The Final Run For the Drama About Financial Elites and
Those That Operate Against Them
by Johnny Loftus | Decider | August 11, 2023
The trading floor is almost closed for Billions, which returns to Showtime for its seventh and final season. (The series will stream Fridays on Paramount+ and Showtime before dropping broadcast episodes on Sunday evenings.) Will Americans say “I Like Mike” in 2028? Can Michael Thomas Aquinas Prince even move up his timeline for the presidency by channeling his particular deca-billionaire mojo?
What kind of juice does Chuck Rhoades retain, and is it enough to stop Prince? Or does this evolving war require its dark horse? That’s right, the biggest get for Billions’ final bow is the return of Damian Lewis as Robert “Bobby” Axelrod, which as season 7 begins will involve some detective work from Maggie Siff as Wendy Rhoades.
Opening Shot: In the usual aerial shot that opens episodes of Billions, the southern tip of Manhattan appears. This is the battlespace for every big swing, double-cross, desperate gambit, and unlikely team-up that the series has ever featured.
The Gist: Before there was the saga of mega-rich guy Mike Prince (Corey Stoll) and the attempts by US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) to take him down, there was mega-rich guy Bobby Axelrod (Lewis), and Chuck’s attempts to take him down. Axe eventually fled the country (leading Lewis to leave Billions), and Prince took over Axe Capital’s hedge fund assets, locking him in a tussle with Rhoades that resulted in Chuck’s ouster from the US attorney’s office. Wendy Rhoades (Siff), a psychiatrist and high-level motivational force, first at Axe and then at Michael Prince Capital, was once married to Chuck, with whom she shares two children. And Michael “Wags” Wagner (David Costabile), former bird dog for Bobby, has settled into the role of fixer for Prince, a gig he shares with the billionaire’s existing fixit man, Scooter Dunbar (Daniel Breaker). And there are always lawyers in this world, though what side of the fence they’re working depends on the breeze. As the final season of Billions begins, Kate Sacker (Condola Rashad) is in Prince’s corner, while the deal Chuck made with US attorney Daevisha “Dave” Mahar (Sakina Jaffrey) at the end of season six still exists in wary form.
Prince really is running for president. It’s like, why build rockets to outer space when your thirst for mogul power can be sated right here on Earth? And with this latest fixation, he’s passed the day-to-day at MPC to Taylor Mason (Asia Kate Dillon) and their counterpart Philip Charyn (Toney Goins), who aren’t entirely happy with this new office hierarchy. (Sacker says it best: Prince likes people in his inner circle to function as external operating parts of his big central brain.) Prince has also tasked – taunted, even – Wendy with becoming his burgeoning campaign’s shrink/consigliere, a setup for which she’s professionally suited but one that gives her serious pause. With Axe, it was all about money, and that provided clarity. But with Prince, his designs are on something larger, and maybe more dangerous. “My job is to listen to what these men say and parse it,” she tells Wags in confidence. But if Prince gains the Oval Office, “he won’t be stopped by red tape. Our only chance is to stop him beforehand.”
As for Chuck, his big last-season push to nail Prince backfired. Or did it? Did all of it? Now, he’s in cahoots with Mahar on a scheme to topple the titan for good. Sure, he’s gotta wear an ankle-monitoring device and receive lots of public grief. But he’s been a player in this town for decades. As the various pieces in play move against Prince, Chuck still has his thumb on the gameboard. And everybody is wondering about the only individual with the personal stones and professional financials to really put it to Michael Prince. Wherefore art thou, Bobby “Axe” Axelrod?
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? There are parallels between Succession and Billions, especially with the series’ moneyed environments and their shared adoration for quips at lightning speed. But with its “risk it for the biscuit,” highest earners only mentality, especially in the MCP bullpen overseen by Taylor and Philip, Billions most often suggests Industry, the brilliant investment banking drama that Max has renewed for a third season. At least for now.
Our Take: Wendy’s take on Michael Prince and his presidential aspirations is that there’s nothing more dangerous than a man who’s sure he’s never wrong. Sound familiar? Add in Prince’s insufferable god complex, the kind textbooks are written about, his stacks and stacks of cash to rival Scrooge McDuck, an admittedly formidable intellect, and his innate ability to look back at the face in the mirror and lie with ease, and Prince’s archetype is one that permeates our real world. Billions doesn’t mention guys like DJT or Elon by name. But Jeff Bezos gets a name-drop – one way to silence a news outlet writing unwanted articles about you is to simply buy it – and Mark Cuban even makes a cameo in the first ep of season seven.
Those names and their reputations have always lent themselves to the groove Billions spins on, and that can be detrimental. It’s not enough that the fancies of the elite must perpetuate the news cycle – now they’re invading our escapist entertainment, too. But at the same time, Billions creators Brian Koppelman, David Levien, and Andrew Ross Sorkin seem inspired by that cosmic pushback to inform the actions of their core characters. As long and drawn out as Chuck’s battles against the billionaires have been, it’s Wendy’s new alignment with Taylor and Wags that feels like the most interesting thing happening in the show’s final installments. That they might locate and weaponize their own billionaire in a war of final outcomes somehow rationalizes Bobby “Axe” Axelrod as the man of the people he’d always sworn to be. And it also ensures a showdown between Damian Lewis and Corey Stoll that should be a delight to watch.
Sex and Skin: Nothing in the first episode, anyway.
Parting Shot: Wendy’s persistent back-channel lobbying for a meeting with the AWOL Bobby Axlerod has led her to England. With Wags and Taylor already on board, her team is set to take down Prince from the inside. But all this version of Luke, Leia, and Chewy need for this mission is their Han Solo. Cue The Clash with “London Calling.”
Sleeper Star: Let’s do a quick survey of a few other references dropped in the Billions season seven premiere. To kick things off there’s Prince clamoring for Wendy to be the Dave Grohl to his Kurt Cobain. (In this scenario, Kurt never dies and Dave is still in Nirvana, apparently.) Turner & Hooch, the 1989 cop-and-dog comedy starring Tom Hanks opposite a drooly Dogue de Bordeaux, gets a workout in a snippy back-and-forth at MPC. The man cave of “Dollar Bill” Stearn (Kelly AuCoin) is soundtracked by the irrepressible 1978 Styx classic rock nugget “Renegade.” Lucien Porter (Matthew Lawler) waxes philosophical about BB King cutting “Mistreated Woman” at Sun Studios in 1950. And an underling in the New York state’s attorney’s office blurts out “Tex Cobb in Raising Arizona” with the bewildered uncertainty of someone who has never dreamed about that lone biker of the apocalypse.
Most Pilot-y Line: The necessity of Axe’s return is described by Wendy with increasingly apocalyptic language. “I really need his counsel,” she tells Wags over plates of egg foo young. “On how to at least direct Prince to not, like, end the fucking universe.”
Our Call: STREAM IT. Billions pushes into its seventh and final season with as much quippy verve as ever, a fleet of existing grudges, new and interesting allyships, and the welcome return of Damian Lewis as Bobby “Axe” Axelrod. Let the demons run free.
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