Billions at TCA17

The Billions cast and show runners were all present and accounted for at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. We gathered some fine tidbits from the various people and places covering this industry event yesterday as well as a look at the first official trailer for Season 2, premiering on Showtime, Sunday, February 19 at 10pm.

(L-R) Actors Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff, Malin Akerman, David Costabile, Condola Rashad and Toby Leonard Moore and creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien of the television show ‘Billions’ speak onstage during the Showtime portion of the 2017 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Langham Hotel on January 9, 2017 in Pasadena, California.

First, we’re happy to report, Billions apparently has enough story to keep it going even beyond this coming season. So, go ahead, feel free to get invested in these characters. We sure have!

The Billions Facebook page did a few smart live sessions with various folks from the show. Damian went first.

Of course, this being Damian, when asked about how the season starts for Chuck and Axe, he starts it off with a joke:

They’ve become good friends and they’ve moved in together.

“Surprise! Plot twist!” the interviewer quips. 🙂

He then gets down to business and gives us something that may be construed as a tad spoiler-y:

Season 2 kicks off with me taking the initiative, and going after him […] I don’t think I’m spoiling too much in saying: I go after him for wrongful harassment of me in season one. I bring the fourth amendment to bear on him and the season develops from there. It’s not plain sailing for Bobby by any stretch of the imagination, but that’s how it starts.

What is this fourth amendment of which he speaks? Why, here it is, spelled out in our trusty U.S. Constitution:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Hm, did Chuck actually get to do an unreasonable search and seizure at the end of the Season 1? From what I recall, Axe anticipated the raid and tore down his own shop before the feds even got in the door. So, either Chuck is going to try it all again in Season 2, this time for real, as opposed to planting false info about a raid just to get Axe’s goat. And he’s going to do it clumsily without probable cause. Or, the more likely scenario, Bobby is going to spend a load of cash and resources on finding just the loophole he needs to accuse Chuck of violating the fourth amendment rights of Axe Capital. Yes, we can see Axe standing behind the Constitution, or in front of it, or wherever he wants to stand in proximity to it actually. Here’s Damian’s own assessment of Axe’s politics.

Boy, it’s going to be a treat to see the language at play in this conflict! Because, after all, such power struggles are all about language. Who uses it better, to greater effect. Something this show captured beautifully last season and seems primed to capture beautifully again in Season 2.

Damian continues:

I don’t think it’s about money, it’s always about power. It’s about status, but it’s always about the game. Once you’re in the game, you want to win, and you play to win, and it’s as simple as that.

Damian just summed up the very essence of competition, didn’t he. This is sort of a feature of competition that non-competitive people sometimes don’t get, i.e. non-competitive people who take the game too personally and often slink away wounded instead of putting up a good fight. But I think Damian gets the idea of competition right on, rendering him uniquely able to imbue Bobby with that same quality.

Then, in a bit that may be a sign of things to come this season or may just be something interesting Damian picked up from researching Season 1, he speaks of emergency procedures that corporations set in motion should they become prey to hedge fund managers. He alluded to the elaborate systems companies put in play in order to keep at bay “hedge-fund guys” set to swoop in like vultures to pick at the spoils of what they’ve carefully determined to be a dying business.

I found that interesting that these two parts of the financial sector were more adversarial than I’d imagined.

Damian finishes it up deliciously with:

People are behaving appallingly and it’s delicious to watch.

Next up were Toby Leonard Moore (Bryan Connerty), Condola Rashad (Kate Sacher) and David Costabile (Wags).

David Costabile (whose birthday was yesterday, btw: Happy Birthday!) had this to say:

Last year it was clear that it was a cat and mouse game, and it changed back and forth, who was the cat, who was the mouse. I think this year, you almost pull back away from that as a story line. Yet, the interior of that is still true. Plot wise it’s not going to be that [back and forth], but it still revolves around that same force — the antipathy between Rhodes and Axe.

Wow, it sounds like instead of having a front row to the tennis match between Chuck and Axe this season, we may be getting more of an aerial view? Perhaps, getting a fuller picture of the other players and larger world these characters inhabit?

Maggie Siff stepped up for her bit next: 

I love how smart she is, I love how nuanced she is. I love how she has so many different dimensions, and some of them are seemingly at odds with each other, as illustrated by these two men in her life who, you know, despise each other. Somehow those are her deepest relationships. And that kind of illustrates some splits and complexities within her, that these are her two “people”. I love her contradictions. But I think what I really love is the super power of her intelligence.

You and me both, girl friend. Count me firmly in the camp for Team Wendy. Sounds like she talking a bit about Wendy’s crossed wires, a feature and a possible sore point of hers that Bobby pointed out last season in “The Conversation.”

The interviewer then asks Maggie something I’ve been dying to know about all these people: their backstories. Somewhat frustratingly, we hear from Maggie that occasionally Wendy’s back story does get revealed incrementally in scripts but that stuff somehow ends up getting cut. We in our arm chairs can speculate why. Maybe the show creators are unsure if they want to go there. Maybe they don’t see anyone’s ancient history mattering very much to who they are now. Or maybe they are undecided on what that ancient history is. Ultimately, it’s all just as well. We’ve all seen shows where some little bit of a person’s history is revealed only to be abandoned completely going forward (long lost brother for Carrie Mathison anyone?). We can do without such red herrings, thank you very much.

Maggie goes on to say:

There are familial relationships that are baked into the story, like Chuck and Chuck Sr. But there aren’t a lot more than that, interestingly.

