In one corner you have U.S Attorney Chuck “The Scholar” Rhodes, played by Paul Giamatti. He’s the reigning world champion with a record of 80+ to 0. In the other corner is Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, played by Damian Lewis; he could also be considered undefeated. He runs a sexy brokerage firm. Both of these guys walk and talk like champs. There’s a lot of trash-talk between them, but both have very lurid and potentially devastating skeletons in their perspective closets. But what happens when both find themselves in deep trouble? That’s the question as Billions heads into Season 3, where you’ll get all 12 episodes on four discs with very minimal extras.
The strength of two very strong performances immerses us in each of these worlds to a point that we discover something none of these players know, or at least would be willing to admit. They are very much the same, and the culture of their careers is more alike than not. Both are willing to bend a rule for “the common good”, and both believe themselves to be the heroes of their own stories. And that’s where the writing and acting come together for a nice perfect storm. Both characters are heroes to the people around them. They’ve developed almost cult followings. Both are admirable people. Of course, the opposite is just as true. These guys can both play the anti-hero with the best of them. There is both great good and great evil in both. If that sounds complicated here, just imagine how hard it would be to actually pull off.
There are more than two strong performances here. The supporting cast is quite good. In many ways we see these characters through the eyes of their spouses. Who better to provide that inside look that includes the dirty little secrets? Axelrod’s wife Lara is played by Malin Akerman. She’s pretty much the only one here who actually came from a working-class culture. She loves the billionaire lifestyle, but worries that it has made her children soft and feeling entitled. She’s not blind to his flaws, but is fiercely loyal. That doesn’t mean she’s staying married. This season finds them split but still working together when the backs are against the wall.
Rhodes’s wife is Wendy, played by Sons Of Anarchy veteran Maggie Siff. She’s a therapist who complicates the whole thing, because she works for Axelrod as his sales team inspirational coach and his own father confessor. She’s known Axelrod longer than her husband, and she’s being forced into the middle of this brewing confrontation. I have to say I never liked Siff in Sons Of Anarchy. I always thought she was a weak character. This time I found she provides a crucial voice here that allows the show to move so effortlessly between these two worlds. This is the kind of role I wish I had seen in Sons.
Asia Kate Dillon is a rather unusual character. Taylor dresses and acts in a rather androgynous fashion and announces the preference of the pronouns they, them, and theirs. Axe is able to look beyond all of the oddness and see how brilliant Taylor is. So Taylor becomes a bit of a spotlight. When Axe needs to step down from trading in a deal with the Feds, she keeps the company going strong. But she’s not just doing it for Axe or the company. There is an ulterior motive that will show itself this season.
Of course, Axe’s right hand continues to be Wags, played brilliantly by David Costabile. He’s used to being the face of the throne and enjoys a very privileged position at the firm, as does Kelly Aucoin as “Dollar” Bill Stern. This is the firm member who actually gets his hands dirty when necessary. Together they embark on some gutsy moves that end up costing the firm its first down quarter everywhere. It raises questions of pain and even more desperation to go after Chuck. They end up feeding off each other’s desperation, both spiraling out of control.
This season ends up being stronger than the first two when it all takes a rather clever turn halfway through the show. With both of their careers and freedom on the line, the two enemies actually have to join forces. At first I thought this was going to be a very bad idea. It wasn’t. The chemistry that exists as foes brings about a very compelling lure when they are forced to work together. It was a brave chance taken by the powers that be. The risk was destroying the very element that kept people watching. If it went badly, it was going to end very badly. Instead it refreshes the show in this wonderful new dynamic that is as much credit to the writers as to the actors who bring it to life. “I should have known something like this was coming. Ballsy.”