Each week, we decide a brand new episode of the week. It might be good. It might be dangerous. It can at all times be fascinating. You’ll be able to learn the archives right here. The episode of the week for April 7 via 13 is “Overton Window,” the fourth episode of the fourth season of Showtime’s Billions.
In September 2010, shortly earlier than the debut of the HBO mob drama Boardwalk Empire, I talked to the sequence’ creator and showrunner, Terrence Winter. Winter had lower his enamel on The Sopranos, and once I requested him what he’d discovered from that present’s creator, David Chase, about learn how to run his personal TV present, he stated one thing that’s caught with me ever since:
I assume the largest lesson that David Chase taught me is at all times be entertaining. That’s your job. Your job is to not ship messages or moralize; it’s to entertain individuals. No matter you are able to do to realize that finish, do it. He tried to jam these episodes with comedy and motion and violence and nice music and simply nice character stuff and actually threw the kitchen sink in when it comes to entertaining individuals.
The irony of that is that Boardwalk Empire, for as a lot as I loved it at instances, at all times had a stateliness to it that stored it from being what I might name actually entertaining. Thought-provoking? Unsettling? Fascinating? Positive. However entertaining? Not in the identical method as The Sopranos. It was simply too slow-moving and methodical for that.
Sluggish-moving, methodical storytelling plagues far too many TV exhibits within the streaming period. What number of Netflix dramas gradual to a crawl in the midst of the season, just because they’re making an attempt to stretch a single storyline out to extra episodes?
Fashionable TV is skewed towards viewers who will watch every thing in a single massive gulp, in ways in which usually preclude the pleasures of a single, superbly constructed episode. However weak episodes all too usually create a weak season. You’ll be able to’t construct a fantastic home with crumbling bricks.
Thank God, then, for Showtime’s Billions, during which each episode is a field of goodies, and a few of them are just a bit bit toxic. You by no means know what you’re going to get, however it can in all probability be wildly entertaining.
Most TV exhibits decelerate their storytelling. Billions continually accelerates it.
On the finish of “Chickentown,” the episode that instantly precedes “Overton Window,” Billions units up what looks like a brand new establishment for its fourth season. Enemies turned uneasy allies turned one thing form of like associates Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) and Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis) are bonded extra fiercely collectively, after Bobby agrees to make use of his billions and appreciable affect to assist Chuck run for legal professional normal of New York.
There’s only one factor — if Chuck wins, Bobby’s going to ask Chuck for a favor. And he’s going to anticipate that favor to be granted, insofar as Chuck is ready to grant it.
On plenty of TV exhibits, this may be the setup for the whole season. Chuck would run for legal professional normal. Bobby would proceed along with his primary plot (a ruthless company battle along with his former protege Taylor Mason, performed by Asia Kate Dillon — extra on this in a second). The promise of that unstated favor would hold over every thing else.
In the long run, Chuck would win the election, Bobby would title his value in the end, and that might doubtless be the season’s cliffhanger. We’d head into season 5 questioning simply how Chuck would be capable to give Bobby what he needed, particularly when the preliminary premise of the present was Chuck making an attempt to place Bobby behind bars.
However right here’s what makes Billions such a whip-smart, purely entertaining present: It is aware of you already know Chuck goes to win. The straightforward proven fact that Bobby is extracting an unnamed favor from Chuck instantly turns into essentially the most fascinating factor about this story, which signifies that Chuck has to win to ensure that us to get the maximally entertaining model of the storyline. In order that signifies that if Chuck’s election stretched out over the whole season, it might need entertaining moments, however it might by no means have any actual suspense. We’d be questioning what favor Bobby was going to request.
So as a substitute of stretching the election out over a season, Billions compresses it, in its entirety, into this episode. And within the means of doing so, it upends the sequence’ establishment in different ways in which I by no means noticed coming. By the top, we all know what Bobby needed Chuck to do — kick Russian billionaire Grigor Andolov (a splendidly campy John Malkovich) in another country — and we all know that Bobby’s true intention was to strike again at Taylor (who counted Grigor as considered one of their core buyers) by way of Chuck. And we additionally know that Chuck has maybe irreparably strained his marriage in the middle of operating for increased workplace.
However we don’t know what comes subsequent.
