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Billions: Season 4, Episode 4 (Overton Window) - Review

Billions: Overton Window

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

IF PROOF were needed that Billions rates among the very best programmes on TV at the moment, then Overton Window provided it in the most emphatic fashion.

The episode in question packed more drama, suspense, double cross and character development into its tight 45 minute running time than some series’ manage in their whole run, while also delivering the type of high stakes storytelling that would serve as the season finale for most shows. Incredibly, it was only the fourth episode of the current run.

Set amid a single day in the lives of its principal players, this put both of its leading men, Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) and Bobby ‘Axe’ Axelrod (Damian Lewis), in seemingly impossible situations and continued to turn the screw until they either found a way out or perished.

For Rhoades, it’s the race for state attorney general that’s seemingly over before it begins, as former ally-turned-nemesis ‘Black’ Jack Foley (the ever excellent David Strathairn) has threatened to go public with Rhoades’ fetish for sado-masochism unless he drops out.

While for Axelrod, it’s overcoming a stealthy cyber attack on their systems that is preventing them from offloading natural gas shares before a very public explosion sends them crashing. The attack is linked to Russian ogliarch Grigor Andolov (John Malkovich), who has stepped up his attempts to dissuade Bobby from screwing around with the emerging business of former protégé turned turncoat Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon).

Needless to say, there are ways out for both men, so long as they play their respective games right.

For Axelrod, it’s going analogue and trading by phone, while simultaneously keeping an eye on Rhoades predicament. It was a perverse delight in watching both Lewis and best colleague Mike Wagner (the similarly scene-stealing David Costabile) sweet-talk and/or strong arm their way into saving themselves millions. Wagner, in particular, had some typically eloquent put-downs for anyone standing in his way.

But while Axelrod’s predicament allowed for the possibility of some tense but old-school negotiating, Rhoades was far more painful. Here was a career on the brink.

Should he step out of the race and spare both his own blushes and those of his wife, Wendy (Maggie Siff)? Or should be go public himself and ride out the storm, hopeful that an electorate would be forgiving – as per his scheming father’s suggestion?

For long periods, the former option seemed to be the best way forward, particularly as Wendy had forbid him from humiliating her in the process.

But when speech time came round, Chuck pulled the rug from beneath everyone’s feet, ‘outing’ himself as a sado-masochist and declaring a truthful way forward. And while his enemies stood open-mouthed in temporary defeat, Chuck swept his way [30 days later] to the attorney general’s office. But at what cost?

The best moment of an outstanding episode was the confrontation that ensued between Chuck and Wendy: the former victorious, the latter bitter and humiliated. It remains to be seen where their relationship goes from here, especially as Wendy was notably absent from Chuck’s victory speech.

And therein lies the delicious dilemma at the heart of Overton Window… where does Billions go from here? Will Wendy ally herself to Taylor, who reached out for support? How will her position be viewed at Axe Cap now that her ‘dirty little secret’ is out? Axelrod, at least, will still be an ally, as well as sympathetic support. But what of his colleagues?

Is Chuck now going head-to-head with his enemies? And what style of attack will he adopt?

And what of Axelrod’s future? Victorious in the moment, he used Chuck’s election success to deliver a seemingly decisive blow in his battle with Grigor, empowering Chuck to freeze the Russian’s American assets and order his deportation forthwith.

In another great exchange, Lewis and Malkovich came face to face at the airport and traded blows about each other’s might, as well as their powers to forgive or go on the offensive. Can we believe that Grigor is now down for the count? Or will their paths cross again?

And if Axelrod has truly washed his hands of Grigor, what next for Taylor? Or will Bobby now be concentrating his energies on aligning himself with Chuck?

With so much of season four left to unfold, such questions pose mouth-watering possibilities.

But overall, Overton Window was an exhilarating entry into the Billions showcase. It showed its protagonists at their most dangerous and egotistical: with their backs against the wall. And it provided ample examples of just how far men will go to preserve their own integrity.

Giamatti and Lewis were typically colossal, powering their way through the episode and toying with your emotions throughout. They’re now both classic anti-heroes… flawed men, as capable of good as they are of doing bad. In Chuck’s case, his decision to betray Wendy could yet prove to be his biggest folly yet.

Siff, for her part, played her scenes incredibly well – the mix of anger, hurt and resolve placing her on a level playing field with the two men in her life. She may be wounded but you can count on her to come back swinging. And therein lies another tasty prospect for the show’s future development.

And on another note, Overton Window also showcased the folly of placing any trust in politicians. Chuck may have humiliated himself in his bid to win the electorate’s hearts, yet his first two acts in power look set to be driven by the businessmen who helped get him there. Chuck may yet have turned over a new leaf. But is it too late to save his basic humanity, let alone his marriage?

In the high-stakes, high energy game that is Billions, all bets are now off and anything is possible. It’s little wonder the show is often mentioned in the same breath as landmark series such as Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones – you just never know what is coming next, which is an integral part of the thrill.