REVIEW: HOW ‘BILLIONS’ FINALLY GOT GOOD IN SEASON 2!

As Season 2 of Billions rolls on, the much touted financial drama is getting really good…finally. Coming off the incredible success of his role as Nicholas Brody on Homeland, Damian Lewis takes the lead on Billions as billionaire money man, Bobby Axelrod, a high-flying New York wheeler and dealer. Winning at all costs is what matters. Greed as they say, is good.

But Bobby has a blood-thirsty U.S. Attorney, Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) on his tail, determined to bring him down. In Season 1, the two alphas circle each other, each getting the upper hand at different junctures. From a blue collar background, Bobby has made his way to the top by grafting – a self-made man and proud of it. The mansion, the yacht, the fast cars…he’s earned all of it, albeit cutting a few corners when necessary. Chuck conversely, is a product of privilege, going to the finest schools, having everything all but handed to him on a silver platter. His cause is a righteous one, to deliver justice, which includes bringing down Bobby.

One woman stands between them. Not Bobby’s wife Lara (Malin Akerman), who is his equal in every way, but Chuck’s wife Wendy (Maggie Siff), who works for Bobby. Both men demand her attention and loyalty, but by the end of Season 1, they both lose her, with Wendy quitting her job at Axe Capital and separating from Chuck who has breached their trust by breaking into Wendy’s computer, gaining incriminating information that could sink Bobby. The two men have a showdown, but Bobby escapes his fate as Chuck is ultimately powerless to prosecute him. And so the season ended…which presented a problem. The stakes were raised…and raised…and raised again…and then nothing happened. No price was paid.

BILLIONS (Season 2)

Season 2 opens with Bobby still looking to neutralize Chuck, setting a plan in motion to buy up as many claims as he can against the U.S. Attorney, serving him with over 100 lawsuits. Chuck is already weakened, as a probe into misconduct in his office has begun, set into motion, unbeknownst to him, by his protege Bryan (Toby Leonard Moore) who has become increasingly disillusioned with his mentor. Things on the home front are no better as Chuck and Wendy are living apart, taking turns staying at their pricey brownstone a few days a week in order to maintain stability for their children. They are also in therapy with Chuck terrified that the slightest turn of the cart could end his marriage for good. Giamatti goes deeper in his portrayal of Chuck, bringing a vulnerability that softens the edges and lets you in.

Bobby also suffers some serious setbacks, a rarity for him. The hedge fund titan loses out on the opportunity to own a football franchise and then an upstate land deal in Sandicot, tied to a casino project goes south after Bobby is sabotaged by Chuck’s father (Jeffrey DeMunn) who is scheming devilishly in the shadows. Bobby stands to lose a lot of money and faces a moral dilemma, with austerity being one of his only options, forcing the town to make severe cuts in services which would hurt families.

It is refreshing to see a more conflicted Bobby, giving Lewis more shades to work with. The swagger and the cheek, which define Bobby are still there, but the more humanity we get, the better.

Meanwhile, just as Chuck and Wendy are getting to a better place, she decides to return to Axe Capital, a deal breaker for Chuck who figures out that in making her deal with Bobby, she had a hand in getting him to drop the lawsuits against Chuck. Once again, she is caught in the middle of two men she cares for. Maggie Siff remains one of the show’s most compelling figures as Wendy. She shrinks Bobby’s crew, giving them the confidence to perform at their peak which in turn rakes in money for the firm. Siff’s Wendy is as sexy as she is smart, commanding any room she walks into. Siff also brings a depth to the character, and a complexity that keeps you fully engaged. It is a plum role that one hopes will only expand. Basically the more Wendy, the better.

A nice addition to the cast is Asia Kate Dillon as Taylor, a wunderkind analyst that Bobby takes special interest in, increasingly becoming a vital part of the team. The character is also gender non-conforming, which feels groundbreaking. What works here is that Taylor’s identity is not the focus, instead, talent is what comes to the fore.

The fast-paced, larger-than-life big city backdrop and crazy antics in the world of high finance provide a fun-factor that makes Billions bingeable, but as the characters reveal more of themselves to us, they give us more of a reason to care about their respective fates.

PHOTO: SHOWTIME

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