“Billions shifts around enough of its usual architecture to still feel fresh in its fourth season”
by Kathryn VanArendonk | Vulture | March 15, 2019
When TV shows have been around for a few seasons, sometimes they get relaxed and hit the autopilot button. Some shows do the opposite, blowing everything up to start completely fresh, an option that usually involves major casting changes, time jumps, or entirely new premises. Season four of Billions charts a middle path, shifting around enough of its usual architecture to feel fresh, while also continuing to follow most of its original characters and stories.
That assessment may sound a touch milquetoast — more of the same, but different! And it’s true: If you liked Billions before, you will continue to like it now. If you didn’t, well, the same idea applies. But the thing I appreciated most about the first four episodes of Billions’ fourth season is the way they go about changing things: The characters are the same, but most of the relationships have inverted. Bad-boy hedge-fund genius Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) is now working on the same team as his mortal nemesis, U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti). Axelrod is now tilted against his former wunderkind protégé, Taylor Mason (Asia Kate Dillon), who’s started their own competitor fund and is poaching Axelrod talent. It’s fun to keep the game board mostly the same while swapping all the usual allegiances. It’s especially satisfying to watch Chuck and Bobby scheme together.
More than that, though, there’s been a palpably goofy, go-for-broke mentality lurking inside Billions for the last three seasons, and season four is not shy about turning that dial up to 11. Billions’ goofy chaos impulse has always lived most noticeably in David Costabile’s Wags, Bobby Axelrod’s right-hand man who is half devoted servant, half trickster god. Now it feels like that energy is leaking out everywhere. You can sense it in the way Billions positions Chuck and Bobby to team up, and in John Malkovich’s unsubtle guest-starring role as the powerful Russian mobster Grigor Andolov, and in Taylor striking out on their own to take down the master.