‘Billions’ – a tale of how we use power

Billions - the balance between government and private citizens

Photo: James Minchin/Showtime

Hard to decide what to start with. Paul Giamatti’s exceptional performance (which inspired the word POWER in the title), or the meticulously knitted dialogue, or the ever more addictive story, or the great subject: the friction, the gray zone where government power and free citizens/businesses meet and exercise their rights and duties?

A tale that makes citizens and administrators rethink their interaction in a society we believe is one of the best balanced in the world. ‘Billions’ creates an immense ground for analysis, an airy environment for unexpected ideas and tart emotions. The actors are mostly fresh faces, extremely devoted, talented, and under masterful direction. The new, fragmented landscape of the movie industry, populated with new players from the online streaming platforms, redefines the chances and purpose of stars, as more actors are needed, and yesterday’s supporting role players suddenly become stars. Good news is, not only the new giants Netflix and Amazon produce amazing content, but also a relatively marginal player, like Showtime.

So the Mr. nice guy, who usually depicts a reliable government employee, an FBI agent, is now a growing monster, living in the slippery skin of a district attorney with disturbed soul, full of good intentions and talent for intrigues.

The difference in skill sets needed to succeed in private business and government administration was never made so clear. Extremely high IQ is a precondition, lack of empathy is mandatory. Chasing goals vs chasing profit. The aesthetic pleasure of winning, when money – or higher position – is no longer the goal. So close to a superhero fantasy! Everyone has a super-skill, battles are quiet, no downtowns are destroyed, but the tension and the energy invested are the same.

The gigantic ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ seems like a prelude to the real deal, which is ‘Billions’ – because we got here an antithesis and an alter ego, so the picture is full now. But the creators of Billions learned everything they needed to know from Di Caprio and his teammates’ insane journey.

The unavoidable politically correct elements are almost easy to swallow, as we’ve seen much worse. The main character is supposed to be the female
psychiatrist Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff). She is supposed to outsmart everyone, be above all other characters, her moves are always right and supported by the story writers. Plus some sexual adventures and moderate interest for money and belongings, In fact, she reminds me a Komsomol (the communist youth organization) secretary from my youth in ex-communist Bulgaria. She could be a colorful personage, a third engine, moving the story forward, but is actually dragging us back, slowing the dynamics down – again, for purely political reasons.

After we honored the feminist movement, it’s time to pay tribute to the LGBT movement, with the introduction of Asia Kate Dillon as Taylor Amber Mason – a transgender/genderless intern with magical superpowers, outsmarting everyone, by far. This almost superhuman could be a nice and spicy element of the story, if we weren’t in 2019, when it just sounds annoying and insulting.

I couldn’t skip the amazing performance and presence of David Costabile as Mike “Wags” Wagner. With satyr-like face, loaded with the unimaginable task to be an unique, unexpected COO, who handles every situation and everyone in the office.

We owe this gem to Brian Koppelman and David Levien, whom we know from Ocean’s Thirteen’s. Apparently they also needed the expertise of Andrew Ross Sorkin, a financial analyst for NYT.

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