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S5 E12

It was only a matter of time before Billions pulled the rug out from under us and revealed the true arc of this season. It happens every year (you could criticize the show for being repetitive, in fact, as there's generally not much structural change from one season to the next) and yet, because of the cast and the writing, it's incredibly entertaining. It's always a blast to watch the whole tower of cards come crashing down, creating chaos leading into the next season.

At the beginning of tonight's finale, Chuck walks into Axe Capital and asks if "he's in his office." "Where else would he be?" replies Dollar Bill, "it's his office, isn't it?" "For now," says Chuck. The implication, based on the season's events, is that Axe has retreated to his office, forcing Chuck to arrest him on his own turf and that Axe has accepted the impending arrest.

It's a bit of misdirection that propels the episode's events. We flashback 43 hours earlier, as Axe's team lays out the worst-case scenario for him now that, as the head of Axe Bank, he's accepted money from someone illegally selling drugs. As Chairman, Axe faces 15-20 years in prison on money laundering charges, along with the freezing of all his assets. Wags, as the CEO of Axe Bank, faces a similar sentence. "I will never walk into a jail cell with my name on it," says Wags, telling Axe that he'd take extreme measures to make sure it didn't happen.

With his team showing no way around the arrest, Axe goes on the offensive. He holds a press conference out front of Chuck's office and calls out the attorney general for using his position of power to settle a personal grudge. Axe asserts his innocence again and again, trying to get out ahead of the arrest and the narrative that will come with it.

Chuck is livid because Axe wasn't supposed to know about the arrest; someone must have leaked it. Chuck wants to punish those responsible — he stops short of calling for a firing squad because "I saw the Kubrick film as a tyke, and it turned me off them" — but he has to focus on making sure Axe doesn't slip out of his grasp yet again. So, he starts to apply pressure, securing a plea deal rather than a trial and calling in Wags to offer him a deal to flip on Axe.

Wags pretends to go along with the plan until he starts openly mocking the idea that he'd flip on Axe. Then, Axe crashes the meeting, everyone else leaves, and we get one of those great face-to-face showdowns that Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis are so good at delivering. They throw barbs and quotes at each other, but neither accepts defeat.

In a way, the confrontation is cathartic for Chuck. He feels like he's finally won, and he goes to his father with this sense of contentment. Chuck Sr. sees the change in his demeanor too. Chuck has finally caught his white whale, and this time it's for real.

Or so Chuck thinks. Everything is arranged for Axe to surrender himself to Chuck. Everyone meaningful is present, from Chuck and Kate to Wags, Wendy, Orrin, and Taylor. Axe's helicopter lands, but no one comes out. Chuck orders the cops to drag Axe out kicking and screaming, but there's no one there. Axe has gone on the run, and it all starts to click into place for Chuck. He knows who leaked the impending arrest and why.

We flashback again to see how this all happened. Prince secretly meets with Axe and lays out his situation simply: Axe lost. There's no way around it. Now, Axe is heading to prison, and his assets will be frozen. But Prince sees another way to do business here. He offers Axe $2 billion cash (what he calls "running away money") for all of Axe Bank/Axe Capital. Axe hates the offer but knows this is the only path forward. He has to accept that he lost to Prince, and now he just needs to survive to fight another day.

So, Axe ends up in Switzerland, and Prince ends up in Axe's office. Enter Chuck, as we saw at the beginning of the episode. Chuck, betrayed and angry, is ready to come after this new foe in a familiar place. The power dynamics have shifted, setting the stage for what should be a compelling sixth season.

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