I Don’t Think I Like ‘Billions’ But I Can’t Seem to Stop Watching It


#1

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It is anathema to every political feeling I have, about equality and egalitarianism and “no ethical consumption under capitalism,” but I’ve been watching Billions. It’s, of course, prestige-ass prestige TV about a scumbag billionaire (Bobby Axelrod, played by Damian Lewis) and his empire of influence, and the principled, but also-privileged Attorney General (Chuck Rhoades, Paul Giamatti at his finest) who is out to get him. There’s tension and weight to each man’s motivations and relationships, each guy’s style of wheeling and dealing and making things happen in the world.

I think I hate every person on this show. They are selfish. Petty. Sometimes cruel. But crucially, it’s so well-written that I keep watching.

And there are characters that I suppose I hate less, though I still wouldn't care for them, as people. Like Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff), Chuck’s wife who works as a therapist to the insanely wealthy traders who work for Bobby. And Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon), a brilliant non-binary person who makes their way up the ladder at Bobby’s firm, proud of themself and their work. Both of these characters are fascinating and nuanced—and far more interesting, I think, than the leads, who work as two sides of the same coin, but run on different brands of masculine hyper confidence.

Taylor, especially, confounds me. I loved them—their confidence, their competence, their clipped, precise way of speaking—until a season two monologue about the nature of the world as they see it (regarding a small town’s financial health and survival) soured me entirely. I’m dancing around spoilers, but “become antifragile or die” is the main point here, and it sucks. They are an intelligent, articulate speaker, and even terrible ideas can sound palatable in such a context.

Most of Billions is propelled by toxic ideology. Even Chuck, as the guy who wants to bring down “bad guys” and make the world a little more fair, gets his hands dirty and steps on people to advance. He’ll play the game, because everyone needs to play the game, on this show. In this reality.

So, yes, I’ll probably keep watching Billions. And I’ll keep feeling disgusted by these characters and their actions, just as much as I’m compelled to watch them, feeling ever more secure in my own anti-capitalist leanings. It's all very predictable, I suppose. Maybe it's even the point!

How about you, dear reader? Is there a show or game or movie that is so antithetical to your worldview, but, for some reason, you can’t look away? Let’s take it to the forums!


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/3kjgy9/i-dont-think-i-like-billions-but-i-cant-seem-to-stop-watching-it

#2

The thing I really enjoy about Billions is all the political maneuvering and business machinations. It’s presented in a pretty digestible way without being stripped of all nuance. The characters are almost all intentionally hate-able, but not in a hey-we’re-all-flawed-humans kind of way, they’re just bad people or had to do bad things to get where they are.

I will watch Damian Lewis do an American accent in anything though. It gets a little iffy in some episodes of Billions, but it’s kind of like a magic trick the rest of the time.


#3

Any kind of culture built on, as you put it, “masculine hyper-confidence” is deeply alienating and scary to me, but I think this show does a really finely judged job of depicting that kind of behaviour without holding it up as any kind of ideal. Sometimes I do find myself wishing the producers would tip their hands just a tiny bit more about how deplorable they actually think this or that ruthless action is, but courting bad fans (cf Breaking Bad) is always going to be a danger with fiction like this, no matter what.

Do smack me down if links to other journalistic outlets are frowned upon – I’m new – but I’ve found Sean T. Collins’ writing on the show for the New York Observer/Times* really valuable in helping to unpack the various complicated feelings I keep having while watching Billions. He’s a v. insightful critic, with a perspective that’s often a useful corrective to the consensus of most of his colleagues in other major TV-covering outlets (see also his stuff on Game of Thrones, Fargo and Boardwalk Empire)

(*link goes to the Billions tag on Sean’s personal site, with links to every episode review, for all three seasons)


#4

I made a short film satire on Billions:
Trillions