My Love Letter to Billions

No matter how busy I get, I am going to try to do some semi-long form writing every week. Writing is one of the ways I organize my thoughts and keep myself sane. The writer, Chuck Klosterman, once said this of himself on a podcast and I’ve remembered it ever since because I’m the same way:

“I often don’t know how I feel about something until I write about it.”

While I generally write for myself, occasionally I do enjoy putting my writing “out there” to see what kind of response it solicits from the world wide unknown. It’s fun! It’s also a good barometer to see how in-sync I am with the general masses writ large. I formerly posted to FB but have found engagement on that platform to be quite low. So recently I’ve taken to Reddit where I’ve found, probably due to the anonymous nature of that site, the engagement to be much higher. Surprisingly, the comments are generally more insightful, helpful, and civil.

So here’s my writing for this week where I wrote about my undying affection for the TV show, Billions, which airs on Showtime. As a fun aside: This show launched in Jan 2016 and was the inspiration for first piquing my interest in day trading! That’s when this whole adventure began!

My Love Letter to Billions

I wanted to just take a moment out of my day today to write this love letter to Billions. It heartens me to see other posters commenting that they loved this episode too. I totally agree that ep 10 was fantastic! I’ve been a longtime lurker on the Billions reddit boards and have noticed a general trend of folks voicing varying degrees of disappointment and dissatisfaction with S4. So I wanted to just write a quick post today to give my humble two cents of why I continue watching the show.

Though I agree S4 may sit a hair below S1 and S2 in the great pantheon, I steadily maintain that when Billions is at its finest, it’s unequivocally the best show on television. At the day’s end, Billions isn’t a show for everyone. It’s not Big Bang Theory or GoT. I know the constant deluge of pop culture references annoy many people. And I will be the first to admit that (especially since I’m a product of the 90s), many of the references fly over my head. But I simply treat much of that material as “learning opportunities.” ACDC was a tight-knit group? Check. Who are Lisa Ann and Corey Chase? Check. Etc. I spend most of my days sheltered indoors in front of my computer programming and whatnot. Billions is one of the few ways I’ve been able to obtain an education after leaving the hallowed halls of ivory tower land so I’ve been grateful to Koppelman and Levien for all of the knowledge they’ve dropped.

Why I love Billions:

1. There is some bonafide acting in this show. I’ve enjoyed watching Paul Giamatti on screen ever since I saw him as the villain in Shoot ‘Em Up opposite of Clive Owen (2007). Then when he made a cameo as the Rhino villain in that ludicrous Rhino-mecha suit at the end of TASM2, that was truly the kicker that made me love the man. Here’s a guy who’s been an Oscar nominee (Cinderella Man, 2006) as well as a Golden Globe and Primetime Emmy award winner (as founding father, John Adams (2008), to boot) but isn’t so high and mighty that he can’t ham it up as a Spidey villain in a superhero film. Obviously I don’t know the man personally, but Mr. Giamatti– I salute you, good sir. You are truly a national treasure.

Damian Lewis I’ll admit to being unfamiliar with before watching Billions. I’ve never watched Homeland or Band of Brothers before. The only thing I’d actually seen him in before was a horror flick called Dreamcatcher that was honestly forgettable. I don’t remember much, if anything, from that film at all other than he was in it.

But by golly Lewis as Axe in Billions is phenomenal. Just his American accent alone is miraculous to behold. The first time I heard him do an interview in some YouTube clip somewhere and realized that he was actually British, that blew my mind. I have no idea what the lives of billionaires are actually like but I feel the role of Axe was custom built for Lewis– the man is brilliant without parallel. Which leads to my second point:

2. This show is both a guilty pleasure as well as endlessly educational. I will never in a billion years, in this lifetime or the next, possess anywhere close to the amount of wealth that Axe has amassed. Ever. So it really fascinates and piques my curiosity to see how the 1% live. Is this show accurate to real life? I know much of it is certainly inspired by real life events. So I’m just gonna assume Billions is a source of truth when it comes to this stuff. Did you know there are professional Cuddlers? Or that billionaires can avoid taxes on art and luxury items with “freeports?” All of this is new to me and blows my mind. Back to my earlier point, I consider Billions a newfound educational pillar of my adulthood. From pop culture references to all of the “problems” that the 1% face and the creative solutions that they come up with, this show is a voyeuristic window that legitimately teaches me something every time I watch it. How many other shows can actually claim to teach you new things every episode?

