Billions premiere recap: We're back to Chuck vs. Axe in a brutal showdown
As everything changes, everything stays the same. The Rhoades family has been through a lot lately. Wendy and Chuck are still separated, and it’s looking like there’s no path to reconciliation. Chuck Sr. is on to another marriage, this time tying the knot with Roxane, the young woman we learned about late last season. Chuck Sr. is also a father again. That’s a lot of change, but at the same time things are staying the same: Chuck is still feuding with Axe, and Axe is still tremendously unhappy, even as his wealth continues to build.
Let’s start with Axe. He begins Billions season 5 premiere in the middle of the woods, somewhere in Alaska or perhaps Northern Canada. He’s on a trip with Wags; it’s a literal trip, as they’re puking and seeing beyond their reality while taking part in a sweat lodge ceremony. Wags talks about all the goodness in the world and Axe talks about being a king and owning everything in the world, one piece at a time. “That’s a lot of war to wage,” says Wags. It’s both terrifying and thrilling to them, and it sets the stage for this season, where once again Axe and Chuck will go head to head.
As the show drops the needle on “Bad Company,” Axe and Wags hop on their motorcycles and begin the 3,000+ mile trip back to reality. They stop on the side of the road and Wags lets his boss know that Vanity Fair wants him on the cover of their magazine. Axe wants to see the trip through, but Wags dangles another name for the cover in front of him: Mike Prince, the man who will get the coveted spot if Axe isn’t there. Stoking rivalry is a surefire way to get Axe to do whatever you want.
So, they fly back, shave off their road trip beards, and head to the photoshoot. But Wags has pulled a fast one: Axe isn’t getting the cover alone. He’s part of a group of people who’ve passed the $10 billion mark in their worth, dubbed “The New Deca.” Wags lied, but it’s for the best. Any coverage is good to get more investors on board with Axe Cap. But then, Mike Prince (Corey Stoll) makes his entrance, and we have another foil for our finance antihero. Prince is as smooth and charming as he is ruthless. He’s got Axe’s mind for making money and grabbing power, but he does it with a charm that helps him avoid a bad reputation.
So, he takes advantage of Axe having to leave the shoot early to deal with a problem at Axe Cap. Prince manages to secure a solo cover, and his interview sees him positioning Axe as a dinosaur in the industry, while guys like Prince are leading the charge with innovation and adaptability. It’s a blow for sure, so Axe takes the fight to Prince, offering to have a fireside chat at his convention, something he's been declining to do for years now.
Essentially, “The New Decas” is a premiere that’s broken down into various threads that explore the shifting relationships on this show. At his father’s wedding, Chuck does what he can to persuade Wendy that even if they can’t reconcile romantically, they can talk through things and be friends, finding a way to coexist with each other. But Wendy is determined to put an end to the relationship for good. She asks him to prepare a statement to release announcing their divorce. When he fails to do it, thinking they haven’t fully decided yet, she crafts her own release with Lauren's help.
Axe tries to shift his relationship with Chuck as well. While Chuck professes to Kate that he’s really trying to become a new man, a prosecutor who doesn’t cross the line and revert to his “old ways,” he’s still going after the man who makes him revert to his old ways. Chuck shuts down a bitcoin mine that Axe has some sort of stake in. That sends Axe into a fury, ready for revenge.
It’s Taylor that talks him out of it. They admit to Axe that they were sent back to Axe Cap to be an operative and gather information. This isn’t a surprise for him, really, but it’s good to hear out loud. Now they can move forward together. Or can they? Taylor may still have their own motivations and ideas about how this rivalry will play out.
“The New Decas” is a fun, fast-paced episode that gets the season off to a great start. It's propulsive and populated with great scenes: WWE Raw Women’s Champion Becky Lynch provides a great cameo, coming in as a motivational speaker to help get the Axe Cap and Taylor Mason employees to come together and work as a team; Chuck’s fakeout speech at the wedding; the thwarted attempt at friendship vis-a-vis the Churchill books; and finally, Taylor, smashing everything to bits in a rage room. Could that be the metaphorical image for the season? Taylor is caught in the middle right now. Will they break out and smash this whole thing to pieces and rise out of the debris? We’ll have to wait and see.