IR TV Review: BILLIONS – EPISODE 7 (“The Limitless Sh*t”) [Showtime-S5]

The aspect of motivation versus action continues to be the compelling form of what “Billions” is moving towards. However sometimes it treads over repetitive steps in what can be shifted from the A to B story. In Episode 7: “The Limitless Shit”, that exact predilection of what is inferred hijacks Axe and his team in the office. That is the trick of working to absolute adrenaline is motivations get missed and consequences get lost. Some of the most interesting diatribes including one with Taylor (played by Asia Kate Dillon) shows an interesting idea of what cooler heads can do. But just an episode before, Taylor was railing against stepping over the line becomes a slight pendulum. All the characters for the most part will seemingly be taken down by their own shortsightedness or the simple base nature of others. This is completely true of relationships in this story though some of the ones that became the most dynamic sat out this episode especially with the last shot of the previous episode. That one itself involving Julianna Marguiles was an interesting metaphor and discussion on the notion of power versus control. Here the ethics of morality becomes a little more murky.

Motivation versus contentment and simple decency don’t really filter in except on the periphery as a guideline. Giamatti’s Chuck Rhoades plays an interesting move with students he is teaching. Every individual has their own in terms of how he teaches them to accomplish their goals. In this endeavor Chuck is frank and it shows an inherent understanding of his psyche in terms of survival which again points to the person in this story who will likely win, in whatever form that takes. The notion of commerce and art is also a continuing thought and what dictates a “sell out” per se. Axelrod with his two top supporters, both women, are slowly but surely making their power moves but it is interesting to see how as a fox he is almost toying with the decisions they are making. Ultimately the loyalty he loses will undo his power plays. If one is at war all the time, one cannot understand the contentment of being at piece. What is interesting about Axe compared with the beginning of his path is how the essence of home and normalcy never enters into his sphere anymore. Wags is only companion and usually over scotch. He compartmentalizes it out and, as a result, his humanity comes into question This is a tricky line because without showing a little bit of empathy (which he did in the Yonkers episode) it hard to feel bad for an alpha who stepping on everyone to get to the top. Because that figure ends up taking a great fall.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: BILLIONS – EPISODE 5 (“Contract”) [Showtime-S5]

“Billions” as it progresses through the 5th season, tries to tick off certain emotional levels of human consumption whether it be desire, regret, anticipation, reflection, etc. In Episode 5, “Contract”, the idea becomes how do people in power positions react when threatened from an angle they can’t control. What this episode examines are those personal moments that can hurt more than any dagger filled with money. This is true of all the characters but the plot focal point that sets it off is through Wendy Malick, so Blanche in many ways in “Hot In Cleveland” who can play icy with a dash of vulnerability here very well. It is a small problem she has that Paul Giamatti’s Chuck Rodes knows how to approach. In a battle with Axelrod. Rhodes has the slight edge as his humanity starts to show…which might be his saving grace. Axelrod (as played by Damian Lewis) only knows how to strike out hard and then only sees a regret later though it might be too late. He then usually writes it off as a loss that has to be fixed without understanding that the fix changes the outcome.

The issue is that elements from Axe’s childhood, he can never redo despite how much he would really like to. One of the more interesting images is him peaking from behind his old h house in Yonkers whom he bought out underneath a kid he was helping while his second in command, Wendy Rhodes, Chuck’s ex-wife looks on. It is one of many diametric images. Another one occurs when a health scare affects Chuck’s father whom he recently started reconnecting with. A small interlude in a hospital with significant others is an interesting pivot, especially when those two (in Frank Grillo and Julianne Marguiles – who is exceptional in this role) are moving in tandem with their own subplots. This way it is not just about the alphas at the top but the sub alphas and the betas wanting to move into an alpha spot. This chess game is interesting in dynamics since in all considerations it is not about the end game but who can live with the spoils that they eventually will concede to.

B+

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: BILLIONS – EPISODE 3 (“Beg, Bribe, Bully”) [Showtime-S5]

The Machiavellian approach to the notion of self is approximated in the ideas of what family is and what it is created to be. The 3rd episode of the 5th season of “Billions”: “Beg, Bribe & Bully” is an undeniable truth within that. The indelible aspect about this episode as compared to all the others so far this season has is that it has to do with personal worth and perspective. “Billions” sometimes has problems being subtle but that is just the nature of what the alphas of the series are. The ideal is about winning sure but it is about impact. Both Axelrod (played by Damian Lewis) and Chuck (played by Paul Giamatti) are seeing these ideas from different perspectives which sometimes need time to ferment. Axelrod’s has to do with his son who has the ambition of his father but perhaps not the exact ingredients to be like his dad. Yet he will try.

