‘Billions’ Season 4 Turns Into an All-Out Battle for Power

The rich get meaner in the fourth of season of Showtime’s “Billions.” They’ve always been ruthless throughout this intense series, but now everyone is going to war via their checkbooks, connections and just downright willpower. When season three ended everyone took a hit. Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) suffered an office coup by former protégé Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon) and Chuck (Paul Giamatti) was stripped of his authority by Attorney General Jock Jeffcoat (Clancy Brown). The dust somewhat cleared and now everyone is getting into new battle positions and taking no prisoners.

As the season begins Chuck is now reduced to being a consultant for power players, attempting to recover some of his influence yet trying to retain some since of ethics. For example someone important will ask for a concealed carry permit, but Chuck can’t do it, even when his father scolds him for being a Boy Scout. Jeffcoat has meanwhile given Chuck’s old U.S. Attorney job to boot-licking snake Bryan (Toby Leonard Moore). Not only that, but the scoundrels are now investigating Chuck’s own work to find any wrongdoing. Over at Axe Capital, Bobby is trying to maneuver against Taylor’s own new enterprise. He does everything from convince bankers to back away from Taylor and concocts a scheme to get a powerful sheik to handle his money. It isn’t the wisest move to send Wags (David Costabile) to do the talking. He soon ends up kidnapped by the sheik’s people to be used as a bargaining chip. Lurking in the background is Russian gangster Grigor (John Malkovich), who last season seemed to side with Taylor and will get what he wants or will simply snuff people out.

Because “Billions” is about conflict via numbers more than guns, it has been able to reshape its story in a way that isn’t too jarring for longtime viewers. What began as a battle of wits and wills between Chuck and Bobby now has them united against external enemies. The last season ended with the two men sitting together for dinner, putting the past behind, for now. In this season we get essentially two plots for the price of one. Half the series is now Bobby trying to outdo Taylor. He roams his slick offices, firing any traitors who are found to be consorting with people from the other company (don’t even think of attending the Taylor Mason Capital picnic). He attends conferences for new robotic technology, then cuts deals with bankers present to block Taylor. Taylor of course has a few tricks up their sleeve. The non-binary pop culture-quoting prodigy will begrudgingly slip into female attire to entice an Arab embassy to handle their money, not Bobby’s.

Everyone is playing hardball this season to an even greater degree. In one of the season premiere’s best moments, Chuck decides there is no choice to compromise and he goes from locale to locale, from swanky restaurants to parties just to try and get his client the permit to carry. He’s forced to make other favors along the way, like getting passes to an elite ski resort or into a prestigious Hanukkah event. Other characters get more violent. You can’t expect a Russian gangster like Grigor to just sit back while Bobby tries to knock out Taylor. Wags gets drugged and kidnapped by the sheik’s people, but it’s really Grigor behind the move. By the third episode Grigor starts making cash demands on Taylor, reminding them that choosing sides isn’t nearly ever free.

Other characters this season are almost left in the sidelines because of how intense the main battles become. Wendy (Maggie Siff) is still overseeing Bobby’s office, and is essentially keeping everyone in line, even attending parties and show she can outdo the dudes when it comes to dealing with sex banter. But the main focus is all on Chuck and Bobby trying to survive. After the sheik lets Wags go, he tells Bobby a line that goes to the heart of the show, “he’s a Russian oligarch, but you, mon frère, are a motherfucking oligarch, too, an American oligarch. You will not relent. Taylor must pay.”

TV right now features quite a lot of shows about rich people scheming and dealing to get their way. Like HBO’s “Succession,” “Billions” is tailor-made for viewers who find suits and data more engaging than narcos and motorcycle gangs. Casting is key and because these actors are so good, we are always on the edge with them, even if the plot turns into a maze of double dealing. What began as a cat and mouse game has now turned into a gladiator match of moneyed gladiators. Let the games begin.

Billions” season four premieres March 17 and airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.