by Sarene Leeds | Vulture | October 27, 2023
Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the warmest and fuzziest episode of Billions ever!
Sure, co-creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien, who wrote the series finale, gave us the expected tension-filled hour featuring a super-elaborate scheme, a Steve Miller Band soundtrack, and no shortage of double-, triple-, and quadruple-crossings. But, “Admirals Fund” also wrapped up Billions with a heavy dose of respect, kindness, and gasp, HUGGING. So much hugging.
The best word to describe this episode is “satisfying,” which I know is an all-too-rare accomplishment for any series finale. I say this because, yes, we got a quintessential “happy ending” with the bad guy getting his comeuppance; Mike Prince isn’t just annihilated, he’s humiliated. At the same time, however, the two principal characters, Chuck and Axe, pay lip service to their seemingly contented lives, when in reality — and true to form — all they did was hit the reset button.
While Wendy and Taylor demonstrated evolution by forging new career paths — with even Wags hinting he won’t stick around Axe Global for long — Chuck and Axe are literally back to doing the same things they were up to when Billions began: Axe, for all his talk of freedom at the start of the season, is now … the head of his namesake hedge fund. With many of the same finance bros ready and willing to do his bidding. Chuck, meanwhile, can’t wait to keep playing social/financial/political-justice warrior as the U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York. Plus ça change …
What I liked about this episode, though, was the old-fashioned “let’s get the bad guy” takedown. After seven seasons of selfish, mercenary plays, this was the one time when (nearly) everyone worked together for the greater good, proving the season’s overarching theme: Nurture your friendships because you never know when you’ll need those friends to help vanquish your enemies. Guess Billions is saying there’s hope for humanity after all.
So “Admirals Fund” wastes no time in its opening scene (and requisite flashbacks) confirming my suspicions about Kate Sacker and Philip Charyn: They’ve been secretly working with Team Axe-Chuck since episodes six and seven, respectively. Phew.
It’s an auspicious day for everyone in the Billions universe: While Prince is approaching Camp David, our scrappy Rebel Alliance is unleashing a scheme of pain and disgrace that is a sheer delight to watch.
In the two hours between Prince, Scooter, and Bradford Luke handing over their phones to Camp David military police and getting them back, Team Axe-Chuck gets to work:
First, Chuck announces to the SDNY staff that six of the largest U.S. natural-gas companies have been colluding (and price-fixing) alongside Russia, China, and Iran, and SDNY is embarking on a thorough investigation of these allegations. But no one had better leak this story to the press, because if they do, Chuck will go all Willy Wonka on their asses.
Taylor hacks into Michael Prince Capital’s risk-management algorithm (thanks, Winston!) and reprograms it to “zig when it’s supposed to zag.” Philip then merely follows his boss’s orders by deploying all capital and insisting that the algorithm do its work. Even though Ari Spyros finds the heavy concentration in the natural-gas sector to be a bit sus.
Wouldn’t you know it? Not 20 minutes after Chuck made his big Chuck Rhoades–ian speech about not leaking the story about energy-infrastructure malfeasance, the financial press is all over this news.
Uh-oh! The reports about natural-gas companies colluding with America’s enemies has hit the stock market, and MPC’s holdings are plummeting! Victor and Dollar Bill panic while Zen Philip mumbles false assurances about how the algo will “self-correct.”
During the calm before the storm, we get a nice scene affirming Kate Sacker’s political ambitions, with Chuck, this time around, vowing to help her reach congressional office. All Kate needs to do is return to SDNY and lose the designer dresses. But, hey, this time Chuck promises not to micromanage! If that wasn’t warm and fuzzy enough, Kate also gets a lesson in the power of friendship. Instead of making an enemy out of Bryan Connerty, she took her old colleague’s advice and went the friend route. With Chuck’s financial help (shh!) and Kate’s support, Connerty had his law license reinstated — seven years ahead of schedule. Though don’t count on him quitting his hibachi job — yet.
