by Lynette Rice | Deadline | October 27, 2023
It’s the end of the road for Bobby Axelrod and his team: the drama created by Brian Koppelman and David Levien ended its seven-season run Oct. 27 with a tidy finale that keeps Axe (Damian Lewis) in the game of making money.
Here, Koppelman and Levien reflect on the finale, how the writers strike impacted production on the finale, and why they couldn’t say goodbye without including a few more pop culture analogies (like Phil Spector with River Deep!) in the episode.
Sadly, questions about Billions spinoffs were verboten.
DEADLINE: Most important question first: how much thought went into deciding what T-shirt Damian Lewis would wear in the series finale?
BRIAN KOPPELMAN: So much thought! Early on in the show, we started thinking about how and where Axe grew up and realized that he was this metal head. It was part of his identity that he liked to showcase. Episode four of the series, he takes his friends to see Metallica. Metallica is the shirt he’s worn the most because it’s his favorite band. We needed him to show his Metallica allegiance, especially with all the rebellious stuff that Metallica still stood for and the way in which Metallica always seems to rise again, like Bobby Axelrod.
DEADLINE: So can you address it what happened at the end of season five? Did you think you’d never see Damian again?
DAVID LEVIEN: We’ve known for a couple of years that he was going to leave the show. At that time, he said, ‘I’ll come back in the final season for a couple episodes as long as you guys have something good to do.’ So we knew that was gonna happen. But then as we got closer, we started talking about what we were thinking he said, ‘You know, I think I can do more.’
KOPPELMAN: So that’s how we were able to make him come and do half the season.
DEADLINE: How were you impacted by the writers strike in the final season?
KOPPELMAN: We were not able to be part of the filming of the last episode. Luckily, we’d written the whole thing. It was fully locked and finished, but we couldn’t table read the last episode. We were really lucky that the director of the final episode is Neil Burger. Neil directed the pilot of Billions, the second episode of Billions, and several others. When we came back from the pandemic he stepped in because we wanted someone who really knew [the show]. Neil has the DNA of the show so even though we couldn’t be there, Neil and a non-writing producer named Mike Harrop were able to handle it.
LEVIEN: We could hear how it was going but we couldn’t get calls from set asking us to do things about the script. We couldn’t write ADR, we weren’t an ADR heavy show and we always thought that if it ended before we finished and locked that we could, you know, do some stuff but we didn’t really need to at the end.
KOPPELMAN: I kind of went out of the city because I didn’t want to … it was very painful, not being able to give everybody a hug on set and say goodbye but it’s like, that was our obligation so we stuck to it.
LEVIEN: Before it all happened we were able to have this big cast dinner one night and it was great. We got to say goodbye, everybody made speeches, and we were able to tell them what it all meant to us. That was like our emotional closure because we knew what was coming.
DEADLINE: So I’ve got to ask you about putting Axe in a castle.
LEVIEN: Of course Axe had to have a castle. He’s not going to get an apartment over there. We chose it off of photos. That place was impressive.
DEADLINE: Is there a story behind that castle? Did it belong to somebody great?
KOPPELMAN: I’ll just say it’s Bobby Axelrod’s castle.
DEADLINE: So when did you realize you had to have your adversaries come together in the end? Were you worried that viewers fell in love with both of them and didn’t want to see them turn on each other?
KOPPELMAN: We wrote the last season of the show for Billions obsessives like us, for people who love the show and care about these characters. It’s not an intellectual process. It’s much more like trying to get inside the characters’ motivations and having them react as we believe they would.
LEVIEN: It was early on in the planning of the seventh season. I don’t think at the very beginning of the series we knew exactly how it was going to end, but a couple of years in we realized there was a bit of a fatigue in the Chuck versus Axe thing. As storytellers we had to find ways to give it texture. They had brief alliances and they saw certain things the same way. And then there was like this end game where neither guy completely lost, but neither guy felt he’d had the full victory at the end of season five. Axe found a version of freedom, but he had been pushed into it and Chuck had kind of gotten to victory but it wasn’t the exact version he wanted. When we realized that Mike Prince could represent a greater threat, we realized they could pull together against him.
KOPPELMAN: Often we thought of Wendy as the main character or as a co-main character. She drives the action very often on the show. She realized that in her mind that Prince was an existential threat. She needed to bring Chuck and Axe together so that’s what she does.
DEADLINE: Why couldn’t Wendy end up with Axe? You must have had deep discussions about this, right?
LEVIEN: There were discussions. We got a chance to watch a screening of the finale at the 92nd Street Y the other night. You don’t really get a chance to watch the finale of a TV show with an audience. So we got to see and hear the room react. And I don’t know it just felt like creating this relationship that had so many different facets except that piece was the way to go.
KOPPELMAN: I mean, we got people thanking us for not giving in to sort of the wish fulfillment of that. Because if they would have kissed in season five, you can’t make any more episodes after that.
DEADLINE: You had some great cameos in the final season. Who were you most giddy about?
LEVIEN: Rick Hoffman comes to mind. What he did was just so beyond delightful to us.
KOPPELMAN: I mean Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is an American hero. He means something very deep to us. We both read his books when we were kids. He’s a super important figure in the world and in the culture. So having Kareem was truly an honor. You can’t believe you’re in the presence of one of the great humans who lived during our lifetime. Then, on a slightly less deep level, having Triple H on the show, getting to be in the ring with Triple H is mind blowingly cool and fun. I’m a huge wrestling fan my whole life.
LEVIEN: And it’s always great having Mark Cuban come and be part of the Billions world because he fits so naturally in it.
DEADLINE: Let’s talk about all your pop culture analogies. I’m wondering if there’s a master list you’ve got in your room that you draw from. Did you have a quota per episode?
LEVIEN: I mean, if there was a quota, it would be there to be violated. We don’t have a list. This is just the way our minds work.
KOPPELMAN: We’ve been best friends since we were 15 years old. So we’ve just been talking to each other like this for a really long time. We talk in terms of movies and music and sports all the time. When we were little we would give each other books to read and we would watch the same movies. So yes, if we’re talking to each other we’ll be like, that’s like with Drago and Rocky in 4. That’s just how we talk.
DEADLINE: I’d be derelict if I didn’t ask about the music and how important it always seemed to the show.
LEVIEN: It was eclectic, for sure. Some of it is classic and some of it is brand new stuff.
KOPPELMAN: We put Wet Leg in the show right before they blew up two years ago. We’re huge music fans and have been around music our whole lives, so we keep lists. We have so many song lists between us that we were honestly going back and forth sharing and we put them in the script. Every song in the finale except a piece of one which is scripted. By season three of the show 85% of the songs were scripted. They were there from the beginning.
DEADLINE: Did you know early on that Axe would continue to be Axe by the end of the show. He would stay in his job forever? Obviously he’s got shitloads of money but he just needs more, right?
KOPPELMAN: It’s great you picked up on that. Yeah, that was very satisfying to us, that is his ending to the show.
LEVIEN: One of his superpowers is he knows exactly who he is, certainly by the end of the show. The problem and the danger for some of the characters is when they lose track of who they are and think they are something else, that’s when they become vulnerable.
Read the rest of the original article at Deadline