Billions recap: Bobby Axelrod finally has the upper hand, but his enemies are coming for him
This season of Billions, in all its divided-by-COVID glory, has been a lot about legacy. After four seasons of watching the likes of Chuck, Axe, Wendy, Taylor, and many others go through various power plays to make more money and gain more power, the fifth season has asked two questions: does any of it matter, and what kind of personal toll does this kind of intense hunger for power do to a person?
This season has pushed Axe and Chuck to confront themselves and their legacies more than ever before, and it's no surprise that both men have reckoned with themselves in different ways. Each has had his catalyst for self-reflection. For Axe, it's the threat of Mike Prince, a man who's not only on his level financially but also embodies the spirit of the "good billionaire," the guy who genuinely wants to use his wealth and power to create a better world. As Prince says in this episode, "wealth will always be there, and power with it," but he wants to make sure he leaves the world a better place than he found it.
Axe despises this kind of thinking and generosity, which is why he tracked down the mother of Prince's old business partner, David, and had her spill some secrets on national television. He wanted to show the world that this man was not flawless, that he was not as good as he's been saying. The thing is, Prince ends up rolling with this. He takes the hit on the chin and antes up on his stance as a rich guy trying to do good. He sells off his positions in numerous companies to prevent them from being associated with the backlash he's receiving, and he works to make amends with David's mother.
With Prince selling his positions, Taylor sees the perfect opportunity to swoop in and scoop up a lot of green energy business for cheap. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Taylor's emerging business, but they need the go-ahead from Axe before buying because they need some extra capital. Initially, he opposes the idea because he wants to destroy those companies for ever being associated with Prince, but then he sees the light and understands this would mean he loses a ton of money, too. Then he goes right back to the dark side, going behind Taylor's back and getting Mafee to offload those companies and make them worthless. Axe gets what he wants, but as we'll see in a bit, there's collateral damage.
Now, to Chuck's reckoning. His legacy comes into question when he realizes his father is dying. That brings stark clarity to his life. After the fiasco that gave Axe his charter bank, Chuck is ready to stop chasing his white whale. He's willing to accept defeat because life is too short to go around chasing one man, especially when, as Chuck puts it, every move he makes seems to make Axe's life better and his own life worse.
This feels like an honest move for Chuck. It really does seem like he's getting ready to accept that he can't beat Axe... until Prince approaches him. Prince is ready to get his hands a little dirtier. He's accepted that he must carry the weight of his past, and he's ready to start anew. He still wants to forge a path towards goodness and prosperity, but he's also willing to go on the offense if it means ridding the world of someone as toxic and selfish as Axe. So, when his attempt at thwarting Axe's new frozen pizza business doesn't work out, he goes to Chuck, and eventually, they have a plan. Prince has swayed the Delaware Attorney General into appointing a special trustee to oversee every decision made at Axe's charter bank, and the man for the role is Chuck's vengeful, seething, dying father.
They think they've got it. They've got a man on the inside — Chuck Sr. has nothing left to lose because he's dying and the man loves watching powerful people squirm — and now all the life will be squeezed out of Axe's bank charter. Alas, Axe once again finds the trump card. Where Chuck could only offer his father something to briefly live for, Axe has offered him life. Convincing one of his employees to give up his kidney to Chuck Sr. Axe has bought Chuck's own father, giving him life when he was on death's doorstep.
How can anyone beat this man? He's come out on top again and again, and that includes destroying Wendy and Tanner's relationship. Axe is on top of the world, and he seems invulnerable.
So perhaps what's called for is more force than usual, more brainpower and influence, to take Axe down. At the end of the episode, Prince goes back to Chuck, and while they're upset about how the plan with Chuck Sr. was ruined, Prince thinks this could work out in their favor. He knows that Axe gets sloppy and emotional when he's punishing his enemies and gloating in his victories, and he thinks they can use that against him. They'll wait for Axe to make a mistake with the charter and then nail him on something that'll send him to prison. Then, Taylor walks into Chuck's office, and when they see Prince there too, they smile and utter one question: "How are we taking down Bobby Axelrod?"
Axe's enemies have teamed up, and they're coming for his head.
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