A Love Letter To ‘Billions,’ The Most ‘Billions’ Show On Television

There was this scene in a recent episode of Billions. It went something like this. Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis), bad boy hedge fund manager and head of Axe Capital, had a problem. Actually, he had a few problems. One of his problems was his ongoing blood feud with cutthroat U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), which was now beginning to spill over the sides of their contained battle and cause collateral damage. But Axe always has that problem. Kind of the point of the show.

Anyway, his specific problem in this scene was that he was running into resistance in his effort to buy an NFL team, in large part because he’s a bad boy hedge fund manager who has ongoing blood feuds with U.S. Attorneys. So he seeks out the advice of someone who knows a little something about renegade sports ownership, Mark Cuban, who is appearing on the show as himself. And Cuban listens to Axe’s concerns, makes a very stern face, looks Axe in the eyes, then says “You need to stop f*cking with the U.S. Attorney.”

To which Axe replies, Axe-ily, “I’m not gonna do that.”

It is an extremely Billions scene. Possibly the most Billions scene. Which shouldn’t be much of a surprise, because it happened on Billions, television’s most Billions show.

We should pause here. I feel like I need to elaborate. Because you’re probably thinking “Well, yeah. Of course Billions is the most Billions show on television.” That’s fair. On it’s face, it’s a little like saying “a banana is the most banana-like fruit.” But you have to trust me on this. You have to watch Billions. You’ll understand. I promise you will. Billions is like a more serious, more prestige-y Entourage, but in a good way. Everyone is always the most, all the time, often while wearing fleece.

I feel like I’m not selling this well. I swear I’m not trying to put the show down. I really do enjoy it. It’s the rare prestige drama in 2017 that isn’t about some bleak murder mystery or wide-ranging conspiracy that you need to do four hours of mid-week homework to understand. It’s exactly the kind of show we need right now, just a bunch of powerful high-achievers with self-destructive streaks trying to screw each other over constantly, peppered with dialogue like in the example above, like a macho hedge fund version of Scandal or Desperate Housewives. Extremely Billions. I love it.

(This last thing brings us to this next thing: Billions is incredibly addictive. I have a working theory that you can binge the entire first season in less time than it actually runs for, even without skipping ahead, even if you’re not enjoying it all that much. I don’t even know what’s going on, really, because I don’t know stock things. A breathless character will rush in and be like “Axe, the flash traders are shorting Vexon Global through a shell company!” and I’ll be all “Oh snap,” despite the fact that those words mean almost nothing to me. It’s like a magic trick. Television sorcery.)

You know what else is pretty dang Billions about Billions? Look at all these pictures of Paul Giamatti’s character, who, I feel like I should mention, if only to be comprehensive, was depicted in the opening moments of episode one getting urinated on by a dominatrix.

There are two things you need to know about the pictures:

  • They are all official promotional pictures released by Showtime
  • I swear to God they are not all from the same episode

Question: Is Paul Giamatti pondering diabolically while wearing a vest and sitting behind a huge desk in half a dozen official promo images actually a little too Billions?

Answer: No. There is no such thing as “too Billions.” Scientists have researched this. It’s purely theoretical at this point. Also, look at Paul Giamatti in those pictures. I really must stress to you that he gives this performance the full Giamatti. It’s a sight to behold.

(This string of images also gives me an opportunity to mention my favorite Paul Giamatti quote. In an actor’s roundtable for The Hollywood Reporter, in a discussion about typecasting, he said this: “I’d love to be in a Western, but I know if I’m in a Western I’m going to have to play this guy (wiping the table), What’ya havin’? I’m going to be that guy. Or I’d be the corrupt mayor, the guy who’s building a railroad through somebody’s farm.” I would 100 percent see that movie about the corrupt mayor. I love me some Devious Giamatti.)

But the best part? The best part is that neither the strutting bad boy billionaire rooster or the cutthroat U.S. Attorney with the submissive streak is the most Billions character on Billions. That title belongs to Mike “Wags” Wagner, Axe’s COO at Axe Capital and the most Billions character on the show by a factor of ten. Some facts about Wags: He is played with a literal mustache-twirling mischievousness by David Constabile, he loves drugs and alcohol so much that he more or less bankrolled a recovery drug startup by accident, and he has a Veep-like affinity for cussing. Wags is Billions. Billions is Wags. I might go as him this Halloween.

But again, I’m teetering into the caricature. Let’s also give Billions some credit. It has two very interesting female characters in Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff) and Lara Axelrod (Malin Akerman), the former of whom was both Axe Capital’s in-house therapist and the wife of Giamatti’s character (“was” being the key word), and the latter of whom is Axe’s tough-as-nails wife. Both are great, and surprisingly well-rounded for a show about powerful men shouting at each other, even if they haven’t been given enough to do this season. And season two introduced a new genius Axe Capital analyst named Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon), who is a non-binary gender identifying character played by a non-binary identifying actor. That’s both an interesting and cool swing to take for any show, especially if they give the character more backstory than “icy-veined former online poker shark.” Although, to be fair, that is an almost staggeringly Billions backstory.

But again, I hear you. You’re saying, “Right. I get all that. But answer one question: If this show is so Billions, then why hasn’t, say, Bob Benson from Mad Men showed up as a fake Elon Musk yet? You know, like a rocket-obsessed billionaire intent on shooting stuff into space? Wouldn’t that be an extremely Billions thing?”

Oh ho ho, my friend. It would be an extremely Billions thing. So Billions, in fact, that did happen. Billions never disappoints.