A Billion Times Better

With the season finale approaching, Billions may be ready to leave. But more importantly, it’s back!

There are two episodes of this season to go, Billions has once again become worth its weight in gold. This season has found its center of gravity by resetting the centers of power.

Money & Power

On this show, allegiances only last as long as you can pay for them with cash and favors. So it wasn’t a chore for writers to really shake things up. By moving Chuck out of the U.S. Attorney job it stripped him of his power and gave him a new foe: his former protege, Connerty. And after his ill-fated bid for Governor, Chuck was able to win New York Attorney General. But to foil the plans of a dying blackmailer, he had to go on TV and fess up to his S&M fetishes with his wife, Wendy.

So he gained new power, but lost a powerful ally. Plus you know his dad’s nefarious land development is a ticking time bomb waiting to blow up in his face.

Wendy found herself in the unusual position of fighting for survival. The Chuck-induced public humiliation was just the beginning. She got personally involved in Axe’s revenge plans against Taylor.

That let them to make a complaint to the ethics board about Wendy’s practices and has her fighting for her professional life and groveling to Taylor for forgiveness. However, it has brought her closer to Axe. As she gets a better understanding of her relationship with him, she’s refocusing her views on Chuck.

What that will mean for Axe’s personal and professionally profitable relationship with Rebecca Cantu is yet to be determined. But what we do know is that Axe is the most together man on the show.

His business is a cash cow, he’s got a hot successful girlfriend, and the relationships he’s cultivated for decades, most notably Wags and Wendy, are paying off with unquestioned loyalty. But it also let him form a not-too-contrived alliance with Chuck. Axe’s money bought favors to help propel Chuck to elected office, and Bobby’s cashing in at every turn.

As for Taylor, they’ve had a personal reckoning with their dad, struggled to stay one step ahead of Axe, Wendy, et al, and gotten into bed with the nefarious Russian oligarch played brilliantly by John Malkovich. (But really, John Malkovich plays every role brilliantly) Now that alliance is gone or at least dormant. With Axe, Wendy, and Chuck aligned against them, Taylor is the odd person out.

While our four principals have had active seasons, the supporting characters in their orbit have been more like small meteors than moons that have any real gravitational pull. Characters like Dan Kim, Mafee, and “Dollar” Bill serve to facilitate the plot when called upon and offer some comic relief, but not much else. And what is going on with Ari? As an actor, Stephen Kunken plays him well. But as a character Ari is underdeveloped and is little more than a FOOL foil.

And on a side note: Wags is still a major player, but him needing a Cuddling Coach and loud crying was silly and beneath his character.

Granted, the writers started laying the groundwork for much of this at the end of last season, but overall, season three was a..

Three For All

The reason so much of this is important is because the show was really, really, off last season. The story arcs felt like they were written to be two seasons long. After that the characters seemed free to go wherever they wanted. I could compare it to House of Cards, which indeed was written as 26 episodes, and split over two years. That show went spiraling in season three and never regained its footing. Having to boot Kevin Spacey gave them an excuse to bring the show to a somewhat merciful, yet still unsatisfying end.

And Billions was traveling down that same road at break-neck speed:

-Introducing a swaggering Texan as the new Attorney General was a pandering gesture to seem topical
-Ice Juice was contrived and never fulfilling as a story
-Putting Chuck and Axe in the jail cell together was disingenuous and Chuck’s smugness seemed overly smug, even by his smug standards
-The All the Wilbury’s episode stuck to the theme of the title to the point of tedium

Those are the ones just off the top of my head. I could go on for hours if I went back to review each episode and inane subplot, but I want to focus on the positive. And the positive is a rebirth in season four.

The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation

A Diamond Is Forever cocktail. Available at the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo, it comes with 18-karat gold is to include a 1-karat diamond. Cost: $22,600. That would put a dent in even Bobby Axelrod’s AMEX limit.

Cheers!

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