The aspect of motivation versus action continues to be the compelling form of what “Billions” is moving towards. However sometimes it treads over repetitive steps in what can be shifted from the A to B story. In Episode 7: “The Limitless Shit”, that exact predilection of what is inferred hijacks Axe and his team in the office. That is the trick of working to absolute adrenaline is motivations get missed and consequences get lost. Some of the most interesting diatribes including one with Taylor (played by Asia Kate Dillon) shows an interesting idea of what cooler heads can do. But just an episode before, Taylor was railing against stepping over the line becomes a slight pendulum. All the characters for the most part will seemingly be taken down by their own shortsightedness or the simple base nature of others. This is completely true of relationships in this story though some of the ones that became the most dynamic sat out this episode especially with the last shot of the previous episode. That one itself involving Julianna Marguiles was an interesting metaphor and discussion on the notion of power versus control. Here the ethics of morality becomes a little more murky.
Motivation versus contentment and simple decency don’t really filter in except on the periphery as a guideline. Giamatti’s Chuck Rhoades plays an interesting move with students he is teaching. Every individual has their own in terms of how he teaches them to accomplish their goals. In this endeavor Chuck is frank and it shows an inherent understanding of his psyche in terms of survival which again points to the person in this story who will likely win, in whatever form that takes. The notion of commerce and art is also a continuing thought and what dictates a “sell out” per se. Axelrod with his two top supporters, both women, are slowly but surely making their power moves but it is interesting to see how as a fox he is almost toying with the decisions they are making. Ultimately the loyalty he loses will undo his power plays. If one is at war all the time, one cannot understand the contentment of being at piece. What is interesting about Axe compared with the beginning of his path is how the essence of home and normalcy never enters into his sphere anymore. Wags is only companion and usually over scotch. He compartmentalizes it out and, as a result, his humanity comes into question This is a tricky line because without showing a little bit of empathy (which he did in the Yonkers episode) it hard to feel bad for an alpha who stepping on everyone to get to the top. Because that figure ends up taking a great fall.
By Tim Wassberg
The chink in the armor of what dictates weakness and what overcomes it continues to be a theme in the 6th episode of the 5th season of “Billions”: “The Nordic Model”. The question in basis is reflected in the idea wis what is the greater good against the aspect of the crime if any being committed. The Nordic Model refers to the legalization versus criminalization of sex workers which continues to be an interesting quandary in modern society (especially in Western countries) between the idea of choice and morality. The interesting proponent here is that it is not about the actual act but the power and politic behind it and how it serves to provide power, morally, financially or ethically to others. Chuck Rhoades is in a continuing quandary here simply because there is moves he needs to make out of vengeance and others simply out of honesty for a path opening to him. The angle of Julianna Marguiles character is great because of the choices she makes. It is very much brought into play in the final shot which won’t be given away here simply because it works to the root of the question. It is not about elitism but about choice and the reality of the movement. It provokes a very dynamic modern conversation especially in what defines that choice.
Axelrod on the other end seems to be back to form although a lot of his story-lines seem to fade into the background with less consequence versus Chuck which is a little off putting. Chuck’s ex-wife’s moves, though at the bequest of her boss Axelrod, also seem a little suspect especially perhaps in letting her guard down. She knows that she is in a den of snakes so it is surprising that her claws and shields wouldn’t be fully up a lot more. Taylor (as played by Asia Kate Dillon) realizes that the balance that no one in the series seems to maintain applies to her as well. She doesn’t want to become like Axelrod but her moves specifically in not overcoming or playing her hand too hard become a tell. No one in many ways, maybe except Chuck (despite sometimes being on the losing end), will be able to get out alive. A switch and bait move is key in this episode and provides some tension especially with Axelrod and Chuck in front of a painting where Axe’s armor splits for one quick second. It shows what might be down the road but it depends how each of the characters walk the path.
By Tim Wassberg
“Billions” as it progresses through the 5th season, tries to tick off certain emotional levels of human consumption whether it be desire, regret, anticipation, reflection, etc. In Episode 5, “Contract”, the idea becomes how do people in power positions react when threatened from an angle they can’t control. What this episode examines are those personal moments that can hurt more than any dagger filled with money. This is true of all the characters but the plot focal point that sets it off is through Wendy Malick, so Blanche in many ways in “Hot In Cleveland” who can play icy with a dash of vulnerability here very well. It is a small problem she has that Paul Giamatti’s Chuck Rodes knows how to approach. In a battle with Axelrod. Rhodes has the slight edge as his humanity starts to show…which might be his saving grace. Axelrod (as played by Damian Lewis) only knows how to strike out hard and then only sees a regret later though it might be too late. He then usually writes it off as a loss that has to be fixed without understanding that the fix changes the outcome.
The issue is that elements from Axe’s childhood, he can never redo despite how much he would really like to. One of the more interesting images is him peaking from behind his old h house in Yonkers whom he bought out underneath a kid he was helping while his second in command, Wendy Rhodes, Chuck’s ex-wife looks on. It is one of many diametric images. Another one occurs when a health scare affects Chuck’s father whom he recently started reconnecting with. A small interlude in a hospital with significant others is an interesting pivot, especially when those two (in Frank Grillo and Julianne Marguiles – who is exceptional in this role) are moving in tandem with their own subplots. This way it is not just about the alphas at the top but the sub alphas and the betas wanting to move into an alpha spot. This chess game is interesting in dynamics since in all considerations it is not about the end game but who can live with the spoils that they eventually will concede to.
By Tim Wassberg