3. This is a show of moments. I’ve seen some reddit commenters complain that “real people don’t talk like that.” Personally, I feel this is one of the most unfair criticisms that can be leveled at the show. If you were a dog lover, would you show up at a duck pond and then complain about the quacking? No! You’d just go to a dog park. I don’t watch Billions to watch “real dialogue.” I’ve got real life for that. No, I watch Billions to watch moments like the first time Axe and Chuck met in that lobby in S1. Or the time when they met at the Yale Club. Or to hear Axe growl lines like, “When I take a deal off the table, I leave behind Nagasaki.” Or seeing in my mind’s eye, Chuck Jr. saying to Sr. “A little more medicine.” when Sr. is stuck in that CrossCo trade. Good God, just thinking about it now makes me smile. And to be fair, those moments have kept coming. Even now, from memory, I can recall at least half a dozen if not a full dozen. Axe and Lara discussing –in panic!– “How will we live solely off of $300 million?” or Axe saying to Taylor, “This dipshit marina is too shallow for my boat.” or later, “This is rarified air; that’s why they call it the kill zone.”

Anyway, you guys get it. A good show might have a handful of notable quotables if it’s memorable. But Billions seems to reel one off every few episodes. Scenes, that I’ll just be randomly standing in the queue at the grocery store and then suddenly think of. That’s how good this show is. And to be fair, this show has continued delivering in S4. Chuck purging the state assembly while quoting Julius Caesar when he’s up in Albany was glorious.

4. This show –excluding all of the illegal stuff, obviously– gives me a guiding light by which how I wish to lead my own life. Billions, for me at least, has somehow walked a tightrope of being both a show with both larger-than-life characters as well as intricate character studies. I’ve personally been fascinated with Wendy’s nosedive in S4 as she grapples with her own true character and morality. Like many great shows, Billions is a different show to different people. People all tune in for a variety of reasons. But Wendy’s tale of self-deception– of believing she was something she was clearly not, and then having to reconcile that emotional conflict and turmoil, resonates with me. Even as an adult, just when you think you know everything about yourself there is to know, there’s always a new experience or circumstance that unexpectedly arises and tests your values and character. And sometimes what you learn about yourself you’re not proud of. And then you simply struggle to find a way forward and re-baseline.

Anyway, back to Chuck and Axe (and even Taylor, to a certain degree) as my guiding lights– here are the lessons I’ve learned from each of them:

a. I love, admire, and utterly respect Chuck’s sense of absolute right and wrong. When he was in that dog park and took the rando to task for not picking up after his dog— that was fantastic. This Kantian notion that with every act you perform, you are acting “for all of Man.” I hope one day I’ll possess that moral absoluteness. So much of my adulthood has been all about having to accept “the grey area.” I wish I’ll be someone someday who has the wealth, power, and influence to simply be myself without ever having to compromise.

b. Axe– If I ever find a woman who will be willing to marry me one day, you better believe I’m going to lock and load a “this is the exact moment I fell in love with you” story. It’ll be right there in my back pocket when I’m ready to deploy it. (Another reddit commenter said something to this effect in another thread, just FYI. I’m just echoing his/her sentiments.) The moment is incredibly romantic, right? While it may be true, I sincerely don’t believe any woman ever wants to hear– “Oh, Idk. It happened slowly, over time.” Life imitates art, no? How did Tyrion put it? “What unites us are stories,” after all. Moving forward, I want my own life, in its own small way, to aspire for the grandiosity of Axe’s life. I want a story that I can one day tell my children and my children’s children.

Additionally, while Axe’s decision to use Taylor’s preferred pronouns first struck me as odd (didn’t Axe grow up as some kid from the rough streets of Brooklyn or Queens, somewhere?) after further reflection, I’ve come around to it. Axe has the most egotistical conception of himself ever. He’s He-Man’s “Master of the Universe” and Highlander’s “There can only be one” rolled into the same person. So there is something incredibly self-serving in Axe choosing to respect Taylor’s non-binary gender identity. If Taylor was not a literal genius, I think Axe wouldn’t care at all. But because Taylor is a worthy adversary Axe makes the exception. There’s a weird Randian, “We are both prime movers; let’s have this battle” vibe to the Axe/Taylor adversarial conflict that I enjoy.

c. Taylor– Taylor deciding to not show up at the medical board hearing is aspirational. Yes, there’s some benefit for them as well in not having to divulge certain embarrassing details. But I also like how Taylor is giving Wendy one last “out” in her biblical war to save her soul. Wendy has transgressed. But rather than accept the consequences of her actions (like Bartlet did when he accepted the congressional censure for hiding his MS), she keeps on trying to run away from facing who she truly is. Taylor, in this example, is the only adult in the room trying to give Wendy (the child) a way to save herself. It’s also condescending as hell at the same time. There’s something about this entire dynamic that I love.

(Another hot take is that Taylor is sitting out the medical board hearing so they can give Wendy enough rope to morally hang herself with which Taylor has already foreseen. That would honestly then be truly diabolical if that were the case. I don’t know; there’s some kinda crazy seven-dimensional chess going on here, maybe.)

Alrighty, end of love letter. Sorry for the lengthy post; this had just been percolating in my head for the longest time and I had to get it out there. Thanks for reading!

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