Wags the Dog on the blog today writing about his take on this very question. And, you’ll never guess his answer. ENJOY!
When Billions opened 3 years ago, viewers were immediately presented with a choice – whose side are you on, Team Axe or Team Chuck? Both had characteristics that made you want to root for them, and both had characteristics that made you want to root against them. As the seasons have progressed, it has become more and more challenging to root for either one, as both of them have had moral failings that have shown their true colors to be somewhat less than redeemable. Bobby turned on his childhood friend and mentor Bruno, was a deadbeat dad to his two sons, and ruined Taylor’s love life. Chuck, no slouch in the louse department, broke into Wendy’s private files to get dirt on Bobby, played a vicious and unethical game of hardball on a number of people, and even used his best friend and dad’s own money for his own sense of vengeance. Both of them have long since passed the point where they can be looked on as having any sense of moral center, as they show a far-too-easy willingness to sacrifice it to get what they want.
So if the two leading men and the two headliners aren’t the moral center, then who is? Wendy?
She certainly seemed that way in Season 1 as she was trying to stay above the fray navigating the murky waters between Bobby and Chuck. And she stayed that way through the second season as she repaired her relationship with Chuck while still being able to counsel Bobby. But all of that fell apart in season 3 when she became the target of investigations, and she used tactics more akin to her husband in trying to get out of trouble, showing no apparent remorse for said actions.
What about the young guns who were moving up the ranks? Taylor, Bryan or Sacker?
Taylor came aboard as the young phenom, brilliant and innocent at the same time. Cutthroat and calculated, and yet still with a conscious, as could be seen in how they treated Rudy by not firing him toward the end of season 2. And as season 3 starts and Taylor heads up Axe Capital, they seem to be doing the right thing in trying to keep Axe Cap afloat by using ethical standards. But then they get involved in a relationship, and that relationship is shattered by Bobby’s lust for a win, and soon thereafter Taylor loses that moral compass. They plot behind Bobby’s back to try and ruin him while starting their own company. They do so by courting the evil oligarch Grigor Andolov, by trying to and succeeding in stealing Mafee from Axe Cap, and by even trying to steer away Wendy. It is in their confrontation with Wendy that they show their new true, and morally bankrupt colors when they declare that loyalty takes a back seat to money. This is not a person behind whom one should place their trust.
What about those who fight on the right side of the law – Sacker and Connerty? Like Taylor, they both seem to be logical choices. Both were fighting to do right, both were principled, and both were on the right side of the law but weren’t using Chuck’s unethical tactics to get the job done. One could especially feel Sacker’s pain as she was forced to go after Jose Lugo under the orders of AG Jeffcoat, even though she knew he was innocent. Bryan was being stonewalled right and left and yet still he persisted and was ready to bring down Chuck (which was the right thing to do), until he was done in by Chuck, Wendy and Bobby’s collective trickery. But something went awry when they went behind Chuck’s back to bring him down. Bringing him down wasn’t the issue, it’s that they did it by allowing themselves to become pawns of Jeffcoat, a man they knew to be in the wrong, a man who had wronged both of them with his insistence on going after Lugo. Maybe they think that they can control him better than Chuck could, but by going to the ‘dark side’ like that, they abandoned any claim on being guided by a moral compass, and as such we cannot use them as one either.
So who does that leave? Who is left to inspire us and put our trust in? I offer a very peculiar choice, especially given his past, but one which throughout season 3 showed the most character of any of the major players.
I offer up Mike ‘Wags’ Wagner.
Yes, the self-proclaimed rapacious scumbag. Owner of the lines “It’s time for you folks to sharpen your pencils, and you better come back with one Traci Lords of an idea. And if you need that fucking defined, here it is: a barely legal, market-dominating, brilliant cocksucker of an idea.” and “You see an opportunity like that again, you grab it like it’s a horse cock and you’re Catherine the Great!” The one set up a bacchanal for Bobby when he finally was free to trade again. The one who went on a bender to start Season 2 and ended up with Yosemite Sam tattooed on his butt. I know that people will think I’m biased towards Wags, but look at what he showed us in Season 3.
He showed loyalty. Throughout everything that went on he was loyal to Bobby, while others were motivated solely by money. Taylor made that abundantly clear at the end of their confrontation with Wendy. Wags however stays loyal to Bobby throughout, as seen when he counsels Bobby to stay away from trading when he knows Bobby wants to skirt the rules. By this point he knows how Bobby operates, and knows what shortcuts he will take, and so he is not afraid to call him on it. And Bobby is similarly loyal to Wags. When Wags needs help procuring a special burial plot, Bobby is there to help.
Bobby trusts Wags when he brings him to a bizarre meal feasting on Ortolan. We learn through a backstory that this loyalty stemmed from a time when Bobby gave Wags some advice which kept him from going under, before he then took him on with his own company, and Wags has never wavered in that loyalty since. Contrast that with Chuck and his relationships with Connerty and Sacker. He brought them up under his wings as well but they seemed to serve more as pawns than as trusted allies and friends. And now they have turned on him. Can you imagine a scenario when Wags would turn on Bobby? I can’t.
He showed humility. This is a rare quality in Wags, who is not really known for his humility. But in Episode 3 “A Generation Too Late”, he realizes he has been overly harsh to Chef Ryan and his attempt to replicate a classic burger to lure Raoul back into the fold, and expresses remorse for his earlier condemnation of Ryan’s work. What other character last season showed the self-awareness and humility that Wags showed in that one scene?
But for me, the most definitive moment of clarity of Wags as the moral compass came toward the end of season 3 in episode 11 – Kompenso – when Bobby has to discuss Comp Bonuses with his employees. Bobby is never a fan of this day because he sees his workers as just being greedy (even though he is exactly the same way, if not worse). And this year since that Bonus money has to come out of his own pocket, he is feeling particularly stingy.
Wags tries to reason with Bobby that you have to pay them these bonuses – they’ve earned it. But Bobby talks as if he’s going to use the same hardball tactics on his workers that he uses in his business deals. And you can tell Wags does not approve. What is so great about this scene is that Wags shows his disapproval without uttering a word. One of the many great things about this show is the talent of the actors and their ability to express emotions without the need for words. In this scene David Costabile does exactly that. As Bobby goes on about ‘wanting to punch their teeth in’, you see the utter disdain in Wags’ eyes for the man he owes so much to, and yet now is so disappointed in. It is obvious he will never stop supporting him, never stop looking out for him, and never stop wanting the best for him, but at this one moment, he knows that his friend is in the wrong in a way that he cannot condone. A moral compass has to have a bearing which keeps it pointed in the right direction, and this is his bearing which will not allow him to be just a ‘yes’ man for Bobby. With all of the character failings showed by just about everyone on the show in season 3, Wags stands as the one person who remained true to himself and true to those who trust him, and because of that he is closest thing to a truth in the insanity of the Billions world.