Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Two Billions

Showtime's Billions, about to air its third-season finale, has changed.  I don't mean just that the dialogue has become more rococo, with countless pop references each episode. I mean the basic concept is different.

The original idea was a show with two men facing off--U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) versus billionaire hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis).  In between were their wives, especially Maggie Rhoades (Wendy Siff), married to Chuck while working as in-house psychiatrist for Axelrod's company. (Seems to me a hopeless conflict of interest, but there it is.)

One of my problems with the show, originally, was you can't have two protagonists.  You've got to root for one against the other, but the show treated both as if they were the lead.  In the third season, however, it seems they got tired of the never-ending clash which no one could win.

So, mid-season, with Wendy being legally attacked, the two men got together and quickly shut down the criminal case.  Since then, they've been drifting, each Ahab missing his Moby Dick.  Which also means they've come up with replacements.

Axelrod, only recently free from legal jeopardy, is trying to revive his firm. However, this means he's got to raise capital from questionable sources (including John Malkovich playing a Russian Oligarch who seems to be a sequel to Teddy KGB--that's a pop reference the show doesn't dare make).  He's also got a mutiny on his hands, with top employee Taylor, who took over while Axelrod was grounded, threatening to start a new fund.

Meanwhile, Chuck Rhoades has new enemies (aside from his father, played by Jeffery DeMunn, who's often been a thorn in his side).  They come from above and below.  There's former employee Brian Connerty (Toby Leonard Moore) whose investigation Rhoades and Axelrod teamed up to shut down.  After that, Rhoades kicked his opponent out of his office, so Connerty is now hoping to find some dirt on his old boss--and if there's one lesson this show teaches, if you dig enough, you'll find dirt on anyone. He's even teamed up with another man brought low by Rhoades, Oliver Dake (Christopher Denham).

Worse, Rhoades is being forced to dance like a puppet on a string by the new Attorney General Jock Jeffcoat (Clancy Brown).  So Rhoades does the only thing he knows how to do--he plans to bring down the top legal officer in the United States by getting dirt on him.

So the raison d'etre of the original show--the struggle between two wily and powerful men--is no longer center stage.  It doesn't even exist any more.  The show has split in two.  Some may mourn this change, but since I didn't like the original idea, I prefer it.  I hope they keep it going in the fourth season.

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