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Showtime's 'Billions' Is Back! For a Few Episodes, Anyway

By Dustin Rowles | TV | May 4, 2020 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | May 4, 2020 |


Until movie and television production gets going again — whenever that might be — we are probably going to start seeing more gaps in our viewing schedules, except on Netflix, where they apparently have 1,142 seasons of television already in the can. A number of network television shows didn’t manage to finish their seasons before production shut down, however, so in many cases, this season’s episodes will be shifted into next season (creating unintentional cliffhangers on Superstore and New Amsterdam, among others). The Walking Dead 10th season finale, moreover, may not air until six months after its original scheduled date.

Meanwhile, Showtime is in the unfortunate position of needing to start airing episodes of Billions with only 7 in the can, meaning that the rest of season 5’s episodes will air once production finally gets going again (likewise, Don Cheadle’s Black Monday aired half of its second season and will air the other half once production begins).

There is, however, an opportunity here. The Billions fifth season premiere is set in a universe that could not be any more different than the one in which we currently inhabit. In the world of Billions, Robert Axelrod (Damian Lewis) is suffering from billionaire ennui, having just crossed the $10 billion mark in personal income. He’s pulling some off-the-grid, Jack Dorsey bullshit with Wags (David Costabile), purifying himself with sweat and drugs or something. Axe has never been more punchable.

Set in what appears several months after the events of season four, Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff), meanwhile, is still separated from Chuck (Paul Giamatti). After Chuck commits a parenting faux-pas, Wendy — who is living in a palatial apartment provided to her by Axe — decides to unilaterally announce that she wants a divorce, much to Chuck’s chagrin.

Elsewhere, Chuck — now working closely with former rival, Kate — is still trying to use Taylor Mason (Asia Kate Dillon) to put the screws to Axe, who knows that Taylor is a double agent for Chuck. In fact, Taylor admits as much to Axe and encourages Axe to play nice with Chuck. When Axe does exactly that, Chuck realizes that Taylor has turned on him with the old triple cross. One episode in, and we are already pulling triple-crosses, although for her part, Taylor isn’t working either side so much as she is pitting Chuck and Axe against each other in the hopes that she can duck out when the inevitable Mexican standoff ensues.

I like Billions, and all of its bluster and third-rate Shakespearean dialogue. It’s has been a reliable and immensely enjoyable show, but in its fifth season premiere, it is already showing signs of fatigue and — given the current climate — it comes off as spectacularly tone-deaf. The show, which embraces greed, has been rearranging the chairs for four seasons, and in its fifth season, it seems content to simply move the chairs around once again. Co-showrunners Brian Koppelman and David Levien will separate Chuck and Axe again, slide Wendy into the Chuck column, add Kate Sacker (Condola Rashad) into Chuck’s camp, sit Taylor in between the two chairs, and bring in a new agent of chaos, fellow billionaire Michael Prince (Corey Stoll), who will probably force a consortium of people to align in order to take him down. I’m not going to say it’s completely predictable, because Billions has a way of throwing a number of curveballs, but the contours of season five seem fairly obvious.

There’s an opportunity, after the first seven episodes, to change that. Everyone is always looking for a silver lining in our current situation, and for Billions, there is an opportunity when it eventually does return to clear the decks. I don’t know yet how I feel about most shows writing the pandemic into their storylines, but if any show should do it, it is Billions, a show about a man — Bobby Axelrod — who created his fortune out of the ashes of 9/11.

You know what would erase Bobby’s billionaire ennui? Being completely wiped out by a pandemic he did not see coming. I’d love to see how Wendy figures out how to rally the troops in the midst of economic ruin. Day players probably won’t be allowed on television sets for many months, which should work fine in Billions, because Bobby will have to lay everyone off except a skeleton staff that will have to social distance in the office or work from home. If Bobby wants a real challenge, let’s see how he navigates that. Let’s see if Chuck and his father can resist profiting off of the pandemic, both politically and financially. Let’s see if Taylor can figure out how to translate the data and maneuver out of this.

Three months ago, the idea of a pandemic wiping out Axe Capital and resetting the deck on Billions might have sounded like sci-fi dickery, but now it’s a reality. It would allow a series that has settled into a middle-aged malaise to briefly reflect reality, and selfishly, I just like the idea of seeing billionaires suffer for at least a few episodes. I understand as much as anyone, however, that it won’t last for long, because while the rest of America was put through the grinder, Wall Street had its best month in 30 years in April. Billionaires are gonna billionaire, and no matter what happens to Bobby Axelrod, he — and his real-world counterparts — will come out of this just fine. He’s exactly the kind of person that could take a quarter and someone’s misery and turn it into a $1 billion in 30 days. Maybe it’s time to a television show properly viewed him as the series’ truest villain.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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Header Image Source: Showtime