U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) has the hate horn on for hedge fund genius Bobby ‘Axe’ Axelrod (Damian Lewis).
Rhoades knows Axelrod has built his fortune from nothing using less-than-honest means—primarily insider trading—and it’s his job to prosecute people who break the law on behalf of the American people.
But this instance is personal. Rhoades really wants to take Axe down.
His desire is so strong he’s willing to do things that are beyond certain lines.
Axelrod is a popular figure in New York, though. He was the sole survivor from his firm after 9/11 and made it his goal to take care of the families of his late colleagues. Coming from a blue-collar background, he is a completely self-made billionaire who’s given hundreds of millions to the fire department, as well as doing other good works.
If Rhoades is going to take him down, his case has to be air-tight.
And he wants to take him down forever.
A potential difficulty is that Rhoades’ wife, Wendy (Maggie Siff), works for Axe—she’s a therapist to his many traders. (People who handle that much money are under a great deal of stress and need a therapist close to hand.)
Wendy Rhoades has been with Axe since the beginning—they’re more than colleagues—they’re friends.
The relationship is strictly platonic, though, as Axelrod is madly in love with his wife, Lara (Malin Akerman), a woman with a similar hard scrabble background and the mother of his two children. She is not a woman to be fucked with. If someone messes with her husband she will Lady Macbeth them. Except she’ll actually do something to them, rather than puss out.
Due to his wife’s position at Axe’s firm, Rhoades’ Chief Assistant Bryan Connerty (Toby Leonard Moore) and the ultra-capable Assistant DA Kate Sacker (Condola Rashad) urge him to recuse himself.
Also advising him at every turn is his highly-connected father, Chuck Rhoades Sr (Jeffery DeMunn). Chuck the Elder constantly offers advice and guidance whether it is requested or appreciated—the viewer gets the impression Chuck the Younger isn’t living up to his father’s expectations in one way or another no matter what he does.
That said, Chuck Jr has no scruples about asking his father for a favour when it suits his purposes—if you want clear cut good guys and bad guys go read a fairy tale. This show is not for you.
Over in the Axe camp there’s Mike ‘Wags’ Wagner, played by the hilarious David Costabile as well as the shadowy Hall (just… ‘Hall’) played perfectly by Terry Kinney. He’s a sort of sinister adviser on what Axe needs to do in any scenario in order to avoid jail time or prosecution. He procures spies and offers various options in a straightforward way.
There’s also a variety of traders, each with their own personality quirks and foibles. And nicknames. Pouch is called Pouch because he has no balls. His ballsac is empty. It’s a pouch. Like that.
A scene involving Axe and a trader called ‘Dollarbill’ Stearn later in the season was what my husband called the ‘funniest scene in a dramatic series ever’. It was pretty fucking funny.
Then there are the cameos. Penn Jillette makes an appearance, as does Metallica (?!)
While I’m sort of on the topic of music—this is the first show I’ve seen that has a dubstep soundtrack (it’s by Eskmo and it really works).
The reason I’m reviewing the show on this site is because the Rhoades are into kinky sex—Chuck is sexually submissive. The opening scene is Chuck tied up on the floor and Wendy putting a cigarette out on him then easing the burn by… well. He’s very into it.
The kink doesn’t feature heavily, but it’s accurate, thanks to a company called Kink on Set. In a later episode, Chuck goes to see a Mistress he refers to as ‘Troy’ which is a head nod to the woman who runs Kink on Set, Olivia Troy. (I learned about the show through an article about the company on Vice.)
It’s so nice to see accurate kink in the media. I wished there was more of it in the show. What is there is mostly implied.
Still, the show itself is compelling enough I’m looking forward to the next season starting in February.
If you’re only looking for the kink, there probably isn’t enough to make it worth your while. If you enjoy shows with morally-ambiguous characters who aren’t necessarily likeable or easy to root for then I highly recommend this one.
Because the characters are insanely wealthy there are a great deal of very nice material possessions on display including helicopters and sweet-ass cars. I’d hate to think what the production budget is like but it’s fun to look at.
Billions airs on Showtime in the States and the rights are owned by Sky in the U.K.