Why do I even like this? It is an example of the horrors of excess and the game playing that can cost people their livelihoods. It’s a programme that showcases the alpha male and not in a complex or problematized fashion. Does it normalise the callousness of that world? Or, glamorise it? And which is worse (or better)? The point is, I do like it; I like it a lot. The power struggle and intrigue is not a new concept in television. We’ve seen it before in The Sopranos and The Wire; the high-stakes cat-and-mouse game that seems to be a very male heteronormative power play that is gobbled up by our greedy eyes. If follows the struggle between hedge fund manager, Bobby ‘Axe’ Axledrod (Damian Lewis) and AUSA Chuck Rhodes (Paul Giamatti) respectively, it is their egos, jealousies and power that drive the storylines. What is really at risk here and who will ultimately pay the price as each of the characters sells a bit more of their souls. One is okay with that decision, the other has, ostensibly, more trouble with that. One is the apparent bad guy, our man, Axe, and the other the moral compass, Chuck Rhodes. However, Axe seems like the better guy, he quietly gives to charity, he supports his dead colleagues’ families, also without ceremony and out of the way of the cameras. Chuck, is rigid and harsh in work. He sentences an old family friend without mercy. Technically he follows the letter of the law, but it seems callus. It begs the question, who is being really dishonest here? In the middle of this is Wendy Rhodes (Maggie Siff), the therapist wife of the Chuck, who is works in Axe’s company. She pushes her colleagues to find what makes them strong, successful and powerful by bringing them towards their truths, in short direct sessions that last as long as a sports pep talk. While she see herself as ultimately ethical, building a Chinese wall between work and home, are her ethics ultimately undermined by the support not only of a dishonest company, but a dishonest system? The mirroring of the two leads is played out in a number of ways, obviously in their relationship with the therapist, but also in how they approach their work; they are both ruthless and put their careers above all in their lives. Each out to prove themselves for different reasons, they are now each other’s nemeses.
Billions Sky Atlantic Tuesdays 9pm