Billions: Season 1 - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
POWERHOUSE performances abounded in Billions, a smart new financial thriller that dealt with some very contemporary issues in highly riveting, morally skewed fashion.
Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis provided the main draw, starting as two titans of their respective trades, forced to go head-to-head in a battle for survival.
The former plays US Attorney Chuck Rhoades, a ruthless legal whizz who targets Lewis’s hedge-fund billionaire Bobby Axelrod, whose empire was built on profiteering from 9/11. But if you think the good lawman versus bad bank-man seemed like an obvious arc, then think again.
Billions excelled by existing in a moral quagmire. Yes, Rhoades was on the side of right but his methods were dubious, his personal life a mess. A domination fetishist, Rhoades is a complex beast; someone not averse to spying on his wife (Maggie Siff’s Wendy, who happens to work for Axelrod as one of his key employees) or playing a dubious hand to gain an edge.
And while Axelrod may, on the surface, appear to represent the many, many, nameless, faceless bankers who fiddled as the world crashed, his hedge fund manager was capable of using his position to bring down the very same kind of people just described, while doing pockets of good here and there. He was also a dedicated family man.
There was, however, a darker side to the man. Axelrod not only used 9/11 as an opportunity to build an empire, he also used an ailing employee to gain his own upper hand over Rhoades once the investigation closed in.
There were several times throughout the first season that loyalties shifted, as did sympathies. And it’s testament to the power of the performances that both Giamatti and Lewis could pull you in so many different directions.
Yet while adversaries for the entire series, their own confrontations were kept to a minimum, which meant the fireworks really went off when they did. The final scene of Season 1 was a particular highlight – a dusting down, of sorts, following the fallout from the previous episodes, which lines up their future battle spectacularly. They were, quite literally, like two battered and bruised prize-fighters eying each other up for another 12 rounds.
Strong, too, was the support from several of the supporting players, with Siff’s long-suffering Wendy. In a world largely dominated by testosterone-driven men, Siff provided a strong female character who expertly provided an excellent foil for both Rhoades and Axelrod. Her own journey through the series was fascinating, particularly as her position became ever more conflicted and challenging.
Billions therefore functions as both a richly absorbing, and sometimes exhilarating character study, as well as an eye-opening expose on corporate greed and manipulation. It’s slick, sexy, edgy, intelligent and emotionally compelling. And it’s first season is well worthy of anyone’s investment.
UK Blu-ray and DVD Release: November 21, 2016