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Sticking with ‘Billions’ has paid off

Damian Lewis (left) and Paul Giamatti in "Billions."JoJo Whilden/SHOWTIME

I’ve gone through all kinds of phases regarding “Billions,” the Showtime drama that returns on Sunday for its fifth season. Early on, I struggled with the setup that had the wife of Paul Giamatti’s US Attorney Chuck Rhoades working for the billionaire who was his archenemy, Damian Lewis’s Bobby Axelrod. It felt like one of those only-on-TV situations. And I’ve rolled my eyes a few times at some of the seismic big-money shifts that occur across a single season on the show — something a semi-farcical comedy such as “Silicon Valley” can do more easily.

But last season, I full-on loved “Billions” and its visceral tone. As an operatic take on power, dominance, and submission in business, family, and love, as well as a close look at New York hedge-fund culture, it’s a kick. The writers have repositioned the characters nicely, with Axe and Chuck as semi-allies, with Axe now single, and with Asia Kate Dillon’s fascinating Taylor now a major player. Taylor is one of TV’s best characters, and the show was wise to bring them onboard in a big way, to deflate some of the macho posturing of its two titanic male egos.


“Billions” is a very Showtimey show, in that it doesn’t spend too much time on the questionable morality of its characters — something an HBO show would most likely focus on. The “Billions” characters are morally fluid, and they are entertaining and willing to froth at the mouth for some good dramatic action, and that’s that. This season, the relationship between Chuck and Axe has shifted once again, and there are two promising guest stars — Corey Stoll and Julianna Margulies. I’m ready for it.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.