Sadly, Ben Kim and Bobby Axelrod are done for the time being.
The season 5 finale of Billions had so much going on that we could talk about it for 43 hours, but the biggest news was the departure of Damian Lewis. As a result of the death of his wife, actress Helen McCrory, the Emmy winner is taking a step back from acting.
We could go on and on about “No Direction Home,” but we’ll just hit the high points: Michael Prince (Corey Stoll), Axe’s nemesis, buys Axe Cap, the bank, and Taylor Mason Carbon; Wendy (Maggie Siff) and Axe’s romance ends before it begins as he flees to Switzerland; Dollar Bill (Kelly AuCoin) and Mafee (Dan Soder) walk out on the new administration; Wendy, Taylor, and Wags are stuck working for Prince, who becomes Axe’s saviour.
“I got rid of the guy who was sitting in the chair… To which Chuck responds, “Not for long, pal. I’ll be sitting here for a long time.” It’s not going to be for a long time.”
As Billions season 6 premieres on Jan. 23, we won’t have to wait long to see what’s next. The trailer is below.
We talked to Brian Koppelman and David Levien about how they wrote Lewis out, how they made Prince the new king, and what the finale will be like.
In this week’s issue of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY Damian and Axe’s goodbye was final, or was it just an informal farewell?
BRIAN KOPPELMAN: Nothing on Billions, including the goodbyes and hellos, are ever permanent. However, Damian’s time as a regular on Billions is over. We were blown away by the guy’s performance. It’s truly remarkable what he accomplished in making Bobby Axelrod an icon. It’s difficult to fathom how dedicated he was to his craft given the circumstances. He was constantly flying back and forth to England to be with his family. We consider ourselves extremely fortunate and honoured to have known for five years Damian Lewis as Bobby Axelrod. However, I’m not saying goodbye for good.
What brought us to this point? The question is whether or not this is a long-term goal. We all know that Damian and his family were devastated by the death of their beloved son earlier this year.
Well…Billionaires are gonna do what Billionaires are gonna do! https://t.co/ZweEljLRrH
— Billions on Showtime (@SHO_Billions) April 15, 2022
THREE YEARS AGO, WE FIRST BROUGHT THE TOPIC UP WITH DAMIAN. Then there’s the fact that we’re extremely wary of discussing… He had to deal with the death of his wife, who was not only a wonderful person but also an accomplished artist. When we first met him three years ago, he told us that he wanted to spend more time with his family and be back in England at the end of a certain period, and asked if we could begin planning Axe’s departure from the show at that point. Because of his trust and openness, we could do things like bringing Mike Prince in to help us plan season 5, as well as make sure we were aware of what was going on in his life and what he was thinking at that time. Seeing where Season 4 needs to go to set up the events of Season 5 allowed us to do this at the end of Season 4 as well.
When a star decides it’s time to step back, most shows don’t get the attention that this one did. As a result, why did you choose to end the character’s story here?
David Levien: We wanted to make sure that we explored all of the areas that a character like this would go in his lifetime. What’s in it for you? Whether it’s power, privilege, or adversity. As a result, we laid out the possibilities and discussed them extensively in the writers’ room. To keep things fresh and exciting, we made sure to keep an eye on our audience’s wants and needs while also making sure that we didn’t play right into their preconceived notions. This allowed us to deliver on their expectations while also ensuring that we didn’t give them anything they didn’t ask for.
Because we had the luxury of planning this for years in advance, we were able to keep a close eye on how people in the real world were crashing the narrative surrounding the issue of excessive wealth. There was no way to have Axe himself try to rephrase what it meant to be a billionaire, but we were able to find a new character in Mike Prince who could do so in a way that spoke to the next evolution, which is to say the next forward-looking evolution of the extremely successful and powerful financial sector billionaire. It’s important to talk about being a positive force in the world. There is no way Bobby Axelrod would even pretend to care about anyone but himself and his family when it came to amassing this enormous fortune. The axe couldn’t answer this question, but Mike Prince could. Now that people are debating the value of money and its potential for good, we wanted to pose the question of whether or not it is possible to be a good billionaire.
HEDGE FUND BILLIONAIRE LEVIEN: Axe is a throwback to a time when there was a lot of secrecy surrounding hedge fund billionaires like these. Over time, a new version of it emerged that was much more public and interested in trying to demonstrate that they were making a positive difference in the world along with their money. We were able to take advantage of a new narrative, and the show evolved.
Before moving on to Prince and concluding the Axe discussion, I’d like to mention how much I enjoy seeing Chuck and Axe fight. It was as if we were back in the good old days! Is it important to you to keep these two together as much as possible and put a cap on their relationship?
When He Lost His Wife
KOPELMAN: We’ve always been very specific about how often we would allow them to directly interact so that every time it would feel like Ali-Frazier. Our first scene was like a pre-fight padder at a weigh-in with public microphones and then we’d see them square off in a conference room. This season finale was a lot of fun because it felt like we’d earned it.
