Billions: Naming Rights

In the second episode of Showtime’s newest hit show Billions, Chuck Rhoades is aspiring to be more ‘human’ at work – even though he likes to be treated like an animal in the bedroom – while Bobby Axelrod continues to throw his name and money around. 

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Main Title Rush Job
For some reason, when television pilots air, they usually don’t have a main title sequence yet. As if the network wants to see the ratings first, before spending money on cool graphics and a catchy tune. Since Showtime has already renewed Billions for a second season, I don’t know what went wrong here. The show did get something main title-ish, but it looks like a twenty-second rush job. It definitely doesn’t match the overall slick tone and the fancy world of money and power, and certainly doesn’t excite the viewer enough to keep watching. It’s the word ‘Billions’, white on black, a stock image of Manhattan from above, and a shared ‘created by’ credit, also white on black, showing the names of Brian Koppelman (Tilt, Rounders, Ocean’s Thirteen), David Levien (also Tilt, Rounders, Ocean’s Thirteen) and Andrew Ross Sorkin (journalist, writer of Too Big to Fail and no relation to Aaron Sorkin).

Small Timer
Like Chuck (Paul Giamatti) says in the pilot, he wants Bobby (Damian Lewis) to be stabbed a few times first (metaphorically speaking), before going after him. In other words, he’s waiting till somebody else goes full Revenant on him. Then it’s time to step in and put him away. That’s why Chuck’s got his sights set on small timer Steven Birch (Jerry O’Connell) for the moment. He could send him to jail for 11 years, if they go to trial, that is. However, Chuck’s conscience plays up. He’s willing to settle, and so is Steven. I can see another deal being made between Chuck and Steven in the future, to get more information about Bobby.

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Mole
Lurking around in the shadows at the US Attorney’s office, is Tara Mohr (Annapurna Sriram), who’s being blackmailed by shadow man Hall (Terry Kinney), Bobby’s go-to guy for things like these. She’s snorted cocaine off of another woman – a woman who set her up, because she taped the whole thing – and that’s something very much frowned upon, if not worse, by her bosses. So Bobby’s placed a mole, which could (and probably will) be very interesting. He and Chuck don’t meet in ‘Naming Rights’, though. The most intense scene in the pilot featured both key players, but I guess having them bump into each other too often would quickly diminish that intensity. As a side effect, episode 2 does feel a bit twofold. Two sides going about their businesses without much overlap.

Secret Sauce
While Chuck’s getting his grip on Steven, Bobby’s company Axe Capital is suddenly overrun by a dozen SEC agents. They’ve come to investigate and interrogate. Personnel is questioned about the ways they decided to invest, and it’s tough; you don’t lie to this Steve character (the great presence of Ezra Knight) if you care about your bones staying intact. Is it their brilliant computer program which accurately predicts the stock market? No. They all seem to have gotten ‘an anonymous tip’. Alarm bells go off, because it’s hard to run a company on tips alone; there must be insider trading going on here. Luckily for everybody, this was all orchestrated by Bobby. If the real SEC had shown up, they’d be in serious trouble. It’s a wakeup call, for everyone. It’s the end of the line for Victor (Louis Cancelmi, Boardwalk Empire – yes, Cancelmi), who got ‘flagged’ because of his over the line work ethics, and gets sacked. Wendy (Maggie Siff) manages to smooth things over, convince Victor not to tell the world about Axe Capital’s ‘secret sauce’, but Bobby’s clearly made himself another enemy, who could bite him in the ass down the line.

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Maggie Siff
Despite the absence of another Chuck/Bobby face off, and most of the technical mumbo-jumbo going over my head, I love the show. You don’t have to be spoon fed every single detail to enjoy drama. Especially Maggie Siff is a nice surprise. I never cared much for Tara Knowles – the character she played on Sons of Anarchy. The part of Wendy Rhoades fits her much better. She has a real Paget Brewster (Huff, Criminal Minds) quality to her, and that’s a big compliment in my book.

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