Billions – New Series on Showtime

This is a review of the pilot episode of the new Showtime series Billions. SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW.

US Attorney Chuck Rhoades is giving some advice to Brian Connerty his Assistant US Attorney. They’ve just had a visit from Ari Spyros from the SEC. Spyros is suggesting (a code word for urging) that Rhoades should be looking into going after a major player in the hedge fund business.

Rhoades: A good matador doesn’t try to kill a fresh bull. You wait until he’s been stuck a few times.

The bull? That would be Bobby ‘Axe’ Axelrod the hedge fund king. His firm Axe Capital, does well, very well. Bobby Axelrod had the good fortune to be out of the office on 9-11-01. Like a Phoenix, he’s risen from the fallen concrete and twisted steel and escaped the rolling dust cloud. He’s a Trump-like figure, only without the mouth, and without the politics.

Every thing he is and everything he does is about business, and his business is being the smartest guy in the room. And that’s any room, any time, and  any where.

Chuck Rhoades is talking to Skip Wolkowska, a businessman who’s been caught up (a code word for busted) in the gears and meshes of insider trading. Rhoades’s case rolled over Wolkowska like an 18 wheeler with a VW bug in front of him. Wolkowska, already convicted, his lawyer, and Rhoades’s father have arrived at the US Attorney’s office to ask for leniency in sentencing.

Chuck Rhoades: So now your cronies better see that they can’t trade on inside information, or abuse their position. Or they’ll end up like you. Broke, humiliated, and incarcerated.

So while Rhoades waits for the right moment, Axelrod decides to buy a house on the beach in the Hamptons. The price – a staggering 82 million. He already lives in a huge house on Long Island Sound in Connecticut. He doesn’t need to buy this house. But he doesn’t much care to have the US Attorney tell him what he can and cannot buy.

Bobby Axelrod: What’s the point of having ‘fuck you’ money if you never say fuck you…?

So it seems that the US Attorney’s office has a connection at Axe Capital. More than one in fact with the main one being Mrs. Rhoades – she’s the corporate shrink employed at Axe. Capital. And she’s good, very good.

It her job to keep all of Axe traders in the best shape they can be in. There’s a lot of money at stake, and Bobby Axelrod needs all his men to be at their best – all the time, and at any time.

So through a third-party, Rhoades sends a message to Axelrod suggesting that he not buy the house. It is a bit too much, and is the type of deal that can only put Bobby Axe on the front page of the NY Post for both arrogance and the ostentatiously colossal waste of money.

But Axelrod is smart enough to know that this is good advice. He’s also smart enough to be able read the tea leaves. He will hear through his back channels, that no case is being prepared but there’s a strong likelihood that there will be. He will get a visit from Mrs. Rhoades who hints that’s she’s thinking of leaving Axe Capital. That catches Axelrod’s interest as no matter what she says – Axelrod hears – conflict of interest.

Finally, a guy that used to work for Axelrod but left for another firm, wants to sit down withe Axelrod and discuss a possible return. Again Axelrod is ahead of the game – he susses out that this guy – one Danny Margolis might be working as a mole for the FBI.

So you get where this is headed. The US Attorney mano v mano against the king of the hedge funds. Billions are at stake.

There’s a few loose ends to close out the pilot. First – Skip Wolkowska commits suicide rather doing a stretch in jail. Rhoades has to rally his troops:

Chuck Rhoades: The decisions we make, the actions we bring all have weight. What we do has consequences – intended and unintended.

Second – Bobby Axelrod’s wife is out of an Irish family from Inwood. As she tells the story – they were poor, they were a large family with five siblings, and they survived because they knew that they had to be tough.

So when a widow of one of the partners of Axe Capital complained publicly that Bobby Axelrod seemed to be doing far better than the rest of them, she had a sit down with Mrs Axe.

The upshot of that was that this woman said to Mrs Axe – Are you threatening me? The answer was:  Fucking right I am.

You can take that to mean that Mrs. Axe is as nasty as they come. And she’ll fight anyone with everything she has when it is called for. Malin Akerman plays Lara Axelrod.

Paul Giamatti plays US Attorney Chuck Rhoades, and Damian Lewis plays Axelrod.

Here’s the kicker – Wendy Rhoades played by Maggie Siff, is the unexpected joker in this game. She repairs all of the walking wounded up at the Axe barracks – but at home she gives hubby Chuck all he needs – which includes Wendy being the dominant female, which includes Chuck being tied up, gagged, and then having a cigarette put out on his chest by his wife, who then proceeds to pee on his chest.

And that my friends was the opening scene of Billions. The pilot officially airs on Showtime on Sunday January 17th at 10:00. But Showtime has made the pilot available FREE and you can view it via your cable company’s on demand or on your computer.

I think I’m going to like this show – it’s House of Cards crossed with Law & Order and seasoned with bits of Ray Donovan and Michael Clayton and All The President’s Men. I mean in the pilot alone we get multiple fixers and bagmen. And they even quote Deep Throat – Follow the money.

And all of it to find out who has the biggest swinging dick and the bigger set of balls. Truth, justice, and the American way may not be on trial in this story – but if you want that, just tune in to some Superman reruns.

Here is the pilot trailer:

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