Season 4 of Billions pressed the Reset Button… and became a snooze fest

I’ve been a fan of Billions since season 1, so much so, I would say I was addicted to season 1 and 2 of Billions.  However, my steam began to dissipate in season 3.  I don’t know if I was just burned-out on the entitlement, self-aggrandizement, greed, the sheer chaos and rampant tantrums of this current presidential administration that I just couldn’t stomach any more of this shit even if it was a scripted TV show. Characters that started out smart and savvy in seasons 1 & 2 became one-dimensional characters that made extremely stupid decisions, consumed with revenge to the point that season 4 felt like a boring and tired soap opera.  We saw old, inconsequential characters come back into the fold for very little interesting moves, which I thought, “that was a total waste of my time.”  For example, and this is only one example of many this season.  The episode which Axelrod takes his dead friend’s now grown-up son out on to the water to do some bonding through fishing sans cellphones.  As these two are ‘bonding,’  Axelrod has his team go after all of this man’s clients, simply because this now grown-up pays Axelrod back with a check and decides not to work with Axe any longer.  Really?  What was the point of this episode?  To show us how vengeful Axelrod is?  It felt like a filler episode and a waste of time.

 

Me, during the whole Season 4 

 

I’ve grown tired of the 1-trick pony characters to the point that I asked myself if they are even relevant to the success of this show or the day to day operations of Axe Capital. Also, I was irritated with everyone’s characters except for Taylor’s camp, but felt the dynamic of Taylor and his father was rushed and used solely for the set-up between Axe and Taylor.  Who do you root for when you know Axelrod will always win?  Is the show still thrilling when the viewer already knows that Axe will always come out on top?

Yes, Dollar Bill is necessary for the spontaneity and wild card of the bunch to bring in the money and some humor.  But, Dollar Bill fighting Mafee in a boxing-ring and egged on by Axelrod and Taylor.  Really tho? Really?  Ridiculous and not in a funny kind of way.

Wags’ clever banter and his random pop culture references were on point and funny throughout each season, but not even balling his eyes out with a professional hugger this season contributed to any character dimension.  Wags has had periodic yet fleeting existential moments throughout the seasons, in which he questioned his life, his work and his relationships or lack thereof, unfortunately, that’s where it stops. So, I ask, Is Wags just Axe’s business butler at this point?

Ari Spyros, WTF is his character there for anyway?  Comic relief? He espouses random movie references and literature quotes as if he’s on a Broadway stage.  Ari, the proverbial awkward kid that just wants to belong trying to edge his way into the group, yet falls flat every time.  I cringed every time his mouth opened. What exactly does Axe really need him for?  Compliance so Axe doesn’t go to jail. Ari, please just STFU and do your job or leave.

Then there’s Wendy.  She is so out of bounds and a total shit show that I’d say please get rid of her.  She is the Svengali of Axe Capital who manipulated, crossed major lines and boundaries to best….Taylor of all people.  Taylor, who has been authentic with Wendy from day one.  Wendy, by trade, is to ‘do no harm,’ yet she meticulously set out to destroy Taylor.  Who is Wendy?  A therapist, trader or consultant?  Pick one and stay in that lane.  Needless to say, I enjoyed when Taylor read Wendy her filth while Wendy’s response was one of a self-righteous, bible-thumping, pearl-clutching lady with a ‘how dare you!’ look.  If there ever was slap therapy, I’d use it on Wendy.

NEXT!

Taylor made a complaint to the board and Wendy’s license was up for suspension, but Axelrod comes to her rescue by bribing, I mean ‘donating’ 25 million to a Pancreatic cancer research facility.  Wendy sees this online via her Ipad, and really starts to see Axelrod in a whole different light as in  ‘Axelrod.. he really cares for me’ because in her mind, since Chuck didn’t put his job in any more danger to fix hers, somehow, he doesn’t love her.  So, she packs a bag and leaves the marital home she shares with Chuck and runs over to Axe’s penthouse because a hotel just doesn’t seem right.  Excuse me?  Makes me want to puke.  She has all that money she made with insider trading knowledge plus her Axe Capital bonuses in the millions during the season 2 finale and she just can’t find herself in a hotel?  Girl, bye.  Get a room, order room service, get a spa package, and have housekeeping clean up after you. No husband, no kids  = some peace.