There’s no time for an extended old-school Billions reunion, though, because we still have some unfinished sabotage: At the very moment Prince & Co. have their phones returned, that’s when all hell breaks loose: MPC’s portfolio holdings are EMPTY; everything has been sold off. This is no hack — Prince has even been locked out of his own account. Time to blow off the president and bolt back to New York.
As part of the tension build-up, we get more warm and fuzzy farewells between Wendy and Taylor, and even Chuck and Dave Mahar, the latter of whom is also part of the Mike Prince takedown: The New York State attorney general played a key role in ensuring the SEC didn’t let Prince or Scooter put a stop (or reversal) on any of the trades made by MPC that day.
But no scene could be more satisfying than the brutal undoing of Michael Thomas Aquinas Prince, live in front of an open-plan office.
Off-brand Lex Luthor is seething as he returns to the MPC offices, where we replay his Trump-ian temper tantrum from the season premiere. A moment that makes way more sense with, you know, context than it did 11 episodes ago. But now we get to hear Wendy’s exquisite response — giving Prince the dressing-down he should’ve received 45 years earlier (read: when he was a toddler).
Pretty darn satisfying, right? Oh, we’re just getting warmed up. Not only did Axe, Taylor, Kate, Wags, and the entire MPC staff witness Prince’s meltdown, but — cue Nelson Muntz laugh — so did Governor Nancy Dunlop. Prince pathetically attempts damage control, but the governor’s overt friendliness with Axe makes it pointedly clear that my predictions last week were right.
Yep, she was on Team Axe-Chuck all along. We cut to Governor Dunlop’s meeting with Axe at Rao’s “Four Days Earlier,” where, as I had hoped, we see the parts of their conversation that were conveniently left out of last week’s episode. She assured Axe she could never join Prince’s ticket after he showed his true dictatorial colors at the Owl. And Axe guarantees her that Prince will never be president if she joins his plan: She just needed to pretend to be Prince’s veep so Axe and Chuck could work their Prince-to-pauper magic.
Now, Governor Dunlop has resumed her own presidential candidacy — and, sorry, Mike, but she’s taking her supporters with her. The domino effect continues as Bradford Luke — who was one of the few people not playing for Team Axe-Chuck — makes a beeline for the exit with Prince hilariously screaming, “I’m still a viable candidate!” But Bradford is right: If Mike Prince is no longer a self-made billionaire, his platform is as sturdy as a house of cards.
Fortunately for Bradford, he’s not out of a job for long. Since this episode is all about how it’s wiser to make friends than enemies, Wendy alerted Governor Dunlop to Bradford’s political genius.
Prince’s nightmare just keeps getting worse, though: Axe turns on the news to reveal Chuck giving a press conference about the collusion investigation in the natural-gas sector. Whoopsies! Turns out the “collusion” was just a “vicious rumor,” so, uh, case closed! Which means all the positions MPC sold off are going to rebound — as in, through the roof.
Then Scooter, Prince’s right-hand man for decades, twists the knife even deeper: Prince will have to rebuild his fortune alone. To paraphrase the great Cosmo Brown, “At last, Scooter can start suffering and conduct that symphony.” Fortunately, the pay cut that comes with a conductor’s salary won’t be as much of a hardship as Scooter thought. Philip may have turned on Prince, but Scooter will always be his family: He protected his uncle’s account while draining Prince’s coffers, leaving Scooter with about $100 million and a fitting term of endearment: “Maestro.”
In the middle of the madness, Chuck makes a pit stop at his father’s Fifth Avenue apartment — because of course Senior had his own part to play in his son’s greatest game. Turns out it was dear old Dad who “leaked” the stories about the natural-gas companies to the press. But that’s not what makes this scene the best of the episode.
It is a rare feat where one of the most abhorrent characters in recent television history can make me cry. So I have to give the highest accolades to Koppelman and Levien for writing such an impeccable scene — and to Jeffrey DeMunn, who managed to get my tears flowing without losing one hint of Senior’s repugnant essence (comparing Chuck to Phil Spector? Typical Senior).
