Before there was the rapid fire talk and financial machinations of “Succession,” there was “Billions.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love “Succession.” But if “Billions” had been on HBO, Paul Giamatti, David Levien and Brian Koppelman, Damian Lewis when he was there, and everyone else involved with it would have been having trouble finding shelf space for Emmy Awards.
Last season, based on personal issues and maybe frustration, Damian Lewis left the show after making antagonist Bobby Axelrod iconic. But that still left Giamatti as Chuck Rhoades, the extremely compromised protagonist, anti-hero, sometime villain, and brilliantly verbal star of the show.
In came Corey Stoll as Mike Prince, Axe’s successor, who’s turned out to be more manipulative and evil than Axe, just less of a street fighter. Prince offers his venom in apple sauce, which makes his conniving and plotting so much worse down the line. Just when you think he may be better than you hoped, Prince comes in for the kill.
Season 6 has been the usual cat and mouse game as Chuck has played his game of mental chess with Prince, Pieces have moved like crazy all over the board. Movie references have been dropped without discretion. There’s been a lot of sniping. Prince thought he could bring the Olympics to New York. Them he planned to run for President. And there was Chuck at every turn. It was hilarious and exhausting.
Added to the mix this season was the great Sakina Jaffrey as Daevisha ‘Dave’ Mahar, who joins Chuck’s team at the Attorney General’s office. This because the inscrutable Kate Sackler (the amazing Condola Rashad) has jumped to Prince’s team where Wags (David Costabile) and Scooter (Daniel Breaker, best newcomer) are working overtime to make the world a worse place. There are already so many great actors on “Billions” (Jeffrey DeMunn, Maggie Siff) you wouldn’t think there was any more room. But Jaffrey was the missing flavor, and finally gives Chuck the support he always needed.
Anyway, “Cold Storage,” tonight’s finale, plays a feature film even at 59 minutes. For Koppelman and Levien, it’s a show stopper on the level of their own “Ocean’s 13.” You must pay attention to “Billions.” There’s a lot of talking and information. You can’t be looking at your phone or exchanging texts. Even though the writers are good at simple, quick recaps within the dialogue, you’ll want give this episode all your attention. The tension is palpable. But the outcome is worth it.
I will say that it seems like Koppelman and Levien are setting up a series finale with season 7. I would miss all these characters but you do wonder, how long can this go on for? First it was Chuck vs. Axe, now it’s Chuck vs. Axe’s ghost. There’s got to be a reckoning soon. The only regret is that Showtime has been unable to get any Emmys love for this show. Maybe this will be the season, Hope springs eternal. Giamatti is so good he makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. The writing is actually exciting, and so is the direction.
So tune in tonight at 9pm, Showtime, give this season ender the numbers it deserves. “Billions” is more than we deserve.