I may in all probability hazard a guess as to what the remainder of the season will likely be about, with the battle between Taylor and Bobby growing from a simmer to a full boil, almost certainly. However I couldn’t lay out for you, beat for beat, the arc of the plot in the best way I in all probability may have with the election storyline taking over a full season.
This sort of hyper-accelerated plotting is harmful, as a result of it tends to expend all of your storylines and depart you greedy for extra. So, sure, there’s an opportunity Billions now has nowhere else to go. However in some way, I doubt it. After 4 seasons of story that simply stored accelerating and accelerating and accelerating, I belief that this present is aware of what it’s doing.
Each side of Billions is calculated to entertain, which is what makes it so efficient at sneaking its true message proper by you
When Billions started, it, too, was a slower-paced drama that took its candy time getting anyplace. Chuck, then only a US district legal professional, needed to prosecute Bobby for monetary crimes, as a result of he thought bringing down a number of the titans of finance was the one technique to lastly begin altering a damaged, inequitable system. These earlier episodes weren’t dangerous, however they had the faintest whiff of journalism masquerading as fiction, as if all concerned had provide you with a message after which awkwardly pinned a present to it.
That’s not likely the case any longer, regardless that Billions continues to be about what it means to reside in a rustic the place some persons are obscenely rich and many different persons are not. The present has made Chuck’s co-option by Bobby so entertaining that you simply virtually don’t give it some thought till the episode is over. The 2 males, as soon as they stopped hurling barbs at one another, turned out to have lots in frequent, and watching Giamatti and Lewis work collectively is nice enjoyable.
However, hey, Bobby did co-opt Chuck. Even when the present ultimately pivots again to its unique battle, Chuck won’t ever be capable to escape Bobby’s affect over his life. And “Overton Window” additionally opens up different scars you didn’t notice had been wounds all alongside.
Particularly, the connection between Chuck and his spouse, Wendy (Maggie Siff), turns into fodder for a really public outing. The 2 interact in sadomasochism, with Wendy taking part in the position of dom to Chuck’s sub, a relationship she’s beginning to discover a bit of boring. (It nonetheless actually does it for him.) When Chuck’s marketing campaign is threatened with this information changing into public, he asks Wendy what to do, and she or he asks him to bow out. The unstated subtext: I don’t need this a part of our lives changing into public, even if you happen to’re excited about it.
I’ve already instructed you that Chuck wins his election, so I in all probability don’t need to inform you that not solely is the couple’s relationship uncovered, however that Chuck himself is just too joyful to do the exposing at a large press convention — not solely revealing this core reality about himself and Wendy, however leaning in to it, cementing his picture as a person you may belief that he now has no secrets and techniques. Wendy, for sure, is livid.
Right here, plenty of exhibits would merely have Wendy fall into the arms of Bobby. In any case, the 2 work collectively (one of the crucial ridiculous conceits of the entire sequence, however one it has in some way earned over time), and there’s an unstated sexual rigidity between them. However Billions understands that what’s fascinating right here isn’t intercourse. It’s energy, and cash, and the way a lot these characters lengthy for one or the opposite. Which is why the one who tries to lure Wendy away from the Chuck-Bobby alliance is Taylor, who sees a chance to pursue their very own money-making objectives.
Taylor in and of themselves is a key instance of how Billions works to make each aspect of the present enthralling. They’ve moved past being “the non-binary character” or “the undiscovered genius solely Bobby can see” to a personality who’s genuinely, in all moments, unpredictable. They’re a reputable fourth lead of the present now, as fascinating and essential as Chuck, Bobby, and Wendy, and their non-binaryness throws every thing else the sequence has to say concerning the intersections of energy and gender right into a blender.
Because the sequence has constructed up our affection for Taylor and our fascination with the best way they strategy enterprise dealings, it’s slowly began to seed within the types of explorations of non-binary identification that different exhibits would have put upfront in clumsy, earnest trend. (Notably rewarding have been scenes between Taylor and their dad, performed by Kevin Pollak as a man who can’t fairly fathom the individual his child has grown as much as be.)
I haven’t even talked concerning the sequence’ genuinely great supporting forged, or the best way each scene crackles with witty dialogue, or the countless sequence of plot twists that by no means really feel pressured. Billions has greater than discovered crucial lesson any TV present ought to decide up on: If you wish to say one thing, say it with pizzazz.
Billions airs Sundays at 9 pm Japanese on Showtime. Earlier episodes can be found on Showtime’s streaming platforms.