Clash of titans: Battle between high finance and power politics continues

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Jacqueline Spendlove / TV Media
Malin Akerman as seen in "Billions"

Malin Akerman as seen in "Billions"

I know, I know -- you're getting utterly bombarded with news about the exploits of certain filthy-rich white men. Don't let that turn you off "Billions," though. True, the Showtime drama is driven by, well, the exploits of filthy-rich white men, but it's also smart, entertaining and, blessedly, fictional. Led by the much-lauded Paul Giamatti ("Sideways," 2004) and Damian Lewis ("Homeland"), the second season of "Billions" debuts Sunday, Feb. 19, on Showtime.

Last year, 12 episodes of cat-and-mouse in the world of high finance and power politics ended in an explosive confrontation between brash U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Giamatti) and self-made hedge fund billionaire Bobby "Axe" Axelrod (Lewis). Chuck is among the most powerful prosecutors in the country, and when he's tipped to a case of insider trading connected to Axelrod in the series pilot, he launches into what could be a career-defining investigation.

Career-defining maybe, but it's anything but simple. Ever aware of his blue-collar beginnings, Axe is generous, charismatic and a much-loved member of the community. A 9/11 survivor, he pays the first year of college tuition for all of the children of his former colleagues who were killed in the attacks. He has two darling kids and a beautiful wife, Lara (Malin Akerman, "Watchmen," 2009), who has a similarly humble background. Though we learn that he's definitely not above board, on the outside, Axe is the picture of a model citizen.

Making the situation even more complicated is Chuck's wife, Wendy (Maggie Siff, "Sons of Anarchy"), who has close ties to both men, and her own stake in Axe's firm. A sharp-minded psychiatrist, Wendy has worked with Axe from the start, helping him build Axe Capital from the ground up. She now has a lucrative career as the firm's in-house psychiatrist and performance coach, working closely with Axe, who recognizes her as a valuable asset and confidante. For Chuck, bringing down Axe Capital would be to bring down the company in which his own wife is heavily invested.

Much of the show's freshman season focused on the war the two men waged on one another, as Axe sought to expand his empire ever further and Chuck fought to expose Axe's financial corruption. While the conflict began with Chuck going after Axe, the latter is now out for revenge -- and, as we know, he has the resources to achieve it.

Season 2 sees a power shift as Chuck falls under investigation for his questionable methods and conduct, and struggles to hold on to both his office and his family. Additionally, Chuck and Axe alike fight to get Wendy back, after she walked away from both of them at the end of last season.

"One of the interesting things about this show is the constant shifting of power dynamics," said Giamatti in a Showtime promo. "Everyone's in some kind of jeopardy."

Damian Lewis stars in "Billions"

Damian Lewis stars in "Billions"

"What's becoming clear is there's one castle, and there's going to be one king," added Lewis in a related video.

Season 2 brings both new and familiar faces to "Billions." Along with the core cast, David Costabile ("Breaking Bad") returns as Mike Wagner, Axe's apple-polishing right-hand man and the COO of Axe Capital. Chuck's own pointman is Bryan Connerty (Toby Leonard Moore, "John Wick," 2014), a chief assistant U.S. attorney who is a match for Chuck in his fervor for putting bad guys behind bars. Condola Rashad ("Money Monster," 2015) plays Kate Sacker, an ambitious young assistant district attorney with an Ivy League background. We saw some sparks fly between Kate and Bryan last year, and fans are looking forward to their relationship being fleshed out in season 2.

Also this season, Mary-Louise Parker of "Weeds" fame makes a one-off appearance as brilliant strategist George Minchak, and actor-writer Danny Strong ("Gilmore Girls") has a recurring role as "stylish and smooth hedge fund whale" Todd Krakow, who becomes yet another thorn in Axe's side. "Zoo's" James Wolk adds to the pile of fat cats as tech billionaire Craig Heidecker.

Asia Kate Dillon ("Orange Is the New Black") has a particularly noteworthy role this season. Dillon joins the "Billions" cast as Taylor Mason, an exceptional new intern at Axe Capital who, like Dillon, identifies as gender non-binary. It's a groundbreaking role; Taylor is the first gender non-binary character to be played by an actor of the same identification in a major TV series.

With the growing cry for more diversity on television, the character is certainly a feather in "Billions'" cap, though, as co-creators and executive producers Brian Koppelman and David Levien told The Huffington Post, the creation of Taylor was simply "an organic process," and not a deliberate attempt to make a statement.

"The character needed to be exceptionally gifted in many ways. And then, having an awareness of the world, both inside and outside of finance, we decided to make gender identity a part of who Taylor is," they said. "Because of the story that flowed from this character, and because Asia is portraying them, we are thrilled we did."

There's a lot set to unfold in "Billions" in season 2. Watch the season premiere when it airs Sunday, Feb. 19, on Showtime.