Damian Lewis and Maggie Siff bring 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. The first three seasons have revealed there is no romance in their relationship, but there is real partnership. Bobby and Wendy find meaning in what they built together and can draw the best out of each other. In case you missed my earlier posts on these two, you can find them here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Season 4 is a true testament to why Axe values Wendy at a level where he is even willing to go to jail for her. Do not get me wrong, loyalty rules Bobby Axelrod’s world and he can drop Wendy in a millisecond should he suspect any disloyalty as he did in Season 1 Finale. But as long as he trusts Wendy is one loyal confidante and also the smartest person in the room, there is nothing Axe will not do to keep Wendy safe and happy. And the key is in his words to Wendy in Season 4 Episode 10 New Year’s Day where Bobby remembers the exact time and place he knew Wendy was a keeper.
It turns out the two met when Wendy came to the company after 9/11, on loan from the Sports Psych Place she was employed at, to help with the survivors as well as the families of the employees who died on 9/11. Axe, the only surviving partner in the company, was determined to do the impossible: pay for all the funerals, the school for kids of the colleagues who died in the attacks and the bonuses for the next three years. The company did not have a book. It did not have personnel. Every advisor Axe talked to told him to shut it down but he did not. And it was too much for him to take when, at one of the funerals, some families questioned his integrity as well as called him a thief. And when he was not able to handle the situation, someone else put herself between him and the families.
“Shut the fuck up. You lost family. So did everyone else here. And this man is the only hope you or any of you have of paying for the rest of your lives. And I’ll tell you another story. I have begged him not to. Because I think it’ll destroy him next. He doesn’t need it. He can move on clean and in a couple of years he’ll have enough wealth for 20 lifetimes. But if he’s really too slow for you, if you really think that he’s stealing from you, say another word, and I’ll make him shut it down. Otherwise, shake his fucking hand, say thank you, and we can all mourn together.”
But the moment Axe knew she would be his partner for life came later when Wendy came to his car and told him:
“Bobby, you better fucking deliver for those people. Or I won’t just make you quit. I’ll kill you myself.”
Wendy being loyal to him in public and her holding him accountable in private and her dedication to the greater cause sealed the deal for Axe. And, Wendy proves time and again this season that the decision Axe made at a funeral years ago was spot on. So let us talk about why Wendy is Axe’s most deadly weapon today.
Now that Taylor has betrayed Axe Capital, we find Wendy as a truly different beast in Season 4. While she was mainly the performance coach priming the C-suit occupants as well as the portfolio managers and the analysts to get the job done in earlier seasons, that she sat in the background, if you will, Wendy is now in the war room with Axe, Wags and Hall and is the mastermind behind “Operation Taylor.”
We know Axe has the capacity to reach high paranoia levels when faced with credible threats: Think of Season 1 Finale where he suspects Axe Capital was bugged. He tears down the company and turns it into Fort Axe with turnstiles, magnetic ID cards and what have you! And the current paranoia levels Axe has reached after Taylor left with Mafee and a big chunk of Axe Capital money, including Andolov’s, match the levels he reached back then.
We find him in Season 4 Episode 1 Chucky Rhoades’ Greatest Game having every Axe Capital employee sign no-competes so Taylor cannot steal anyone else from him. And, oh, he has just appointed Wendy as the new head of Human Resources at Axe Capital who gives her authority to keep everyone in line. Anyone that is not on Axe’s side will be gone.
As Axe makes an example of Rudy who has a picture with Mafee from a Taylor Mason Capital picnic, Wendy seconds him forcefully and reminds everyone what they should do with the new law of the land.
“You get on with it, or get fucked.”
Next we find out Wendy has already bought Taylor’s headhunter so Taylor is not able to interview the best applicants in the pool. And as soon as they hear from the head hunter that Taylor is trying to recruit Mick Danzig, they hire him, too! And this is just the first episode!
Well, we have already seen that Wendy can be very good at being bad in Season 3 when she faces jail time. Yet, while she is extremely disappointed when Taylor pulled an “Elmsley Count” at the Axe Capital raise and left Axe Capital along with Mafee and a good chunk of the capital they raised the day before, Wendy’s first reaction is that they should look within to understand what they may have done to cause this. And when she and Bobby regroup later in the evening she recommended patience.
Most people in the industry would think Axe sent his protege off to open their own shop and invested with them. And he can still do it. Or he can take comfort in knowing it is inevitable Taylor will suffer internally in a few years and they will have no one to turn to. But Bobby does not think he can wait.