How I feel about Wendy…

 

Which brings us to Chuck’s camp.  The icing on the cake for this patchwork season was the whole father-son sting to get Connerty.  You mean to tell me they had the foresight to set up a sting to get Connerty?  Not buying it.  They also made Connerty stupid for being blinded with revenge (key word throughout this season) going after Rhoades.  Aren’t there many more cases and issues to look into besides one person? Connerty was one of the brightest lawyers on the team concerned about integrity yet he tumbles so quickly putting his job, career, reputation and law license in that kind of jeopardy by breaking and entering into Chuck’s dad’s house- himself?????!!!!!! And we’re supposed to believe this?  Chuck gets off free of a dirty real estate deal. Chuck’s dad gets off free of the same dirty real estate deal.  And Connerty goes down?

Come On! Not Buying it.

On a Sidenote: Remember Ira, Chuck’s friend that Chuck steamrolled and made Ira lose all of his money?  We saw Ira, this season with his wife having a baby.  Huh? We last saw Ira’s ‘wife’ when she was grifting him out of money with her boyfriend in season 2.  Chuck threatened something to her about leaving Ira, returning his money and she wouldn’t be prosecuted.  But Ira, the schmuck, decided to stay because he couldn’t really afford to divorce.  Somehow, she’s now put her grifting ways aside and pushed out a baby?  This girl was ALL about money and now she’s a happy homemaker?  Again, where did this come from???!!!  Doesn’t even make sense.  So many things this season just doesn’t make sense.

One last icing on the cake that made this season a whole bunch of eyerolls for me was Axe’s Grey’s Anatomyesque diatribe explaining to Rebecca (his girlfriend) why he cut her off at the knees in his take over of Saler’s- her company.  I was done.  When does Axe use those many words to get his point across?

Obviously, by the end of the finale, we see season 4 was a reset button.  Taylor and her team (Mafee) are at Axe Capital, Axelrod hasn’t really lost anything, Wendy still has her license, and Chuck is still a government lawyer.  Now, Chuck is pissed and feels Axelrod is honing in on his relationship (a feeling that was slightly explored in seasons 1 & 2).  Season 4 was about revenge, Axelrod’s and Chuck’s revenge, actually everyone’s revenge and it made for a very long and boring season.  Season 5 seems to be set up with Axe and Chuck being adversaries again.  We’ll see if it becomes the thrilling and intelligent show it started out as or just another patchwork filler on TV.

Some Ideas and some questions:

Character development either through flashbacks or present-day problems. Flashbacks of how Wendy came aboard AxeCap.  We’ve heard the lingo in season 1 or 2, but we lost all the body language.  Was there a triangle between Axe, Wendy and Axe’s Ex-wife?  Was Wendy already married to Chuck when she met Axe?   Flashbacks could breathe new life into these relationships and dynamics.

Loose ends either explored or tied up with an explanation so that the viewer isn’t thinking, “Where the hell did this come from? or “Did I miss something?”

Where are all the kids that were introduced in season 1?  Are they now adults with their own lives?  Highly Doubt it. What kind of fathers are these two men to their growing children?  What is their relationship with their children?  What is Wendy’s? Does this affect all parents involved? How does it affect the kids?  Are Axe’s kids entitled?  Are Chuck’s and Wendy’s kids angry?  You can’t have all that undercover sexual BDSM seeping out of parents and kids not pick up on it somehow.  Impossible. Think Porn, lack of boundaries = sexually ‘suggestive’ at a young age, drugs, need for control, eating disorders etc.  Are the kids getting bullied at school since Chuck outed himself as BDSM?  Why wasn’t this addressed in this season or maybe I slept through it.

Where is Axelrod’s Ex? Does she have a new man?  if so, make him in the same industry. Would Axelrod care?  Can Rebecca invest in Axelrod’s Ex-wife’s venture?

I would like to see Axelrod get bested at something, however small.  Let him be rejected by a woman that he really desires, or maybe his kids reject him. Explore Axelrod’s and Wendy’s present-day relationship.  It seemed Axelrod didn’t listen to her advice yet still said she was valuable to the team.  Wendy felt slighted.  Having Axelrod lose confidence in Wendy’s ability, but still wanting her to work at AxeCap would be interesting to see.  Why does he rescue Wendy and keep her around if he’s lost confidence in her?  Does Axe really love her?  Will Axe now see her as too needy (needing to sleep at this place) or does he see her as property that he fully cannot have- until now?  BTW- Axe has pretty much controlled Wendy with his money.  Now that he has her, does he really want her?  Would Axelrod keep her at arm’s length and be interested in someone else?

