Billions: Integrating Mental Health, Finance, Silicon Valley Industries and Law and Order, with a Little Yonkers-Secret-Recipe-Pizza
by Anna Kornbluh | Los Angeles Review of Books | August 24, 2018
Ten years ago, the collapse of Lehman Brothers triggered the global financial crisis of 2008. Democrats were eight years in power, and their failure to prosecute the corporate criminals behind the crisis surely ranks as their biggest legacy. That failure was the condition of possibility for the anti-elite narrative that inspired the white working class and the white upper class to support a genuinely fascist insurgency before and beyond November 2016. It was also the condition of possibility for Billions.
Across its three seasons on Showtime, Billions explores the aftermath of Lehman’s and Obama’s 2008 peaks, tracking the waning and waxing faculty of elite professionals to steer their careers and helm the most powerful country in the world. The show is built around an extended parallel between outer-borough upstart Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis), principal of the wildly fruitful hedge fund Axe Capital, and Manhattan WASP Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), US Attorney for the New York Southern District and hero of a counterfactual recent past in which 81 bankers and traders were successfully prosecuted for their outlaw engineering of toxic asset slides. Rhoades fancies himself a just warrior, fighting against “[these] Teflon corporations that defraud the American people on a grand scale.” As the series opens he levels his gaze at Axe, the Moby-Dick of parkour finance.