by Sarene Leeds | Vulture | October 20, 2023
If there’s one thing we can count on from Billions, it’s that by the end of every penultimate episode, we still have no clue how things will turn out. That’s exactly where we are as we gear up for next week’s series finale. Naturally, I have my theories, but from covering this show for multiple seasons, I’ve learned that it’s never a good idea to go all in on any of my predictions.
On the surface, “Axe Global” concluded with Team Axe/Chuck ostensibly accepting the Biggest Losers title: Prince somehow convinced his onetime rival, Governor Nancy Dunlop, to join him on the ticket as his vice-president. The clout and voters that Dunlop brings with her all but guarantee that Michael Prince will be the next president of the United States.
But there’s something about the exchanges that led up to that bombshell announcement — the carefully worded dialogue, the scenes cutting off at pivotal moments, that has me theorizing a Prince-Dunlop ticket is, in fact, part of Chuck and Axe’s intricate plan. It wouldn’t be Billions without triple, quadruple, or even quintuple-crosses, so I think we’re in for one helluva final ride next week.
Two days after Axe crashed Prince’s black-tie gala, we see he’s already set up shop in Manhattan, welcoming back former employees Taylor, Mafee, and Helena. Axe even has his first visitor, Mike Prince, waiting in a conference room!
This adversarial meeting between Axe and Prince is the source of a lot of herky-jerky time-jumping in this episode. Billions loves this approach, but it’s always driven me crazy. Through a bunch of flashbacks, the two billionaires boast about all the sabotage-y moves they’ve made over the past 24 hours, outwitting no one and completely confusing me in the process.
During these flashbacks, which begin in the wee hours following the gala, we see more of Philip’s reservations seeping through. Prince’s instruction to “go to cash” (to shield Michael Prince Capital from any Axe-backed financial attack) is not sitting well with his protégé. Later, well after daybreak, Philip convenes with Scooter, where, suddenly, his trickle of skepticism turns into a gushing waterfall of suspicion. (He can insist that he doesn’t have doubts, but the dude has doubts.) Philip asks his uncle if he ever disagrees with Prince. Then, after Scooter refuses to answer his question, he says, out loud, that he thinks Prince is better suited as a hedge-fund manager than a POTUS. I cannot wait to see where this goes.
It’s also around this time that Bradford Luke persuades Prince to court Dunlop, winning him over by dangling the prospect of presidential intelligence briefings in the billionaire’s face: Get Dunlop and become the presumptive candidate. Become the presumptive candidate and boom, he’s on the daily briefings list.
On the busiest morning in Billions history, Taylor Mason is proving to be no slouch. They attempt to poach Victor, Dollar Bill, Rian, Ben Kim, and Tuk Lal — to no avail. (Victor, $Bill, and Rian were unwilling to leave their money behind.) Ben and Tuk, however, are the only ones who end up unemployed. Since Victor, $Bill, and Rian fessed up to Prince about their morning recruitment, they got to keep their MPC jobs. But Ben and Tuk, even though they ignored Taylor’s invitation, were punished anyway for their lack of honesty and potential emotional manipulation. I feel for those two, I really do. But why haven’t they learned to lock up their emotions in this business by now?
While Prince is gloating over Axe’s poaching failure, Axe is quick to remind him that he might want to dial back that ego. After all, he’s still a cuckold. That’s when we cut to Andy Prince packing a suitcase, announcing that she is done maintaining their traditional marriage image. She’ll make campaign appearances as necessary, but otherwise, her husband, a man who arranged for the Chinese government to capture her lover, can fend for himself.
But wait, Prince has more gloating to do. He’s, like, crazy excited that he deduced Chuck tried to distract him from the presidential race by charging several of his companies for unethical business practices. News Prince received from Kate Sacker and her brand-new source (Oooh! Shock! No, not really), Chuck’s SDNY colleague, Amanda Torre.
This is when we’re treated to Corey Stoll, standing in front of a whiteboard and literally sketching out Chuck Rhoades’s thought process, complete with football references and plenty of bloviating. Even Scooter, Bradford, and Kate are giving Prince “Are you okay, dude?” looks.
I love that Billions is just making fun of itself at this point.
See, by focusing on Chuck’s impending indictments, Prince almost lost the one chance he had to meet with Dunlop while she was still in New York. Fortunately, thanks to some brainstorming, Prince figured everything out and demanded the Montana governor stop by Stately Prince Manor that night before leaving town.