Will Wags and Taylor’s right-hand woman bond?  Will Wags actually spend more time in his existential crisis? If so, how can he work for Axe Cap and fill his void?

As for Wendy, If she’s still practicing, have Axelrod and some on the team lose confidence in her skills. How does she handle that?  Is Wendy trading one man for another thinking they are different only to find out these two men are the same? She’s a therapist after all, fully aware of patterns.  Also, Wendy was so concerned why Chuck chose her, but why did she choose Chuck?  What boundaries has she crossed to appease the men in her life?  After all, she did agree to be the Dominatrix to her husband to save his career prior to Chuck’s outing. Flashbacks into their relationship as it turned toward his BDSM would be interesting as well as her own original family.   Psychologically, these two found each other for a reason and she keeps the same type of men in her orbit.

Finally, can we get rid of the guest spots by the creme de la creme of the NY and TV cooking world and billionaires of this country?  I understand the show wants the viewer to be reminded that Axe’s money can literally buy a personal chef for a dinner, but there is often no screen fluidity with these scenes. The real-life chefs have no screen presence and the viewer is taken out of that scene.  Instead of me saying, ‘Axe has all the money in the world to get a personalized dinner from a famous chef,’  I’m instead saying, ‘wow that real life chef cannot act,’ and just like that the viewer is taken out of the show.  This is becoming like those random guest spots on Empire, instead of black people, music, and fashion, it’s white people, food and money.  Use an actor and keep the viewer in the story.

As a viewer, I had no investment into these characters this season and no real desire to learn what happened to them next.  It was a snore to see Axelrod so petty and trifling, concerned with small fish.  Is he now Trump?  It’s also boring to see Axelrod, Chuck, and Wendy win all the time.  What story is there to tell if they all, always come out on top and unscathed?

 

What are your thoughts about Billions season 4?  Do you still enjoy Billions?  Is it still worth your time?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sociopathy and the men of Billions….

Hey all, I’m not sure about you but I’ve been addicted to Billions, the show on Showtime with Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti?  This is a show about two bulls locked in a battle with U.S Attorney, Chuck Rhodes played by Giamatti attempting to put Wall Street billionaire Bobby Axelrod, played by Lewis away (somehow) for securities fraud.   I thought Billions was going to be a scripted tv-show based on displaying the ‘gluttony’ of the wealthy 1%, but with my two favorite actors, it is so SO much more.  It is about wealth, class, inequality, politics, the intricate and convoluted weaving between politics and Wall Street, who has power over whom and the psychology of it all.  It really could be a character or psychological study of our financial and political times of today.  And I F-ing love it!

This was me the other night watching the prelude to the season 2 finale :

I was on pins and needles during Sunday night’s episode, with the many twists and turns like a cloak and dagger mystery. And as usual, I look through the lens of psychology when looking at some tv-shows and this one is so brilliant, that it keeps me guessing about the characters’ psychology/sociopathy scale. It’s no secret that the Wall Street, Political, Law, Business, Marketing/Media industries and high-level individuals have a propensity to score higher than average on the narcissism, sociopath index scales (Hare, R. Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us, 1999;  Konnikova, M. The Confidence Game, 2016).  Besides the current real-life administration, Billions provides a glimpse into the psychology.

Again, there are many elements that Billions addresses but I’m most interested in the psychology of various characters, especially the main characters. Both men are…complex, like all of us.  Life is complicated and so are you.

Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) head of Axe Capital has acquired his billions through gut instinct, knowledge, bribery and some other not so nice behavior.  He wants to win, to be the top dog.  Winning and acquiring (money, companies) are his thing.  He makes the plays, the decisions and manipulates the world financial market in his favor.  Needless to say, making these decisions while increasing his coffers, will destitute the many others that have no face and he doesn’t lose sleep over it.  Limitations are meant to be crossed.  Bobby also has a henchman that finds other people’s weakness’ or soft spots to exploit or threaten them to his favor when needed.  Yet, Axelrod has been faithfully monogamous to his wife of 15 years with telling one lie in those 15 years. Despite being able to buy just about anything and anyone, Axelrod isn’t out with other women, escorts, strippers and the like until the wee hours of the morning nor does he lie to his wife.  So, by all accounts, he is loyal, monogamous, doesn’t use substances and is honest (direct) with his wife.  The relationship seems to be his rock, his stability despite his love for making money and besting others, but does he love his wife or does he see her as a possession or his property?  What’s interesting about this, is that a narcissist, sociopath will mistreat and abuse his/her spouse yet they are dependent upon them, so when the spouse has had enough and wants to leave, the narcissistic/sociopath will become unglued and attempt to ‘destroy’ their partner any way they can.

