TV Recap: Billions, ‘Pilot’

Poster for Billions
Photo Credit: Showtime

Billions Plot Summary:

Wildly popular billionaire and hedge funder operator Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis) comes in the crosshairs of U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti). Matters are complicated as Rhoades’ wife Wendy (Maggie Siff) has been a loyal employee of Axelrod’s for over 15 years.

It may be too early to bring this up. It’s probably too hyperbolic to mention this. Yet, after watching the first episode of Showtime’s new drama, this writer can easily and confidently state the following….

Showtime’s new series, Billions, is going to be an Emmy frontrunner. And unless it’s going head-to-head with the last season of Mad Men (all depending on the Emmy calendar), it should easily win a lot of gold.

Why this bold statement?

The performances of Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis are beyond remarkable — and in this single episode they might be some of the best performances we’ve seen on television since Don Draper bought the world a Coke last year.

It should come to no surprise that Giamatti delivers. He’s been a constant in our lives for decades, providing excellent performance after excellent performance — even in some rather lackluster projects. In this pilot episode he delivers his trademark rage, and fury, sometimes at a lion’s roar, and sometimes at a mere whisper. It’s the quieter moments that really hit you right in the soul.

Damian Lewis, however, steals the show as the ultra charismatic Bobby Axelrod. Mainstream audiences now Lewis for his role as the hyper-intense Nicholas Brody on Showtime’s Homeland. If this is all you know him for, you’ll be stunned at how easily he slips into the role of the affable and charismatic Axelrod. Axelrod, like Brody, is a man scarred by tragedy. This time it’s having lost all his friends and co-workers to the attacks of 9/11 as opposed to being a POW. However, the scars lie deeper in the soul Axelrod than in Brody, and we see that in an emotional speech he gives to the surviving family members of his fallen co-workers. Lewis brings so much emotion in this speech that you’ll be reduced to tears, it’s wildly heartfelt.

Yet, there’s another aspect of Axelrod that’s so just intoxicating. Lewis is able to make Axelrod absolutely lovable, yet he constantly hints that there’s something dishonest and corrupt about him. Giamatti does this to some extent, making Rhoades deplorable and admirable at the same time, however it’s Lewis who does it the best.

The plot of Billions, is pretty basic right now, it’s a power struggle between Axelrod and Rhoades. However, there seems to be more to come with the plot, especially with Rhoades’ wife (a terrific Maggie Siff) in the midst of things.

Billions, for now, is a performance-driven she that will absolutely suck you in. It’ll be interesting to see the plot unfold as things could get complicated, and I have feeling it will be in a good way.

Rating: 8.5/10

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites