Old rivals turned new friends become rivals once again
How far are you willing to go? That’s the question that defines the season 4 finale of Billions. It’s right there in the first scene, as Chuck uses his safe word to get out of some particularly intimidating BDSM play with his hired dominatrix. He’s not ready for this experience, and everything is moving too quickly. By the end of the episode though, he’ll be ready. He’ll have wandered into the deep end and come out with something resembling a win, though his personal life takes another hit.
This season has been building to three big confrontations. Front and center, there’s Axe and Rebecca, whose relationship was clearly threatened by the former’s obsession with ruining Taylor and their business. That’s been the driving force at Axe Capital, as any growth from Axe has been offset by his anger and furious vengeance. Then, there’s Chuck’s battle with Bryan and Jock, as he’s been doing everything he can to hold on to his new job. Humming in the background of all this has been the relationship between Axe and Chuck. After three seasons of being enemies, they came together to call a truce and work on mutual goals. But as the season rolled on, it was clear that wasn’t going to work. They’re egomaniacs who refuse to kowtow to anyone else, and at some point, they were going to split.
Things don’t exactly start off slow, but there’s some measured movement at the top of “Extreme Sandbox.” Chuck assures Wendy that he’s going to work to get her medical suspension reduced, Taylor tells their firm that it’s time to move beyond Axe, and Kate continues to refuse Bryan’s attempts to hear more of the privileged recording, namely the part that would identify the person dubbed “the idiot,” who Bryan believes is key to exposing the corruption within the Rhoades’s development deal.
From there, it isn’t long before things kick into high gear in a way that only Billions can pull off. Axe asks Rebecca to take Wendy out for a day of “distraction” to keep her mind off the medical board stuff, but what he really wants is time without her to make his own move with Saler’s, the company she feels very connected to. He calls Sanford, pitches his idea over a fancy pancake breakfast, and gets it done. That leads to a truly brilliant, excruciating scene. Rebecca, after her day with Wendy spent driving construction machinery and “moving the earth”—and also turning down a ride home from the bar from some sleazy dudes by hopping in a helicopter!—shows up to a board meeting and gets completely blindsided. Axe has secured the votes to liquidate Saler’s, get rid of all retail locations, and make money for everyone.
Of course, this isn’t about the bottom line for Rebecca, and she lets Axe know. Axe says he needed to do this, that he couldn’t bear the deal with Taylor, and that he had to get ahead of any ill will he’d feel towards Rebecca by making this happen. Rebecca, a woman immune to his nonsense, says that there’s nothing left between them before walking out. It’s a sacrifice Axe knew he had to make, but you can tell this one hurts. He’s too focused on Taylor and revenge, and as the episode ends, we see that it might be his undoing. I’m very curious how (and if) Rebecca factors into the fifth season.
Still, this plan ends up seriously damaging Taylor Mason Capital, which was Axe’s goal. Taylor scrambles to find a way out with their company still intact, but there’s nothing there. For once, there’s no real play. Plus, Axe has pressured Chuck to fulfill his end of their deal and finally lock Taylor up. But this is where things get interesting. Chuck, over the course of this episode and the season, has lost sight of why he’s working with Axe. He sees Axe for who he is: a man willing to do anything to get what he wants. There’s no benefit to Chuck. But how does he finally come to the realization?
Well, it has to do with his grand plan to avoid prosecution from Bryan and Jock. As it turns out, Chuck and his father have long known that Bryan and Jock would be after them. So, they set up a trap that they’d walk right into. Chuck knew that Bryan wouldn’t be able to resist listening to the privileged part of the recording, and he knew that Jock would have some hand in making sure Bryan found a way to listen to it. So, he set them up. The “idiot” in question, revealed in a beautiful scene where Bryan breaks the seal on evidence to listen for himself, turns out to be Bryan himself. Chuck taunts Bryan on the recording, saying he couldn’t possibly be listening because that would be illegal. Then, the FBI storms in. That flag pin from the previous episode, the one Chuck gave to Kate? She planted it on Bryan and therefore recorded Jock ordering him to listen to the audio. That means Chuck no longer has to deal with both Bryan and Jock. “No one is left standing,” he says as Bryan realizes what’s happened.
In all of this, Chuck realizes that Axe isn’t on his side in any meaningful way. Chuck is jealous of the way Axe can help Wendy—his $25 million donation to cancer research is what gets her medical license back—and he’s sick of taking orders from a man who doesn’t understand his job. So, as the finale comes to an end, he uses the one thing that Axe has a weakness for: revenge on Taylor. Chuck arrests Taylor, but rather than lay any charges, he asks them to infiltrate Axe Capital so that he can take them down once and for all.
What’s great is that the season ends not with Taylor stuck in between the two warring men, but rather seeing a way to take advantage of them. Taylor brings their team (Lauren, Mafee, etc.) to Axe Cap, but they have their own motivations. They see that Axe and Chuck are hellbent on mutual destruction, and when that moment comes, Taylor will strike, and Taylor Mason Capital will live again.
It’s brilliant. It’s a perfect cap to a twisty, entertaining episode, a beautiful way to end a morally ambiguous season, and an intriguing way to set up season five.