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Billions of dollars return to first place in an undisputed finale

Paul Giamatti, Damien Lewis
Photo: Jeff Neumann (Showtime)
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"Can people change?" Is an overused topic for television nowadays. The motivational engine of a thousand anti-heroes shows that almost always either "No, but it's complicated" or "Yes, but it's complicated" answer. "But it was the overarching question of this billion season and it worked – because the show has laid the groundwork for what the characters' lives might look like if they themselves made some other choices, alternatives to it are only plausible enough to believe that they could have actually happened.

As "Extreme Sandbox," written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, directed by Colin Bucksley, Ax argues that he could have had his money. and his relationship with Rebecca. Chuck could have had his job and . Taylor could have had her father and . Instead, everyone is back in first place.

Let's start with Ax's betrayal. Although the final episode seems to be carrying Wendy's main burden of intrigue, Ax throws Rebecca under the bus instead, pulling off Salers for parts. He sends Rebecca on a trip with Wendy to cheer up Wendy by playing with the eponymous Extreme Sandbox, a service where bulldozers can play around (and apparently hang out with Mark Cuban). Really, it's a way to get her out of town while the plan with Sandy Benzinger goes down for breakfast.

Rebecca gets a strong elegiac quality in this episode, which comes from the camaraderie of her scenes with Wendy talking to the setting as she leaves Ax's apartment, soft music as the elevator doors close. Nina Arianda has done a great job making Rebecca a real match for Ax on an intellectual and emotional level, and I'm surprised how sad I am that it did not work out. I can only hope that the show brings her back as an ally for Taylor and Chuck next season, because the only thing better than Ax, which destroys his own chance for stability, is that he has his grave misperception, Rebecca in to transform an enemy, not noticed.

Rebecca asks Ax to explain herself, and the answer is really that simple: he can not let Taylor handle her. This scene contains one of my favorite moments in the series by Damien Lewis: A slow push on Ax, who is lying next to Rebecca in bed and breaking the smallest smile as he describes how in the middle of the night "the old bile" rises in him. Ax tries to justify this by trying in part to protect Rebecca by blowing everything up – and crushing Taylor – which feels different than before, because Ax knows what he's giving up and seems to be to be a little sad about it. (Self-knowledge? In this show? What a concept!)

Chuck, his father and Ira, meanwhile, with the help of Secretary Krakow and Sacker, actually pulled a fast against Connerty. It's not quite as exciting as the Ice Juice game, but it's still damn exciting. Throughout the season, he had the feeling that Connerty was not quite Chuck's opponent, and the show acknowledges that this was the case from the beginning: Chuck knew from the start what his protégé would do. Most of the conversations that Chuck and his father conducted this season have been made on the assumption that they will be monitored and go along with Connerty until he manipulates evidence and listens to the tape. Danny Strong is always fun as Krakow, and Paul Giamatti deftly plays Chuck as muted and a bit sad – or at least self-pitying – as he defeats his former colleague.

Giamatti does not. Play Chuck's scenes with Jock, which are the ridiculous highlight of the episode, below. Not only is Paul Giamatti allowed to curse Clancy Brown in Italian, he is also allowed to kick his shoes on the desk and stomp his feet down to gain emphasis while Chuck claims to be the front runner again. It turned out that Sacker had replaced Connerty's flag pin with a recording device so that Chuck could tape Jock to demand illegal criminal action. (Whether that means Jock withdraws or leaves Chuck alone remains to be seen.) Finally, Chuck can indulge in his new Domme. He deserves it.

Unfortunately for Chuck, he does not deserve to return to the graces of his wife. It seems as if he and Wendy could reconcile for a moment if they think he used his fixer magic, but Chuck quickly admits that he did nothing to help her get back her medical license to get. (Ax instead donated a lot of money to look after it.) Even though his wife asks him to be his normal slimy ego for them, he ignores it in favor of his own vendettes – a. The episode's decision becomes dramatized by Jock charging into Chuck's office while Chuck asks Karl what makes the doctor at the doctor's office tick. Chuck laments and rejects responsibility for his own actions, arguing Taylor that Ax is the really aggressive person in their relationship when he brings them to his office. He tells Wendy when to come home, when she realizes how little he cares. He is constantly attracted, always partly the reason for the hell he has given himself. Why should she come back?

Wendy seems to have finally left Chuck and crashes towards the end of the episode at Ax. I really thought, really, this season would end with Wendy and Ax sleeping together, and the scene of the two sure suggests it could happen. In fact, we do not see what happens after they have made the bed. That makes some sense, since Wendy has been in Axes for so long and has to play around with a show that runs for so long with different pairings (example: Bonnie and Dollar Bill), but I do not really like it Wendy felt like a farmer in the rivalry of Chuck and Ax. Her role as a mediator between the two was much, much more interesting.

"Extreme Sandbox" brings the series back to its natural resting place in many ways. Ax can not give up destroying Taylor, and he can not stop lobbying Chuck. Chuck, meanwhile, can not give up destroying Jock, and he can not resist the opportunity to use Taylor as an asset against Ax. Tucked in a corner – and intent on destroying Ax as they can – Taylor returns to the animal's belly and gets to work on Ax Cap with the core of her staff. Only two people seem to be enthusiastic about this twist: Ax, who is ahead of Taylor, and Ben Kim, who genuinely enjoys seeing his old friends.

The broad strokes of "Extreme Sandbox" are great and make a good figure almost mechanical sense. The performances are excellent and there are moments up there with the best the show has ever done. Sure, some of the links in the logical chain building this new (old) status quo are a bit chaotic: Wendy sees a message about Ax's funding of Pancreatic Research? Taylor recognizes the Pavarotti song that Rudy sings and decides to go on bail? The show has sharpened the characters' instincts enough, presented them as competent and hungry and focused on each other, so that these insights do not have to be telegraphed.

Nevertheless, the fact that these are my biggest problems is ultimately the merit of the show and an indicator that even the problems I have with billion at this time , mine are so high expectations. This episode was great, but I know what can come next – fingers crossed will be – even better.

Scattering Observations:

  • "Behind Blue Eyes" supports Axes latest hurray with Rebecca is an unbelievably good music choice for a show that always has a great music selection – the most classic of classic rock and self-pitying till you drop ,
  • Rhoades Senior, who keeps the government from destroying the vault: my box!
  • Sean Ayles continues to be one of the funniest characters in the series. He's on the screen for 50 seconds to set up the donation that gets back Wendy's medical license, but it's 50 of the most entertaining seconds of the entire episode.
  • And even Taylor joins in: They apologize to Mason Capital employees for investing too much in Ax to be better than Ax. (Namely, by apologizing.) Although they tell Lauren, "They're going to dump each other in the ground and I'm going to do my damn business," it's hard to believe it will. They are too deep now.

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