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'Billions' Recap: The Downside to Sex Positivity

By Dustin Rowles | TV | April 8, 2019 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | April 8, 2019 |


Near the end of last night’s episode of Showtime’s brilliant Billions, Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) stood behind a podium to announce that he would drop out of the Attorney General’s race, the day after winning the Democratic primary. The reason he was doing so was because his political enemies had discovered that Chuck was into sadomasochistic sex, and they had the pictures to prove it. But as Chuck stood before a crowd of reporters, he put away his prepared speech and delivered these off-the-cuff remarks.

“In my private life, in the confines of my happy marriage with my consenting wife, practice sadomasochism. Bondage. Dominance. All the rest. Masks. Binds. Ropes. Fire.

Even just saying that I can feel my shoulders loosen for the first time in decades. I am a masochist. In order to achieve sexual gratification, I need to be tied up, punched, kicked, whipped or otherwise tortured. By my loving wife. And here’s the bigger truth: All of us need something, right? I don’t know what you do in your bedroom, but you’re probably a little embarrassed about it. You probably don’t want the rest of us looking at you while you do it, unless that’s your thing … Wouldn’t we be better off if we didn’t let shame win?”

It’s a big speech, and out of the mouth of Giamatti, it lands spectacularly. The speech ultimately wins Chuck the Attorney General’s office, but it may have cost him his wife, Wendy (Maggie Siff). Coming out like that, admitting it to the people of New York, makes Chuck something of a sex-positive hero. But Wendy has no goddamn interest in having her private life outed to the rest of the world, knowing how she’d be judged, how her co-workers at Axe Capital would look at her. “How am I supposed to face my colleagues? My friends. Our children?” Wendy delivers a powerful rebuke to Chuck that ends with, “Holy shit, is this marriage getting crowded. How many dicks is a woman supposed to have in her face?”

It creates an interesting dichotomy. We, as liberal, open-minded, free-thinking viewers want to celebrate Chuck Rhoades for owning his sexual preferences, for outing himself to the world, and proudly proclaiming, “I am a sadomasochist.” On the other hand, he took his wife’s agency away from her. He outed her in front of the whole goddamn world. That’s not cool, bro. Did I want Wendy to make an unexpected appearance at Chuck’s press conference wearing black lingerie and carrying a whip? Yes! But that’s because I’m a stupid heterosexual male with a very soft spot for Maggie Siff. It also would have been completely unrealistic and out of character, and it was an unforgivable asshole move by Chuck to out his wife on live television.

It does, however, move the storyline along. As Attorney General, Chuck has to repay his debt to Axe, which means his first order of business is to kick Grigor Andolov (John Malkovich) out of the country, and honestly, I’m not sure if that’s the end of Malkovich’s storyline or not. The two seem to come to an agreement: Grigor will stay out of America as long as Axe stays out of Russia. If it is the end of that arc, it’s a somewhat abrupt one for a feud that has been brewing dating back to early last season.

On the other hand, it ramps up the tension between Axe and his biggest rival, Taylor Mason, who — in Grigor — loses their biggest client. Taylor, however, may get something better than Grigor’s money out of the deal. At the end of the episode, they reach out to Wendy to offer support, and while Wendy is in no mood to be receptive now, she could be sometime in the future. In either respect, on a show that likes to rearrange the chairs on rivalry deck, Chuck — who is no longer rivals with Axe — may have a new one with his wife. I do wonder, however, what he’s going to do with all that power as AG if he’s not going to take it out on Axe?

A certain Bryan Connerty comes to immediate mind.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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Header Image Source: Showtime