One of the many things I’ve observed from recapping three seasons’ worth of Billions is that nobody ever really wins. Both Mike Prince and Chuck Rhoades close out the sixth season thinking they’ve won, but honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen either of these characters look so pathetic.
True to Billions season-finale form, “Cold Storage” features a convoluted, time-jumping plot that relies heavily on a lot of exposition for those of us who aren’t legal, tech, and/or cryptocurrency experts — and the whole story only starts to make sense toward the very end. After deducing last week that Prince was about to run for president, Chuck stages a precarious scheme to prove that Prince is unfit for office before the campaign is even off the ground: He attempts to uncover evidence that Prince is single-handedly funding the Mike Money universal basic income program with a secret crypto stash.
An elaborate game of chicken ensues, presided over by New York State Attorney General Dave Mahar. We learn early on that either Chuck or Prince will be going to jail by the end of the episode. Under shady circumstances (what’s a fake warrant between friends?), Chuck obtains a suspicious cold-storage hard drive from one of Prince’s companies that he insists holds the incriminating crypto. Thanks to a hired tech expert, Chuck cracks open the encrypted drive, which holds a whopping $150 million. Dave then seizes an additional 11 drives, which are scattered around Prince’s multiple companies. She convenes with Chuck and Prince, along with their respective attorneys, Ira Schirmer and Kate Sacker, in an interrogation room. The rules of the game are now as follows: If the 11 encrypted drives can be unlocked (the tech expert only gets ten tries before the drives permanently shut down), and they do indeed hold billions of crypto, Mike Prince goes to prison for tax fraud. If the drives can’t be unlocked, then Chuck Rhoades goes to jail for the seizure of property under false pretenses. What adds to the tension here is, if the drives are permanently locked, and Prince is lying about their contents just to save his ass, then he is personally out $3.5 billion.
When the final gamble goes down, with Chuck risking his personal freedom just to prove a point and Prince risking 30 percent of his net worth to stay out of prison, both end up the biggest losers. The tech expert cannot open the remaining drives despite the required ten attempts, concluding with Chuck being led away in handcuffs. Prince walks out a free man, but it’s not until he’s standing at the elevator that Dave — who is still watching him via the security cameras — notices the first crack in his stone-faced veneer. Before getting onto the elevator, Prince places his hand against the wall as if to catch his breath.
At this point, even though Dave smiles at this new development, we still don’t even know for certain if Prince did indeed have the suspected crypto hidden on those drives. It’s not until he enters the upscale bar where the rest of the MPC staff awaits his arrival and casually announces that he just lost $3.5 billion. This revelation shocks even his unflappable attorney, Kate Sacker.
Prince leads his staff in a toast to the future, but the team’s collective silence is the antithesis of their rip-roaring fealty from a few episodes ago. When I say Prince came out of this episode a loser, it’s because of what he didn’t hear or see just a few minutes before he walked into the bar, and that’s, yet again, a sea of discord rising among the ranks: Now that Philip has officially been named, along with Taylor, as Prince’s co-successor, Uncle Scooter has washed his hands of his nephew. Even though Scooter insists that he “knows what he signed up for” — as in, yes, I’m going to be the man behind the man who buys the next presidency with dirty money — he never wanted Philip to get mixed up with Mike Prince. But since Philip didn’t listen, Scooter ominously warns that he can’t help him anymore and that his new role at MPC is “a bag of lava that’s going to erupt all over [him].” Yikes. Then there’s Wags, who bemoans to Wendy that, at least when he was working for Axe, his sketchy deeds were “honest.” He didn’t have to “pretend I was making glittery cupcakes while shivving a motherfucker who needed shivving.” And despite their new role as Prince’s co-successor, there are also hints that perhaps next season (yep, Billions will be back for season seven) will see Taylor planning their own escape from MPC. They enigmatically tell Rian that working for Prince is nothing more than “biding our time” because they’ll “have our own places soon enough.”
As for Chuck, being thrown in jail isn’t even his lowest point, though only the audience is aware of that. Shortly after Prince reveals his hand at the elevator, Dave arrives at Chuck’s cell, all too eager to reenact this famous Eddie Murphy–Nick Nolte scene from 48 Hours. (And I gotta say, Sakina Jaffrey does a mean “Roxanne”; she is clearly one of the smartest additions to the series.) She had to let Chuck be arrested so she could prove her own theory about Prince, but now that she knows Prince was lying (“His knees almost buckled when he tried to stand!”), she’s here to spring her former boss from the clink. Dave will clear Chuck of any illegal action — presenting a fully authorized warrant to replace the fake one he used to obtain the first hard drive — and they will work together to take down Mike Prince.
It sounds like a dream come true for Chuck, right? Eh, more like a nightmare. Chuck’s collaboration with Dave must remain secret. Her plan is to make the world think he’s still under indictment until Prince is the one put behind bars. Chuck may be getting released from jail, but how is someone like him supposed to do this kind of social-justice work without the promise of everlasting glory? I don’t know, Chuck, you may have wanted to listen to the Grateful Dead lyrics in the background during your big jail-break scene: “Don’t you let that deal go down.”
You know how I said at the top of this recap that there weren’t any winners in Billions? Well, I think the one person who comes the closest to “winning” at the end of this season is Dave Mahar. Because she’s now done the one thing even Kate Sacker couldn’t accomplish: She has managed to get Chuck Rhoades not only to heel but to do her bidding and, unbeknownst to him, ensure that she’s the one who gets the recognition if and when Mike Prince is finally put away.
• While I’m not ignoring the significance of Mike Prince naming a Black man and a gender nonbinary person as his direct successors, Billions is still leaving a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to one of its most prominent Black characters. I get that Scooter has accepted his role as the future man behind the man in the White House, but I am deeply disappointed that this seems to be the path Kate Sacker is taking as well. Her own political aspirations are already a distant memory, and she now appears to be all in on helping Prince get elected.
• Oh, Rian, Rian, Rian, Rian. Good on Billions for examining the double standard that comes with potential political sex scandals. It’s sickening that Prince gets to coast on a “cavalier” attitude, while Rian must weigh the emotional and career implications of a couple of fun days sleeping with her cultlike boss. She absolutely did the right thing by not taking that payoff, but it’s not like Taylor’s advice will be super-helpful in the long run: Training yourself to be all Dick Whitman by remaining “careful” and “aware” just sounds like a recipe for disaster.