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A bachelor party and a backroom business deal make for one of Succession's best episodes

Photo: Peter Kramer (HBO)
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In advance of the second season of HBO’s Succession, we’ve decided to revisit the first season episode-by-episode. Yes, we shared some thoughts ahead of its season one premiere and also wrote up the finale, but we’re big fans of Jesse Armstrong’s wickedly funny exploration of the ultra-rich and want to dig a bit deeper as we gear up for the new season’s August 11 premiere. Expect new reviews on Tuesdays and Fridays. See a review of the seventh episode, “Austerlitz,” here.

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“You know this is just fun, right?” Shiv says to Nate as they lounge in bed, post-coital. “There’s no god, there’s no anything. There’s just people in rooms trying to be happy.”

There’s a philosophy. It’s one the ultra-rich can grasp onto, isolated as they are from the financial anxiety, oppression, and consequence weighing on the rest of the world. One imagines it’s how people like Logan justify their scheming and marginalization. Or what a not-sober Kendall tells himself when he leans down for another snort. Or what Stewy ponders as he screws one of his oldest friends out of his ownership stake in one of the world’s largest companies. “I had to follow the money,” he tells Kendall; it’s not an apology, it’s just the game. “We all have our games,” Logan said a few episodes back. But, as I wrote in last week’s recap, not everyone is equipped to play them quite like Logan and Stewy. For them, there is no truth outside of themselves. For Kendall, Tom, and Shiv, that’s not the case, even if that’s what they’d like to believe. They feel too much.

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On that topic, let’s talk about Tom (Matthew Macfadyen). It’s his bachelor party, and he’s invited his college friends—the Fly Guys!—to the city for a celebration that, rumor suggests, might take them to Prague. Ringleader Roman (Kieran Culkin), however, is swayed by Stewy (Arian Moayed), who suggests he bring everybody to an exclusive pop-up, “Rhomboid,” being thrown by his “girlfriend and her fucking freak dogs.” Roman isn’t interested, but Stewy says that Waystar rival Sandy Furness (Larry Pine) will be there, and he’s got 50 more local TV stations that would look mighty good to Logan (Brian Cox), who’s tasked Roman with leading his current acquisition of 70 stations. With Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Greg (Nicholas Braun), and Connor (Alan Ruck) in tow, Roman leads them into the abandoned warehouse where the party’s set to unfold. Tom, having confirmed with Shiv (Sarah Snook) that he’s allowed to “enjoy himself,” is extremely excited for some casual sex. “I’m gonna blow my load, like, multiple times,” he giddily declares. His countenance collapses a bit, though, when Greg asks if Shiv has the same arrangement. As has been made clear in previous episodes, it’s unlikely he’d offer her his permission so cavalierly.

Ashley Zukerman and Sarah Snook
Photo: Peter Kramer (HBO)
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As the night rolls on, he becomes obsessed with the idea of cheating, calling Shiv to ask for “a sense of the parameters.” He asks, “If I touch a boob, do you grab a dick?” Roman, meanwhile, tells him to live in the moment: “You get off, you eat the shame for dessert.” Tom eventually gets a blowjob from a woman who spits his “splooge” back into his mouth for him to swallow. “It’s cool, though, because it’s like I didn’t cheat,” he says. “The sperm stayed in my body; like a closed loop system.” How’s that for mental gymnastics?

Shiv, meanwhile, allows Tom’s good time to help her less bad for fucking Nate (Ashley Zukerman), which she does without all Tom’s complicated justification. The release valve’s good for her, as “Prague” sees her client, Gil Eavis (Eric Bogosian), go on ATN only to be pressed about his wife’s suicide the year before and his own mental health. His response is to attack Logan and, in a moment that makes it abundantly clear why he sought out Shiv, use her as a tool to paint Logan as a monster. “I’m not the angle,” Shiv says, clearly frustrated. Later, she meets with Logan, who begs her to come in house at Waystar. When she refuses, he threatens to press Gil even harder about his dead wife. He also, it appears, won’t be attending Shiv and Tom’s wedding, though it’s unclear whether Logan came up with that idea or if Marcia (Hiam Abbass) did. She takes the news with an icy calmness—“That sounds sensible,” she tells Marcia—but she’s clearly disturbed. Logan’s absence is a form of retaliation; when, she seems to wonder, will family win out over business?