The question which is pointedly shown by of all people: Chuck’s ex-wife, whois 2nd in command for Axelrod, to Axelrod in confidence is telling. There are paths that these people take, however subtle…and every move creates a different divestment within the portfolio, both in financial and in human tallies, either to build it or break it down until there is nothing left. Some can be rebuilt. Some cannot. In Chuck’s case, it is reflected in his father who has a new family with severe backlash on his part. Granted with both of these guys, it comes out to personal representation and a case of self worth. But even in the case of Asia Kate Dillon’s fixer, there are some cases of doors which  she cannot control or necessarily walk through. She makes a decision in logic for the greater good at one point, but what necessarily is interesting and ambitious is that she herself cannot see everything no matter how intrinsically made for the world of numbers as she is.

The kicker is also the double take in the case of Wags who knows how to play the game but sometimes knows he can’t do it exactly like Axelrod. He is outflanked by his nemesis on many points. And yet when you see Axelrod on stage at one point addressing a university body after vapid negotiations got him into play, shadows of Gordon Gecko reach out for a different space. It is not so much a reflection of his own worth but what his son in many ways sees inside him. Beyond that an aspect of dinner and even Axelrod’s simple integration with an artist that is done for the principle as well as the glory creates an interesting diametric of what worth is. Is the metaphor about building or to destroy just to build again.

A

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: BILLIONS – EPISODE 2 (“The Chris Rock Test”) [Showtime-S5]

“Billions” as an idiom is again possessed by the thought of one-upsmanship. The question becomes within that structure is what happens when pieces are slowly pulled out of the puzzle by fate. Human failure is mostly based on numbers but the variable which is the emotional contingent is the one that allows sometimes for true breakthroughs or failure. Axelrod (as played by Damian Lewis) thinks simply making chess moves can ultimately stack him on the board as winning. But that is not the only thing that keeps a person on top. Unfortunately and equivocally, it is possessed of a give and take mentality. Episode 2 entitled “The Chris Rock Test” invariably relates to the champagne room but not in a way one would expect of high rollers. In attending a symposium by his enemy billionaire (played by Corey Stoll), Axelrod plays right into those hands.

Having been at many of these kinds of power symposiums myself it is as much about perception as it is perspective. Most people on the level can see through the aspect of power plays but the question is making it subtle or overt enough that it either feels too melodramatic or idiosyncratic to be true. Elon Musk is a good example of this and yet the Dragon craft will hit its crewed landmark shot and still capture a certain perception of the public. Add the recent Tom Cruise spectacle as part of an action movie shot in space and there becomes another. “Billions” works on that same concept but there is the human dimension.

Both of Axelrod’s right hand people who are sharks suffer a set back both because of unnecessarily comforting emotion of losing to an adversary they either didn’t expect or didn’t think would rear its ugly head. The question to be learned is coming to terms with that perspective. Chuck (play by Paul Giamatti) understands the balance. His interaction with a therapist allows him greater range even though his wife who heads up Axelrod’s firm is defragmenting part of his consciousness. This is why a sly interrelation with a would-be judge (played with slicing texture by Rob Morrow ) is undeniable. The possibility of Fleischmann from “Northern Exposure” is always a reminder just underneath. The balance that ultimately plays though in this episode is the aspect between redeemer and monster when both can be primarily the same thing.

B+

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: BILLIONS – EPISODE 1 (“The New Decas”) [Showtime-S5]

The preternatural distinctiveness of alphas in many ways is never knowing when a game is won, even when the losses stack up in response. This is a lesson that “Wolf Of Wall Street” tried to show. Too much is never enough but even building back again is its own relevance. With thr start of the 5th season of “Billions”, the two perceived enemies in Chuck Rhodes (Paul Giamatti) & Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) still understand the tit-for-tat relevance while understanding that the actual chase in many ways is the joy of the game. Unlike say “Suits”, “Billions” operates at a higher keel where success and ambition give way to lessons of loss of humility. Are people simply acting one way to get what they want or to satisfy an ideal.


Wendy Rhodes (played by Maggie Siff) and Taylor Mason (played by Asia Kate Dillon) revels in the same way though in different conjectures. The men want to play until the game explodes. The women want to get the prize and keep building. Taylor is an interesting structure because she understands the complexities of both and yet (like with Vulcan philosophy) needs a way to channel her anger while she is gunning for her best deal. The idea of what is right and wrong don’t necessarily come into play. The episode, the first of Season 5, is entitled “The New Decas” describing those who have joined the 10 billion dollar club. But as the new episode begins there is an idea of what is beyond that. And like the godlike personification that Axelrod pulls, the toppling of a kingdom depends on which way the leadership leads.

B

By Tim Wassberg