Verdict so far:  He has some deficiencies and may exhibit characteristics but Bobby Axelrod isn’t a full-blown sociopath.   What gives it away is: Although he compartmentalizes his behavior, he isn’t reckless with his relationship, he doesn’t lie or cheat on his wife nor does he engage in substances.  You see his entitlement through what he can purchase, but that entitlement hasn’t carried over to his marriage-yet. Personally, I’ve been waiting for how Axelrod will let off some steam in his personal life because he is very well-controlled and well-controlled people can’t do that for too long before some (possibly deviant) behavior arises.  It’s like a politician that looks squeaky clean on the outside proclaiming the importance of family values (monogamy and anti-gay) but finds himself trolling for men in a public bathroom or a politician who made it his goal to clean up the prostitution industry in his city only to procure the services of an escort on a regular basis.

Which brings us to Chuck Rhodes, another complex character.  Giamatti’s character is a U.S. Attorney fighting for justice for the underdog with political ambitions in season 2.   He’s the highest of the law in his jurisdiction, so what kind of pressure do you think he’s under on a daily basis?  Well, to let off some steam, Rhodes enjoys S&M Bondage with him submitting, taking orders and being ‘punished’ with pain – by his wife. That was their agreement, otherwise if news got out, it would cost him his position.   Having worked with and heard many, many things as a counselor which no longer draws a surprise, this was a brilliant characterization by the Billions writers and pretty spot on.  I can understand it, psychologically.  High pressure, high level jobs and having to perform (profits) as well as having multiple professional and personal responsibilities on your shoulders, and the power or wealth that comes with the position wields a lot of stress for one individual and can be exhausting.  It’s no wonder that he would enjoy being dominated and told what to do.  What a breather that must be for him to submit to the will of another albeit momentarily.   Psychologically speaking on this subject, the backstory can go anywhere.

On to sociopathy for Rhodes.  Rhodes set Bobby up at the literal financial expense of losing his Trust (worth millions), his father placing all of his liquidity (is that a word?) as well as Rhodes’ friend, Ira selling his shares back to his law firm and just about quit his job.  Should I put friend in quotes? Probably.  Rhodes knew what he was doing.  He served his father and his friend up like a platter of sashimi for his own needs, to ruin Axelrod.  Rhodes knew or at least hoped that Axelrod would do something to make the stock plummet.  This is where Axelrod’s bribing comes in. He bribed a chemist for vials of a bio-hazardous material that would leave the recipient with stomach issues for a week, kind of like Chipotle.  Axelrod also paid people to ingest this hazardous material while drinking the Ice Juice.  Come to find out, Rhodes was the brainchild of this sting.  In addition to flanking his father and his friend, Rhodes seemed to use his wife’s position as Axelrod’s company therapist to gain information.   After Wendy, Rhodes’ wife visits him at his office to warn him (btw- she risked violating confidentiality) that Axelrod is shorting the stock and to get out of the stock ASAP, Chuck treated her like the enemy and spoke to her with such condescension and disdain that he left her head spinning. Where the hell did that come from?

Verdict so far:  Even though Rhodes fights for the underdog, does he do it for justice because it’s the right thing to do or does he do it to win, to gain in his position?  Since Rhodes masterminded this whole sting (he lied), knowing and not warning anyone close to him such as his father and friend about not investing their life savings, and using his wife for information to fulfill his own needs and desires without thought of the devastation to the one’s closest to him or his marriage, I’d say this is calculated and reckless behavior.  So, I’d say he’s pretty high on the narcissism/sociopath/machiavellian scale.

Sociopathy and narcissism are fluid and progressive depending on circumstances and environment, they’re not born, they’re made.  Power and money are great aphrodisiacs and will bloat the ego exponentially.  Are these two characters simply blinded by pride, revenge, and winning?  The writers do a great job with walking that fine line and they do an even better job with no clear answers of who the  ‘good guy’ vs ‘bad guy’ really is.

This show.  So. Damn. Good.