Billions is the new show by US TV network Showtime, and as you might have guessed it is about Billionaires; specifically about multi-billionaire Bobby Axelrod played brilliantly by Brit actor Damian Lewis. In an unsurprisingly opulent fashion the episode begins with Bobby’s soon to be arch-enemy, Paul Giammati’ Chuck Rhoades, tied up in ropes, gagged and naked in the thick of some S&M torture game. When Chuck is not in the middle of sadomasochistic sex, he is a sharp, pugnacious New York District Attorney focused on corporate fraud and in particular Bobby.
Bobby runs a hedge fund based in Conneticut. The viewers who dodn’t work in The City may find the trader/ broker-jargon littering the episode slightly confusing but the bottom line is this: information of fraudulent activity and insider trading turns up and implicates Bobby Axelrod. This then puts Chuck in a difficult position as his wife Wendy Rhoades oddly works for Bobby Axelrod as an occupational psychologist. However is this one of the reason that Bobby wants her to work for him all along?
When Bobby is not making billions he’s eating pizza with his wife Lara at his childhood hangout pizzeria and in an egoistical saviour-esque move, announces to the owner that he is taking over the lease of the building to save him from crippling debt. A billionaire with a heart?... perhaps; indeed Damien Lewis’ Bobby is not completely unlikeable, which makes for an interesting watch; he is endearing at times, multifaceted, he can be compassionate but also cruel– simply put, he’s marmite.
As the episode develops It is revealed that Bobby was a partner in his firm, who’s partners in a twist of fate all died in the September the 11th attacks, and through these events Bobby’s opportunity arose; he took over the business, resulting in massive wealth. One particular scene, where the children of those who died are given tuition grants personally by Bobby is particularly saccharine until the event is interrupted by the wife of a deceased partner who questions why Bobby is still alive and profiteering from their deaths.
Enter Lara Axelrod, Bobby’s wife and a big asset to the show, played by the Swedish-born Malin Akerman; her piercing beauty is engrossing, but her directness is severe, you simply don’t want to mess with this ice queen. A scene where Lara takes the deceased partner’s wife’s aside after her outburst and openly threatens her is camp and thrilling.
Billions, episode one, is thrilling in its depiction of the ugliness and beauty of the corporate world. The show could be considered as something of a social experiment dealing with our perception of money; just quite how viewers will react to characters with enormous amounts of money remains to be seen, can they ever have our sympathy and complete trust in this post-banking world? Still, despite the corporate lingo, which makes plot lines hard to decipher at times, I will definitely be watching the next episode.