Billions: 1.02 Naming Rights, 1.03 Yumtime

Episode two of Billions has many highlights – girl-on-girl chem-sex, blackmail, old men with a penchant for fetishes, bogus security drills, S&M, insider-trader fraud and old grudges; all which make for great viewing, despite the corporate and legal mumbo jumbo which, at times, viewers may find testing.

Episode two is primarily an insight into the workings of Axe Funds, Axelrod’s company, and the way they invest in businesses, and then sell them off. It appears that everything is actually quite personal to Axelrod; his business moves are indeed strategic acts of revenge upon those who have harmed him in the past. Axelrod is also paranoid and brutal; a fake security drill on the Axelfund premises, designed by Axelrod himself to test the employees from divulging trader information or incriminating the company with any illegal tip offs, results in an employee being dismissed on the spot in front of his colleagues; and his bitter exit implies Axelrod will also be the subject of revenge tactics later on in the series.

Elsewhere in episode two, Tara Mohr, one of Chuck’s employees at the district attorney’s office is compromised after a coked-up sex session; Tara’s one night-stand is actually a snitch for one of Axelrod’s lackeys and so she is blackmailed into reporting on Chuck’s on-going investigation.

The episode ends climactically in a symphony hall; Bobby and his wife are in conference with the owners of the building, the Eads, who are in dire financial trouble but it soon transpires that Bobby is not solely there to help. Just as The Eads’ grandfather once fired the young Bobby when he worked as a golf caddy, Bobby is set on getting his name on the front of their concert hall at a vengeful discount; deprived of $16 as a boy, his golf-caddy salary, Bobby ruthlessly deducts $16 million from his original offer of financial help to the Eads. Obviously Bobby never forgets.

Episode three bears witness to the formidable Lara Axelrod; June Raichlein, whose outburst against Bobby in the first episode left Lara Axelrod unimpressed, intends to publish a memoir which threatens to tarnish Bobby’s reputation until Lara manages to sabotage June’s entire life, even forcing Stanford to revoke her son’s place, until, tail between her legs, June removes the offending chapter. But the memoir debacle only seeks to whet the viewer’s appetite as the chapter in-question concerns June’s husband, one of Axelrod’s partners, and his death during the September 11th attacks. The potentially damaging details are not revealed however it’s almost certain that they will be before the end of the series.

In other news, Bobby decides to invest in the company Yum Time, which turns out to be a very roundabout way to get to Chuck Rhodes via his dad, Chuck Rhodes Senior. In the process Bobby makes himself out to be Yum Time’s saviour, focussing on recipes, streamlining costs and reshuffling the board members, however the board member in-question turns out to be Chuck Senior’s mistress; Axelrod is clearly, and dangerously, flexing his muscles.

Despite all the drama, the true intentions behind certain narrative devices remain unclear; however Brian Koppleman appears to be trustworthy as every scene in Billions is carefully planned and always alludes to future conflict and tension. However, no matter how hard Axelrod tries to convince as the rags-to-riches golden-hearted boy, he’s still utterly unlikeable, which seems to deflate Koppleman’s grandiose narrative plan somewhat; how can we invest in a leading man whom we are irritated and annoyed by? Maybe it’s Damien Lewis’ unconvincing accent, or maybe it’s the fact that Koppleman never lets the viewer get to the flaws, insecurities and fears of his main character, instead we get the reflection of these in Axelrod’s shady corporate dealings.

But it’s still early days, there’s still time for Axelrod to transform into someone real or perhaps someone even darker; maybe we need a new TV anti-hero in the mould of Frank Underwood? Or maybe we just need another episode of Billions . . .

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