Friday, July 06, 2018

Billions Thoughts

Jill and I finished watching all three seasons of Billions (meaning that our insatiable lust for good television to binge must look elsewhere for fulfillment). That means you get my scattered thoughts on the matter. Mild spoilers below.

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* Wow, Damian Lewis is great in this -- way better than he was in Homeland!

* Wow, Maggie Siff is great in this -- just like she is in everything (Rachel Menken for the win)!

* What makes Billions a great show, in my view, is its almost Walzerian treatment of power. Rhodes and Axe have genuine, real power in completely different arenas, and the show takes care to show that each possesses tools and resources at their disposal that the other can't access. Axe's immense wealth can't buy him things like search warrants or prison threats. In other arenas, Rhodes' governmental power can't buy cooperation or incentives that Axe's money can. A lazier show than Billions would suggest that Axe could simply bribe the right people and become akin to his own government, or would be purely a tale of an unstoppable government official smashing through private sector business. Billions doesn't go either way, sitting in a well-crafted equilibrium.

* The least-likely Showtime shows do a really good job of dealing with non-normative sexuality. House of Lies was great in dealing with a gender fluid teenager. Billions handles both the Rhodes' BDSM activity and Taylor's non-binary status very well. Who'd have guessed?

* I will say that they do go a little heavy on the whole "can a robot learn to love" thing with Taylor. But there are points where Taylor indicates that the whole emotionless android thing is a front, which is easier to swallow.

* I actually buy the idea that Taylor's gender non-binary status would rapidly cease to be a "thing" in a place like Axe Capital so long as they bring in the green. But it does strike me as a little hard to swallow that their rise up the ranks that quickly wouldn't breed more noticeable resentment (beyond Dollar Bill being upset at losing his poker table spot).

* In a show where virtually all the characters are terrible, Lara is the worst. I mean, obviously that's not exactly true -- Spyros is the worst. But at least Spyros brings out some great facial expressions of undisguised loathing from Dollar Bill (those scenes are some of my favorites). Lara doesn't have that redeeming factor. I'm also not quite sure why their marriage completely disintegrated, seemingly on a dime. You'd think Malin Akerman would know how to be a Trophy Wife at this point.

* I did appreciate that, at least prior to their marriage's dissolution, Axe was portrayed as entirely sexually faithful to his wife. Again, a lazier show would have simply assumed that the ungodly-rich billionaire would be stepping out with supermodels left, right, and center.

* One of the few "good" characters is Mafee. Sadly, I don't like his chances of surviving Season 4's inevitable Axe/Taylor crossfire unscathed. Poor Mafee.

* I like Wags in spite of myself. Your mileage may vary. But watching him swell with pride the first time Taylor curses was hilarious.

* One character I'm definitely not sold on is Andolov. It's not just because I find him a bit crude and overdrawn. It's because one of Billions' great virtues is that it has thus far avoided the cheap play of assuming the ultra-rich can and will simply murder their way through problems without consequence or remorse. The whole point is that people like Axe have so many resources available to them that they don't need to resort to violence to get their way. And what's more, while the ability to refrain from violence is itself a function of their power, it's also crucial to their self-image: they are not mobsters or street thugs, they just move dollars and cents around. Andolov seems likely to move the show in a more hackneyed direction.

* On the other hand, three years ago I would have said Jock Jeffcoat was a crude and overdrawn stereotype. Sigh.

* You might have noticed I haven't said anything about the other members of Team Government. Well, let's see: Decker is well-acted but a cipher, I've completely lost track of what's motivating Connerty, Dake has no interesting characteristics at all, and Lonnie actually interests me as someone who isn't really willing to "play the game" but consequently had to be steam-rollered for the show's core thesis to make sense (hence why he's no longer in the show).

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