But the thing is Wendy is about to lose her own patience with Taylor. Well, it is one thing that Taylor used her empathy for them to get on the raise team, and it is another when Taylor makes her a job offer because a fresh start would be good for Wendy who could not stop Bobby from succumbing to his worst nature but succumbed to it!
Now, while I agree with Wendy that there are things more important in the business like lasting relationships, true loyalty and real trust than money, I give credit to Taylor that this has not been common practice at Axe Capital for a while. Not with Axe. EVER. And not with Wendy lately, either. But I also think Taylor has made a huge mistake by messing with Wendy who immediately turns 180 degrees about what to do about Taylor.
Wendy: “Fuck them over.”
Bobby: “Different from look inward.”
In Season 4, Wendy is on it. And her ability to read and manipulate minds is certainly the most threatening weapon Axe Capital has in the war against Taylor.
Wendy is keeping an eye both on Axe so he does not make a stupid move – investing in a shitty robot is a good example of how he burns money to make a bank not work with Taylor – to take revenge which may make the street think Axe is putting revenge over making money….
…and on Axe Capital employees so nobody goes to the dark side. When she hears from Spyros that Bonnie has just got an email from Mafee offering celebratory drinks for her birthday, the head of HR crashes Bonnie’s birthday party with the Head of Compliance in tag and gets to the bottom of it.
Oh, and she is the smartest person in the war room, too.
It turns out there is no way to establish internal surveillance at Taylor Mason Capital (TMC), the company’s remote logins have not been entirely secured yet so Hall has the company’s positions and trading patterns on a memory stick. And where Axe finds less than a body blow, Wendy sees an opportunity for “water torture.”
“Drip. Drip. Drip.”
How about getting Taylor unsettled by buying up positions they want to increase in size? This can disrupt their confidence in their mathematical perfection and induce them to make a major mistake.
Well, no wonder Hall makes a job offer to Wendy on the spot!
“She’s not going anywhere.”
And I am totally floored by Wendy’s next and most deadly move. As she deals with the shocking public revelation Chuck has made about their unusual sex life, Wendy gets a Skype call from Taylor. Taylor, who knows what it means to be under public scrutiny because of who they are, is there to talk if Wendy is up for it. And as I think whether this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, my jaw drops when Wendy does not shy away from using her own marital crisis to get under Taylor’s skin.
Wendy meets Taylor at Morgenstern’s – an ice cream place, a reminder of childhood and good times – signaling that she has good intentions. Wendy shares with Taylor that many at Axe Capital tried to get into her mind over the years, it was only Taylor who was able to. Because they listen and they deeply care. And that is why they were the only one who reached out when Chuck made their sex life public. And Wendy feels that if she does not confide in someone who really knows her, she will end up in a bad place. Taylor does not have to talk at all, they only need to hear Wendy as she is trying to figure herself out. And when Taylor rightly asks about what Axe would think about this meeting, Wendy is clear:
“This has nothing to do with him.”
Oh. My. God.
This version of Wendy is scary. VERY SCARY.
She is cold.
She is calculating.
She is sneaky.
And even if the first meeting at Morgenstern’s is sincere on Wendy’s part, she turns merciless as soon as she hears Taylor fucked Axe Capital “Spacey style” before they left: They changed the terms in the agreement with Victor making Axe Capital a co-owner of Victor’s firm. So Victor’s actions are now legally attributable to Axe. But how could Taylor do it unilaterally? Oh, Mafee is the co-signer. Wendy now knows Taylor knows them all like the back of their hand that even Taylor reaching out to her could be a psychological trap.
When Hall shares the information that TMC has appointments lined up with three potential investors in Douglas Mason’s project, Axe tasks him with finding out which investor Taylor and Douglas choose to work with so that Axe knows what he is dealing with.
As Wags and Wendy leave Axe’s office, Hall shares with the boss that he had Wendy and Taylor at the same location. Axe knows Wendy is going through turbulent times so he asks Hall to monitor the situation more closely – no surprise there since loyalty rules this man’s life. What Axe does not know is that Wendy, is getting ready to give Taylor the rope to hang themself.
Billions uses analogies brilliantly in its story telling and the conversation between Taylor and Wendy about Louis Kahn, the architect of Four Freedoms Park, where the two meet, is no exception. Every question Wendy asks or comments about Kahn and his estranged relationship with his son is actually about Taylor and their relationship with their father. If you have not seen the Oscar-nominated documentary My Architect which I saw at least a decade ago and still remember vividly, please do yourself a favor and see it. Made by Nathaniel Kahn, Kahn’s son, it is an effort to understand a brilliant innovator, a flawed man, and an estranged father. Sounds familiar?
