May 2020

Posted by Anton Murray Consulting on . Posted in 2020

Lately in isolation we have been enjoying the five seasons of Billions, and this month, have put together a review of this entertaining series. The central theme is a battle between District Attorney Chuck Rhoades and Axe Capital hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod. The main characters are inspired by the real-life journey of ex-US Attorney Preet Bharara and Steven A Cohen of SAC Capital Advisors. Bobby Axelrod is acted by Damian Lewis, a more playboy version of Steve Cohen, and Paul Giamatti plays the role of Chuck Rhoades.

Bahara’s real life as a US Attorney for the Southern District of NY is full of a colourful array of prosecutions across insider trading, public corruption, art fraud and Russian money laundering that doesn’t stray too far from the themes covered in Billions. With the prosecution of SAC, Cohen was forced to close the firm in 2013 and set up a family office called Point72. Since 2018 it has been able to manage external money.

There is high quality acting from both Giamatti and Lewis, with a good supporting cast, especially from the wives of the two leading men. The first few seasons are focused on the tussle between these two as Rhoades attempts to take down Axelrod, and in part we catch a glimpse into Bobby’s affluent lifestyle. Although at risk of self-indulgence, the affluent display of Axelrod’s life is part of the enjoyment in the first few seasons and this display of affluence loses a bit of focus in the later seasons, which is a shame simply because it’s fun to watch Axe spend his money. The main conflict between the two leading guys is entertaining and compelling in the first few seasons, although feel like it drags a bit and becomes implausible as the conflict reignites in season five. As in real life, it’s likely that Axe would simply pay a big fine, then move on to making money with a spin-off fund [as he did with Point72] and Rhoades would move on to other prominent cases like Russian money launderers and terrorists, rather than vehemently pursue Axelrod over many years and seasons. Like watching a 50-hour movie, at times some of the characters become less interesting, although the acting of both Giamatti and Lewis especially carry your interest through the seasons.

There is some implausibility with the character of Wendy Rhoades, Chuck’s wife and Axelrod’s HR and Performance Coach for the firm. It seems improbable that Axe would continue to employ her while she was married to the US DA. And likewise, surely Rhoades would have firmly encouraged her to go find another HR job as he focused completely on taking down the fund. The conflict of interest is so extreme on both sides of the fence, that it borders on improbability. There is clearly some romantic impulse between Wendy Rhoades and Axelrod, and we won’t ruin it for you, but we reckon if the impulse had been consummated earlier in the series, this would have made for a more obvious plot continuance for Chuck to be pursuing Axelrod. Sure, it’s this implied romantic interest and tale of jealousy, envy and revenge that drive Rhoades. In this regard, there is a almost a feel of ancient Greek tragedy to the series with an enduring tale of vengeance, jealousy, rage and envy from both leading men.

In summary, Billions is a really cool insight into the world of a high-flying hedge fund manager in CT and NYC, and the machinations of the district attorney’s office. This is a work of fiction, but close enough to the real life adventures of Bahara and Cohen to be both educational and very entertaining viewing.

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