The first series of ’Billions’ is drawing to a close here in the UK, with tireless district attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) determined to hold hedge fund billionaire Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) to account for the dubious way in which he’s accrued his astonishing wealth and lifestyle, and pulled the wool over the eyes of everyone on Wall Street.
The good news is that the show has already been commissioned for a second series by Showtime, a no-brainer with so many fans hungry for the next instalment of the cat-and-mouse intrigue between the well-matched pair.
As we prepare to sign off for now, let’s sit back and enjoy afresh the aspects of ‘Billions’ that has made it so many viewers’ guilty, but enduring pleasure…
Bobby Axelrod’s lifestyle:
However he earned it, there’s something compellingly alien about the sheer extent of Axe’s fortune, and the influence it buys. Whether he’s putting his name on one of Manhattan’s ancient buildings, much to the chagrin of the buyable board, or buying a house in the Hamptons just when he’s advised to sit on his dollars, it’s a window on a world us mortals will never inhabit. When he flies a bunch of pals in his private jet to a Metallica gig, it’s no mere VIP box for this man. Instead, he’s hanging with the band during sound check, as you do.
As Axe put it so well in the very first episode, “What’s the point of having fuck you money if you don’t get to say fuck you?”
The houses generally:
While Axe’s house is comically big, even Chuck’s more humble brownstone is several galaxies away from what most of us could feasibly get our hands on. The difference in houses also serves as a fitting metaphor for the contrast between the two men - one a man with new money, determined to enjoy it, the other carrying the burden of older money, and family expectations with him. But both are beautiful and tasteful. The Rhoades kitchen alone is worth watching for, while we should add a mention of Mrs Axelrod’s restaurant. Michelin-starred, naturally.
The back stories:
The histories of these two characters is what really sets this show apart from more humdrum fare. We’re nearly at the end of series 1, and I can’t say for sure whether Axe is a villain masquerading as an antihero, or the opposite. We saw him talk his way out of the collective disgust when it emerged he’d made money out of 9/11, we saw his blue eyes widen when even his wife questioned him, but we still don’t know. Her brother being a heroic firefighter who lost his life that day only ups the stakes. Everything that happened back then affects Axe’s actions, and how he’s perceived now.
Meanwhile, Chuck must contend with walking in the footsteps of his father. And while he operates so tirelessly in the pursuit of justice, some of his instruments seem as mercilessly applied as anything Axe might do. As I said, well-matched.
For once, we have not one but two marriages that are functional, loving, complicated and built on equals. Lara Axelrod is both Bobby’s moral beacon but also, quite clearly, as ruthlessly capable when pressed.
The Rhoades marriage is more complicated, made so by the fact that Chuck’s wife Wendy has a history with Axe, unromantic but close, and longer in tenure than theirs. She’s also the wealthier of the pair, and still works for Axe. The fact that they have a sado-masochistic sex life is almost incidental, and stylishly integral but underplayed in the script.
This lady deserves a special mention. With her central role as Wendy caught between the middle of the two warning men, she could have hammed this up royally. Instead, she stays on side with both, while maintaining her own integrity throughout. She is a female character unlike any we’ve seen in this kind of drama before, and that’s before we have to mention her stunning wardrobe.
‘Billions’ airs on Sky Atlantic in the UK, and you can catch it on NowTV.