In one of the series’ best season finales, Chuck and Prince square off in a battle that will end with one of them in jail.
S6 E12
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If there's a single eternal truth about Showtime's Billions, it's that no matter how rocky the season itself might be, the finale always delivers. Take this season for instance. The show has struggled to hit its previous highs — for me it's less because of the departure of Axe (Damian Lewis) and more related to the fact that the great ensemble cast has taken a back seat throughout much of the season — coming through with some solid episodes here and there, but never quite offering up the gripping twists and turns of previous seasons.

And yet, "Cold Storage" comes out of nowhere and absolutely knocks it out of the park. This is a tight, compelling, tense episode that does everything in its power to assure you that, going forward, Billions will continue to deliver the goods. What's interesting is that the reason this finale works and the season was largely dull are actually one and the same.

Let me explain. I think that after Damian Lewis left the show, and therefore left huge shoes to be filled, Billions made the right choice by extending Prince (Corey Stoll) into a full-time character that could go to battle with Chuck (Paul Giamatti). But Prince's initial role as a "good billionaire" wasn't really built to be sustained long term. He was an interesting curiosity, and more importantly a contrast to Axe — a man who made Axe question his own values and beliefs. But once he was destined to go toe to toe with Chuck, things had to change. The character needed to shift, and that takes time. So, this season ended up being a whole lot of setup. At times that resulted in meandering, seemingly inconsequential episodes, but in the end it gives us "Cold Storage" and everything that's to come next season.

The episode begins with a classic Billions flash forward, as Chuck and Prince sit across from each other, lawyers by their side, and Dave (Sakina Jaffrey) mediating in the middle. Dave says that by the end of this session, one of these men will go free and one will go to jail. "Now what's on the drive?" she says as she points to a hard drive in front of Prince.

Cut to 72 hours earlier, as Chuck, still trying to show that Prince isn't the squeaky clean billionaire he says he is in an attempt to ruin his yet unannounced presidential run, is digging up dirt on Kate (Condola Rashad) to get her to rat on her boss. He shows her an old case file, where she chose not to prosecute the family largely responsible for pushing opioid prescriptions and therefore fueling the crisis (here they're called the Butters family, but I'd recommend checking out Patrick Radden Keefe's Empire of Pain if you want to learn about their real-life counterpart). Chuck notes that her father served on three boards with the head of the Butters family, and thinks that's the kind of information detrimental to someone who one day wants to run for political office, or who will be installed in Mike Prince's cabinet.

Credit: Christopher Saunders/SHOWTIME

Chuck digs some more, and finds that no one seems to be investing in Mike Money, not even Prince's usual allies. So how is he planning to fund the expensive UBI program that's meant to launch his presidential bid? Chuck gets goaded into revealing that Prince is funding it himself, with his own money, which makes him look like a good guy trying to eradicate poverty with his own wealth. It's good PR, but Chuck isn't convinced. No way does a man like Prince sacrifice nearly a third of his net worth for a program like this. Something else has to be going on.

More digging reveals that while Prince divested of all Axe-related companies when he took over, including the charter bank, for some reason he kept the armored car company on payroll. When Chuck tracks down a driver for the company, he's told that the trucks only transport a single black box. Inside that box? The drive from our cold open. Prince has one of these drives stored at his companies in various states.

Through means that straddle the line of legality, Chuck gets his hands on one of the drives. They're high-end and super secure. You get 10 attempts at the pin to access the drive. If those 10 guesses are incorrect, the drive bricks forever, the data gone. Chuck's hired tech guy manages to crack the drive, and finds $150 million worth of crypto on there. Multiply that by how many drives are out there and Chuck estimates Prince is hiding more than $3 billion worth of crypto from tax authorities, hoping to secretly use it to fund Mike Money and his presidential run. In other words, tax fraud on a massive scale.

While the episode's B-plot plays out — a rather uninteresting diversion into Rian's (Eva Victor) sexual relationship with Prince and how it's complicated by his running for President, which doesn't tell us anything all that new about either character — Chuck and Prince lay out their case against each other in front of Dave, who's used her powers as AG to confiscate every single one of Prince's drives.

He doesn't know that though. He continues to insist he doesn't know the code for the one drive, and that all that's on there is company data. Then Dave rolls in the rest of them, and Prince does everything in his power to not look shaken. Everyone goes to another room, where Chuck's tech guy is waiting again. He's ready to try cracking every single drive all at once. If he's successful and there's crypto on there, Prince is going to jail for tax fraud. If he's unsuccessful, Chuck is going to jail for breaking and entering and stealing Prince's property.

Dave asks Prince if he's sure he wants to go forward with this. He says yes, and the process begins. One failed attempt. Two failed attempts. Three, four, five. Chuck looks on in disbelief, thinking that Prince would have cracked by now, that he's never actually going to risk losing $3 billion in crypto. Eight failed guesses, nine failed guesses. Now Kate is panicking. She tells Prince that if there actually is all that money on there it's not worth losing, that they can fight the case. Once again, he says he doesn't have the codes. The tenth and final guess fails, and all the drives are bricked. Whatever was on there is gone forever.

Chuck can't believe it. He knows what Prince had on there, and he's in shock that he'd let it all go just to get back at him. Chuck's carted off in cuffs, and Prince is free to leave. As he's on his way out, Dave watches him on the security cameras. For a brief moment Prince bows his and steadies himself against the wall before entering the elevator and exiting the building. Dave smiles, knowing that they've dealt him a huge blow.

All of this sets the stage for next season. "Drinks are on me. This night has already cost me three-and-a-half billions dollars, so let's drink the good stuff," he says as he shows up at a bar with all the MPC employees, confirming to Kate, and to us, that he not only sacrificed all the crypto, but also that he's not the "good billionaire" he purports to be. He was evading taxes on billions of dollars, and that character shift should be integral to next season's battle with Chuck.

That's right, Chuck isn't going anywhere. Dave managed to finagle a warrant long before Chuck did his illegal digging, clearing him of any wrongdoing. But, she wanted Prince to think that Chuck was being taken off the board. Now, they can have an advantageous partnership. "We're going to work together to bring him down. Partners in disgrace," says Dave, and Chuck doesn't hesitate to agree to work undercover for her.

This is one hell of a finale, tense and engaging right from the jump. It makes me excited for next season in a way that most of the previous episodes didn't. In the grand scheme of things, this might go down as a season of transition, where Billions had to spend a lot of time rearranging the pieces on its board before letting the games get underway again.

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