But before Prince can march out of Axe Global screaming, “I win! You lose! Nah-nany-nyah-nyah!,” an unruffled Axe offers a rundown of his own activities the previous day: It began with a sunrise meeting at SDNY with Chuck and Wendy. This scene is really to establish Axe’s “What’s in it for me?” Though I don’t think we’ve been privy to it yet because Chuck and Wendy’s pleas of “take down Prince for the good of the world” don’t do much to soften his outlook: “Like it, don’t love it,” was Axe’s overarching position for most of the conversation. Obviously, it changed at some point, but how?
Once the three move over to the Axe Global offices, that’s when the dialogue about Dunlop and how she fits into their scheme moves into coded territory:
Axe: “We have to set it up so [Governor Dunlop] does what we want.”
Chuck: “Bobby, you need to reach Dunlop, offer her whatever you can, make sure she doesn’t do the wrong thing.”
We don’t know what the “wrong thing” is in this case. Before Dunlop meets with Prince, Axe pulls out all the stops with a private dinner at Rao’s. But as I said, we’re only given morsels, not the whole entrée. In addition to delectable meatballs, Axe feeds the governor promises like “a memorable time” and “a trip to the White House.” If she does things Axe’s way.
Which is … what?
Next, Dunlop has a drink with Chuck, where she demands he explain how Axe is any different from Prince — and I don’t blame her for asking. But I like how Chuck lays out the disparity: Axe is a “self-aware monster,” but Prince is a monster who hides behind a mask of benevolence. Yeah, yeah, we know that. What we still need to know is what Axe and Chuck have planned for Dunlop, and once again, all we get in this scene is a tease: Chuck promises he can help the governor win the “long-term” game, and just as Dunlop asks him to walk her through it, we cut back to the Axe-Prince conference-room spat.
Just in time for a smug Prince to brag about his own late-night meeting with Dunlop — the flashback of which also cuts off right at the juiciest part. (She asks him what he can offer.)
Turns out the whole reason for Prince’s antagonistic visit to Axe Global is to invite Team Axe/Chuck for “peace talks.” He’s so sure he’s locked in Dunlop that he fears nothing anymore. That evening, a tense meeting occurs at the Axe Global offices, with Chuck, Axe, Taylor, Wendy, and Wags on one side. Prince, Kate, Scooter, Philip, and Bradford on the other. Even now, I feel like the vague dialogue is deliberately meant to throw the audience off:
Chuck: “You believe we’ve got Dunlop where you want her?”
Axe: “I think she’ll do exactly what we need her to.”
We still need to find out what that is!!!
Prince then opens the proceedings in the worst way possible, making triggering references to “preventing war and bloodshed on all sides” and talking about how all great presidents “dictate peace through strength.” It does feel like the Axe/Chuck side is deliberately taunting the others as part of their act, though.
When Dunlop strides in and happily announces she’s decided to join the Mike Prince ticket as his veep, everyone’s face on the Axe/Chuck side falls — but, like, dramatically. Remember how I didn’t buy Kate Sacker’s Über-bitchy attitude last week? I think they’re all faking here. Maybe not for the same reasons, but ulterior motives are certainly on the agenda.
As soon as Dunlop leaves, Prince pours salt into everyone’s wounds, saying it’s time for a “peace treaty” because he’s totally going to be president. Some peace treaty: In exchange for everyone on Team Axe/Chuck stopping their attacks on him, Prince promises not to use the power of the presidency to hurt or prosecute them. Ugh.
From where everybody sits, even the audience, in these last few minutes, Team Axe/Chuck looks utterly defeated and out of options. All five of them somberly watch MSNBC report the Prince-Dunlop news together. While back at Stately Prince Manor, Bradford triumphantly announces Prince’s name has been added to the presidential intelligence briefings list. He’s not only “minted,” he’s scored a Camp David invite.
This is just too much good news for a single character, so I’m fully suspicious of what we just saw. I think Team Axe/Chuck has Prince exactly where they want him. Besides, we still haven’t gotten the backstory on the scene that kicked this whole season off. The one where Prince tosses a vase into Wendy’s office and drops a bunch of F-bombs?
See you next week, for the last time.
• I noticed Kate was slightly weirded out that Prince had her followed when she met Amanda at the South Ferry subway station. I’m curious to see what these two are cooking up.
• I really liked Rian’s vagabonding send-off. I feel like Taylor being there to say good-bye illustrates how proud they are of Rian for getting out of the financial jungle before she lost her soul completely.
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