Why Wendy Rhoades Is One Of The Most Consistently Surprising Characters On TV

Photo: Courtesy of Showtime/Jeff Neumann.
Imagine, for a minute, that you are Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff) of Billions. You spend your days dispensing calming energy and rational advice to two extremely powerful men: your attorney general husband, and your boss, a hedge fund manager who happens to be your husband's sworn rival. You, a mere mortal, would likely would crumple under the weight of these twin loyalties. Recognising the inhumane difficulty of this arrangement, you would choose between the relationships, and call it a day.
But Wendy is not a mere mortal. Wendy possesses an almost superhuman ability to keep her relationships sorted, her sense of morality intact, and her form-fitting dresses unruffled. She can handle the balancing act without crying in the bathroom.
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Until last night’s episode of Billions, this was the responsible, rational Wendy we were familiar with. This was also the only Wendy that her husband, Chuck (Paul Giammatti), and her boss, Bobby (Damien Lewis) had ever known. But at the start of “Not You, Mr. Dake,” our understanding of Wendy — and just what she’s capable of — changed radically.
Let’s set the scene. Sitting at the table in Bobby's bachelor pad, Wendy, Bobby, and Chuck stare into the same bleak fate. Unless they agree to work together, all three are headed straight to jail. When Wendy leaves to use the bathroom, Chuck and Bobby immediately broach the same subject. In order to save themselves, the men recognise they’ll have to pin their Ice Juice scheme on someone else. Both Chuck and Bobby agree that sending an innocent person to jail is a prospect too unseemly to mention in front of Wendy.
“You think she can handle framing someone who didn’t do it?” Bobby asks, eyebrow cocked with typical Axelrodian curiosity.
Chuck looks skeptical. “Wendy’s got steel in her, but I’ve never known her to go that far,” he responds. Wendy returns before Chuck can finish his next thought, something along the lines of them keeping this part of the plan a secret from her.
Much to their surprise, the first sentence out of Wendy’s mouth is, “So, who’s going to be our patsy? When the men remain silent – obviously dumbstruck that she does also possesses the “stomach of a billygoat” that Chuck claimed to have earlier – Wendy proceeds to spell it out for them. “Come on, boys. I think we know someone needs to go down for this,” she says patronisingly, as if she's surprised they hadn't considered this yet.
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Clearly, when her back’s against the wall, Wendy will bend her once-straight moral spine to escape the situation. Not only does Wendy agree to framing Dr. Gilbert (Anthony Edwards) of the crime — she also spearheads another essential component of their scheme: Convincing her coworker, Mafee (Dan Soder), to lie.
Mafee is too moral to lie just for Axe Capital’s sake. But Wendy knows he will lie for her, because, as she puts it, Mafee “likes” her. Armed with this knowledge, Wendy appears at Mafee’s apartment dressed like her slightly vampy, slightly evil twin, and explains her situation to Mafee, complete with some sensual knee touching. She wields her sexuality the same way she previously wielded carefully worded questions during her performance coaching sessions — calmly, like she knows all will unfold as she'd planned. And it does. Mafee lies, pays a fine to the SEC, and the nefarious trio get away with it. Essentially, Wendy is as talented a villain as she is a performance coach; the two roles require the same skills, just with different ends.
This episode held punishments for many of Billions’ good guys: Mafee smudges his name with the SEC, Dake (Christopher Denham) loses his job, Connerty’s (Toby Leonard Moore) case against Axelrod reaches a humiliating conclusion, and Dr. Gilbert, a mostly innocent oncologist, is framed and sentenced to five years in prison. Notably, the episode held no punishments for Wendy, other than exhaustion – and maybe that's because she no longer fits the conventional notion of “good."
As of this episode, Wendy has untangled herself from the bounds of morality that had kept her afloat, and sank down to her husband and boss’s level. Whereas in the past, she'd helped Bobby and Chuck with their cat-and-mouse game from afar, now, she's in the game. Maybe it’s time we cease holding Wendy above Chuck and Bobby, but rather consider her as someone among them.
Ultimately, what's so surprising isn't that Wendy played along. What's surprising is that we were surprised at all. After so much time spent with Bobby and Chuck, perhaps her descent was inevitable.
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