Billions premiere recap: Mike Prince takes charge of Axe Cap with a bombshell announcement
At the end of Billions' fifth season, Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) had finally met his match. He was cornered by Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), with jail time on the horizon. Rather than accept that fate, Axe left his whole life behind — including his new romance with Wendy (Maggie Siff) — and fled to Switzerland. That ending left viewers wondering what was next, as Lewis chose to depart the show and spend more time with his family after his wife, Helen McRory, died in 2021. There was obvious worry that the show wouldn't be the same without the Axe-Chuck rivalry at its core.
Those worries are instantly put to bed with the season 6 premiere, "Cannonade." This is very much still the Billions we know and love. Right off the bat, we're treated to Chuck riding a tractor, followed by some sort of mob that he's collected through the night to confront someone who's got a bunch of vintage war cannons in his front yard. What the hell is Chuck up to now? In classic Billions fashion, we flash back from there and learn what led to this moment.
In the time since Axe fled the country, Chuck has purchased a farm and decided to take a "sabbatical," doing bits and pieces of work from the farm but mostly letting Kate (Condola Rashad) run the show while he grows sweet corn and milks his cow. He's disillusioned after failing to put Axe away, telling Kate that he won't come back until he finds a case that's completely solid.
Meanwhile, Mike Prince (Corey Stoll) is trying his best to get everyone at the former Axe Capital to believe in his vision for the future, and to see him as a leader (which is a nice bit of meta commentary on the show itself). He's not making much headway, and things get worse when Wags discovers that Prince has been collecting the data from health-monitoring rings he gave everyone as a gift when he took over the company. Prince's right-hand man, Scooter (Daniel Breaker), actually notices that Wags is having a heart attack, and their moral obligation to call the paramedics leads to the discovery, causing a slight revolt amongst the employees.
With nowhere else to go, Prince goes to Wendy for ideas on how to turn the ship around and get the employees on his side, because right now they're not buying into his more gentle approach to business. They're used to the decisive, angry Axe, and they're not convinced that this man, who asks them about their feelings, can lead them to more riches. Wendy — who, like everyone else, is reluctant to work with Prince — tells him that all he can really do is make a bold move to change the culture. He can't keep trying to make amends; he needs to show that he can take the reins and lead by example. It's time to show what he's made of, rather than just telling everyone that he can take them into the future.
So Prince calls a meeting, and gathers not only all the employees, but all of the firm's biggest investors. Here's when he drops a bomb. He tells some of the biggest investors that Mike Prince Capital will not be managing their money anymore, that he won't be working with anyone who does dirty business. He promises to clean house and change the moral compass of the company, keeping only the New York City Firefighters as clients. He sends everyone else packing, and the bold move endears him to the old Axe Cap employees.
Included in that banishment is not only Chuck's father, but his most recent rival, Melville Revere. Revere, played with wonderful arrogance by Better Call Saul's Michael McKean, has a tradition of setting off his vintage cannons every morning and night, the thunderous blasts disrupting the otherwise idyllic nature of the community. Chuck asks him to tone it down, but Revere refuses, invoking the constitution like so many old white men before him.
Chuck quickly realizes that most everyone in town despises Revere and his cannons, but they can't stand up to him because of his wealth. So Chuck does what Chuck does best. He offers a government conservationist funding for a number of his projects, and in exchange, the conservationist "discovers" (ie: plants them himself) rare, protected bog turtles on Revere's property — meaning he's no longer allowed to fire the cannons because the gunpowder residue leaks into the stream and could kill the rare species. It's Chuck at his finest.
"Cannonade" acts as a near-perfect reset for Billions. It doesn't totally wipe the slate clean, but it does show a new way forward for the show, with the dynamic between the central characters changing in interesting ways. It's good to have Billions back, and even better to see that it's ready to adapt.
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