Note that production of season 5 of Billions was interrupted because of COVID.
Now that Chuck and Wendy are separated, he’s seeing Mistress Cassie, though we only glimpse her as he leaves her dungeon in the morning. When he turns his phone on, he finds messages from Wendy about his teenage son being sick overnight.
Chuck starts teaching law. Cat Brant, a sexologist and author, meets him and wants him to talk to her class about his speech admitting his masochism. Chuck bows out, but she attends his first class. When the students revolt against his strict methods, she’s the one to speak up and defend him.
Earlier in the season, in a therapy session, Chuck admitted that he looked to Wendy for nearly all of his emotional needs, including protection. Cat seems poised to step into that void in his life, now that he and Wendy are separated.
In Cat’s class, she talks about masochism, and asks what they thought of Chuck’s “insane speech.”
One student sees it as the ultimate act of humiliation. Another calls it “classic masochism death-drive stuff.” A third brings up Chuck’s privilege as a cis, white, male, and it is not subversive. Cat speculates about masochism as the pursuit of autonomy in and over pain and suffering. “Rhoades played subservience in order to win dominance.”
In the back of the class, Chuck looks skeptical.
Cat calls him up. He explains that the release he felt was “more emotional than carnal.”
End of scene. No further exploration of this theme.
Chuck has a dinner date at his place with Cat.
Chuck: “Does my ‘modality’…”
Cat: “I can have fun in that modality. It just can’t be the only modality.”
Chuck: “If we say ‘modality’ again, I’m worried the whole thing will turn into a science project.”
Chuck: “So ask me anything. And be as direct as you possibly can.”
Cat: “Some subs I’ve known don’t like… Shit, fine. I’m just going to ask it. Do you like penetrative sex? Does it work for you?”
Chuck: “Oh, in the right setting, it really works.”
Their dinner date is interrupted by a call about Chuck’s father falling ill.
Later, Cat meets Chuck at his office, and says she wants to pick up where they left off. Cut to scene of them in bed together, vanilla missionary.
The storytelling here is a little confusing. Cat says she is comfortable with kink, one of the many traits she shares with Wendy, but we later see Chuck and Cat having vanilla sex. This is uncomfortably close to the idea that vanilla is somehow better or more psychologically healthy that sex, and Chuck’s vanilla sex with Cat is somehow personal advancement.
Chuck and Bobby are enemies again, and Chuck plans to nail his nemesis for tax fraud on his art collection. He has to act before Bobby can move the paintings, but New York District Attorney Gramm moves in and says this is her jurisdiction.
In conversation with Wendy, Chuck refers to “the hooker” his father got for him.
Wendy: “The sex worker.”
Chuck: “That’s what we must call them now?”
We know one of the worst experiences of Chuck’s youth was when his father hired a sex worker to “make a man” out of him. But his hostility to sex workers is rather hypocritical given that he regularly sees pro dommes.
Wendy brings up his colleagues who are trying to make a law about sex work, or his girlfriend Cat. “She’s a renowned expert [on sex work].”
Chuck immediately goes to Cat’s apartment and borrows her library. He wants to pressure the DA by threatening to crack down on sex workers.
Chuck: “Make your best argument, and then help me shred it.”
Cat: “I don’t like this game.”
Cat: “Have you ever even met a sex worker?”
Chuck: “Well, a long time ago, my father…. I don’t want to get into it.”
Cat: “Are you going to crack down [on sex workers], or is this really just a threat?”
Chuck: “Of course it’s just a threat. Which I have to mean, otherwise it’s not a very good threat.”
Chuck operates in a world where everything is negotiable. We’ve seen him trample on other people to get what he wants many times, and he’s always explained it as being for justice or the greater good. A few times, he’s expressed remorse; most of the time, he just carries on.
Cat says that if he makes good on that threat, his “library privileges” will be revoked. “Along with all the other privileges.”
Chuck meets with the DA and says he’ll make fighting “the scourge” of sex work top priority if she doesn’t stay off his turf. He even admits he will link it to “sex trafficking” and make it look like her failure. When she shrugs that off, he’ll put the sex workers in the incarceration system and all that entails.
Chuck: “When it comes to the particular agenda I am pursuing, I will do it Rudy Guiliani style. I will prosecute with a crazy eye and absolutely no sense of boundaries. Besides, I didn’t put these women in this. They put their own lives up for sale. Now those lives hang in the balance. Will you ransom them back, or will you put Dutch paintings and Scandinavian values above the life and liberty of women most at risk?”
Gramm hands over the art case to him.
When you get right down to it, Chuck is holding all of those sex workers (mostly women) hostage so that the DA will give him what he wants. In Chuck’s mind, there’s a difference between threatening to do something and actually doing it.
But his threat has to be credible, which sits in some hazy area between “bluff” and “real”. If the DA refused, he’d have to make good on his threat, otherwise he would look weak before her and that would compromise future negotiations. It’s an argument or a rhetorical maneuver; whether there are unintended consequences is a calculated risk.
It comes to naught as Bobby has the paintings smuggled out and deemed his apartment an art gallery.
Chuck goes back to Cat.
Cat: “Did you make good on your threat?”
Cat: “Good. Would you have really followed through, though?”
Chuck: “It’s possible something inside me would have caught and backed down. I truly don’t know. Would you have?”
Cat: “Yep. Which would have been unfortunate. Because then we couldn’t have enjoyed this.”
Cat leads him to the bedroom. I expected a room full of bondage equipment, but instead there’s a beautiful woman in lingerie waiting for them, presumably a sex worker. (Played by Scarlett Schoeffling, she is only credited as “Woman”.)
Chuck: “Is this a reward, or to teach me a lesson?”
Cat: “Both. Neither. Whatever we want to make of it. Come on.”
That’s the bizarre message of this episode: You do the right thing not because it is right, but because you will be rewarded. Decriminalize sex work so that you and your girlfriend can have a hot threesome with a sex worker, not because it will protect people.
The real question is, given what we know of Cat, would she want to be in a romantic, or even just sexual, relationship with someone like Chuck? She’s an academic and author who has written a book about decriminalization of sex work, and believes strongly in it. She’s not going to compromise her belief for something else. But Chuck wants her to help him fight against decriminalization, so he can prosecute a billionaire for tax evasion. Cat wants to protect marginalized people from harm; Chuck wants to win an argument. Those are two very different world views.
Way back in season 1, when Chuck felt guilty, he turned to BDSM compulsively, but stopped and pleaded for Wendy to help him. She turned it into a mutually pleasurable experience.
Cat, instead, rewards Chuck sexually for pointing the gun but not pulling the trigger. Chuck asks if “this” (not even “her”) is a reward or a punishment. Cat says, “Whatever we want to make of it.” It’s uncomfortably close to his father’s abuse, using a sex worker as a reward and as a means of control. Chuck, in turn, threatens sex workers as leverage to get the DA to do what he wants.