And when she puts the new information she extracted from Taylor and her own session notes on Taylor from two years ago together…
Taylor is the child who does not want their dad to walk around with plans but would never see it turning into a reality.
May I just say Wendy is the NEW Hall? She is actually more effective than Hall in some significant ways. Hall can only monitor from afar, Wendy can sneak into TMC.
Mafee proves once again he is not the smartest guy in the room when he bumps into Wendy at his nightcap bar and believes she is there to meet a friend. I mean, if Wendy knows about Douglas being in town, and he and Taylor working together from Facebook, she probably knows about your nightcap bar from Facebook, too, no? In three minutes, Wendy is ready to report to Axe TMC is working with the start-up guy.
Wendy deals the fatal blow and violates her doctor – patient confidentiality in the process: Just killing the deal with the start-up guy will not cut it. They have to make sure it is Taylor that kills the deal which would be a huge betrayal to their dad and they would not be able to come back from that. She is RUTHLESS. Axe is proud and Hall is probably a bit embarrassed.
Axe and Wendy are ready to stir the pot at TMC. Their first plan is to have Rebecca make an offer to Brian Dana, the start up guy who supports Douglas’ project, that he would not be able to turn down. Once Rebecca takes control, Axe will buy it from her with a healthy profit and explode Taylor’s head like in Scanners!
While Dana is thrilled about Cantu being interested in Douglas’ project, Taylor passes on the offer since they do not want to move forward without any guarantee from Cantu for Douglas’ involvement in the project – their top priority. This vindicates Wendy that must have Taylor kill their dad’s project and suffer from it.
The solution comes in the form of some Robert Beaufort from the US Bureau of Industry and Security aka “Hard Bob” who, in return for an afternoon with classic porn stars, pays a visit to TMC and breaks the bad news.
The bureau exists to aid and support innovation in private sector but the patent office has flagged Douglas’ project as sensitive technology with implications for national security. The bureau will reimburse TMC for the R&D expenses they made on the project plus 8% on their investment for a non-disclosure agreement on the matter. Taylor knows Axe’s name is written all over this… and before they could even get to it, more trouble is looming on the horizon with the FDNY considering to withdraw their money from TMC because of their trouble with a government agency.
As soon as he gets the news that FNDY is on the fence about working with Taylor, Axe and Wendy are ready to put the final nail on Taylor’s coffin!
Wendy, who we have seen helping Taylor furnish the fancy apartment they bought for their parents earlier in the episode, now meets them in that apartment. She lets Taylor know that Axe knows they have chosen their dad over business and that she appreciates that Taylor put their dad over business — something Axe could never do. But Axe is now coming for them, and nothing can stop him. Wendy calls Axe names: Single-minded. Toxic. Corrosive. Shiva the Destroyer. Taylor knows Wendy is not their friend when the latter claims she thinks about quitting. Who quits in Billions ever? Maybe Bruno!
But I believe this is exactly what Axe and Wendy want Taylor to see: There is no rational justification behind Taylor’s decision to keep the project going when the government says no. It is an emotional decision on their part since they still want to keep their father’s dream alive in this impossible situation. They also have responsibility towards their employees at TMC. And they ultimately do what rationality dictates: Sell the project to the government and cut dad a big check.
As soon as Team Taylor figures it was Wendy all along who manipulated them, Mafee goes to Axe Capital and gets it out of his chest amidst protests from Team Axe. As the security kicks Mafee out, Axe is happy to know they hit the right target. But Wendy is the one to swallow those words.
“I trusted you. We all did. Because you charmed, manipulated, us to. All with that bullshit Buddha smile. And now I know that what was behind that smile wasn’t some serene and wise teacher. Hey! It had a sick, vicious phony. Now I know that’s what you really are a goddamned monster.”
Wendy is shaking. Because while her colleagues defend her fiercely, she knows deep down that she is that goddamned monster Maffee is talking about. And what she has done is not just immoral but also illegal. Wendy has violated the doctor-patient confidentiality to manipulate a patient she has seen for years, earlier, to save herself from jail time, and now, to destroy Taylor Mason Capital.
So she puts on the sneakers, goes out for a run and ends up crying helplessly. Wendy cannot recognize the person she has become as she dedicated herself to the greater cause – Axe Capital. Helping Axe bury Taylor drew the worst out of Wendy. She ruined relationships. She violated her own medical oath. As she helped Axe to destroy Taylor, she destroyed herself.. She did it for the company she built with Axe. She did it because she had to do it. Wendy is one fucking loyal soldier and an amazing sniper for Axe Capital and she took one for the team.
And that is why, ladies and gentlemen, Axe knows she is his partner for life.