Billions season 2 episode 5 is titled “Currency”, after the main play of the episode which happens to be a highly delicate currency play. Currency, the word, when spoken by Damian Lewis manifest as Bobby Axelrod, is also one among the many rhythmic words you’ll hear from him this episode, pronounced in impeccable New York-ese. We probably shouldn’t keep harping on his believability in this role. After all, that’s why they call it acting, right? Where most acting is a well-developed form of impersonation and most non-native accents are a form of ventriloquism, what Damian does with Bobby, in terms of body and language, is something else entirely. Something that is neither simply impersonation nor just ventriloquism.
Continuing the countdown to Damian’s return to stage next week (!) with The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, let’s take a visit to his penultimate play, The Misanthrope. It was 2009 when Damian played the lead role of Alceste in Martin Crimp’s modernized version of Moliere’s 17th century comedy. After his appearance in The Misanthrope he was not seen on stage again until American Buffalo six years later. Dare we say, The Misanthrope marked a turning point for Damian, the last one where he was the nearly A-list actor playing against decidedly A-list’er Keira Knightley. NOW, of course, he is not nearly anything but a full-blown highly sought commodity on stage and screen. In this post, I’ll tell you a bit about the play, then, beg your indulgence as I wax philosophical about the extent to which the themes of the play translate to Damian’s own career trajectory.
Boy, Billions is giving its stellar coterie of actors a lot more to do this season! While the plot has always remained tight and unpredictable, this show has always been character-driven, never more so than right at this moment.
You don’t have to read the business papers to hear the real world buzz around Preet Bharara’s recent firing as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of NY. In the fictional world of Billions, this is the very position occupied by Chuck. In Tuesday’s NYT, Andrew Ross Sorkin’s regular article Dealbook , quoted the so-called “sheriff of Wall Street” Bharara saying in another interview:
I have never said that insider trading is the crime of the century. It has not been my personal focus. It’s the focus of the press because there are a lot of wealthy people that like the reporting of it.
Indeed, in the world of Wall Street, and Billions, there is ethics and then there is the appearance of ethics. Prosecution is not always (or ever?) about beating the bad guy and scoring a victory for justice. A lot of the time it’s about beating a case that’s beatable and tantalizing to the press and the public. Sure, the practice of law is about setting precedent on good and bad, right and wrong, but a lot of the time (most of the time?) it’s about managing public perception of these lofty ideals. And it’s in the managing of perception where all the play happens. This theme runs throughout Billions, and is in particular focus in Episode 4 “The Oath.”
Something else notable for this episode: the virtual encyclopedia of pop culture references! A cynical person could snark it’s a good thing all the people of this world seem to have read the same books, seen the same movies, and listened to the same music. Writing about it was one rabbit hole after another and I can only imagine the fun from the actual writing of it.
Billions pulls a great trick from the big bag of tricks available to entertainment. It puts on an episode with a discrete arc — a beginning, middle, end… rising tension, climax, and denouement. And it does it in each episode while also exploring deeply profound themes fit for feature length film. This show is entertaining, no doubt. But there are ways in which it isn’t “just” entertainment. Allow me, please, to explore a few of the ways Billions pulled it out for S2Ep3 “Optimal Play”, would you?
Continuing the rollicking cadence of win/loss and cat/mouse, Billions picks up the pace in an energetic Episode 2.
“Dead Cat Bounce” is book-ended by a fake smile with handshake on one end and a sincere sneer and handshake on the other, going deeper exactly where we need it to go.
Axe is still a nervous cat, but a merry one, as he publically humiliates arch nemesis du jour, Todd Krakow, in the opening scene and continues throughout the episode to dig the claws deeper into the side of this twerp who tried to steal Wendy from him.
By now, you’ve seen Billions S2 opener, “Risk Management” and have probably read Damianista’s excellent episode recap. Now, from me, you’ll get some of the “emotional truth” in this episode.
Bobby is a spiral of disordered nervous energy. When he stands in front of his people, in what is ostensibly a morale building exercise, there’s a tension to him that wasn’t there when he climbed on top of file cabinets last season and mobilized the minions to batten down the hatches when he first found out he was under investigation. This time, it seems to be a combination of him standing in the dark in front of a lit but otherwise blank screen and a certain air to his words that make you wonder if he even believes what he’s saying. He’s primed for battle, but in a sort of unprepared, grasping-at-straws way.
Even though Bobby didn’t suffer anything more than the self-inflicted destruction of his offices, revenge must be exacted. Leave it to the Billions writers to never come at Chuck one simple way. They seem to coax out ways to hurt Chuck via lovely twists in prior events that you thought were meant to never touch him. Continue reading “Billions on Showtime 2.01: Risk Management”