‘Billions’ Season 4, Episode 3: Hurts So Good

Of all the characters, Taylor is the most deeply embedded in the “or not” category. After three episodes of low-key warfare with Axe, who resents the younger hedge-fund wiz for breaking away from his firm last season, Taylor calls for a strikingly shot late-night waterfront meeting to broker a truce. Why waste so much time attacking and defending, the argument goes, when they can reach terms that allow Taylor Mason Capital to operate freely while allowing Axe Cap to invest in the company and reap the PR rewards on Wall Street?

But take a look at how Taylor has spent the days leading up to the dramatic rendezvous. Bobby’s crack industrial-espionage team has exploited a cybersecurity weakness to uncover his rival’s trading patterns and positions. Knowing Taylor is a perfectionist, and that Taylor Mason Capital’s team of brainiac market-math “quants” is the pride of their firm, Axe launches an infuriatingly subtle scheme to make penny-ante trades simply to screw up their predicted results.

To help stem the bleeding of this death by a thousand cuts, Taylor employs — and I’m quoting here, to capture the full awkwardness of the relationship — “Douglas Mason … yes, this is my … he’s my father.” At first, the gruff, slightly schlubby Douglas (Kevin Pollak) seems a world apart from his gender-nonbinary child, whom he relentlessly misgenders as “she.” But it turns out he, too, is a mathematical genius, though his trade was aerospace rather than the Street.

Together, the Masons craft a new algorithm to make an end-run around Axe’s sabotage — or so they want him to believe. With the help of a surveillance photo procured by his dirty-deeds specialist Hall (Terry Kinney), Axe has a copy of the algo he spends a full day attempting to decipher before realizing it has a mistake. He knows his enemy well enough to know one thing: Taylor Mason doesn’t make mistakes. This isn’t an error. This is a message: We know you’re watching. Without Axe’s needling, Taylor’s defensive capabilities wouldn’t have received so spectacular a showcase, forcing Bobby to the bargaining table.

Nor would Mr. Mason have spent enough time around his kid, now not only an adult but a bona fide Master of the Financial Universe, to relent from his alienating behavior. “You know I don’t think that ‘woke’ stuff is worthless or for idiots just because I’m no good at it, right?” he asks after their work is complete. “I know it matters.” Taylor, the coolest customer on the whole show, tears up in response. All it took was not one but two father figures’ relentless hammering away to achieve this moment of realization.

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