Once the shows nemeses started enjoying glasses of red together it became hard to care
For shows where the two leads are at the very top of their acting game, it doesnt get much better than Billions. Paul Giamatti plays Charles Chuck Rhoades US attorney for the Southern District of New York, who sports trouser braces up to his eyebrows and whose raison dtre is taking down financial criminals who think they can get away with it just cos theyve got the spondoolies. Damian Lewis plays Robert Bobby Axelrod the billionaire manager of hedge fund Axe Capital, who has acquired more than his fair share of his wonga through iffy shenanigans, and comes to work in jeans and a Metallica T-Shirt.
At the centre of this Venn diagram of conflicting interests is Rhoadess wife Wendy (Maggie Siff), Axe Caps in-house psychiatrist who has the complete confidence of her husbands arch enemy. The first episode starts with Mrs Wendy Rhoades in leather heels, burning a bondaged Mr Chuck Rhoades in the chest with a cigarette and urinating on him, as we later discover the pair are rather partial to a spot of BSDM. Groovy.
Once you get beyond the lingo Rhoades has his SECs, target letters, leaks and obstructions; Axelrod has his stacks, regulatory climates, market outlooks and earmarks – you soon realise both men are equally unscrupulous, perfectly happy to bribe, blackmail, bait and frame. And so the two characters swing between antagonist and protagonist, like youre rooting for both Superman and Lex Luthor or He-Man and Skeletor at the same time. The world of hedge-fund billionaires and investigating attorneys are best kept apart, so Giamatti and Lewis are only in a precious few scenes together, with multiple episodes elapsing without them meeting. So when they share screen time, the tension is explosive. Rhoades nearly takes Axelrod down for good in series one. In series two, Axelrod seeks revenge when he hears Rhoades has invested everything in his fathers new Ice Juice company, which Axelrod literally sabotages with poison. Turns out Rhoades had baited Axelrod, but by mid-series three, a single piece of evidence implicates Rhoades, Wendy and Axelrod. So they do the only sensible thing meet up at Axelrods pad, call a truce and bury the evidence.
The rest of the third series sets up former employees Connerty (now US attorney for the Southern District of New York) and Taylor Mason (now of Taylor Mason Capital) as the new protagonists, leaving Chuck and Axe as best friends in waiting. What made Billions great were the show-stealing scenes where the Chuck and Axe would literally have to be dragged away kicking and screaming for each others blood. Now, by the end of series three, Axe feels he can join Wendy and Chuck for a casual glass of red, paving the way in series four for them to just turn up in each others houses to scratch some backs and twiddle some knobs and do each other a dodgy favour. Billions arched a brilliant story for three seasons, one loosely based on real-life events. Now that the two sworn enemies are besties, it is hard to care any more.