“There’s a night of the long knives coming.” ~ Logan Roy
Succession is one of those shows that makes you realize something profound and terrible about the world: People don’t change. We just sort of nudge our way forward, maybe picking up a thing or two along the way, probably repeating the same mistakes we’ve been making over and over again until, eventually, we snuff it. Our prejudices and preconceptions and pride and pettiness all remain largely intact, only occasionally shifting. We grow older and more stuck in our ways.
And so it’s no surprise that on the eve of the big sale of Waystar RoyCo to Gojo founder Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) the children of Logan Roy (Brian Cox) are about to screw everything up. Don’t get me wrong, I think getting screwed is exactly what Logan Roy deserves at this point, but of course the Roy children will screw themselves over just as badly in the end. Logan is right about one thing: His kids are morons. They’re soft, spoiled, morons. And he always has a trick up his sleeve.
Of course, Kendall (Jeremy Strong) knows he’s screwing his dad over. Unlike his sister, Shiv (Sarah Snook), he’s fully aware that asking Matsson for more money will result in the capsizing of the deal. Matsson told him directly, but he chose to withhold this information. It wasn’t until he had it—and the assurance, basically, that he could hurt his father even more—that Kendall took Shiv’s side. If we’ve learned anything in the last three seasons of Succession, it’s that you probably shouldn’t ever take Shiv’s side—not in business and certainly not in love. She’s just not very good at either.
Only Roman (Kieran Culkin) is unhappy with the decision to join Stewy and Sandy in asking for a better sell price. He has no interest in hurting Logan any further, and he’d rather just be done with the whole thing. He’s also pretty sure this will sink the deal, and as I noted in my character discussion piece, he has a much better head for business than his older siblings.
Do I care? Not really. I don’t care if Logan gets his way and sells the company and spins off ATN and the kids get their fortunes and squander billions on a dying media empire in the form of Pierce Media that they will almost certainly sink. I don’t have a dog in this fight at all. Lose or win, I just sit back with my popcorn and watch the bloodshed. Succession proves that a story of dynastic upheaval—and all the court intrigue and skullduggery, backstabbing and betrayal that goes with it—really doesn’t need a hero to work. You don’t need to back anyone, either.
That’s interesting to me because it’s something I struggled with at first watching HBO’s other big succession drama, House Of The Dragon, which is mostly peopled with despicable, loathsome characters you don’t particularly like that much, either. Even those you do like will almost certainly go rotten before long. And that’s okay! We don’t need heroes in these stories. We just need real people who we can relate to, even if we’re rooting against them. Lots of fans of that show pick Team Green or Team Black, but I’m a book reader so I know the truth: They’re all rotten to the core. If anything, they deserve each other.
But we keep watching because these terrible people are so terribly complex and rich (in more than one sense of the word).
That’s what Succession really does so remarkably well. It humanizes these wildly wealthy, spoiled, deplorable people in ways that allow us to empathize with them just enough, but then drags us back to the bitter reality that all of them, even the most sympathetic ones, are pretty terrible and out of touch and ruthless. That’s why in my article ranking the characters I rank them from least to most terrible. None of them are good or trustworthy, but some are definitely more awful than others.
Logan, clearly worried that his deal will fall through in the 11th hour, goes to his kids as they “party” with Connor (Alan Ruck) after his disaster of a wedding rehearsal dinner.
Willa (Justine Lupe) is clearly getting cold feet and bails from the dinner during her toast, leaving Connor in the quippy, apathetic company of his worthless siblings. Connor has plenty wrong with him, but you have to feel bad for the guy. “The good thing about growing up with a family that doesn’t love you is you learn to live without it,” he says, mock cheerfully. “You’re all chasing after dad saying love me, please love me . . . You’re needy love sponges and I’m a plant that grows on a rock and lives off insects that die inside of me.”
It’s phrases like “needy love sponges” that make this show so great.
“If Willa doesn’t come back, that’s fine, cuz I don’t need love. It’s like a superpower. And if Willa comes back and doesn’t love me that’s fine too, cuz I don’t need it.”
When he gets home, Willa is in bed waiting for him. They don’t talk, but they hold each other and lay there silently. Kendall, smelling blood in the water, grins like a shark on the drive home. Shiv stews over her pending divorce with Tom, who went to Logan for divorce advice and got all the best divorce lawyers to stiff her.
And Roman goes to his father. Logan tells him that a shakeup is in the works. He wants someone ruthless by his side at ATN. “Smart people know who they are,” he tells his youngest son. “You’re not Pierce.”
“You really want me?” Roman asks nervously. “More…I need you,” his father says. But does he mean it?
Back at ATN, Logan has forced his underlings to put his assistant/girlfriend on the air as an ATN news anchor. But Kerry (Zoe Winters) is not up to the job, and quickly becomes a laughing stock. The Roy kids giggle over her foibles and screwups and even Logan’s top executives have to stifle their chuckles when he walks in. He realizes his mistake soon enough but has no intention of cleaning up such a delicate mess, and so he delegates to Tom (Matthew Macfayden), though even his order is given silently with just the knowing raise of his eyebrows.
Tom, ever the delegator himself, quickly pawns the unpleasant business off on Greg (Nicholas Braun) who breaks the news to Kerry in the most awkward, stuttering, beat-around-the-bush way imaginable. Classic Greg. He uses Tom’s general advice about a fictional focus group and she very nearly bites his head off, threatening to destroy him if she finds out he’s lying.
Meanwhile, Logan has begun making the ATN offices his new home. He pays the newsroom a visit and, after a lame inspirational speech by Tom, takes to the podium. Logan’s speech is at once more inspiring and a ferocious rebuke of his employees’ performance. They’ve grown 15 percent year-over-year, but costs are up 40 percent. He badgers his audience with these numbers before getting to the red meat. It’s time, he tells them, to unleash the beast, pull out all the stops, crush their enemies, drive them before them, hear the lamentations of the women.
“We’re f*#)ing pirates!” he growls, and the room explodes in cheering and bloodlust. Even Greg is grinning his dopey grin. “I love it here,” Logan tells them, and you know he’s far from retiring, far from going gently, whether or not the sale to Mattson goes through.
Nothing really huge or profound took place this episode. No shocking twists or turns. Nobody got stabbed in the back. Nobody died or did a rap song. We got some sad Connor Roy karaoke—he drones out Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat much to the vocal dismay of Roman. It’s a solid setup—the siblings already breaking apart as Logan works his black magic—even if it’s lacking any moments quite as hilarious as Tom’s ‘capacious bag’ scene from last week.
The scene with Logan and his kids at the karaoke bar was particularly excellent. Logan is so clearly right, but he’s alienated Kendall and Shiv so entirely at this point that it doesn’t matter. “It’s a good deal,” he tells them, and it could fall apart. When they refuse to budge, he leaves in a huff, marching down the busy street with his assistant by his side.
“This city,” he growls. “The rats are as fat as skunks. They hardly care to run anymore.”
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