Season 7, Episode 12: ‘Admirals Fund’
Am I at a loss for words over the series finale of “Billions”? That depends. Do hooting and hollering count as “words”?
There’s no other way to put this: In its final hour, “Billions” delivered, and delivered, and delivered. It saw what it needed to do — spend 45 minutes beating the living snot out of Mike Prince, and the remaining 15 minutes depicting beloved characters being really nice to each other for a change — and by God did it. In the process, it gave us that rarest of prestige-TV commodities: a happy ending.
To get there, the show pulled a neat trick, in the form of its short, simplistic penultimate episode. Mike Prince appeared to win decisively over his enemies Chuck, Axe, Wendy, Taylor and Wags — but that was just the setup for the finale’s punchline. Virtually nothing we saw during that second-to-last installment was as it seems. The finale’s raison d’être was simply to show you how it all really went down.
It’s clear from the confidence on the faces of Taylor, Bobby, Chuck and Wendy in the first shot that things are nowhere near as dire as they seemed at the end of the previous episode. Kate’s arrival on the scene moments later only confirms what I’d come to suspect last week: The forces of good had an inside woman, who for two months has been undermining an oblivious Prince.
But wait, there’s more! Philip, too, is a double agent, and has been from virtually the moment Prince ruined Philip’s mentor. His big show of distancing himself from Wendy’s scheme was just that, a show. And while Kate really did ferret out the anti-Prince conspiracy on her own, she ratted it out to Mike as a way of furthering it, not destroying it. Every move Kate and Philip have made since — most importantly allocating sole control of investing power to Philip, then outsourcing all investing decisions to Winston’s algorithm — has been made with the destruction of Prince in mind.
Rather deliciously, the crew use the moment of Mike’s greatest triumph — his admittance to Camp David for his first, and as it turns out only, presidential security briefing — to effect his greatest defeat. While he and Scooter are off the grid, the forces of good use Winston’s algorithm, by now thoroughly hacked by Taylor, to pour Prince’s money into the natural gas sector. But wouldn’t you know it: News of a full-court press against alleged collusion between the big gas companies and various sinister petro-states just happens to leak from Chuck’s office at that moment.
The stocks tank. The algorithm and Prince’s own strict rules forbid his company from doing anything to save itself. In minutes, Mike Prince is a billionaire no more. His money, and his public image as a genius for having made it all himself, has vanished — and with it, his sole qualification for the presidency.
Prince’s subsequent meltdown, climaxing in tossing a printer through Wendy’s glass wall — a scene teased in the season premiere — is an absolute joy to behold. It illustrates not just that his cause is truly lost, but how manifestly unfit he was to ever win it. The additional revelation that even his running mate, Nancy, was in on the plot is further proof that Prince’s powers of observation ultimately take a back seat to his ego. Definitely not the kind of person you want carrying the nuclear football!
The hits just keep on coming. Chuck, Taylor and even Wendy were prepared to bankrupt every Prince Cap employee if it meant stopping Mike and saving the country and, as Chuck argues, all life on earth. Axe, though, couldn’t quite get himself on board with all that collateral damage to people he likes. So he does what Bobby Axelrod does and thinks his way around it.
Axe siphons the money of every employee into something called the Admirals Fund — an invite-only selection of the firm’s choicest investments, available only to the old Axe Cap inner circle. Once Prince is ruined, Axe has Chuck and Amanda (who proves to be a loyal lieutenant in Chuck’s army) announce that the collusion investigation is bogus, and that all the companies involved are in the clear. Since those investments were secretly kept intact within the Admirals Fund, Axe has made all of his once and future employees filthy rich.
Even Scooter’s bacon gets saved. Following Prince’s defeat, the man Wags calls the best second-in-command he’s ever seen quits the ex-candidate’s employ to go it on his own, leaving Mike completely alone. He now finds himself with $100 million — the exact same amount left to Prince — thanks to his nephew Philip. The two men patch things up before Scooter leaves to pursue his dream: to become an orchestral conductor at last.
All our heroes get that kind of emotional send off. In pair after pair, they make their peace and call it a job well done: Axe and Taylor, Axe and Wendy, Wendy and Taylor, Scooter and Wags, Wags and Axe — and of course Chuck and Axe, who shake hands and agree that while they may once again cross swords in the future, they’ll do their best to keep it clean in the interim.
The episode — the series — ends with Chuck and Wendy eating dinner with their kids. That dinner is served by Bryan Connerty, once Chuck’s Padawan apprentice, cooking at his hibachi restaurant one last time following his reinstatement to the bar as a favor from Chuck and Kate, who’s working for the Southern District of New York once again. Spouses no more but better friends than perhaps they’ve ever been, they eat and talk and laugh until the final cut to black.
