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‘Billions’ settles all accounts with an epic series-finale showdown

<i>Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME</i><br/>Corey Stoll as billionaire Mike Prince in Showtime's
Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME
Corey Stoll as billionaire Mike Prince in Showtime's "Billions."

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers about the series finale of “Billions,” titled “Admirals Fund.”

After seven twisty seasons, with more double and triple crosses than you can shake a stock certificate at, “Billions” successfully landed the plane (OK, private jet) with its series finale, in a satisfying finish that reassembled the key players and even gave them time to take individual bows. For a show with so much bite and venom, it was oddly sentimental in generally the best of ways.

The final season found a way to raise the stakes above high finance, with billionaire Mike Prince (Corey Stoll) running for president, exhibiting enough problematic qualities and questionable beliefs to inspire those within in his inner circle to turn against him and try to thwart his bid.

While the forces arrayed against Prince appeared to have been outflanked and defeated in the penultimate hour, the finale – cramming eight weeks of action and flashbacks into a single episode – revealed that it was actually Prince who got outmaneuvered, leaving his political campaign in shambles and the “B” in front of his net worth abruptly reduced to a mere “M.”

This season of “Billions” benefited immeasurably from the return of Damian Lewis as Bobby “Axe” Axelrod after he had chosen to leave the show, not just creating a worthy foe for Prince but providing the character payback after Prince had forced him into exile.

As an added bonus, the coalition forged to stop Prince reunited Axe and Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), whose evolution from mortal enemies to grudging allies in earlier seasons established “Billions” as one of TV’s more addictive dramas at its height, before the show (perhaps inevitably) appeared to lose its fastball, to borrow its penchant for sports metaphors and pop-culture references.

As Chuck’s judgmental dad (Jeffrey DeMunn) put it, in a moment of father-son bonding that dovetailed with the episode’s aforementioned sentimentality, Chuck had shrewdly partnered with “a man you tangled with for almost a decade” to achieve his ends. If it wasn’t quite the game of catch scene from “Field of Dreams,” for these purposes the point was much the same.

Written by producers Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the finale leveraged the season’s one-foot-in-reality arc about a billionaire’s pursuit of the presidency, dealing Prince a cathartic comeuppance – saving the country, sure, but still allowing the principals to make a financial killing in the process. As Bobby said during their final showdown, “So yeah, Mike, this is what it’s like to lose.”

Even Wendy (Maggie Siff), frequently caught between Axe and Chuck, found the right balance in the finale, choosing to go out on her own before sharing a quiet moment with Chuck and their often-forgotten kids.

It fell to Axe’s lieutenant, Mike “Wags” Wagner (David Costabile), to subtly sum up the challenge that all series finales face in this age of snap judgments and instant recaps, telling one of his colleagues, “Endings are tough. Someone always ends up unsatisfied.”

Yet as “Billions” signed off to the aptly chosen strains of Steve Miller Band’s “Take the Money and Run,” the show could take pride in having risen to the occasion, offering those who gave seven seasons’ worth of time to the Showtime series a nifty return on their investment.

The “Billions” finale is playing on Paramount+ and will premiere October 29 on Showtime.

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