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We Have Reached Peak ‘Billions’

On Sunday night, in an iconic moment in television history, Chuck Rhoades delivered a rousing public address on BDSM

A treated image of Paul Giamatti as Chuck Rhodes in ‘Billions’ Showtime/Ringer illustration

A plotty drama in which a bunch of dudes in Patagonia vests (RIP to that real-life tradition!) speak exclusively in pop culture references and confusing financial speak might not seem like a show with a penchant for sheer ludicrousness, but above all, Billions is committed to doing wild shit (an academic term). Four seasons of television—from Ice Juice to an unlikely alliance between former foes Chuck Rhoades and Bobby “Axe” Axelrod—have proved that pretty much anything is on the table for these perpetually scheming sleazeballs. And yet, nothing could have prepared us for Sunday night.

With “Overton Window,” the series is now operating at maximum batshit capacity (another academic term). Like Chuck in his kinky bedroom, you’ll need to strap yourselves in, because what transpired on Sunday was basically Billions’ BDSM Red Wedding.

Let’s briefly lay out the events of “Overton Window”: With Axe’s support, Chuck is running for New York’s vacant state attorney general’s seat, and it’s voting time for his constituents. However, the biggest obstacle in Chuck’s path to the AG’s office is Black Jack Foley. Foley threatens to reveal what he has on Chuck—namely, that he saw Chuck about to get the BDSM banging of his life from Wendy and a dominatrix back in Season 3—unless he exits the race. Foley is willing to withstand Chuck’s retaliation because he has terminal cancer and only weeks left to live. Some people want to spend their final moments on this earth in the loving care of their family; others want to make sure their archrivals never achieve their goals by perpetrating BDSM blackmail. Billions, what a show!

This presents a problem for Chuck: Foley is willing to go down with the ship, so long as Chuck loses. And as Wendy explains to Chuck when he gets her up to speed, their behavior in the bedroom is far from being acceptable public discourse. If he refused to quit, he’d still lose and be humiliated—and while Chuck is a very dirty boy who likes pain and humiliation, this is the kind of punishment he ought to avoid for the sake of his family and political future.

But Foley and the rest of Chuck’s enemies—Attorney General Jock Jeffcoat; former protégés Connerty and Sacker—didn’t anticipate one thing: What if Chuck leaned into the BDSM? In a televised speech that should be written down with a quill pen and treated with the same protective measures as the Declaration of Independence, Chuck admits to all his filthy pleasures. “In order to achieve sexual gratification I need to be tied up, punched, pinched, whipped, kicked, or otherwise tortured by my loving wife,” he says, ignoring a planned concession speech. “And here’s the bigger truth: All of us need something, right? I don’t know what you do in your bedroom with your loved one, but I do know this: 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, and if so, great.”

Holy shit. Pinch me—and not in a sexual way; I can’t believe they went there. Politicians will indeed do anything to sway the public in their favor, but a platform of “hey, don’t kink-shame me for liking to get peed on” is shocking, even for Billions. But while the speech was unreal on its own, the reactions from the show’s ensemble should be set up as an installation at the Louvre. Time for a mini-ranking:

Chuck Rhoades’s Public BDSM Confession Reactions, Ranked

10. Poor Wendy

9. Wags

8. Taylor

7. Axe

6. Black Jack Foley

5. Mafee

4. Sacker

3. Jock Jeffcoat

2. Connerty

1. Chuck Sr.

I’m so sorry, Wendy, but this is tremendous content.

This confession creates a very serious fissure in Chuck and Wendy’s relationship; the kind that could irreparably damage their marriage. But as abhorrent as this decision was, Chuck is proved right: The public is willing to accept his BDSM truth, and he becomes New York attorney general. For Axe, that means he is able to use Chuck’s political power to take out Grigor Andolov, who hacks Axe Cap servers this week and totally shuts down their network on a day when natural gas takes a huge plunge. Chuck freezes Grigor’s stateside assets and gives him 12 hours to flee back to Russia, otherwise he could be persecuted as an unregistered foreign agent with intent against the United States. So yeah, even with all this week’s kinky drama, there is also room for Axe to successfully stave off Grigor and boot him out of America. (And for now, at least, off the show.)

This was all a bit of a shock, in a pleasant (but still nonsexual) way. The third episode of the season set up Axe supporting Chuck’s AG bid, but I never expected the story line to be resolved so quickly—let alone that it would involve a public BDSM confession and Russian John Malkovich sent packing. But it speaks to one of the things that makes Billions such compulsively watchable television: Showrunners Brian Koppelman and David Levien are willing to burn through plotlines at an alarmingly fast pace, which, as The Ringer’s Alison Herman described during its ever-shifting third season, makes the show something of a Macho Soap Opera. Other shows would marinate in the AG bid and Grigor’s scheming for a full season and set up Chuck’s speech as the finale’s Big Moment. Instead, this event happened one-third of the way through. It’s not as ambitious as an actual politician telling his constituents his loving wife spanks his butt, but it’s still audacious stuff.

Where will Billions go from here? It’s noteworthy that the only character who offers Wendy any emotional support is Taylor, who tells her that they know what it feels like to face public scrutiny over who they are. Wendy quickly hangs up on Taylor, but it makes you wonder whether Wendy will get fed up of the two over-controlling dudes in her life and decide she’s had enough. Because while Wendy was a humiliated casualty in Chuck’s gambit, it worked in Axe’s favor, and he was delighted about it.

Could Billions be setting up Team Taylor and Wendy versus Team Chuck and Axe? Will Wendy ever strap on the dominatrix getup and pee on Chuck again? Will we ever again see Wendy and Chuck’s children on screen? Seriously, where are they? Did Thanos wipe them out? More to the point: After this, what on earth is Billions going to cook up next? The fact that thinking about the upcoming developments remains extremely enticing and speaks to the show’s staying power. Chuck loves to be whipped and tortured; I love to be subjected to the whims of this twisted, beautiful series.