“Billions,” a show that constantly references professional wrestling, has some of that spectacle’s storytelling techniques down cold. Watching this finale, I couldn’t help but feel that the show went all in on wrestling-style narrative. For two seasons, it built a monster heel in the form of Mike Prince, analogous to the seemingly undefeatable W.W.E. champion, Roman Reigns. To take him down, two bitter enemies had to become allies — like the legendary “Mega Powers” story line, in which the rivals Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage united as one.
And in the end, as with any good wrestling story, good triumphed over evil in the most nakedly crowd-pleasing way possible. The mythical Axe-Rhoades feud? It resolved itself with a handshake of mutual respect, showing that even if they tangle in the future Bobby and Chuck appreciate each other’s fighting spirit. If you follow All Elite Wrestling, this is the MJF vs. Samoa Joe story line in nutshell. Chuck and Wendy are happy. Axe and Wags are happy and possibly moving to Miami for a spinoff. Taylor is happy, gifted brand-new offices for a new company by Bobby himself. For crying out loud, Charles Rhoades Sr. even offers his son completely unvarnished praise.
You could complain that this is all too pat, too easy. You could say it’s not reflective of how things work in the real world. You could make an argument that Prince should have won, or that Axe and Chuck should have gone out in a metaphorical murder-suicide situation, like Will Graham and Dr. Lecter at the end of “Hannibal.”
You could say all of that, and I’d simply ignore it. Long one of the most sheerly entertaining shows on television, “Billions” closed out its run by doing the most entertaining things it could. If we in the real world have so far failed to defeat our Prince-style villains, so what?
The central conceit of “Billions” is that Chuck Rhoades and Bobby Axelrod are, each in their own way, the cleverest people in the game. The game is over, so let them sink that battleship, let them connect four, let them pass go and collect $200. The message of “Billions” is that you need great people to defeat Great Men.
What a delight to see some of Axe’s old retinue reassembled here. We got the triumphant return of his indefatigable attorney Orrin Bach, played by the great Glenn Fleshler, and Axe’s fixer, Hall (Terry Kinney), pops up briefly to monitor Prince’s arrival at Camp David. Mafee (Dan Soder) is back in the fold. Even Chef Ryan (Timothy Davis) returns to serve up something mouthwatering.
The awful compliance officer Ari Spyros gets a big reward from Axe, despite never having done a single decent thing in the course of the series. (Or in the course of his life — am I the only one who remembers he weaseled his way out of sexual assault charges in college?)
In this cameo-heavy season, were there any characters from the past you wanted to see again but didn’t? I missed Lara Axelrod (Malin Akerman), who was initially a quarter of the show’s core foursome; Dr. Gus (Marc Kudisch), the bombastic performance coach I once thought was as valuable an addition to the cast as Taylor, introduced at the same time; Oliver Dake (Christopher Denham), the officious government watchdog who seemed every bit as canny as his quarry right until the moment he was beaten; and Catherine Brant (Julianna Margulies), the Chuck Rhoades love interest lost to pandemic logistics.
Kudos to Corey Stoll for waiting until the very last episode to really uncork the pure-evil side of Mike Prince. His fury on his way to his office, and his bizarre smile when he’s informed he’s still got enough money to rebuild, are Greg Stillson-level frightening
I adored the way Axe revealed that his destruction of Mike’s fortune was a fait accompli: “Not doing, Mike. Done.” It reminds me of “Watchmen,” and (spoiler alert) Ozymandias’s jaw-dropping statement at the climax of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s seminal superhero comic: “I did it 35 minutes ago.”
Watching Philip emerge from the rubble of Prince Cap intact while his superiors fled in disgrace, I suddenly realized what the purpose of this character is in the context of the larger Mike Prince story line: He’s the guy who wins. In the end, he’s simply smarter and cannier than his uncle Scooter and would-be mentor Mike. I suddenly find myself hoping he sticks around for one of the rumored “Billions” spinoffs.
Last week I guessed that Kate would be the inside woman in Prince’s organization; that Philip might be a traitor, too, based on his conduct; that Bradford would jump ship the moment Mike faltered; and that Scooter ditching his boss would be poetic justice. Move over, Punxsutawney Phil, there’s a new prognosticator of prognosticators in town! I can’t really take much credit, though. After recapping all 84 episodes of this show over the course of seven and a half years, I simply have “Billions” brain.
While Wendy and Chuck close out series celebrating with family, Axe signs off by ordering his merry men to “make some [expletive] money.” A reformed billionaire is still a billionaire.