“Billions just keeps getting better and better, with surprises and luminously crafted scenes waiting in each episode”
by Mark Dawidziak | Cleveland | March 16, 2019
Every few years, there seems to be a drama generally regarded as an excellent show yet consistently given the back of the hand when it comes time to hand out awards or compile top-10 lists. From 2010 to 2015, that series was called “Justified.”
“Billions” is the series with the dubious honor of filling that bill today. The best show on television? A wonderfully compelling case is made for this claim in the Showtime drama’s high-stakes, high-caliber fourth season, which begins at 9 p.m. Sunday, March 17.
It’s almost as if “Justified,” which ended in April 2015, passed the creative baton to “Billions,” which premiered in January 2017. Although “Justified” was set in the coal fields of Kentucky and “Billions” is set in Manhattan, the two dramas have a great deal of great stuff in common.
Both are almost Shakespearean in how they slyly weave intriguing character exploration into intricate plot structure. Both can swerve cleverly and unexpectedly from the incredibly suspenseful to the outrageously funny. Both recognize that some of the most gripping dramatic moments are achieved by putting two characters in a room and letting top-flight actors make the most of superbly written dialogue.
And both make sublime use of guests. With “Billions,” that includes the contributions of everyone from David Strathairn and Mary-Louise Parker to Clancy Brown and John Malkovich.
“Billions,” an ongoing study in ambition and betrayal, began with a web of characters surrounding two rivals: popular hedge-fun billionaire Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis) and Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Chuck was determined to bring down Bobby, the ultimate survivor. In the middle of this Big Apple battle was Chuck’s wife, Wendy (Maggie Siff), who worked for Axe Capital.
Many fascinating twists and turns have been taken since that first episode, with each season fueled by its own distinct themes, plots and counter-plots. But the fourth season finds the biggest “Billions” shakeup of all. Having found themselves in the gunsights of various power players, former blood enemies Chuck and Bobby, if not quite blood bothers, have become allies.
For Chuck, it’s not just a matter of making a comeback after having his career blindsided. It’s about survival. It’s about vengeance.
As we learned in season three, their rivals, from U.S. Attorney General Waylon “Jock” Jeffcoat (Brown) to Russian billionaire Grigor Andolov (Malkovich), are tremendously powerful and intimidating. But if you don’t think Chuck and Bobby make for a dynamic duo working on the same side, well, you haven’t been paying much attention to “Billions.”
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