Billions recap: Chuck and Axe are at each other's throats again as season 5 returns
Billions is finally back! Season 5 was interrupted by COVID-related work stoppages last year, depriving all of us of the back half of what has so far been a really solid season. A quick recap, since it's been so long: Axe is trying to get in the business of running a charter bank so he can, you know, have even more money than usual. Chuck, as attorney general, is doing everything he can to stop that from happening, while also trying to finally find something to take down Axe and Axe Capital for good. Meanwhile, Mike Prince (Corey Stoll) has arrived as another rival for Axe, the seemingly do-good entrepreneur representing everything Axe despises — namely good intentions, real philanthropy, and making money without exploitation.
Axe has been desperate to undermine Prince's assertion that he's one of the good billionaires, and Wags thinks he may have finally found a way to get some dirt on him. He's found out that Prince's right-hand man, Scooter (the Wags to Prince's Axe, if you will), has been placing all sorts of gigantic sports bets, and that there's no way a man of his means is managing to keep his head above water. So Wags corners Scooter in a coffee shop and gives him an ultimatum: show up at Axe Cap and give them some dirt on Prince, or Axe and Wags ruin his life with this gambling information.
Meanwhile, Chuck is dealing with a scandal of his own. He's been anonymously emailed a picture of him in his college days, setting fire to a bathtub full of student election ballots. Chuck explains the context to Ira, that this was part of a movement to get the university to divest from companies upholding apartheid in South Africa, and that Chuck needed to beat his opponent for moral reasons. But Chuck also knows this looks bad and could tarnish his whole career.
The email comes with a call for him to resign his teaching position, and Chuck is pretty sure he knows who the message is from. He calls a meeting with one of the students who walked out on him when Chuck asked them to unethically look into Todd Krakow earlier this season, and what follows is a fun, prickly conversation in which Chuck tries to warn the young man about starting out his career with blackmail. The student responds by sticking to his convictions and telling Chuck to resign.
Luckily for Chuck, the student eventually has a change of mind and tells the dean of Yale that he attempted to blackmail Chuck, and that the matter should be dropped. Of course, the dean isn't too eager to keep Chuck on as a teacher with this in his past threatening to surface at any point, so she forces him to resign his post, though he gets to keep the photo away from the public for now.
Getting back to Axe, Wags lets him know that Scooter has agreed to come in, and that means it's only a matter of time before they get something good on Prince. But then Prince shows up alongside Scooter and explains that the bets were all Prince's, and that they're all accounted for and all taxes are paid on any wins. In other words, Axe still has nothing.
Eventually, because of a supposed "tell" in the language Prince used during their meeting, Axe directs his team to dive into Prince's past — something has to be there. Indeed, Dollar Bill eventually stumbles across something. Prince's deceased partner, David Fells, owned shares in their first company together, and because he was a founder, these shares come with 10-1 voting power. David's mother should still have the shares, so Dollar Bill sets up a meeting between her and Axe.
Axe makes his intentions clear. He's ready to pay her anything she wants for those shares. The thing is, she doesn't have them, Prince does. But she has something else: She tells Axe the story of what really happened with the sale of their first company. Essentially, when David started drinking and getting dependent on drugs, Prince offered him $200,000 for control of the company, telling him to go off and get healthy, and that when he was sober and strong enough they'd start another company together and keep growing. The shady part? Prince knew an offer for the company was coming from Microsoft, so that $200,000 was nothing compared to what David should have made. The betrayal led to more drinking, more drugs, and a car accident that killed him a month later.
All this gets aired on national television, during the feature that Prince has been waiting to see and is expecting to paint him as a saint, as David's mother sits down for an exclusive interview to tell the whole story. It's a big win for Axe, but not the only one of the episode. He also manages to swindle Chuck into investigating a payday loan company called Plaintiff-ful, essentially ruining the company and making them worthless. Once the investigation is underway, Axe buys up the company for cheap. Why? Because it has an asset he wants: a charter bank. That's two huge moves for Axe in this episode, putting both Prince and Chuck behind the eight ball. Still, a lot can happen in these last few episodes. This isn't over yet.