I review a whole season rather than individual episodes, so there is a chance of spoilers. If you haven’t watched the whole season yet, stop reading now!
Often the greatest TV shows or movies have an epic battle at their center. Be it the battle between the Dark Side and The Force in Star Wars, Neo and Agent Smith in The Matrix or Captain America and Iron Man in Civil War. It is rare that an audience is torn between two villains and that the battle is so compelling because the characters are dark and vile.
Billions is exactly that. Neither Damien Lewis’ Bobby Axelrod or Paul Giamatti’s Chuck Rhoades are “heroes.” People around them think they are but we as the audience get that unique look at how manipulative, dark and obsessive the two can become and by the end of the season you will picked your side and be hoping for an explosive confrontation.
That is part of the series’ charm; you never really get that confrontation. The battle is played out in the boardroom, the legal system and through the lives of others, usually those closest to the pair. The scenes the two characters share together amount to less than ten but when the two are on-screen together it is palpable and by the time we get to the final, huge confrontation in the final season, you are ready for the sparks to fly and the second season to begin.
It helps that Lewis and Giamatti are at the top of their game here. They are charming, funny, scheming and compelling throughout the series. The pair drive the show and you are interested in both of their lives, from Bobby Axelrod’s post-9/11 scandal to Giamatti’s controlling father. It makes for an excellent drama and a must-watch show throughout.
The support is very able too and although the sub-plots concerning the other characters pale in-comparison to the main plot, they are never less than interesting. This goes for the pawn in the middle of the pair, Rhoades’ wife and Axelrod’s therapist Wendy, played by Maggie Siff. Arguably, at times, this is a triple-header and some of the story-lines and scenes her character gets rivals the intensity and performances of the two male leads.
It is impressive that the show manages to maintain the interest considering the environment it is set-in is not a particularly accessible one. Axelrod trades in stocks and Giamatti is desperate to get him on the illegal manipulation of the markets. It hardly feels like the most gripping of plots and early-on in the season, you may find yourself struggling with some of the financial aspects but the performances will keep you glued.
You’ll never become an expert or ever truly understand what people are doing or the crimes that have been committed but there is enough of a story going on that it rarely matters and so much of the extra sub-plots don’t address these elements and play like traditional drama.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what arena the battle occurs in, as long as it is being fought and with two actors at the top of their game participating in the duel, you can’t help but be engrossed. Roll on season 2.
Overall, Billions is a compelling drama which brings a great battle of two villainous characters to the screen. Lewis and Giamatti are fantastic and will force you to take a side. The terminology and finance aspect may draw confusion but the winner/loser aspect will keep you watching.
Best Episode – The Good Life: An episode in which a seeming nervous breakdown reveals the genius of Damian Lewis’ Bobby Axelrod.
Best performance – Damian Lewis as Bobby Axelrod
Should there be another season? – Definitely. This is a show with plenty of spirit and drive left.
Season Rating – 4.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)