Episode 7: "Infinite Game"
With all of Billions’ bells and whistles, it’s easy to forget that this drama showcases some of the best acting in TV history. We just stated a fact, and we’re going to stand by it—sorry dragons, blood, and boobs fans. This week’s episode will probably be played in the most prestigious theater schools or at the very least Hollywood acting workshops for years to come. To put it succinctly, give all these actors Emmy’s already. “Infinite Game” delved into four main characters’ demons and dualities. Wendy engages in some sociopathic behavior as she flawlessly executes an elaborate plot to ruin Taylor’s relationship with their father. But by the end of the episode, while Axe and everyone is out plotting their villainous scheme at Bruno’s, their unofficial headquarters this episode, she’s jogging by herself and bursting into tears—is Wendy finally gaining a conscious? Chuck, relishing in his throne as New York’s Attorney General (this season is like an AP Gov crash-course into federal vs. state power), succumbs to his father’s pressure and agrees to help him out with a business venture. But little does he know, the Feds are listening in on his conversation. This week, we also learn more about his father’s abuse with his “Pancake Eater” monologue that was honestly, stunning—we love you Paul Giamatti. Meanwhile, Taylor’s own tumultuous history with their father is explored as they both fall victim to Axe and Wendy’s plot. Lastly, Axe, learns to see the world through different eyes, helping his favorite pizza guru Bruno retire gracefully. But throughout these explorations of emotional depth, food is used as a signifier of vulnerability—sometimes authentic and exploitable, sometimes feigned and weaponized.
We begin to see things fall apart for Chuck in this episode, commencing the “infinite game” that is power-brokering in New York City. After showing up to his father’s friend’s home after he drunkenly discharges the weapon Chuck had permitted for him, we find the Attorney General on a familiar path as he attempts to perform damage control. The next favor Chuck did in the first episode was for the Police Commissioner, so his home is Chuck’s predictable next stop. Sansome is no longer dining in Barney Greengrass, but rather, allows Chuck to enter his inner sanctum—his kitchen. He offers Chuck “eggs in purgatory”—what is seemingly an Italian shakshuka—and Chuck laughs it off, admitting he’s essentially already there.
Juxtaposed with Axe’s meal with Victor, his decision to eat straight out of the pan is pointed. Axe goes to Victor while he’s eating to catch him when he’s vulnerable, leveraging the truth out of him amidst his surprise. On the other hand, here Chuck is doing the same, but in this version of the scenario, the powerful officer isn’t vulnerable when he’s eating—it’s when he’s most comfortable. While he’s eating straight out of his cast-iron pan, he’s not thinking about the judgement of others. Axe sits down with Victor because his vulnerability is his weakness. The officer inverts this characterization because what is normally perceived as vulnerability is actually his strength; his willingness to have conversations behind closed doors is what makes him a viable ally.
Paralleling Chuck’s journey is the final blow in the Axe Cap attack on Mason Cap. Sending Rebecca in to make a bid on Taylor’s father’s aerospace project, Axe, Wags, and Wendy are determined to decimate their competition. They prepare Rebecca to act in a way that doesn’t draw suspicion, but rather makes her look like a neutral party. They send her off to Eleven Madison Park, locked and loaded with the truth, though pretending to be none the wiser to any plan at work.
At first glance the dish that Rebecca orders certainly looks like a dish out of Daniel Humm’s kitchen—minimal only in that it looks quite simple but everything on that plate is about to blow the socks off your taste buds. From afar it almost looks exactly like the golden apple served on the side of his honey-lavender duck, stuffed with a farce made out of the bird’s offal and legs. But upon closer inspection, this seems to be an actual apple, next to some sad chicories and two splayed chives. This apple is resting within what looks like a puff-pastry crust, though it is a sage leaf and not a mint leaf poking out which would indicate that it’s a savory dish. Perhaps we’ll just have to go investigate for ourselves but for the time being, let’s forget about this strange appropriation of Humm’s classic and focus on the dish itself, separate from its creator. The apple is being used here as a signifier for Rebecca’s unassuming, Eve-like threat to this testosterone-fueled finance bro.
After the EMP mission, we’re back at Bruno’s, once again with the same crew. And once again, Wendy and Axe sit diagonally from one another, as they do at Una Pizza, with Rebecca taking Chuck’s place and Wags taking Rebecca’s place. With Chuck emotionally (and physically) a million miles away, Wendy is in need of a new anti-hero to steer to the top through whom she can live vicariously guilt-free. Similarly, in this situation, Wags is more suited to provide Axe with the support that he needs. At Una Pizza Rebecca was able to fulfill this position, smoothing things over when Wendy had an outburst over Chucks...well...outburst, but this time around, she’s on the other side of the table being handled. So much hidden meaning can be gleaned simply by observing body language, and the specific placement of individuals at a dining table. Much like the hierarchical chain of seating options in what is soon to be a full sedan (the front seat obviously goes to the main bud, and the back middle seat is least desirable, but nevertheless, someone must be foisted with it), the seating arrangements at tables in this show are always intentional and carry significant meaning. How could body language not be taken into account in the writing of a show that’s so completely dominated by dialogue, drinking, and dining?
The next scene is quite revealing about Chuck’s upbringing, and no surprise here, it’s a monologue about food. He references pancakes as the item of food his mother would make them for Sunday breakfasts, describing the pats of butter on top of the stack, the maple syrup dripping down the sides. He’s trying to paint us an image of the conventional American dream—a home, a family, comfort, and a plate of pancakes. But never do we see him talk about his father with such monstrous characteristics, and likewise never have we seen Wendy so disgusted by Chuck Sr. (which is saying something at this point in the series), than when we hear the story about him sweeping the entire breakfast off of the table in a fit of rage, smashing all of the dishes, claiming he’s not a “pancake eater.” He’s enraged at the thought of simply being normal, average, and wants nothing more than to overcome the mundanity.
As Chuck comes to terms with the unravelling of his marriage, we see Taylor gearing up for their own unravelling. The last time we saw them sitting at a table with their father in a casual situation was when they were at the breakfast table. Taylor kept getting up and they weren’t eating and things weren’t balanced. This time around, they’re both sitting on the floor. They’re equalized through the act of consuming something together, but the floor-to-ceiling windows seem to indicate that some peril is afoot. The first thing you think of when you see that is, “Damn, everyone can see into your apartment but that’s a sick view.” They chose this apartment because they’re seeking to illustrate Taylor and their fathers’ vulnerability both while eating, and specifically Taylor’s vulnerability now that they have accepted their father as an equal, and vice versa. Someone is looking in on what they’re doing but they don’t realize. Luckily this isn’t an “I know what you did last summer” moment because—thank you dramatic irony—we know who is!
Iiiiiit’s Axe. And surprisingly enough, this time he’s in bed with Wendy.
Though, quite literally, he’s actually in bed with Rebecca and...wow. God damnit. Axe mentioned a gluten-free croissant while in said bed with Rebecca who thankfully responds, “You know I don’t fuck with gluten-free.” In today’s climate, a girl who eats gluten is a girl who doesn’t give a fuck—Rebecca is real. She’s also real enough to call him out about the fact that he’s manipulating Bruno into staying in New York because he can’t accept that happiness is a subjective phenomenon. Axe buys the pizza place to let Bruno live out his authentic dream despite having difficulty understanding that authenticity in this scenario has no fixed meaning—it’s in the eye of the beholder. Axe, just like Chuck, is stuck in this infinite game which has seemingly eliminated any sense of peripheral vision for either of them. Chuck is losing Wendy, and Axe is losing Bruno.