“Time is a flat circle” is a famous line from another prestige cable drama (as everyone on Billions would know, because they all know every line from every movie and TV show ever made), but this Showtime series is where it truly applies. The plot spins like a ball bouncing around a roulette wheel, but so far the wheel shows no sign of slowing. The loser now will be later to win, to quote another song by the man who gave this episode its title and closing number.
“No Direction Home” begins with a fake-out. We assume Chuck has arrived at Axe Capital to arrest Axe, but the wheel keeps spinning through a series of flashbacks before landing back on this scene at episode’s end, by which time the players have literally switched seats. Having been tipped off to his impending arrest (and finally cleared from COVID-19 quarantine), Axe gathers his brain trust to game plan a worst case scenario. According to Warren, that would mean lengthy jail sentence for both Axe and Wags (as the bank’s CEO).
The Axelrod loyalists are convinced their roadrunner-in-chief will once again lead coyote Chuck Rhoades over a cliff, but while Axe still has plenty of bluster, he doesn’t have much of a plan. Wags all but assures him that he’ll flip if that’s what it takes to stay out of jail, which is not the sort of reassurance Axe might hope for from his right-hand man. It’s also the worst possible timing as far as his blossoming romance with Wendy, although I’m not convinced there will ever be a good time for that.
Axe puts on a good show. He stages a press conference across the street from Chuck’s office, baiting him to come down and spar in front of the cameras. He crashes Wags’ meeting with Chuck to discuss the terms of his cooperation, giving Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti at least one classic Billions standoff this season and a chance to debate which of them is the Ali in this Ali-Frazier bout. Axe’s faceoff with Taylor is less satisfying, mostly because their relationship hasn’t made sense in a while and Taylor was only a bit player in Chuck’s plot with Prince. Taylor has their own one-on-one with Rian, a character the writers never quite got their arms around this season, with predictably ambiguous results.
Still, it appears Axe is prepared to surrender, at least in a legal sense. Arrest warrant finally in hand, Chuck and his team arrive at the helipad in time for a gunfight-at-the-OK-corral style meet-up with most of Team Axe, save their fearless leader, due to arrive by chopper any minute. Except when the chopper arrives Axe isn’t on it, and another series of flashbacks reveals why. Axe has sold the bank, Axe Cap, and Mason Carbon to Mike Prince for two billion dollars, the kind of walking around money he’ll need when the feds seize his assets. That is, if Axe decides to run.
As it turns out, Prince doesn’t need to see Axe in prison. The thrill of victory is enough, and taking everything from him for pennies on the dollar is the cherry on top. Deciding he’ll live to fight another day, Axe slips his Justice Department tail and breaks the glass on the third plane he keeps in case of emergency. By episode’s end he’s alone in Switzerland, having failed to convince Wendy to join him in exile.
Prince, meanwhile, takes over Axe’s former throne. Despite a pair of defectors in Dollar Bill and Mafee, most of the team remains in place. Wags, who escaped arrest by producing an unsigned contract and claiming that he’d only been asked to serve as bank CEO and had yet to accept, is forced to share the consiglieri position with Scooter, which should provide some amusement in season six.
Yes, this has all been a setup for another reshuffling of the deck and a further postponement of the final confrontation between Chuck Rhoades and Bobby Axelrod. On the one hand, this is standard Showtime procedure, a delaying tactic necessary to keep churning out more seasons of Billions. On the other hand, as long as the machinations are still fun to watch, why not keep the wheel spinning? “No Direction Home” doesn’t pull the rug out from under us as neatly as season two’s “Golden Frog Time,” but it gets the job done.
- Damian Lewis appeared to be back full-time in this episode after telecommuting for the past couple of weeks (presumably because he shot scenes overseas following the untimely death of his wife Helen McCrory). It remains to be seen whether Axe will be sidelined for any significant amount of time next season.
- Chuck doesn’t get the big win he’d hoped for, but at least he overhears Senior telling his daughter that her brother is a great man (if not always a good one). That must count for something.