We gave it a B-
As with so many episode of Billions, the Showtime drama’s season 2 premiere begins with a song. This one is Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into The Fire,” pulled from his brilliant and appropriately titled 1971 record Nilsson Schmilsson. The refrain that rings throughout the opening scene is an intriguing one: “We can make each other happy.” If Billions proved anything in its first season, it’s that most of its characters are incapable of making anyone except themselves happy, and they even fail at that most of the time.
Billions is no brooding drama, though. It’s a balls-to-the-wall romp about power dynamics, ego, and the constant dick swinging that’s inherent to this world of cutthroat finance and legal cases. At the end of last season, Chuck dropped his case against Axelrod, but not until he’d shown the man that he was ready to track him for the rest of his life. Those two are on a collision course yet again, and “Risk Management” puts the wheels in motion.
Putting the wheels in motion means getting Axe Capital back up and running after Chuck tricked Axelrod into tearing up his office. More than that, though, Axelrod needs to regroup, to find a way forward for the company. Now, with a reliably smarmy Wags — this time full of snorted pills — a gender non-binary intern named Taylor, and a chilly, no nonsense chief of staff named Stephanie by his side, Axe Capital is back in business. No one’s really sure what that means, exactly, as even Axelrod says that the hedge fund industry is dying, but for now everyone’s just happy to be back at work, throwing around insults and hoping that they don’t catch Axelrod’s eye.
Meanwhile, Chuck is apparently into karate (or maybe it’s jiu-jitsu) now, though it’s hard to tell if it’s because he’s feeding his dominant side or getting off on the whole being-nearly-choked-out thing. Chuck is a complicated man, you see: a man of many appetites. At the very least, it’s going to take some serious defensive tactics to get out of his latest mess. Oliver Dake, who announces himself as being from the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and is every bit as delightfully slimy as every other character on this show, is investigating the whole Axelrod debacle. Chuck doesn’t seem too worried initially, but a late-episode reveal makes sure that his blood pressure is back up before the hour’s over.
Billions spends much of its season premiere doing the necessary plot work, catching up with characters and setting the table for events later this season. It’s not the most thrilling premiere, and the first half is especially bogged down by the necessities of checking in with all of the show’s major players, all of whom are spread out and therefore require some serious exposition to give us a sense of where they’ve been since last season’s finale. But the episode really picks up in its second half. Once we’ve reoriented ourselves — we see Wendy raking in the money as a “performance coach” while also holding down a small, private office, and we learn that the position of Head of Criminal Prosecution is up for grabs, meaning Bryan, Kate, and Lonnie will all be vying for the promotion — Billions returns to form, taking its first steps toward another showdown between Chuck and Axelrod.
NEXT: Lives of quiet desperation