Billions: An investment worth making
Rhoades vs. Axelrod9
Amon Warmann | On 18, Feb 2017
With Billions Season 2 beginning on 21st February, we look back at Season 1 of the gripping financial drama.
At first glance, Billions reads like a simple good guy vs. bad guy series, but in reality, it’s anything but. The show pits Damian Lewis’ wealthy hedge fund manager, Bobby Axelrod, against Paul Giamatti’s attorney, Chuck Rhoades, who is convinced that Bobby is guilty of insider trading and determined to prove it.
It’s a compelling nucleus, not least of which because although they’re operating on opposite sides of the aisle, Rhoades and Axelrod are actually very similar people. They’re both determined, they’re both ruthless, and, most importantly, they don’t just need to win – they need to crush their opponent. They are also both very flawed. We never really establish any emotional connection to either man over the course of the season, but the more we chisel away at each, the more interesting their game of high stakes chess gets.
But while Chuck vs. Bobby is easily Billions’ best storyline, it’s Maggie Siff’s Wendy Rhoades who proves to be the most interesting character. In addition to being Chuck’s wife, she’s also the performance coach at Axe Capital. Any qualms about the unlikely (and contrived) position she finds herself in come secondary to the compelling drama that it creates. No matter how much Wendy insists that she won’t be the shuttlecock between her husband and her boss, there are many times when that’s exactly what she is. Still, Siff imbues her character with a pleasing boldness that’s more than a match for both her husband and her boss, and the majority of Billions’ best scenes come when two of that trifecta are involved.
Beyond this threesome, Billions struggles to fashion many other appealing episode-to-episode story threads. Indeed, the further we get away from Billions’ core storyline, the less interesting the show gets. Malin Akerman (Chuck’s wife, Lora) is capable of being so much more than a loyal spouse and protective Mother, but she’s not given anything meaty to work with. Other supporting characters, such as Axelrod’s right-hand man Mike “Wags” Wagner (David Constabile), barely change over the course of the 12 episodes, and were it not for a subtle shift late on in the season, similar could be said for Toby Leonard Moore’s Bryan Connerty, whose Season 2 arc already promises to be more interesting.
That lack of a compelling tertiary storyline is a problem for the show; there are a few instances where it’s clear that the writers are struggling to keep things interesting – there are a lot of superfluous subplots over the course of the 12 hours – and the show definitely benefits from being binge-watched. You know certain confrontations are coming, but the build-up needs more focus. Nonetheless, when those confrontations do finally arrive they’re extremely entertaining and well-acted to boot. Giamatti, Lewis, and Siff all bring their A game, and they’re the prime reason why Billions is an investment worth making.
Billions Season 1 is available to watch on-demand through Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription. The contract-free service includes access to a range of Sky channels, from Sky Atlantic (The Young Pope) and Sky 1 (Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash) to FOX UK (The Walking Dead, Legion, 24: Legacy). A 14-day free trial is available for new subscribers.