The second season of Billions may not have always focused on the feud between Axe and Chuck, but even as other stories populated these past twelve episodes, the driving force was the tension between those two. Chuck and Axe are central to even the most tangential stories, their egos acting as a vacuum that brings everyone into their orbit. They are unrelenting in the pursuit of greatness and in their need to see the other fall. Much like last season’s finale, “Ball in Hand” pits Axe against Chuck, with an outcome that could change things for both men forever.
As the finale kicks off, Axe is blindsided by the news that he’s about to be arrested. Boyd shows up at his door, with more than his fair share of cockiness, and informs his former friend that he’s about to take a fall and that there’s nothing he can do about it. Boyd revels in the look of dismay on Axe’s face, but as always, Axe isn’t going down without a fight.
While Dake and Chuck meets in a church to discuss how the prosecution will play out, with Dake trying to keep Chuck out of it and Chuck basically saying that a time will come when he finds his way into the case in an unofficial capacity, Axe is scrambling. He shows up at work and grabs his “burn bin,” which he uses to torch everything that belongs to him. He then meets with Wags and breaks the bad news, discussing the next steps. After realizing that he needs a CIO to replace him on the chance he is arrested, he orders Taylor to begin finding ways to liquidate some of their investments, even if he doesn’t tell them why he’s looking for such a game plan.
As Axe breaks the news to his people, Chuck must do the same. He meets with Ira and his father to confirm that Ice Juice didn’t get anyone sick, but rather Axe went after Chuck and used Ice Juice as his play. Ira quickly figures out the truth of it though: that Chuck used his friend and his father to lure Axe out into the open so he could snag him once and for all. Both Ira and Chuck Sr. are pissed off, but that doesn’t stop Chuck Sr. from signing an affidavit that says he went into his son’s trust without his knowledge. That keeps Chuck’s run for governor safe, even if it strains his relationship with his father.
Speaking of scrambling, Lara is doing some of her own. She hasn’t been the most compelling character this season, but her relative emotional distance with Axe has given her new life. She lets Axe know that she won’t run with the kids — this is his proverbial sword to fall on. That doesn’t mean she’s not hoping her husband will come home at the end of the day, but it does mean that for the first time in a while, she’s really looking out for herself. That’s depth we haven’t seen with Lara before.
One big question looms large over the first half of the episode: Will Axe actually be arrested, or will he find a way out of this like he has so many times before? That question is answered when Orrin meets with Dake to negotiate the terms of Axe’s arrest, hoping for something with no media and a chance for Axe to say goodbye to his wife. Dake is having none of it, saying he’ll take Axe when and where he pleases. As always, Darkest Timeline Sheldon Cooper means business.
This showdown between Axe and Chuck ends up hurting a lot of the people they purport to love; Chuck’s father is basically disowning him after learning what his son did. “I am done with you,” he says, and it sounds pretty damn final, even though Chuck points out that he’s being exactly the person his father has wanted him to be all along. For Axe, the pain is allocated to Lara. She’s stuck trying to make sense of her life with the kids without Axe around. What might her life look like should she find a way forward?
While much of the first half of the episode is spent wondering whether Axe will be arrested, the second half is spent finally tracking him down. Axe eludes the FBI at first, misleading them with a tracked phone call and managing to escape arrest for a while longer, but it’s clear his time is up. At this point, he’s just killing time before the inevitable.
The question is how to track Axe and figure out where he’ll be. He’s scattered his credit cards and isn’t sticking to any phone, so Dake is at a loss. That sends him crawling back to Chuck, who insists on having a say on who prosecutes Axe in exchange for lending a hand in finding him. Once Dake agrees, Chuck tells him to track Wendy’s phone, assuming Axe will reach out to her for some guidance in his time of need.
When that prediction comes true, it’s hard to tell if Chuck is relieved or angered. On the one hand, he finally has Axe where he wants him, as Dake and the FBI make the arrest. On the other hand, he sees Wendy and Axe hug and clearly understands that they have some sort of emotional connection. He can’t hear it, but Wendy agrees to help Axe find himself after he admits he’s lost his way. Could this be the start of Axe becoming a better person? Maybe, but I won’t hold my breath.
As Axe is arrested, Taylor is promoted as the CIO, and Brian learns that he’ll be the lead prosecutor on the case, Chuck and Axe have one final face-to-face to close out the season. Much like last year’s meeting in a torn-up Axe Capital, the two trade barbs with conviction and hatred. Axe chastises Chuck for blowing his own money just to catch him, while Chuck replies with two simple words: “Worth it.”
It may be worth it for Chuck on a professional level, but only time will tell if his personal relationships erode and he’s forced to rethink the choices he’s made. Wendy may be back with him at the end of the season, but surely that’s a tenuous relationship at best. Plus, his father has disowned him, and who knows what that means for his run for governor. Similarly, Axe gets out on bail and heads home, knowing his life is forever changed — a conviction is on the horizon, and that might mean losing his family.
Was it worth it, for both men? Only time, and season 3, will tell.