When the first episode of Showtime’s Billions premiered in January of 2016, a Democrat was in the White House, #OscarsSoWhite was trending on Twitter, and the top 10 performing hedge funds with assets of more than $1 billion had averaged a 28.6 return over the previous 12 months.
What a difference a year makes.
By the time the second season of Billions premieres this Sunday, Feb. 19, many hedge funds will have suffered through the worst four quarters in their history. Others, including Blackstone’s Senfina fund, have folded entirely. The show, built on celebrating—and castigating—hedge fund managers’ stupendous fortunes, is beginning to show cracks.
Last season we were introduced to alpha-males Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis), a top hedge fund manager, and his antagonist, the U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), doing battle in a drama set among the trappings of finance’s super-rich. There was a certain giddiness as Axelrod bought a $63 million home in the Hamptons, as Rhoades nobly resisted the funds of his old-money Park Avenue family, and even, as both of their lives fell into disarray, they continued to throw money and Maseratis at their problems.
The intense glorification of vast wealth, and the implication that everyone participating in the creation of that wealth was, in various ways, corrupt, allowed the narrative to have its steak and eat it too. There was no one character to root for—both protagonists were the villain in their own, smarmy way.