It’s Truly One in a Billion
by Andrew Millman
I didn’t know this was even a show until last week, but let me tell you this show is batshit crazy in the best possible way. I was sick for most of spring break so I needed something to do and watching Billions seemed like the best available option. The basic premise of the show is a rivalry between Axe, a billionaire hedge fund manager, and Chuck Rhodes, a federal prosecutor in New York who wants to take him down. However, things are complicated because Chuck’s wife Wendy works for Axe as their phycologist. Chuck also has ambitions for political office that would benefit from taking down a high-profile figure like Axe.
I cannot recommend this show enough. The corruption and abuse of our financial system is one of the biggest factors driving unsustainable levels of inequality in this country. At the same time, it shows precisely why the government is unable to hold them accountable for their actions. Petty bureaucratic politics, fear of defeat hindering one’s public image, and the constant opportunity for a large pay-out to work for the very people you’re trying to put behind bars all hinder federal prosecutors’ ability to do their job properly and hold people like Axe to account.
The show functions as a Rorschach test of sorts. Whether you root for Axe or Chuck in the show, that says something about you. Axe is the type of person that Gabelli students aspire to be. He’s a scrappy guy who came from nothing (apparently, the show considers Yonkers to be emblematic of working-class grit) and didn’t go to an Ivy League school, but is still one of the wealthiest men in the world Never mind that he made his first billion off shorting the stocks of airline companies in the wake of 9/11. Chuck is the mirror opposite. He was born into wealth and has a trust fund that allows him not to worry about the financial pressures that most of his subordinates face. He seems to have a genuine desire for justice, but that motive is often paired with personal career advancement or an equally-compelling desire for revenge. He’s the ultimate stereotype of the petty bureaucrat.
The first season was a bit slow, but the last few episodes give a better sense of how the show will be going forward. For example, in one episode, Axe praised one of his employees, “Dollar” Bill, a bigamist with a secret second family, for not giving him up to prosecutors and excitedly tells him “I’m going to make you so fucking rich, you’ll be able to afford three families!”
Two of the best characters on the show are Taylor and Wags. Taylor is a new employee of Axe’s in the second season and seems to possess the same ability to read the markets that made her boss a billion if not a greater ability. They is also the first non-binary character on an American television show. That’s not just a great representational victory, but their presence also poses an implicit challenge to the jocular and almost-completely masculine culture of Axe’s hedge fund.
Conversely, Axe’s second-in-command Wags is unabashedly an old-school eccentric with a twisty mustache and goatee combo that makes him look like the villain in a western. But, a villain who knows he’s crazy and acts like a demented carnival barker.
I’ve only watched two seasons so far, but the show is currently in its fourth season and I can’t wait to watch it all. The best part of the show is that all of the characters are completely awful people who let petty grievances get in a way of their success. And, like, same.