She picked a great adverb there. It’s interesting as heck that they leave the back story optional, for us to fill in, or not. Nice way to widen the audience base, that’s for sure. Those of us who crave the soapy details can fill in the blanks with our own soapy imaginations, never interrupting the fast-paced entertainment value for those who came to watch the action of the game.

Last at bat on Facebook was Malin Akerman.

To be able to play a strong female character, who is respected and considered an equal with her partner is really lovely. It’s about time.

Indeed, one of the great things, and really quite new, is the fact that Lara isn’t just a trophy wife to a remorseless power player. Even though Bobby took his loving wife for granted several times last season, he always seems genuinely concerned when he does have to make those difficult choices. I envisioned the inevitability of a straw eventually breaking Lara’s back, as it were, and something akin to that may be coming up this season. There will be drama Chez Axelrod, and, I, for one, love the idea of that. But, something tells me, that, in the end, the family will pull thru fine. Ride or die is not a philosophy to change with the seasons.

We didn’t hear from Paul Giamatti in the Facebook live sessions. But we did catch a bit of his thoughts in various articles about the event. Deadline caught this:

Meanwhile, Giamatti’s Chuck Rhodes “will be less Mussolini and more Machiavelli. Less a brawler, but more like a scout.” Rhodes, too exposes his soft side as “his wife kicks him to the curb. That shakes him in a lot of ways. There are things that are exposed in him. He’s been hit by Axelrod and that throws him. He changes in some ways by intensifying, but he channels his energy in a different way” added Giamatti.

And in this bit from The Wrap, Giamatti got his own humorous jibe in with this quip, delivered totally deadpan:

Chuck has different facial hair this year. I think it’s metaphorical and I think it’s symbolic of a changed society.

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Some of the chickens let loose last season have come home to roost when both houses, Rhodes and Axelrod, face domestic strife. From Indiewire:

“You see vulnerabilities in them,” co-star Damian Lewis added. “These vulnerabilities and frailties become burdensome in trying to win this game.”

…Much of Season 1 focused on the two waging war against each other, as Axe attempted to grow his empire and Rhodes aimed to expose Axe in order to destroy him.

But in Season 2, things are intensifying at work and at home for both men… and the women who love them.

“He’s vulnerable in a lot of this — professionally and personally,” Giamatti said about Rhodes. “He changes by intensifying, but he operates in a different way.”

“Certainties have been eroded in Season 2,” Lewis said. “There’s a fracturing in Bobby and Lara’s marriage.”

Couldn’t help but notice the interesting seating arrangement on stage. There’s Bobby, smack dab in between estranged Chuck and Wendy. Wendy, in turn, sits between Bobby and his beloved Lara. A lovely quadrangle, no?

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Finally, it’s impossible (and disingenuous, IMO) to not take the events of late 2016 into account when examining any art that comes out of us in the coming years. Such is especially true for a show like Billions, which ostensibly examines the frayed edges between law and lawlessness in the financial world and in politics. To that end, let’s look at the way a few different publications spun the same quote from show runner Brian Koppelman.

The Hollywood Reporter quoted Koppelman thusly:

“The show has always been and will be about ambition, power, abuse of power, what people will do to gain the resources that they want,” Koppelman said. “Those unfortunately, clearly, for the next four years are going to be really important.”

The Wrap went in that same direction with a slightly different quote:

“The show’s always been about ambition, power, abuse of power. What people will do to gain the resources they want,” executive producer Brian Koppelman said at the Television Critics Association winter press tour on Monday. “And those feelings are going to be even more important for the next four years, and maybe even longer.”

Then, perhaps due to their own demographic, TV guide spun the same quote a subtly different way. First, their story is titled: “Billions Won’t Be Political Commentary in Season 2.” And the quote:

“The show will always be about power and the abuse of power,” said executive producer Brian Koppelman. Clearly, that’s relevant for the next four years, but of course, that’s a story that was relevant long before last year’s election, and will be for as long as humans roam the Earth.

The beauty is, they’re all accurate re-tellings of the same quote.

Now, here’s the official trailer for Billions Season 2! More on this later. (you knew I couldn’t just quietly post a video and not pick it apart, right?)

4 thoughts on “Billions at TCA17”

  1. Thank you for a great review of this for those of us who couldn’t watch it live! All this is a delicious appetizer for the main course to be served on February 19!!

  2. Make it three, girl friend – I am totally on Team Wendy, too!

    Thanks so much for a wonderful round up of what was said and done at Billions TCA 17. Pictures sometimes speak a thousand words and what they tell me is that these people genuinely like each other, look at the smiles in that B&W pic with Paul, Wendy and Damian — real smiles from real people. It just makes me like them even more than I do!

    Fourth amendment! In the new extended trailer, now we see Bobby and Chuck meet in presence of their lawyers(?) at Axe Capital – I at least see Orrin Bach with Bobby and Chuck’s friend Ira is with him – maybe he is his lawyer? I just know, whatever they have in store for us, it will be smart and witty and exciting. And, as much as I am also sad that it seems we will not find out about the characters’ past much more in this season I completely agree with you about a past story that is not explored later and I really have no recollection of Carrie’s long-lost brother! But I love it that Maggie Siff, too, talks about what writers might write about in Season 3. I really hope they know something that we don’t know and there will be a Season 3.

    Finally, I love the BRILLIANT way you interpret the seating arrangement! There is a Turkish saying that would call Bobby a “black cat” for getting between Chuck and Wendy, and Wendy a “black cat” for getting between Bobby and Lara 😀 Delicious!

    1. Haha it seems you are a Sons of Anarchy fan! I really loved Maggie in Mad Men as Rachel Menken, Draper’s coolest girlfriend, and I cannot imagine a better actress for Wendy in Billions since she is as smart as she is beautiful and talented.

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