June 11, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Billions”


We’ve all had reason to remember over the past few months that the experience of watching a TV show or movie doesn’t necessarily reflect the experiences of those behind the scenes.  Still, it’s nice to think that the writers room on Showtime’s BILLIONS could be the happiest place on Earth (Adult Division).  Under the leadership of co-creators/showrunners Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the staff spends its time devising intricate plots for a cast of characters as breezily hyper-articulate as they are devious and narcissistic, masters and mistresses of the universe who love their lives even when they’re temporarily miserable and defeated.  If Season 2 of Billions provided the pleasure of a series that surpassed its slightly shaky (too self-serious) beginnings by discovering its true voice, Season 3 presented a show in full command of its tone, pace and structure.

Billions was so cocksure in Season 3 that it relinquished a storyline that any other series would have ridden from season premiere to finale, the anticipated trial of hedge fund master Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) as manipulated by his nemesis, US Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), with half the season’s episodes yet to air.  It was already eager to move on to new things–although it managed to resolve that trial in the least predictable way possible, with Axe and Chuck joining forces to protect Wendy (Maggie Siff), who is somehow simultaneously Axe’s trusted employee and Chuck’s wife, and who was likely to be caught in the blowback of Axe’s conviction.

That image of Chuck, Axe and Wendy all gathered together to do the devil’s work returned at the very end of the Season 3 finale, written by Koppelman and Levien, and directed by Colin Bucksey.  The finale, not unusually with long-running shows that know they have another season ahead, was more of a set-up for Season 4 than a full-fledged climax to Season 3’s stories.  (Last week’s penultimate hour was the one loaded with fireworks.)  It left our trio of anti-heroes at a low ebb, all of them victims of being not quite as smart as they thought they were.  Chuck had been fired by the owner of perhaps the best character name on television, Attorney General Jock Jeffcoat (Clancy Brown), after Chuck’s rivals and enemies, notably former proteges Connerty (Toby Leonard Moore) and Sacker (Condola Rashad), out-schemed Chuck’s plot to depose Jock.  And Axe was outflanked by his own former protege Taylor Mason (Asia Kate Dillon), whom he’d taken for granted, and who had set up their own competing firm with an embarrassing amount of what he thought was his capital.  Even worse, he had lost the trust of dangerous Russian oligarch Grigor Andolov (John Malkovich), both for letting Taylor go and not allowing Grigor to kill them.

Although Chuck had made it his life’s mission to prosecute Axe, as he noted in the final scene, he was no longer able to prosecute anyone at all, so they might as well join forces, a scary prospect for their enemies and a promising one for Season 4.  The pleasures of Billions, though, are often tangential to its whizzing plots.  The repartee between Axe and his adorably amoral sidekick Wags (the invaluable David Costabile) could be a series in itself, as could the darkly hilarious relationship between Chuck and his father Charles Sr (Jeffrey DeMunn).  And that’s not even to mention the denizens of Axe Capital, including brokers Dollar Bill (Kelly Aucoin) and Mafee (Dan Soder), and the fascinating complexities of Taylor.  The characters on Billions are so smart that even the acknowledged idiots, like ethics executive Ari Spyros (Stephen Kunken), can make people rich.  Another wise move in Season 3:   the good and hopefully permanent decision to jettison Axe’s marriage to Lara (Malin Akerman), the only drip on the show.

Billions is probably too much fun to enter seriously into the Emmys conversation, although its writing is impeccably sharp and witty, and its cast expert and fleet.  Now that the series has settled into a groove, though, it should have years of pleasure to offer viewers.  It’s as smooth as the world-class whiskeys its characters drink.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."