The Dog-Eat-Purebred-Dog World of Billions
by Brian Lowry | CNN | June 10, 2018
In the dog-eat-purebred-dog world of “Billions,” the fastest way to flip the script is to engineer a shift in existing alliances. The producers did precisely that in the niftily choreographed third-season finale, setting the stage for a pair of juicy plot lines in the season ahead.
Granted, the surprises couldn’t quite match the operatic highs of last season’s finishing twist, which saw U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) sell out various people around him — including his own father — in his headlong pursuit of bringing down hedge-fund wizard Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis).
Still, the latest episode came pretty close, alternating between elaborate double-crosses. In Rhoades’ case, that actually became a triple-cross after his plot to set an obstruction-of-justice trap for the recently appointed Attorney General (Clancy Brown) backfired, leaving Chuck out of a job and his former lieutenants sitting pretty.
Axe, meanwhile, faced his own version of a palace coup, having betrayed top manager Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon), who proceeded to stealthily hatch a scheme to establish a rival shop and poach most of his key employees.
The foundation for the new business hinged on representing a mobbed-up Russian billionaire played, deliciously, by John Malkovich, who Axe — in an act of possible hubris — had wooed as a client, despite overt threats that losing money wasn’t an option.
“How can I keep my money with a man who won’t kill for it?” the billionaire asked, after Axe passed on his generous offer to resolve the Taylor problem by permanently eliminating the turncoats.
That all led to the closing scene, promising an alliance involving Chuck and Axe, brokered by Wendy (Maggie Siff), who finally had a plot line this season that solidly exploited her otherwise hard-to-buy position between the two central figures/combatants as Chuck’s wife and Axe’s trusted counselor.
Teaming up the three of them not only creates a host of dramatic possibilities, but the tantalizing prospect of how each will go about securing their revenge.
“I was suckered. And now I will have my turn,” Axe said ominously.
Ruthlessness has always been the common currency on “Billions,” and that continues to be the case. But the show has gradually and cleverly evolved — from what was originally a contest that pitted big-money investors against government regulators to this season’s dynamic, reflecting a cozier relationship between those forces more closely resembles the scenario that currently exists.
When “Billions” premiered, series co-creator Brian Koppelman described a “tribal” conflict between the investor class and prosecutors, saying the two sides “have a deep, real, visceral distaste for each other.”
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As the show has progressed, however, it’s become clear that Chuck and Axe have at least as much in common, personality-wise, as what separates them, certainly in terms of their all-consuming desire to win.
How long those egos can peacefully coexist remains to be seen, but based on the finale and that last dinner-table strategy session — appropriately set to the Velvet Underground song “We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together” — it should be a whole lot of fun to watch.