'Billions' Recap, Season 5 Finale: The Ax Falls (Released 2021) (2023)


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The walls close in on Bobby while Chuck sharpens his knives. Then an unexpected ally steps in.

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'Billions' Recap, Season 5 Finale: The Ax Falls (Released 2021) (1)

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Season 5, Episode 12: "No Direction Home"

"So that's what's to lose," says Bobby Axelrod. "OK."

He speaks to Mike Prince, the man who contributed to his downfall - a crucial one this time. How do we know it's crucial? Because, I think, from that final "OK". (Also, Damian Lewis, who plays Axe, just made it public that he's leaving the show.) Up until this point, Axe has always clawed and clawed like a cornered animal to fight his way out of defeat, whether at his hands legal nemesis Chuck Rhoades or his business competitors like Prince. But this time? He admits to having been beaten and thus makes his peace.

Why does it feel like a loss for Chuck too?

At first glance, it looks like Chuck got (almost) everything he wanted. He caught Bobby doing business with a shady cannabis company that illegally sold black market stuff, a deal Ax fell into without doing his own due diligence. He finally ended the Ax Cap/Axe Bank era. He destroyed his mortal enemy's romance with his ex-wife. Finally he harpooned his white whale.

Only the whale escapes.

What Chuck didn't anticipate when the jaws of the law closed on Bobby was that his own supposed teammate, Mike Prince, would help Ax escape. It was Prince who alerted Ax Cap to Bobby's impending arrest with a single goal in mind: take control of Ax's empire. It was Chuck, he says, who wanted Bobby behind bars, a "fantasy of Cheryl Tieg's fishnets" Prince doesn't share. He just wants Ax gone.

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Taking advantage of the short window of opportunity before Bobby or his attorney, Orrin Bachofficiallyinformed of his indictment, Prince rushes in with an offer. He buys Bobby's businesses - Ax Holdings, the bank, the wealth management company, Taylor Mason Carbon, the whole enchilada - for the princely sum of $2 billion. It's just the kind of liquid cash Ax needs to live a life on the run once the rest of his fortune is frozen by the government.

So Bobby gets on the helicopter that's supposed to take him to his chosen place of surrender - then he just hops off the other side and slips into a waiting car that takes him on his escape flight. He ends up in Switzerland, where he is greeted with a new passport and a warm welcome. He accepts both with a smile. And why shouldn't he? Even in exile, he will live a life of luxury unimaginable by normal standards. "So that's what losing is?" I would live with such a loss too.

Meanwhile, Chuck and his allies are furious - but they're not the only ones. As Prince rolls into Ax's offices to take control, two of Bobby's subordinates, Dollar Bill and Mafee, head straight out. These two former rivals, who once hosted a charity boxing match to show their animosity, agree to an alliance while still in the elevator.

Other ex-Ax employees are in a shaky position even if they stay behind. Prince says he needs Wendy and Taylor to run the firm effectively, but it's impossible to imagine the two still getting along — not when Taylor, a key player in the conspiracy to take down Axe, almost immediately finds out that Wendy knew Bobby was planning to escape.

Then there's Rian, the dealer Taylor used to promote the anti-Axe conspiracy. Moved by something akin to pitying the young woman, Taylor warns her that what remains of her ethics will be undone if she continues to work in this field, going so far as to encourage her to quit. But there's Rian in the office when the conquering prince appears; It will no doubt be a valuable asset to both Prince and Taylor, but it's also shaping up to be one of Taylor's greatest regrets.

And what about Ax's right hand, his "Tom Hagen“? The last we see of Wags in this episode is him dueling Scooter, the Wags equivalent of Prince, to pull out an office chair for Prince. Once a henchman, always a henchman, I guess. It's true that Wags' legal exposure to banking disappeared when he revealed that he had never officially signed on as chief executive -- at least not in documents Chuck and company could find. But still, a second banana needs a top guy. Any port in a storm you know?

If I have one complaint about Axe's departure from what Dollar Bill calls a "battlefield," it's that the character's long-delayed romance with Wendy never really materialized. No steamy assignments in exotic locations, no drama of growing pains as their relationship matures, no exam as Wendy and Chuck navigate the new normal — hell, not even a kiss goodbye!

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"If we can't finish it," Bobby says as he and Wendy say goodbye, "we can't start it." Too bad for them and too bad for us.

But that, of course, is subsumed by a bigger loss: that of Damian Lewis' steely presence. It's honestly amazing how well he and Paul Giamatti have served as polar opposites on the show. Giamatti's Rhoades is verbose and boisterous, exhibiting a lawyer's manner of speaking and a manor-born respect for the rules, even when he breaks them himself. In contrast, Lewis' Axelrod had a short jaw-clenched cadence in his speech; The precision of his voice, the shark-like coolness and speed of his body language all served to create a character for which "move fast and destroy things" was the watchword.

Corey Stoll's comparatively relaxed Mike Prince will make a big change as Chuck's next antagonist; It's impossible to imagine Ax standing still for three minutes while Chuck cooks him an omelette. This is a testament to Lewis' work. The real cliffhanger for Season 6 is simply how "Billions" will fill its axe-shaped void.


  • I don't know about you, but when these workers carved the words "Axe Cap" on the office walls - a change that even the company's move to Ax Bank didn't make - it really felt like a changing of the guard.

  • Aside from all of the storytelling and acting implications outlined above, am I the only one who thinks Bobby's running from the law speaks ill of his parenting? Apparently, his children still have their mother, Lara, to take care of them. (Actress Malin Akerman left the show a long time ago, but her character is still out there.) But I'm thinking of the sequence earlier this season when he urged his son Gordie's principal to get the child kicked out abort, and then a fiery "greed is good" speech to the assembled student body. What message does that send, I wonder?

  • An unexpected clemency message from Bobby's resignation deal with Prince: Ax pushed, albeit unsuccessfully, for Taylor Mason Carbon's release. Clearly he still has some respect for the protégé that nearly eclipsed him.

  • Luckily for this finale, Sarah Stiles returned as Bonnie, one of the funniest members of the Ax Gang. Here's hoping she'll be back full-time for Season 6, which is her co-creatorBrian Koppelman saidwill debut in early 2022.

  • Fairly cynically, Prince calls Ax "the new poster child for inequality"... as he plays his game to take control of Bobby's empire. What is the prince doing? Up to this point in the season, I think Prince has been toying with the idea of ​​what an ethical billionaire might look like on "Billions": one trying to make amends with the mother of his former partner, who shares Chuck and Taylor joins after Bobby destroys the Renewable Energy Sector. Even the sight of Prince smoking a joint and eating eggs with Chuck and his daughter was human. Are there ethical billionaires? This episode may have given us the show's answer.


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