Damian Lewis, Paul Giamatti/Showtime

“Ball In Hand” can’t match the electricity of last week’s Ice Juice caper, but that makes sense: this is the hangover following the night on the town. As a season finale, it’s a bit more subdued than might be expected, but there’s an undercurrent of dread running throughout the hour, which is structured as a tick-tock leading up to the inevitable arrest of Bobby Axelrod. It begins with Boyd being released from prison and making Axe’s house his first stop, just to ”return the favor” and give him a heads-up that he’ll be in handcuffs by sundown. From that point, two parallel tracks are in motion: Axe and those around him coming to terms with his fate, and Chuck being confronted with the collateral damage his moment of triumph has caused.

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Despite all his bluster throughout the episode, it’s a scared Bobby Axelrod we see tonight, maybe for the first time: scared of going to jail, of what will happen to his company, and of how to explain it to his sons. His primary tactic is evasion, putting off the arrest for as long as he can by being a moving target. He stops by the office long enough to arrange for the destruction of incriminating evidence and put Taylor on a project with the goal of protecting Axe Capital’s assets from the feds. (I won’t even pretend to understand Taylor’s eventual solution to the problem, but it sounded like, you know, typical brilliant Taylor stuff.) After that he’s on the move, holding meetings with associates in clandestine locations, using burner phones, and sending decoys in his place to keep the feds busy.

Lara has reached a place in her mind that once seemed inconceivable: imagining a life beyond Bobby Axelrod. Although his attorney won’t give her any help, even when she sets a stack of greenbacks on his desk, he does let her know that she’ll be entitled to half of whatever’s left in the event Axe is put away. She uses the cash from the vault to expand her own business, putting it in her cousin’s name, and when Axe is eventually released on bail, she’s not there to meet him. Game night with the kids is more important now, because that’s a life that will continue regardless of what happens to her husband.

Axe still has the loyalty of a trusted few, however. Wags will always be Wags. Taylor’s improbable, skyrocketing rise to the top wouldn’t be complete without them being named chief investment officer in Axe’s absence, but Taylor wants nothing to do with it as a permanent arrangement: they still have much to learn from Axe. And then there’s Wendy, whose relationship with Axe has been strained throughout the season, sometimes to the point where her continued association with him pushed the limits of plausibility. In the end, though, she’s the one standing by him when the feds finally catch up to take him away. We’ve often been asked to take their deep bond on faith, but it felt genuine in this moment thanks to strong work from Siff and Lewis.

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Chuck’s manipulations brought on all these events, and he’s as smug about it as you would expect. When Dake is unable to bring Axe in, Chuck graciously agrees to help in exchange for a few small favors: keeping Senior’s name out of the Ice Juice case and hiring Bryan on at the Eastern District to handle Axe’s prosecution. (That leaves Kate as head of crim after she threatens to leave for a private firm, and Lonnie packing up his desk as a result.) It’s not so easy to smooth things over with Senior and Ira, however, as they’ve lost millions thanks to Chuck. Ira will get his money back someday, after a criminal trial and subsequent civil trial for damages who knows how many years down the line, but Senior never will. He agrees to sign an affidavit asserted that he used Chucks’ trust without his consent, but the damage to their relationship can’t be undone. He wants nothing more to do with Chuck, and just for an additional kick in the pants, he shows him photos of Wendy stepping out with the Elon Musk-alike.

The season wouldn’t be complete without one more confrontation between Chuck and Axe, and it’s a good one. Both men are now well aware that they’ve put everything else in their lives at risk out of hatred for each other. “Worth it,” Chuck says, as if this tawdry moment of seeing Axe in a cell he’ll be walking out of in a matter of hours could really be worth it to any sane person. Axe is no less unhinged, though, threatening to find whatever it is that keeps Chuck awake at nights and unravel it until it pulls him apart. Giamatti and Lewis must live for these scenes, and they both bring it, holding nothing back. It’s a strong close to a season that was a big step up from the first, but it’s also a slight cause for concern. How many rounds can this heavyweight bout possibly last? Given that this is Showtime, the answer is likely to be many, many rounds, and while I’m sure there’s still plenty of juice in this rivalry, there’s something to be said for hanging up the gloves before you’re past your prime.

Stray observations

  • Dollar Bill’s guide to going to jail: eat and shit first. Once you’re there, find the most bribable guard.
  • In the end, Chuck and Wendy are together again. But knowing what he knows now (and knowing that Chuck never lets anything go), it’s unlikely he’s just going to let the Bob Benson fling slide.
  • Chuck tells Dake to track “the wife’s phone. Mine, not his.” That was maybe a little too cute.
  • Wags instantly caving to Taylor and giving them the burner phone to call Axe: classic Wags.

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