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As for Kendall, well, he couldn’t care less about family. Or so he’d like to tell himself. “Fuck the rest of my family,” he says while cutting a deal with Sandy and Stewy, who finally reveals he’s been a “parasite on a parasite” this whole time. “We do this properly,” he says, saying, with the stock as low as it is, a leveraged buyout could work. “Force him to the table,” he says. As CEO, he’ll turn it “from a rotting whale to a great white” by cutting out local TV, newspapers, and parks.

Eric Bogosian
Photo: Peter Kramer (HBO)
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His decision’s motivated not just by the events of the season, but also his realization that he’ll never be the cool venture capitalist he wants to be. The episode opens with he and Frank (Peter Friedmann) meeting with a start-up, Dust, that, in their words, “increases the reach of young artists and the democratization of art.” Kendall calls it what it is—“buy a painting from some art student, jack up the price”—and lampoons his privilege by performatively flaunting the ways he’s trying to impress them. “I thought you’d all be dressed like fucking Bjork,” he cracks, desperate to show he’s not the kind of cold suit the Roys represent. He snaps, however, after learning at the party that they turned down his offer. “It’s the name,” he’s told. “It’d be like I was marrying Hitler.” If the name’s both a blessing and a curse, he might as well retreat to the Waystar hallways, the only place the name is respected. Chillingly, the episode ends with Kendall taking after his dad by spreading rumors that the girls are “junkies” and “sluts.” “Let’s sink them,” he says, leaning as hard as he can into the power his privilege affords him.

But, hey, at least he’s not dead. That’s gotta make Greg feel good, as Logan tasked him with ensuring that “Kendall doesn’t come back in a box.” If he plays his cards right, Logan infers, Greg could get the “lateral move” he desires. See, the culture in the parks division “borders on the personally abusive at times.” He ends up snorting some blow in an effort to keep it out of Kendall’s nose, and discovers that he’s not made for the drug life. “Wherever you hide, the party finds you,” he says, hilariously asking when they’re “allowed to go home.” Still, his commitment is impressive, as is his ability to stay on everyone’s good side. No matter who ends up in control, he’ll be just fine.

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Stray observations

  • Another good episode for Roman, who has his own goals—get Sandy to sell him TV stations—as well as some genuine humanity. Not only is he keeping a concerned eye on Kendall’s drug use, but he also sees the ways in which Sandy is leering at Kendall. Even if he doesn’t know all the details, he doesn’t want to see his brother taken advantage of.
  • Roman also gets one of the best lines: “I have a reputation. I can’t take my crew to watch some art pricks dance around in fucking bowler hats and twirl their mustaches out of time to ‘the beats.’”
  • Kendall’s “rebalancing away from crypto into eco” if you needed another reason to roll your eyes at him.
  • Chris, Connor is sad. “I, for one, won’t be engaging in any debauchery,” he says at the party, lying saying that Willa (Justine Lupe) is really happy at his ranch. By the end of the night, he’s telling women he loves them and that his ranch is “completely safe from biological or chemical attacks.” He adds, “You’d all be welcome pre or post-apocalypse.”
  • “Heckuva good head of hair on you there,” Greg says to Logan, which is one way of buttering up a sick, irritated old man.
  • Greg trying to keep Kendall sober: “One wine, one water is an informal rule for the group.”
  • “I don’t know what’s going to happen but I got a feeling it’s liable to get a little disgusting.” You weren’t wrong, Tom.
  • Speaking of Tom: “I can’t just leave the Fly Guys! That’s the Fly Guy Code!” Tom, I hate to break it to you, but you broke the Fly Guy Code.
  • Of course Tom had a group of friends called the Fly Guys. It’s like a bunch of bros calling their crew The Wolfpack.
  • Tom when he sees Greg doing lines: “Suck on those big white dicks, you fucking pervert! Greg you greedy piece of shit. You total coke whore.”
  • Logan describing the play he saw as “people pretending to be people” might’ve been just a touch on the nose.
  • “Buckle up, fucklehead.”
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About the author

Randall Colburn

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.