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Two men sit in the prosecutor's office. One goes to jail. Things get complicated.
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Season 6, Episode 12: "Cold Storage"
There are times, and this is one of them, when "Billions" feels less like a show to recap and more like a show to decode. Not because it's a Lost-style mystery box series that constantly introduces new known unknowns to theorize about, but because the plot is so dense and meticulous that you get the point miss when you miss a beat.
I've been staring at my laptop screen for a long, long time trying to figure out how best to explain this episode. It begins with Chuck Rhoades and Mike Prince, along with their attorneys Ira Schirmer and Kate Sacker, being interrogated by Chuck's successor, Dave Mahar. After a back-and-forth series of flashbacks, Prince ends up losing $3.5 billion but salvaging his political career and Chuck being released from prison for the express reasonEndthis career. TL;DR: It's complicated!
I think the beginning is with Kate Sacker. As Chuck's former mentee became Prince's new legal eagle, she is a prime target for Rhoades in his ongoing quest to bring Prince down. He goes so far as to dig up an old case that makes her look soft on the Big Pharma writers of the opioid crisis, a case that will undermine her political career the moment he publishes it. In exchange for his continued silence, he demands information that will aid him in his quest to thwart Prince's political ambitions.
And at first glance, she seems to be delivering. Kate tells Chuck that while Mike spun off his predecessor Bobby Axelrod's bank from his holdings, for some reason he retained ownership of the armored car company associated with the bank. After a little digging, Chuck discovers that the fleet has only been used a dozen times to ship black plastic crates to various Prince-owned companies that happen to have vaults on the premises.
This is the kind of Skulduggery Chuck was looking for. He has already accidentally burned himself and burned Prince's political fortune by revealing that Prince is the sole funder of his universal basic income program, Mike Money. Chuck hoped it would make Prince's investors feel like he'd been distracted from their primary goal of making money. In reality, however, Prince uses Chuck's train to take credit for paying for the programwithoutlooked like a glory pig — after all, it was Chuck who disclosed how it was funded, not Prince.
So Chuck is pretty upset when, with the help of a fake search warrant and his old subordinate, Karl Allard, he gets his hands on one of those black plastic suitcases. A hired technician manages to unlock the digital cold storage device inside the suitcase — you only have 10 attempts to enter the correct password, after which the device locks permanently — and Chuck finds $150 million worth of cryptocurrency inside, all untaxed.
Confronted with Chuck's findings, Dave acts quickly and confiscates the remaining drives - this time with legitimate warrants - before Prince can hide them elsewhere. After a bit of fuss, Dave introduces the drives to Prince and Chuck and their attorneys. If the drives can be opened, Prince's tax evasion scheme will be exposed and he will go to jail. If they can't, Chuck will end up behind bars for his illegal interference in Prince's decent business affairs.
(Or something along those lines; it's not entirely clear why Chuck isn't in legal jeopardy regardless of the outcome, since his seizure of that first drive was fraudulently done. Perhaps the answer is simply that nobody likes a loser. )
This is where Kate comes in again. In sharing this with the group, she was deliberately preparing for Chuck's blackmail game by hiding the fact that she had declined to prosecute the opioid barons at the express request of the Feds, who had their own case pending. The idea was that she would trick Chuck into doing something illegal by making her look guilty. Mission accomplished.
However — and this only becomes clear after the nerve-wracking business of unlocking hard drives is over and done with — Princereally didhide billions in untaxed cryptocurrency on these drives andreally notassume Dave would act fast enough to recover them before he could relocate them. So he sits and watches an I.T. Type reduces all these cooling devices to paperweights. The loss literally shakes him - on a surveillance camera, after their expensive chicken game, Dave sees Prince's knees buckle as he waits to board the elevator. But it costs $3.5 billion to permanently remove Chuck from the board, as it apparently did when Dave orders him arrested (and Karl jumped out of the building), so be it.
But Prince, Chuck, and Kate aren't the only smooth operators in this room. There's also Dave, who turns out to have his own plan in motion. When she visits Chuck in prison, she produces a "real" warrant that predates Chuck's initial seizure of that cold storage drive, giving that seizure legal imprimatur. She wants Prince to believe Chuck isn't on the board, when in fact he will work with Dave "under the guise of shame" to incapacitate Prince once and for all.
It's the perfect cover story for Chuck, a man who will stop at nothing to defeat his enemy. Why should Prince worry when his Ahab appears to be practically underwater?
Indeed, Prince ends the episode by acknowledging his enormous financial loss to his people, but still toasting them to celebrate their battle scars. He's doing so despite the fact that his sexual relationship with his employee Rian - an ongoing matter, as it happens - has been disclosed to the company's Brain Trust. Rian refuses the payout offered by Scooter and Wags, claiming that she can be trusted to keep quiet.
prince for his parttuttrust her. He makes this clear during a disturbing speech to her — which disturbs us, not him — about how "there are people who make things happen and people who make things happen, and you have to land on who you want to be." It gets her out of her fear of becoming the next Monica Lewinsky or Rielle Hunter.
But the rest of the speech actually leaves me with a queasy feeling. “When you decide what you want to feel,” he continues, “that is the true source of power. When you get there, people will see what you want to see on your face. Most people never find out. The ones that do? You can rule the world.”
It's suddenly much clearer why Chuck has repeatedly insisted that Prince is Greg Stillson, the psychopathic presidential candidate from Stephen King's The Dead Zone (and David Cronenberg's excellent adaptation of it). In fact, the episode's argument is thatatwho have held the White House have done so with a princely belief in themselves at the expense of others. As such, there aren't enough Chucks and Daves in the world to save us from those who think they're better.
And several key figures, on Mike Prince Capital and on Billions in general, are growing weary of Prince's pretensions. Over celebratory drinks, Wags waxes nostalgic about the good old days of Ax Cap, when profit was all that mattered. Wendy suggests that Prince's approach "with its veneer of goodness" might be preferable: "It inspires," she says.
"Are you 'inspired'?" Wags spits back, contempt written on his face. I think that's the tone this season really ends on: with a cynic like Wags realizing that Prince's superficial idealism is even more cynical than anything he could have imagined.
There's an interesting bit at the end of the episode where the Prince Cap boys - Tuk, Ben Kim, Victor and Winston - discuss options for sleeping with co-workers, which Tuk says is now on the table. For a moment I thought Victor, being involved in the Rian conversation, had given it all away. Then I remembered that Winston had seen Rian and Taylor hugging after Rian told Taylor what she had done and I realized that Winston had misinterpreted their hug as that of two lovers. As always, he's only half right.
When the cops confiscate all those disc drives from Prince's vaults, Mötley Crüe's "Wild Side" plays on the soundtrack. Intentional or not, it feels like a throwback to old metalhead Bobby Axelrod's needle drops.
Looking back on this season, I'm amazed at how well the Chuck-Prince Dynamic stands on its own without feeling like a hollow, retreaded Chuck-Axe. Prince's desire to be seen as a good guy is what really separates him from Axelrod. But at the same time, characters like Wags and Wendy felt a little helpless without an axe.
Newcomer Philip -- part of Prince's two-person succession plan that included Taylor -- never quite caught on as a major player ... except perhaps when he flinched in horror when Wags introduced the prospect of murder as a solution to their Rian problem . However, Wags brought up the idea only to turn it down, while Philips uncle Scooter appeared to temporarily consider the idea. I don't want to be at this family's next Thanksgiving.
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