IR TV Review: BILLIONS – EPISODE 4 (“Opportunity Zone”) [Showtime-S5]

The idea of loyalty and expectation seem to intersperse in the ongoing direction of what it means to be ambitious in the current world of “Billions”. In episode 4, “The Opportunity Zone”, it takes into place what nostalgia is, what has come before it and how it adjusts into our decisions. With Axelrod (as played by Damian Lewis), he sees it more as a competition to be used as a poker chip (though he still wants to think that he is doing for a greater good). The reality is that he knows he is a monster. If he is just making the balance known for PR reasons, then he doesn’t belong as much in the game…or likely people will eventually see through his lies to bring him down. The only variable becomes unless their own well being is too integrated into it already. The point of reference in this episode is Axelrod’s own original home of Yonkers, New York. It is where he came from but it doesn’t gel now with who he is now (as much as he likes that story). What is interesting is to see him BS poetic where he can see the experiences he had but not relate to it anymore (even while pretending he does).

The question becomes again, as with other shows, is the character doing this for himself or eve remotely or partially for others. This idea is balanced into a subplot with an artist he has befriended and bankrolled (again seemingly for the competition). But it is actually his second-in- command (Maggie Siff) who deconstructs the artist in a way (in one of the episode’s best scenes. She manifests the artist to see what it is he s doing versus the actual end result through actual will of purpose. The metaphor of a pizza maker and how that business integrates to what we think we are deserving of and what we are capable of are two different questions that begin to be explored. This reflects also in Chuck Rhodes, Siff’s ex-husband, in his continuing path to bring down Axelrod. The interrelation of family in this instance shows an interesting dynamic as little gives and balancing of ego make for stronger forward momentum. These small victories show inherent human nature and who might likely win. The last shot, while initially meant to show redemption instead breeds discord, not outwardly but inwardly within the aggressor, and that is the kind that can rot power from within.

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: AMERICAN DAD – EPISODE 5 (“Tapped Out”) [TBS-S17]

The essence of popularity and connection has always been a theme of “American Dad” through and through. With Episode 5 of Season 17: “Tapped Out” which one thought was going to be a brewery themed episode, the essential of what is considered inconsequential to good taste goes a little over the line with Jackie and Steve. It takes the idiom of breast feeding to an nth degree as the texture of elixir and a sarcastic edge of control. Now while some of it is funny, much of it skirts the line. But of course this does not full contort the weirdness of what the episode parlays. Roger becomes a documentary filmmaker who is trying to capture the pariah like mentality of the elixir exchange. The problem is that even Roger is grossed out which says something. The structure all comes to a head of sorts or more specifically a neck. Stan tries to elongate his neck because Roger says he is thick while Jeff wears gorilla mask that doesn’t come off. While the story is trying to focus on both the placebo of ego and also the manipulation of need, ultimately is just seems creepy in more ways than one. Again part of that is pushing the line which many shows like “The Shivering Truth” do. The underlying context is thete and of course the reasoning, but in a slightly less obvious way yet it still feels off. The search for identity (which this series is also about) was also made clear in the season premiere as well as a the recent “A Starboy Is Born” episode. “American Dad ” wants to challenge conventions but sometimes certain ones work better than others.

C-

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: THE BLACKLIST – 150TH EPISODE (Episode 17 – “Roy Cain”) [NBC-S7]

The essence of mortality creates the approach for a sense of reality within the 150th episode of “The Blacklist” entitled “Roy Cain”. The reality of the episode stokes in the angle of Reddington (Jame Spader) looking to close in corners in order to get a fuller view of his future and his organization beyond his purview. Granted there is always something moving up his sleeve. The balance that works within this episode is the pedigree to a point of actors. Fisher Stevens as Reddington’s former lawyer is a nice balance and, of course, reference is made to his earlier roles. The actual underlying narrative only serves to prop up the bigger game which is more diametric which is a Godfather structure but with two sides pulling the prey back and forth. Reddington simply wants to put his own righteousness in play. An underlying point is that he plays the game but sometimes has to get his hands dirty still. The angle that worms its way into the evolution of his character here is that of faith versus fate which takes a front seat with an iman. However the underlying power play still, beyond the obvious family connection, is a little unclear. The fire is stoked but like all good series, the reveal reflects in the inevitable.

B

By Tim Wassberg