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On Season 5 of ‘Billions,’ money’s the root of all the delicious evil

Corey Stoll and Julianna Margulies make great additions to the ensemble of obsessed schemers on Showtime’s addictive series.

Corey Stoll (left) joins the “Billions” cast as a new adversary for Bobby (Damien Lewis).
Showtime

Everyone is awful.

We’ve known that for quite some time about virtually all the major players (and many of the supporting ones as well) in Showtime’s addictive money-drenched drama “Billions,” but never has it been more evident than in the first four episodes of Season 5, which I screened in advance of Sunday’s season premiere.

Paul Giamatti’s ruthless attorney Chuck Rhoades; Damian Lewis’ power-mad billionaire Bobby Axelrod; Maggie Siff’s in-house psychiatrist/guru for Axelrod’s firm, Wendy Rhoades; Asia Kate Dillion’s genius analyst Taylor Mason; Jeffrey DeMunn’s well-connected power broker Charles Rhoades — they’re all out for themselves every step of the way, they’re all consumed with not only defeating but destroying their opponents, and they’re all borderline sociopathic in their respective quests. Even when someone expresses remorse or declares they’ve turned over a new leaf, it just sounds like they’ve taken the three-dimensional chess game to another level.

“I am committed to this course, to purge the world of villainy, and myself, of … I guess villainy too,” says Chuck Rhoades, and maybe we believe he believes it, but only for the moment.

“Billions” remains one of the most stylish series on television, filled with first-class production values, whether we’re at a lavish wedding, inside the glass-walled headquarters of Axe Capital or at a corporate retreat where the wealthiest of the wealthy gather to, well, revel in how great they are. The event is hosted by one Michael Prince (Corey Stoll), a seemingly benevolent mogul whose constant preaching about how his success is a team effort really grates on Bobby. Another welcome addition to Season 5 is Julianna Margulies as Catherine Brant, an Ivy League professor and possible romantic interest for Chuck. (His crumbling marriage to Wendy has now been ripped apart at the seams.)

Ivy League prof Catherine Brant (Julianna Margulies) is a possible romantic interest for Chuck (Paul Giamatti) on “Billions.”
Showtime

Stoll carries a confident on-screen persona, and his Mike Prince quickly proves to be a worthy adversary to Bobby. (Although it’s impossible to top John Malkovich’s mustache-twirling turn as the Russian oil oligarch/crime boss Grigor Andalov.) It’ll be fun to see where this rivalry goes, not to mention the usual double-crossing and triple-crossing machinations between Chuck, who thinks he has struck up an alliance with Taylor, and Bobby, who thinks HE has struck up an alliance with Taylor, and Taylor, who is playing them against one another. One can get dizzy keeping up with all the back- and front-stabbing, but it’s entertaining as hell because they all deserve what’s coming to them.

As always, pop culture references abound in “Billions,” with clever dialogue references to “The Godfather,” “Dexter” and “Beverly Hills Cop,” to name just a few. It’s fun, but given how these people immersed themselves in higher education and/or experienced meteoric career heights at a very young age, and now seem to spend nearly every waking minute working and plotting and scheming, it stretches plausibility to believe they’d ever have the time to become so well-versed in the minutiae of all these movies and TV shows. Probably the only TV show they’d really be interested in would be “Billions.”