Like a high-stakes card game, “Billions” has become especially adept at shuffling the deck, shifting its what’s-in-it-for-me alliances in unexpected ways, while playing a long game in terms of double-crosses and jockeying among corporate titans.
So perhaps inevitably, the fourth-season finale again shook up the playing field, with Axe and Chuck outwitting their opponents, but now poised to turn their guns back on each other, with Chuck’s wife Wendy (Maggie Siff) again likely to be caught in the middle.
Chuck and Wendy’s fraying marriage, a plot that played out across the season, has also created an uncomfortable possibility — namely, that Wendy appeared to be experiencing an attraction to Axe, with whom she has always been extremely close strictly professional terms.
Wendy’s decision to head over to Axe’s place to spend the night only heightened the dangerous game that the writers are playing, but they wisely stepped back from that abyss, at least for now.
The rest of the hour, fortunately, exhibited the best that this Showtime drama has to offer, with Axe demonstrated just how ruthless he could be in his quest to take down Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon), which included selling out his girlfriend, Rebecca (Nina Arianda), sacrificing their relationship on that altar.
Similarly, Chuck outmaneuvered his former protégé Bryan (Toby Leonard Moore), in the process neutralizing not only him but his boss, the Attorney General (Clancy Brown), in an elaborate deception that Chuck hatched with his father (Jeffrey DeMunn), who might be the show’s most utterly amoral character, which is saying something.
In a sense, “Billions” appears to be circling back to its roots, understanding that the partnership Axe and Chuck forged out of necessity could never last, and that it was only a matter of time before they turned on each other. Wendy’s confusion only risks making the seemingly inevitable showdown more personal, but it has always seemed like this is a Thunderdome situation, where two men enter, only one leaves, and neither comes away unscarred.
The entire season, in fact, has been about playing angles and calling in favors by people who play Monopoly with real buildings and seldom worry much about collateral damage. It’s a world of privilege where winning is the goal, but victories are always sweeter when they come directly at someone else’s expense.
Throwing Axe and Chuck together offered a clever means to prolong the seemingly inevitable collision, but the series now appears to be squarely back on that road.
“No one’s left standing,” Chuck muses near the end of the episode. That sounds like one of those lines that might be worth filing away for when “Billions” nears its end game.