There had been several opportunities to join the show in the past, but Corey joked that he’d been waiting for something more exciting to come along. With Prince, he was successful! Do you think Corey was aware of the plan for him and the character when he first started?
KOPPELMAN: Of course he did. While he was having a conversation with you, he was already aware of it.
for a long time, we’d been hoping to work with him. When he came to do a table read for a movie we were working on, we were in awe of him. In addition to that, as you mentioned, we discussed various opportunities for him to appear on the show with him. He was difficult to schedule because he was always busy. When we found a sliver of time in his schedule, we would often approach him with a smaller project because we thought he would have the time. It’s the supporting cast that gets to do the interesting stuff; it’s not the main characters. So we sat back and waited patiently for the right opportunity, and then prepared a full banquet for him and this character.
Are the Chuck and Prince dynamic similar or different to the Chuck and Axe dynamic that we’ve seen over the years?
KOPPELMAN: Even though you’ve done an excellent job of framing the question, we’re not going to reveal any spoilers. So, if you’re a fan of the show’s tone, ensemble, and feel, Billions season 6 has it all. Even though it’s a Billion season, this one is structured in a new way. However, the characters remain unchanged. It’s still possible that some of the show’s characters will come into conflict with each other over their own needs, desires, and wants.
When Brian used the word “evolution,” it made me think of how the characters and Chuck’s approach to dealing with this new threat have to evolve as well.
With Wendy and Axe, you’ve avoided “going there” for quite some time now. What made you finally decide to go in that direction, even if Axe maintains that they weren’t the ones who started it? Even more so knowing that Axe was about to be removed from the board.
KOPPELMAN: Derek, you bring up an important point: they never get started. To put it another way, that’s exactly where the characters were supposed to go. Departures provide a unique opportunity to express what might otherwise go unspoken. And it all just happened so naturally. Axe’s journey and the pressure he would be under, as well as the location of Wendy and what Chuck would do, helped us see that there would be a moment when Wendy and Axe could look at each other and say what they’d been wanting to say all along. The audience’s response and the way they discussed the issue were ideal for us.
During Taylor’s worst day, Wendy tells Taylor that he and Wendy have become Axe. Taylor (Eva Victor) is struggling to come to terms with the person she’s become, and she even gives her new protégé Rian (Taylor) the advice to leave the industry altogether. What were you hoping to accomplish with Taylor in these last few episodes of the series?
LEVIEN: Taylor is yet another character undergoing growth and change. If you consider a character like that, who has been exposed to increasing wealth as they grow older, you have to consider what that wealth might do to them as individuals and as characters. With all of that money and power, Taylor’s character has been buffeted by these forces and is now grappling with what all that money and power do to an individual. Those are the things that are influencing Taylor. They’re all in on the action.
Dollar Bill and Mafee have decided to leave Axe Cap in favour of a team-up, which means Taylor and Wendy could be stuck there for a long time. Which two, in particular, did you decide to oust from your office? It appears to be a winning strategy purely for the sake of sarcasm.
KOPPELMAN: It’s how we’ve written the entire show, so a lot of it is instinctive and based on what feels right. Just as you’re drafting the scene of Mike Prince stating, “I own all of this,” Dollar Bill and Mafee appear and respond in unison, “F—- it, I’m out of here.” Oh my God, that’s right.
There is one dollar in LEVIEN: As much as Bill wanted to stay, he was bound to Axe and Axe’s way of doing things. Between Taylor and Axe, Mafee had to navigate a series of rapids in his loyalties, leaving and returning. As Brian put it, it just seemed like the right thing to do for them to get on the elevator.
When you think about it, there were a lot of great things that came out of it. When Dollar Bill and Mafee are not at Axe Capital or Michael Prince Capital, the audience knows that they are together in an office somewhere. And, of course, this provides a wealth of story possibilities.
But Ben Kim (Daniel K. Isaac) saying it feels like we’re at the end made me wonder if you’ve laid out the show’s endgame and when that would come into play. I would not dare to ask for a tease for season 6. There is a possibility that the decision will be made more based on instinct at the time.
KOPPELMAN: We know how the show will end, and we’ll do it that way. Nevertheless, we haven’t arrived at that point yet. And we think that this whole situation presents a lot of storytelling opportunities that we find interesting. All of these characters and the plot and setting have kept us engrossed. Because of this, while we know where we’re going in the long run, we don’t feel like we’ve arrived yet.
Although “reinvigorated” might be a better word, does the creative energy flow differently when the main character leaves after five seasons and a fascinating new one enters and rises to prominence?
LEVIEN: I agree wholeheartedly. It’s a fresh start. Since the beginning, we’ve been enthralled by this world, and that’s the reason why we decided to make the show. I’m still engrossed in some of the characters from the previous season, but I’m eager to see what the new ones have to offer.
Paul Giamatti and Maggie Siff and Asia Kate Dillon and Dave Costabile and Condola Rashad and Jeff DeMunn are still writing for us. Finally, to write for such an f—-ing superstar as Daniel Breaker and Eva Victor. All of these fantastic opportunities keep us right here and focused on the here and now.