Axelroad and Rhoades Take a Break, Sort Of
by James Tarmy | Bloomberg | March 23, 2018
For filmmakers who want to dramatize the finance industry, one of Wall Street’s main appeals is that most people don’t understand how it works. In The Big Short, actress Margot Robbie explains subprime mortgages while sipping champagne in a bubble bath. Other movies—Margin Call and Wall Street come to mind—use fast-talking men in power suits screaming into cell phones to accomplish their exposition.
The show’s creators wisely seem to have decided that the mano-a-mano grudge match between Rhoades and Axelrod has run its course, at least for the first five episodes provided for review. Instead, characters from the supporting cast—most notably Taylor, the gender-neutral math whiz played by the excellent Asia Kate Dillon—take the spotlight.
With the exception of a slightly uncomfortable altercation in a steam room, the novelty of Taylor’s non-binary gender has been left in the dust of last season, and they emerge as a full-fledged character with a singular plot line.
Taylor has been appointed chief investment officer of Axelrod’s firm, Axe Capital. Axelrod, though, isn’t out of the picture. He’s just behind the scenes, leaving Taylor torn between running a multibillion-dollar fund and playing interference with its nominal boss. (This is Taylor’s firm, but it’s still Axelrod’s money.)
The show, meanwhile, manages to include a dizzying amount of “insider” signaling to those in the know. We see artwork by Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns, John Baldessari, Pablo Picasso, and Robert Motherwell spread across apartments and office suites.
And then there are the locations. It’s as if Billions picked up where Sex and the City left off: Characters have milkshakes at the Vaselka Diner, go to the Russian and Turkish Baths in the East Village, play ping pong at Wang Chen’s Table Tennis Club on the Upper West Side, and munch on bialys at Kossar’s on the Lower East Side. New York’s fine-dining establishments are also checked off: We see action in Daniel, at which the restaurant’s real-life owner Daniel Boulud makes a slightly awkward cameo. Can a Billions tour bus be far behind?
There are also moments—perhaps too many for comfort—where the show turns its back on plausibility. An entire episode is devoted to whether or not Axe Capital employees can stomach quants in the office, as if they’d never heard of James Simons’s Renaissance Technologies, or read Flash Boys. “First it makes things better for you. Then it destroys you,” says one of Axe Capitals ostensibly cut-throat traders, of trading algorithms. “This is how computers take over the world.”
There’s also an ongoing plot line that involves a “counter-intel team” hired by Axelrod, which manages to launder money and hack into the network of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s database to alter the subject of a raid.
And while the de-emphasis on the battle between Rhoades and Axelrod is welcome, the sheer number of subplots that take its place can feel almost Dickensian, as if everyone in Bleak House were given a Maybach and a trading portfolio.
Read the rest of the original article at Bloomberg