All about money, power and menacing men marking their territory it stars award winning actors Damian Lewis as Bobby ‘Axe” Axelrod and Paul Giamatti as Chuck Rhoades. The two opposing characters they play, together with those of the two women in their lives, should become wonderful subjects for student case studies for years.
What a complex drama about power politics in the world of New York high finance this provocative series is turning out to be. It’s infectious viewing as these two men struggle to assert their dominance over each other
After watching the first five episodes, we finally arrive at a point where the ‘Good Life’ has physically arrived for hedge-fund King Bobby ‘Axe” Axelrod who is gleefully greedy when taking delivery of the sleek chic white ocean going craft bearing that name
Axe and his manipulating wife Lara (Malin Akerman) have designed their own floating luxury palace. But will they really be taking that holiday trip to the Galapagos Islands promised to their two primary school age sons?
Or will these two innocents become just pawns in the life of their parents, whom daily go into battle to win their own war in the game of life.
This is a game not played out on a chess board, but in locations from the greed is good of Wall Street, to Back Street Bondage Clubs in the dark, where punishment is pernicious pleasure.
Axe rules his financial Empire on an intelligentsia level that combines brilliance with ruthlessness and on a scale perhaps not examined quite so intimately before.
Conceived by its various writers, including Andrew Ross Sorkin, David Levien and Brian Koppelman, BILLIONS is breathtaking in both its conception and scope.
Damian Lewis proves his brilliant ability to get to the essence of a character who no matter how evil he is, becomes the devil we all want to get to know and in this case the hero, one who is ambitiously hypocritical.
On one hand it’s hard not to admire the script, the acting performances, the characters and atmosphere of this well produced series.
On the other hand however, it is easy to despise how easily it portrays people who abandon any thoughts of morality or principles as they seek to monetarily succeed on a huge scale.
Couldn’t help but remind me of how on September 5, 1661 King, France’s Louis XIV, sent his loyal musketeer D’Artagnan to arrest his Minister of Finances Nicolas Foucquet.
Urged on by Colbert, Louis’ response was particularly brutal as aged only 21, he reacted to pull his rival for being the ‘Sun King’, well down to size.
This regrettable act emphasised Foucquet’s family motto “to what heights won’t he climb”.
It’s certainly one we would happily print on a banner and hang over both Axe’s and Chuck’s office doors.
All the values they may have espoused for years disappear as in middle age they violate all business norms and with eyes wide open, snub their noses at those who do have a philosophy for enjoying a good life.
Axe has an income dependant on his ability to thrive in the cut-throat world of finance to date.
Whenever anyone believes they are on the same playing field as he is, with dazzling style he ensures the game is played out in lone wolf fashion and totally out of bounds, where he outclasses them all.
Intriguing, well that is only the half of it so far.
Paul Giamatti as Chuck Rhoades has the fall back position of a US Attorney’s office monthly salary.
While not lucrative, it seemingly reaps endless benefits in both power and perks as he travels around with his entourage.
The final decision Chuck needs to start building a prima facie case against Axe is exacerbated, when his target buys a beach house for 68 million dollars.
For Chuck this focuses a spotlight on his rival’s monumental arrogance and he takes it personally, as his rival snubbs his nose at Chuck and his world.
Chuck begins to froth at the mouth at the very idea of how he can cut the fit, lean, handsome Axe with the seemingly perfect wife and family, down to size. He wants to wield a very sharp blade indeed.
It’s one he perhaps thinks about while enjoying his almost nightly severe leather whip lashings, catering to his ever-expanding sexual bondage fetish, which could very easily get out of control.
Who’s on top in this scenario? Well both wives are. They are awesome too, but in different ways.
Blonde and beautiful, Axe’s wife Lara is a piece of work entirely on her own, looking wholly innocent with a bite more dangerous than a viper.
The lovely Lara makes the Renaissance era in Italy’s most notorious politician, diplomat, philosopher and writer Niccoló Machiavelli (1469-1527) look like an amateur by comparison.
Machiavelli believed to succeed in life a ‘man must be adaptable’. Well proving women are as well, Lara could easily write the modern update of his handbook for unscrupulous leaders, always arguing the end justifies the means in triplicate.
Her quill is well dipped in a poison so potent, it’s hard to see whose armour it will pierce next. The smile on her face and warm heart is never ending.
Chuck’s wife Wendy Rhodes (Maggie Siff) however may just turn out to be the most dangerous of them both.
She is well versed in playing a triple role; Chuck’s loving spouse, his bondage mistress dressed in leather or lace, as well as the motivational therapist guru who strangely and one would think, compromisingly, also orders Axe’s life.
When she is with him one could easily misunderstand her intentions. Their body language together is relaxed and easy, sometimes seductive to say the least, although always held in tension and at arms length.
Supporting actors include David Constable, Toby Leonard Moore, Condola Rashad and Daniel K Isaac, all of whom are excellent.
Then there is Chuck’s father, Rhoades Snr (Jeffrey de Munn) who could just turn out to be a master game changer, although we’re not quite sure whose side he will end on.
Be careful how you go though and be sure to stay in the seat way beyond the pilot episode’s opening scene, one that would quench many a fire!
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016