One episode was provided prior to broadcast.
When Billions first debuted, it appeared on the surface that it would tell the clichéd story of the downfall of a greedy Wall Street fat cat getting his comeuppance. What no one could have seen coming is the fact that viewers would end up rooting for Bobby “Axe” Axelrod every bit as much as U.S. Attorney Charles “Chuck” Rhoades Jr., as we quickly learned that there was more to both men than meets the eye. TV shows making us root for the bad guy is nothing new (just look at The Sopranos), but with two leads that both have questionable morals, Billions has played a tug of war with its audience every bit as much as it has with characters like Wendy Rhoades and Bryan Connerty.
Following that tense confrontation at the end of season 1, the season 2 premiere takes something of a slow burn approach to picking up with Axe and Chuck’s conflict, but as things progress, it quickly becomes apparent that the tables have drastically turned. Now, it’s the latter who’s on the ropes as he faces both an attack from the wealthy hedge fund manager which parallels the recent Hulk Hogan/Gawker trial and dissension from within as his actions from season 1 come back to haunt him in a big way. It’s this which ensures that the show’s second year remains fresh and electrifying, and that there’s still a lot more story to tell from a series which initially felt it may have said all there was to say during its first twelve episodes.
With the plot as compelling and engrossing as ever, the performances are thankfully every bit as good. Daman Lewis and Paul Giamatti remain the highlight, though we once again have a long list of impressive supporting turns from the likes of Maggie Siff, Toby Leonard Moore and Condola Rashād. Christopher Denham also makes for an interesting addition here as the man sent to look into Chuck’s conduct, and while it seems like he may only stick around for the premiere, his work is nonetheless extremely effective.
Perhaps the only one to suffer is Malin Akerman, as Lara Axelrod continues to struggle to break out of the same type of thankless and mostly uninteresting storylines usually given to the wives of many male leads on television. That’s certainly a shame, and while Siff no doubt continues to provide Billions with a strong female lead, it wouldn’t hurt for the show to have at least one more.
The other thing worth mentioning here is that the slow burn approach doesn’t always work; the promise of the season 1 finale pointed to the battle intensifying between Axe and Chuck, and while things are clearly heading in that direction by the time the credits roll, it wouldn’t have hurt this episode to be faster paced in order to keep the momentum going. Thankfully, what we get here is strong enough to ensure that you’ll want to stick around to see what happens next, and enough new plot threads are set up to point to the rest of Billions‘ second season having the potential to rival, and potentially even outdo, the first.
Billions still boasts the same wonderfully meaty dialogue which helped it stand out during its debut year, while the anecdotes told by the characters prove to be every bit as captivating (this time, it’s a fascinating tale of a chess game in the park). It’s ultimately the characters who remain the main draw here, though. Their complexity is a treat to behold; beneath the confidence and swagger, Axe is clearly scared that his empire will crumble, hence why he takes such drastic measures to hold on to it. Chuck, meanwhile, is close to losing everything and frightened in a totally different way. He may have claimed last year that there’s nothing more dangerous than a man who has nothing to lose, but as these two go to war with each other, it’s clear that we’re about to see them take on their own demons as well.
A superb start to season 2 thanks to excellent performances from Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti, along with a compelling new status quo, ensures that Billions remains one of the best shows on television today.