June 9, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Billions”


Showtime’s BILLIONS has cultivated one of the most recognizable signatures on television, from its rudely epigrammatic dialogue, to its love/hate relationship with its ruthless, narcissistic characters, to its very narrative devices.  Tonight’s Season 4 finale, written by series co-creators David Levien and Brian Koppelman and directed by experienced Billions hand Colin Bucksey, was precisely on-brand.

A large chunk of its structure was a reprise of its classic Ice Juice reveal, a let’s-take-another-look-at-the-entire-season set of flashbacks to present the full extent of an elaborate con job.  If this season’s master plan was less fun than the Ice Juice scam, that may be because it was never really convincing that Bryan Connerty (Toby Leonard Moore) could come close to bringing down Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), his onetime mentor and still his master in all things.  By the time the episode had Connerty frantically trying to track down the identity of the “idiot” referred to on the supposedly surreptitious surveillance tape between Chuck, his father Charles Sr (the always fabulously mortifying Jeffrey DeMunn), Chuck’s best friend and attorney Ira (Ben Shenkman) and Secretary of the Treasure Todd Krakow (Danny Strong), it was obvious that Connerty was going to recognize that name all too well when he heard it.  Koppelman and Levien may also have overplayed their hand with the very specific scrutiny of the flag pin Chuck gave Connerty’s colleague Kate Sacker (Condola Rashad).

The upshot was that the sting was more fun than thrilling.  Similarly, the finale as a whole was more satisfying as a set-up for what should be a bang-up Season 5 than as a a concluding hour.  Koppelman and Levien have all but pulled the trigger on one of the biggest cards they’ve had in their pocket since Billions began, as Chuck’s wife Wendy (Maggie Siff) walked out on him when she realized that he’d done nothing to help restore her medical license, and turned up inevitably at Bobby Axelrod’s (Damian Lewis) apartment, technically her boss but truly her soulmate–and the man who’d spent $25M to get her license back.  With Wendy in a bed literally steps from Axe’s, the frenemy-ship between Chuck and Axe is about to explode once more into enmity.

One of the notable developments of Season 4 was the increasing prominence of Taylor Mason (Asia Kate Dillon) into a virtual co-lead with Chuck, Wendy and Axe, and they will clearly be even closer to the center of Season 5, as each man believed he had Taylor in his own trap, while Taylor plotted to bring down the whole rotten group.  Dillon has proven to be as magnetic as the rest of the cast, and an all-out war among them should be highly enjoyable.

The need to spend much of the finale dealing with major plot points meant that the season’s final hour had limited time for the side characters that provide much of Billions‘s joy:  Wags (David Costabile) above all, and the other denizens of Axe Cap, including Dollar Bill (Kelly AuCoin), Spyros (Stephen Kunken) and Bonnie (the terrific, and Tony-nomianted, Sarah Stiles).  (An additional pleasure of Season 5 will be that as Taylor is returning to enforced indenture at Axe Cap, prodigal trader Mafee (Dan Soder) will come along too.)  It was also too bad that Rebecca Cantu (Nina Arianda) was reduced in the end to sputtering at Axe’s evil scheming, although she’ll certainly have motivation to return with revenge on her mind.

The return of hostilities between Axe and Chuck, and the complications with Wendy and Taylor, gives Billions the feel of a series moving toward its endgame, closer to the end than the start.  That would be wise on everyone’s part, because as much of a delight as Billions is, at some point diminishing returns will set in, and as every character on the show knows very well, it’s critical to know when to bail out of an investment.  Here’s hoping Billions cashes out while its market is still high.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."