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Family is a four-letter word in one of Succession's best episodes yet

Jeremy Strong
Photo: Graeme Hunter (HBO)
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It’s a jet-setting season of Succession, isn’t it? From Iceland to Hungary to Argestes, the Roys seem to be spending more time outside of New York than in it. But, no matter where they go, the shit clinging to their Santonis just digs in deeper. Sure, a flirty Naomi Pierce (Annabelle Dexter-Jones) may be waiting for Kendall (Jeremy Strong) in Europe this week, but the family’s trip to the U.K. is more business than pleasure, especially when the family of the dead waiter from last season’s finale raises its voice. For all the ways his death’s haunted Kendall this season, it only makes sense for us to revisit it anew.

That, however, isn’t what brings Kendall, Roman (Kieran Culkin), and Logan (Brian Cox) to London in this episode. Rather, it’s a bit of shareholder activism on the part of Sandy (Larry Pine) and Stewy (Arian Moayed). A new ad sent to Waystar shareholders urges the masses to join their takeover and, silly as it is—it shows a theme park vendor selling an empty hot dog bun for thousands—the effort is winning people over. “It might be time to start getting worried,” Gerri (J. Smith Cameron) warns. This means Logan and the crew need to start wooing the major shareholders, one of whom is Caroline (Harriet Walter), Logan’s ex-wife and the father of Kendall, Roman, and Shiv (Sarah Snook).

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We first encountered Caroline and her razor-sharp microagressions at Shiv’s wedding last season, and Walter’s mordant turn was indelible enough to make me long for a return. During a dinner of shot-and-feather-stuffed pigeon, she lays ample guilt on Roman and Shiv—“A bit of solidarity, 20 years too late”—as she negotiates a deal that will hurt Logan more than it will help her. Instead of taking the $50 million Logan’s set aside to woo her, she instead wants to make him choose between his house in the Hamptons—The Summer Palace, from this season’s premiere, which she couldn’t care less about—or Christmases with the family. “We have to hear which he’d prefer,” she says, already knowing he’d choose the house over his kids. “Let’s make him choose.” It’s a withering bit of business that helps underscore the episode’s emphasis on family, or, as in the case of the Roys, the ways in which family operates more as a buzzword than a concept. The blood they share only binds them when it’s convenient—just see how Caroline splits when Kendall tries to spill his soul to her—and, with Logan most especially, functions most effectively as a kind of leverage. He’s happy to give up Christmases, but he’ll still shout at Shiv about the value of family when he needs to get a leg up on her.

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Photo: Graeme Hunter (HBO)

More on Shiv later, though. Let’s talk about the emotional centerpiece of the episode, in which Kendall is forced to enter the house of the dead waiter’s family when Logan makes a visit to offer his apologies for snapping at the kid earlier in the night. What spawns it isn’t bad behavior—lest we forget, Kendall’s been stealing vape fluid and batteries for kicks—but rather a show of concern that undermines Logan’s infallibility. See, Logan brought Rhea along to the U.K. and the pair may or may have spent the night together. Kendall and Roman liken Logan’s affection for her to a previous incident (“Sally Anne and the summer of the horses,” which speaks volumes without any context) and Kendall goes so far as to insinuate that she could be using him. “It’s not a good look,” he says, adding that she could potentially make him look like an “old fool.” Not one happy to hear his judgement questioned, Logan not only begins flaunting his desires to keep seeing Rhea, but he also decides to flex the leverage he has over him. He’s the one, after all, who ensured Kendall would face no consequences for the car crash that resulted in the kid’s death, and it’s about time, he seems to posit, that Kendall remembers that (despite the fact that, as this season has shown us over and over again, he does). “We should stick together on this,” Logan says. “Don’t you agree?

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Strong’s physicality upon entering the boy’s house is astounding, the actor hunching his shoulders and clasping his hands over his belly, shrinking into himself like a scared, shamed child. He doesn’t touch a thing, instead forcing himself to stare at photos of the kid, a kind of punishment. Director Becky Martin swallows him in the camera frame, a forced perspective that’s enhanced by the fact that we never see the parents or Logan’s calculated words to them. He turns down a cup of tea from the kid’s uncle, then accepts a glass of water—it’s the least he can do, to accept their hospitality. He drinks it and washes it himself. It’s something. A tiny act of courtesy. It’s not enough. He knows that. When Logan emerges, he asks if he should say something. Logan’s “no” is brusque. In the car, Logan changes the tone, reminds Kendall that the kid was a “druggie” and that, really, they’re the good guys. “You know there’s nothing to be ashamed of, our stuff,” he says.We give them a bit of a laugh, some decent TV to watch. News that doesn’t talk down to them. Good fucking people. Nice fucking folk.” This is how Logan justifies his sins. It’s not enough for Kendall. That night, he drops an envelope of money through their mail slot. It’s not enough. Nothing will be.

