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Billions: Season 5, Episode 1 (The New Decas) - Review

Billions: Season 5, Episode 1

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

THE fifth season opener of Billions wasted no time at all in coming out of the gates with all guns blazing. By the closing minutes, we had already witnessed a triple cross (which may not be all that it seems) as well as the revival of hostilities between its two principal players, albeit politely.

But throughout this wonderfully entertaining episode, we were reminded of just why this series remains one of the best written and brilliantly acted shows on TV right now.

First off, there’s Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti, two heavyweights of their craft, who revel in their roles of, respectively, Bobby Axelrod and Chuck Rhoades.

But alongside them stands a formidable ensemble, whose potential to offer just as much to the overall weight of proceedings should never be underestimated. All had their parts to play in this opening episode, as the chess pieces once more were moved into play in enthralling fashion.

At its heart, of course, lies the ongoing cat-and-mouse game between Axelrod and Rhoades, which had appeared on hold during the course of the fourth season (or at least until its finale).

With rivalry renewed, albeit politely, Billions appears reinvigorated.

But let’s not forget those supporting players and all that they have to offer. First up, there’s Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff), now determined to follow a path towards her own happiness and in the midst of pressing through her divorce to Chuck.

Free from the tussle between where her loyalties lie (husband or boss), Wendy is now throwing herself into the power game and is now chiefly responsible for bringing Taylor Mason’s breakaway firm back into the AxeCap fold. When diplomacy failed in this episode, she enlisted the help of flame-haired Irish professional wrestler Becky Lynch (playing herself), to inspire a little team-building and togetherness.

It was a bravura sequence: the type of which Billions always excels in delivering. And, more importantly, it was of its moment. Where the suggestion had been planted earlier in the episode that it was time to bring excess and surprise back into the workplace environment (dwarf-tossing, for example, a la The Wolf of Wall Street), Wendy opted for a more pro-feminist approach by enlisting the support of an icon of her support: a ballsy woman who appealed as much – if not more – to the testosterone charged component of the room as it did the women.

It was an affirmation, if one was needed, of the high value placed on all sexes in the world of Billions. If you can make money, you’re an equal. If you can’t, then forget about it.

But then there’s the aforementioned Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon), now back at Axe’s empire, yet apparently working for Chuck as an informant. Wendy guessed this, of course, and advised her to confide in Axe about the double cross.

The move, once accepted, tipped Chuck off to the fact that Axe now knew he was once again coming after him. But adopting a ploy from The Godfather playbook, Axe opted for a stealth approach rather than all out attack, mindful of the damage that had been caused by the first battle between the two men.

Hence, he showed up at Chuck’s house to offer a big show of friendship by returning to Chuck the signed first-edition Winston Churchill volumes he had previously purchased just to spite Rhoades. In return, he expected Chuck to drop some charges against a bitcoin-mining operation in which Axe has a stake.

But Chuck has other plans and, rather than backing down completely, insisted on pursuing a civil action, rather than a criminal one, which felt like an equal gesture in the quid pro quo.

But this begs plenty of questions in itself. Will Chuck’s gesture be enough to placate Axe? We already know that Chuck intends to keep pursuing his quarry. He’s aware of Taylor’s triple cross but is content to play along for now, informing his new right-hand woman, Kate Sacker (Condola Rashad), that he’ll maintain the pleasantries until it’s time to drop Bobby for good.

Taylor, on the other hand, may be devising a different plan, mindful of both Axe’s and Bobby’s role in bringing down Taylor Mason Capital.

Pressing on with those great supporting players, meanwhile… what of Wags (David Costabile)? Axe’s biggest ally continues to deliver deliciously barbed verbal zingers and always adds to the richness of any given scene he’s a part of.

While there’s an incoming threat posed by new business rival Mike Prince (Corey Stoll), whose oligarch seems to be a mirror version of Axe. In the opening episode, Mike got one over Axe by not only beating him to the cover of a Vanity Fair issue dedicated to ‘The New Decas’ (aka the latest crop of ultr-arich people with $10 billion fortunes), but also by suggesting – within the same article – that Axe was a fading force.

How did Axe respond? By approaching with caution and seeking to get closer to his new nemesis.

Again, the prospect of seeing Axe take on a new opponent, while fending off another attack from a former one, sets up a tantalising prospect.

Billions has lost none of its bite or appetite for playfulness. It remains one of the wealthiest small screen time investments you can possibly make.