All of the characters on Billions engage in their fair share of lies and manipulation. Despite their lust for greed, a few still manage to be likable.
Earlier this year, Showtime announced its hit series, Billions, would be renewed for a seventh season. Unfortunately, it looks like eager fans might be waiting until 2023 for new episodes of the show, which follows the wealthiest and most unscrupulous members of the hedge fund world and the lawyers who want to see them pay for their crimes. Even though almost every character in Billions would do just about anything for money and status, some are more likable than others in their pursuit of riches.
Even the most manipulative and power-hungry characters have proven to possess many complex attributes–such as humor, loyalty, empathy, and relatability. Instead of simply being characters that viewers love to hate, these traits make them truly likable in spite of their deceitful ways.
Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff) is a psychiatrist and performance coach at Axe Capital, and she started out as extremely likable. She motivated the firm’s employees to succeed and helped many of them gain confidence along the way. She starts out as warm and compassionate and gains points for being fervently protective of Axe.
However, she begins to use her powers of persuasion and position of authority to manipulate others — pretending to be attracted to Mafee for self-serving reasons and later betraying Taylor’s trust. She’s highly intelligent and morally aware of the damage she causes. Her disregard for those who trust her, coupled with her abuse of power makes her the show’s most difficult character to like.
Charles Rhoades, Sr.
Charles Rhoades, Sr. (Jeffery DeMunn) is Chuck’s father and a wealthy entrepreneur who has deep pockets and is always ready to fund his next questionable venture. A cruel and calculating misogynist, his tough love is difficult to watch. The worst thing Charles does involves Chuck’s “pancake eater” story, which describes his abuse.
Charles believes he’s acting with his son’s best interest in mind. He rarely admits it, but Charles is proud of Chuck and is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his reputation. However, it’s when Charles needs a kidney transplant that viewers see his more vulnerable side. Charles’ commitment to his son and his brush with death help to humanize him, making him almost likable.
Chuck Rhoades’ (Paul Giamatti) rivalry with Axe begins as a U.S. attorney’s quest for truth but deteriorates into an ugly personal grudge stemming from his ex-wife Wendy’s relationship with the charismatic CEO. Chuck’s inability to walk away from the case becomes more embarrassing than honorable.
Chuck’s desire to capture Axe is his downfall–and it also negatively affects his likability. His obsession with Axe is predictable and irritating. He’s no longer personable and clever, but his saving grace is that he’s easy to feel sorry for. Whether it be his failed marriage, his abusive father, his inability to capture Axe, or the publicizing of his penchant for BDSM, there are plenty of opportunities to pity him, all of which make it difficult to fully dislike him.
‘Dollar’ Bill Stearn
‘Dollar’ Bill Stearn (Kelly AuCoin) is a top-tier trader at Axe Capital who uses his exceptional analytical abilities to get what he wants out of almost any situation. On account of his sharp detective skills and his unwillingness to back down from a challenge, he ruthlessly helps gather information for Axe.
His loyalty is commendable. He’s even willing to poison a bunch of chickens for Axe. ‘Dollar’ Bill’s unflinching devotion to Axe is likable, but his ranking is hurt by the fact that he leads a double life with two wives who know nothing about each other for most of the show. He’s also incredibly blunt, which can be dislikable when his character has so few redeemable qualities.
Unwaveringly honest and analytical, Taylor Mason (Asia Kate Dillon) is a hedge fund genius. Early on, morality was very important to Taylor, making them appear likable and honest. However, Taylor has strained relationships with the people around them and is regularly at odds with Wendy, Axe, and their own father, which often makes them unrelatable.
Taylor begins to lose sight of their moral compass and struggles internally with the person they are becoming. Their soul-searching is refreshing, as is their friendship with Mafee and later Rian. Their newfound ability to connect with their peers, along with questioning their own ethics creates much-needed empathy and likability for the character who is otherwise losing themselves to success.
With Axe out of the picture, the equally toxic Michael Prince (Corey Stoll) takes his place as the slick hedge fund manager with questionable motives. He struggles to fill Axe’s shoes and to become a leader. His subsequent team-building activities are inspiring and likable.
But his well-intentioned plans, such as attempting to bring the Olympics to New York, becoming the ambassador to Denmark, rallying for environmental initiatives, and refusing to do business with unethical clients, are often overshadowed by his competitive greed. He loses likability points when he uses his daughters as part of a scheme. Prince is probably more likable than Axe on paper, but in reality, he’s just not as cool or strategic.
Bobby ‘Axe’ Axelrod
Bobby ‘Axe’ Axelrod (Damian Lewis) is a brilliant CEO with a magnetic personality, making it easy for him to gain the trust and admiration of others. He exploits that trust for his own gain and is constantly resorting to illegal business practices in the hopes of a big return–even though Axe is already among the wealthiest characters in the show.
For instance, the time he abandoned his childhood neighborhood after promising his help severely hurt his likability. But Axe isn’t all bad. He finds a kidney for Charles, and frequently assists Wendy, without asking for anything in return. He’s also philanthropic, investing in the people he believes in (such as Bruno and Nico). Axe is a likable addition to the show, even when his intentions aren’t pure.
Kate Sacker (Condola Rashad) is Chuck’s highly motivated and ivy-league educated protégé. She spends several seasons assisting Chuck in his personal vendetta against Axe until eventually accepting a job with Prince, who sees her potential.
Kate is a smart and strategic character who wins people over with her work ethic and ambition. She can more than hold her own in an argument with Chuck, who she regularly and rightfully holds accountable. She’s also keenly aware of and sticks to her own set of ethics. But she loses loyalty points when she takes Prince up on his job offer. Kate is extremely likable because of her ability to get what she wants without being callous, a trait most of the characters in the show lack.
Dudley Mafee (Dan Soder) may not be as shrewd a competitor as some of his colleagues, but what he lacks in strategy, he makes up for in relatability. He’s also one of the only characters to make decisions with his conscience, regardless of what the outcome means for his earnings — an admirable trait when everyone around him is focused on their net worth.
For instance, Mafee refuses to report inside information regarding Nigeria’s currency to Wags, as he doesn’t want to be responsible for the outcome. He’s loyal to Taylor and defends them when the rest of the office does not. He is transparent and consistently likable, making Mafee more than a supporting character. Unfortunately, these admirable qualities sometimes make him a bit boring.
Mike ‘Wags’ Wagner
A perennial favorite, Mike ‘Wags’ Wagner (David Costabile), steals even the most serious of scenes with levity and playfulness. But, as the second-in-command to Axe, Wags can be just as underhanded and strategic as his counterparts. However, unlike most of them, he’s loyal to a fault.
Wags has a healthy fondness for partying but always keeps his eye on the price. A prime example is his relationship with the beautiful Chelz, which turns out to be a long con to enact revenge on a rival (who viewers eventually learn is Chelz’s father). Wags brings humor and a joie de vivre to everything he does, while remaining true to those who trust him and to himself. These traits easily make him the most likable character in the series.
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