For four seasons, Showtime’s highly entertaining finance drama Billions has reshuffled the characters’ relationships and their power dynamics nonstop that it’s nearly impossible to keep track of who’s aligned with who at any moment. We see Chuck (Paul Giamatti), the US District Attorney who’s been abusing his power and position for personal agenda, working with his archnemesis Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) for the most part of last season. But then at the last minute, he decided to go at him again just because why not. Meanwhile, the non-binary math genius Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon), who was the prime target of both Chuck and Bobby last season, is now working at Axe Capital again. But this time as a mole for Chuck.
See, pulling the characters back and forth so many times naturally will make the show grows repetitive, or even exhausting. But in Billions’ case, that’s never been a problem. In fact, this formula is exactly why even after four brilliant seasons, the show still manages to keep things fresh and surprising. We’ll never be sure of what their goals are until it’s revealed usually in the season finale. And when we get to that point, the twist and revelation are always explosive, leaving us with no choice but to come back the next year.
The End of Chuck & Wendy’s Marriage
Premiered last Monday, the fifth season of Billions takes place a few months after the event of last season, and it opens with the wedding of Chuck Rhoades, Sr. (Jeffrey DeMunn) to a Native-American woman half his age with a name of Roxanne (Lily Gladstone). If you think that the wedding is all champagne and love, think again. There are animosity and awkwardness, and it’s not just because Chuck, Sr.’s ex-wife Ellen (Deborah Rush) decides to come to the wedding. But also because of Chuck’s marriage with Wendy’s (Maggie Siff) that’s obviously still not on good terms after he publicly exposed their private S&M routine last season.
Chuck, however, doesn’t seem to make any efforts to repair what he’s done, and it makes Wendy really furious. “Maybe it’s time we stop listening to what Rhoades men say,” she tells Ellen coldly. Knowing that Wendy is a woman who always means what she says, and does what she means, it’s not a surprise to see her asking for a divorce the next day. Plus, the fact that Chuck goes MIA for a late-night dominatrix session while Wendy’s taking care of their teenage son who has alcohol poisoning certainly doesn’t help to change her mind either.
At this point, the ship is already sinking, and there’s just no way for Chuck to save it. Even when he tries to convince his soon-to-be ex-wife that he’s ready to change, Wendy just doesn’t buy any of it anymore. “I am on the brink of a huge change. I am going to force myself to evolve,” he tells Wendy in a last-minute effort. “I believe that you believe that, Chuck,” she responds before asking him to make an official public statement about their separation. This moment is devastating, and Giamatti’s delivery of all his lines in this scene is full of vulnerability, but it doesn’t erase the fact that their divorce is long overdue.
For four seasons, Chuck and Wendy’s relationship has been on-again and off-again, and Billions has observed it closely as if it’s studying how power and greed have its way to corrupt people like Chuck, and affect his personal relationship. And indeed, at the end of the day what destroys his marriage, and even possible reconciliation, with Wendy is not because they lack in love or affection, but rather because of his own self-destructive behavior that comes from an obsession of bringing down Bobby. As a person who gets stuck in the middle of these two opposing sides, Wendy clearly makes the right call this episode — though of course, knowing it’s Billions, there’s always a possibility that Wendy and Chuck will get back together again. For now, however, let Wendy celebrates her new status and freedom.
Billionaire Ennui, Toxic Workplace, & Cryptomining
Chuck isn’t the only one who faces serious trouble, though. Bobby does too. When we first meet him in this episode, Bobby and his righthand man Wags (David Costabile) are on a spiritual Ayahuasca trip somewhere off the Alaska-Canada highway to celebrate Bobby’s milestone of hitting $10 billion personal net worth. While Wags is all about chill and taking time to unwind from all the nitty-gritty at the office, Bobby, on the other hand, feels numb to what he’s achieved as if it doesn’t mean anything. Perhaps it indeed means nothing to him. But as the episode progresses, it’s obvious that the reason why Bobby feels empty is that he doesn’t feel like he has no challenging rival anymore.
So when Wags tells him that Vanity Fair invites him to do a cover shoot celebrating the newest deca-billionaires — hence the title — Bobby initially declines. That is until he’s informed that Mike Prince, a fellow businessman played by Corey Stoll, will likely get the solo cover if Bobby doesn’t attend the photo shoot. At this point, we don’t know who Mike is aside from the fact that he’s like the polar opposite of Bobby. But judging from what he’s done this episode, getting the solo cover even after Bobby comes to the photo shoot, it’s safe to bet that he will be a tough rival for Bobby moving forward.
Bobby asks for a rival, and that’s what he gets. What he doesn’t realize is Mike isn’t the only person who’s coming after him, but also Chuck, who’s been using Taylor to feed him information on all the moves that Bobby’s made at the office. At first, it looks like Chuck, with his assistant, the brilliant Kate Sacker (Condola Rashad), is the one who gets the upper hand after busting a crypto-mining operation with a possible tie to Bobby and Axe Capital. But thanks to Taylor who comes clean to Bobby that they’ve been working as a double agent for Chuck, it doesn’t take long until he realizes what Chuck’s been planning. The reason why Taylor decides to tell the truth to Bobby is unclear, but knowing it’s Taylor, it’s safe to assume this triple-cross is a part of their big plan.
All of these rivalries happen while the working situation at Axe Capital gets pretty toxic. The employees of Mase Cap don’t want to blend in with Axe Cap. And even though Wendy has told them to stop all of this nonsense, they just keep coming after each other. Thankfully, Wendy’s found a way to merge them all as one unit; she brings Becky Lynch to the office to give a pep talk while demonstrating some really cool wrestling move. On the page, bringing a real professional wrestler in a show about finance certainly will not work. But this is Billions we’re talking about here, a show that’s been known for its over-the-top twists, so of course, it works.
A Solid Premiere
While the schemes and backstabbing remain the focus of the story, Billions, in the end, works best when it explores its subject in a really fun way. And that’s what the show does brilliantly this episode. Also, through the personal troubles that Chuck and Axe are dealing with at the moment, ‘The New Decas’ also feels more introspective while remain very fun and thrilling. It certainly is a solid premiere.
What do you think of Taylor’s move? Do you think they make the right decision?
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