The second season of Billions is in the books. Over 12 episodes, we saw casino deals go south, familial bonds stretched to their breaking points, and people violently vomiting up all-natural neon energy drinks. It was, to be clear, kind of a lot, and it all led to a pretty big moment for the show. Spoilers are a-comin’, obviously, so crack open an Ice Juice and buckle in. The time has come to talk Billions season two.
Chuck gets his man
After two seasons of taking Ls of varying sizes and shapes, Chuck finally caught Axe red-handed and had him carted off to jail in front of the whole world. And all he had to do was ruin his father, bankrupt and embarrass his only friend, repeatedly alienate his wife, sit back and allow Axe to poison a half-dozen gambling addicts, strongarm the Attorney General, and blow through his entire $27 million dollar trust. If we’re using a cat and mouse analogy, this strategy was a little like the cat burning the house down and plucking the mouse out of the rubble. (The darkest episode of Tom & Jerry ever.) It drove home the point that the two of them are flip sides of the same coin — ruthless, risk-taking, self-destructive — and showed the lengths to which they will go to destroy each other. When Chuck says it was worth it, please consider the cost.
And when you’re done considering that, consider this: Where exactly does Billions go from here? Yes, there will be legal things happening. We will see much more of Axe’s lawyer, which is good, because I love him. But two seasons in is a little early to shoot that shot, isn’t it? Breaking Bad gave Walter over half a decade before bringing the law down. Although maybe that’s not the best example. Walter White never really had a proper adversary on the law side until Hank’s toilet revelation. Maybe the best way to describe this is as a Reverse Jim/Pam-Ross/Rachel situation. A “Will they, won’t they?” but about ruining your sworn enemy. You can only build up that tension for so long without paying it off.
It will be tricky to move from here, though. Axe can’t really go to prison without wrecking the dynamic of the show, and if he wiggles out of this they can’t just, like, keep arresting him every season to keep the dance going. Things have to change, in some way, or this all kind of falls apart.
It is profoundly hilarious to me that the entire season — the entire show, to this point — hinged on the fraudulent IPO of a product called “Ice Juice.” Ice Juice! Billions is and always will be the most Billions show on television, and Ice Juice is the most Billions name of a beverage start-up I can possibly think of. I’m so happy. Still, this is only the second most Billions moment from season two, as the most Billions moment was Wendy Rhoades cheating on Chuck with a sexy version of Elon Musk who was played by Bob Benson from Mad Men. I might never get over this.
It’s very conflicting to root for someone you would despise in real life
It’s weird that I find myself rooting for Axe sometimes. He’s everything I hate. He’s a rich Wall Street prick who values money over people and operates as though the rules of society don’t apply to him. He breaks the law and cheats to win even if it tears others down. Hell, he more or less bankrupted an entire town to avoid taking a loss one quarter, even though a) the loss would’ve been a drop in the bucket compared to their total assets, and b) the town was only in that position because it lost a casino development thanks to the Axe-Rhoades johnson-measuring contest. He’s the worst. If he were a real person I’d pay good money to see someone hit him in the face with a pie.
And yet, when Chuck was closing in on him, I still had a tiny voice in my head shouting “Nooooooo.” It makes no sense. I should be rooting for Chuck. Chuck is the closest thing the show has to a good guy, right? I mean, he’s a weasel and a creep and an egomaniac and he also uses people and discards them like eggshells once he’s gotten what he needs, but at least his end game — jailing the bad guys — is noble. His motivations? Not so much. But at least it’s something.
Just stick with me here…
There was a teeny tiny Godfather vibe this season, especially as it related to Taylor’s rise in Axe Capital. It’s not perfect, but if you map it out, it looks something like this:
- Axe – Don Corleone
- Taylor – Michael
- Dollar Bill – Sonny
- Mafee – Fredo
- Wags – Tom
My favorite part of is Wags as Tom, because it makes me picture Wags meeting with the producer in Hollywood and just going to town out there. He’d probably wake up with a horse head in his bed too, but it’d be the result of some debaucherous sex thing. Wags is the best.
Billions might be the most watchable show on television
Billions isn’t the best show on television. It’s not even top 10, probably. There’s just too much competition (Better Call Saul, The Leftovers, Fargo, The Americans, Veep, and that’s just what’s on right now). And there are too many nitpicky flaws (Wags was cured of his drug/alcohol issues after one meeting in a park with Wendy, then went out and got hammered at work with no repercussions; the female characters are often relegated to standing by in shock and anger while their husbands do some jackass thing, again). But the show is incredibly watchable.
In fact, I don’t know if there’s any show I actually enjoy watching more than Billions. Those other shows I listed, while “better,” typically involve more heavy lifting on the viewer’s part. Billions just allows you to sit back and watch two heavyweights whale away on each other for an hour, often through backchannels, occasionally involving products called Ice Juice. And sometimes it does hit the highs of the other big prestige shows, like in the super-fun, twisting, turning episode that preceded the finale, which revealed Chuck’s plan through a chronology-hopping stock farce. That was great, and it might be the most flat-out enjoyable television episode I’ve seen all year.
Again, Billions isn’t perfect. And it could all go to heck next season with Axe out on bail and the chase element muted a bit. But season two was kind of a blast, and I’m already itching for season three. I hope Sexy Elon Musk takes Wendy to the moon and it makes Chuck furious. I love a good livid Giamatti.