The second DeMunn tells Paul Giamatti, “You did great,” his voice quavering on “great,” my heart positively soared, because those are the words Chuck, and the Billions audience, had been waiting to hear for seven seasons. It may have taken half a century, but Senior, at long last, is proud of his son! The hug afterward — and Senior chastising Chuck for his poor posture — was the cherry on top of a perfect television moment.
Back at the ruins of what once was MPC, a wretched Prince is about to depart when Axe presents his adversary with a consolation prize: the $100 million Prince deposited in several Black-owned banks at Killer Mike’s behest. “In Indiana, that’s like being a billionaire!” Axe snarks, reminding Prince that this is exactly what he did to him two seasons ago. Except Prince, the narcissist that he is, can only see a new beginning with this surprise cash. As he leaves, he offers a dire warning about America and how it’s built on second acts. Truest words the man has ever uttered. He’ll start over, because he’s no different than Axe or Chuck. The game never ends for these types of guys.
It’s a good thing Prince left the building when he did, because he really didn’t want to stick around for Axe’s “magnum opus.” While Prince’s billions were being stripped away, Axe ensured that everyone else on his staff became ridiculously wealthy. Turns out the reason why Axe’s refrain from last week’s episode was “Like it, don’t love it,” is because he thought just turning Prince into a pauper was #yawn. But if he could do that while making Victor, Dollar Bill, a newly rehired Ben Kim and Tuk Lal, and the rest of his loyal employees Über-rich by stashing money away into a secret fund — the Admirals Fund — now that’s a project he could sink his teeth into.
If the scene between Chuck and Senior is the best one of “Admirals Fund,” then the parting moment between Chuck and Axe is a very close second. It’s genuine, it’s heartfelt, and it’s ludicrous all at the same time. There are jokes about aging. There’s talk of mutual respect. There’s a Blind Faith comparison. There’s an understanding that they probably can’t work together again. (Though they’ll likely cross paths every now and then; Axe returns the incriminating hard drive to Chuck with the understanding that this gesture will allow him some future “indulgences.”)
And then they discuss how neither is the same guy from when they first met. Right before each of them return to doing exactly what they were up to when Billions began.
Underneath the primal alpha-male energy, there’s a melancholy undertone to Axe getting the band back together, even as he reclaims his former office and orders his team to “make some fucking money.” Axe was the one person who left, did the work on himself, and changed his outlook — only to come back to do the same thing all over again? Even Wags is ready to spread his wings elsewhere. Perhaps in Miami. Could that be a hint of what’s to come, spinoff-wise?
But Axe Global won’t be an exact replica of Axe Capital, because two people who were integral to the original’s success are striking out on their own. Axe gives both Wendy and Taylor the hard sell, but neither will be swayed. The one consolation is that this version of Axe lets Wendy and Taylor go with grace. He even offers Taylor the old Axe Global office for a philanthropy organization. When they arrive at the empty location, there’s one last gift waiting for them: a placard reading “The Taylor Mason Foundation” with a familiar TM logo. Stop making me cry, Billions!
Wendy is keeping her job as CEO of Mental, seeing it as a new challenge, which is something she would never get at Axe Global: Axe literally wanted her to come back and do the same exact job she’s had for 20-plus years. But at least the door is open for something between Axe and Wendy. Something healthier. Something that isn’t intertwined with work. It took seven seasons, but Billions eventually got the memo: Work doesn’t have to be the center of your life.
Nothing could illustrate that sentiment better than our last look at Chuck and Wendy. Both are finally at peace — at least Wendy is — with their lives. So they’re able to enjoy a family dinner out at a local hibachi restaurant, with Chef Bryan Connerty, in what we hope is one of his last shifts slinging chicken, offering up service with a smile.
Thanks for the wildest of rides, Billions. We’ll miss you.
• Only Ari Spyros would quote Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and get the line wrong. Keanu said, “Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.” Not “Something is amiss at the Circle K.”
• So much for my theory that Dr. Mayer was secretly working with either Axe or Prince. But I agree she’d make a great Wendy replacement at Axe Global.
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