Kieran Culkin, Harriet Walter, Sarah Snook
Photo: Graeme Hunter (HBO)
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As Succession’s fanbase continues to grow, critics have emerged saying that, despite the show’s depiction of the Roys as fundamentally cruel, the show nevertheless asks us to empathize with them, which is a problem. I personally think that’s silly, as humanization and recognition serve to heighten drama, not take sides. Succession’s strength is similar in some respects to Danny McBride’s Eastbound & Down, in that it eschews “likability” in favor of staying true to its characters. One doesn’t need to like a character—I still shudder every time I encounter the issue of a character’s (or, for that matter, political candidate’s) “likability”—in order to be invested in their journey. Besides, the writers have never once softened Kendall’s act, or the selfishness and privilege that led to it. Nor have they absolved Kendall by showing how his upbringing and family helped shape him into the person that he is. We can learn so much about him not only from the way Logan punishes him, but also from how Caroline essentially hoodwinks him in a moment of extreme vulnerability. Kendall needs to tell someone what he did, and Caroline’s cruelty isn’t in denying him that gift, but in pretending that she cares at all. “Might be better to do it over an egg,” she says. They’re as much pawns for her as they are Logan—she wants them for Christmas so she can show them how little Logan actually cares, and she shows how little she actually cares when she refuses to acknowledge what Kendall is laying out in front of her. This is why they are what they are, and one can show that without the pretense that this will somehow allow the kids to transcend that. This is not that show. They will not transcend. They are bound by those identities, which is, in Succession’s complex roundabout way, why Logan resents them—and what they say about him—so much.

Logan’s power, after all, continues to consume them. Shiv, desperate to atone for her myriad gaffes, sends a memo about her vision for Waystar to Logan, one he refuses to engage with her on. I’ve managed to get myself into the situation where ‘What does my dad think?’ is my entire fucking universe,” Shiv tells Rhea, too naive to realize that Rhea’s capitalizing on that very insecurity. See, Logan confessed to the former Pierce CEO the night before that he worries he “jumped too fast” with Shiv. Rhea, seeing her opportunity, tells him she can “help make this go away.” Over coffee, she tells Shiv that maybe she’ll get Logan’s attention if she entertains other offers, including the possibility of becoming Pierce’s new CEO. Nan (Cherry Jones) loves her, after all. “I can get it floated with clean hands,” she promises.

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Sarah Snook
Photo: Graeme Hunter (HBO)

This gives Logan all the ammunition he needs to back away from his promise. When she finally corners him to ask if she’s still next in line, Logan frames the Pierce business as a betrayal, despite the fact that he set the entire thing in motion. “I think I got fucked,” she tells Kendall as the episode ends and, while she’s not wrong, you have to wonder if Rhea’s right when she says Shiv “thinks she’s smarter than she is.” Shiv completely buckled when Logan confronted her, and she’s proven herself to be reckless in the last few episodes. And, clearly, her memo didn’t inspire much confidence in the Roy boys or Rhea, who spend more time mocking her choice of epigraphs than her approach, which is to skew center politically in an effort to capitalize on ad revenue. (Roman calls her “Malala Roy.”) The episode ends with Logan asking Rhea to help him broaden his search for “the new me,” though it’s clear the only candidate he’s now considering is her.

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He’ll be forced to make a succession announcement soon, after all, should he hope to inspire confidence in shareholders amidst the proxy. But there’s other controversies that could damage their ownership, namely the cruise ship scandal that resurfaced last week. An external firm is investigating the matter and, despite Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) expecting a softball process from the hired firm, that doesn’t appear to be the case. They want to see the relevant documents, the very ones he asked Greg (Nicholas Braun) to destroy last season. And, considering Greg saved copies of those very documents, Tom needs those destroyed, too. Together, the pair burn them, but not before Greg scoops a few errant scraps and shoves them in his pants. He needs his insurance, even after Tom threatened to have his legs broken.

Matthew Macfadyen, Nicholas Braun
Photo: Graeme Hunter (HBO)
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But Greg is looking out for himself in other ways, too. In one of the episode’s funniest bits, he paces around an office bathroom, testing out the microphone on the iPhone tucked in his blazer pocket by saying things like “I’m involved in a criminal conspiracy” and “male rape; rape of the male.” Later, as he and Tom burn the papers, Greg hilariously tries to get Tom to show his ass. “No one will ever know you sent me to shred the records of off-book hush money and illegal intimidation,” he says, but Tom doesn’t respond, focused as he is on the “disappearing sauce.”

Roman, meanwhile, scored big points with Logan this week by securing Caroline’s stock, which could mean good news for he and Gerri’s “dream team.” With Kendall in limbo and Shiv on the outs, those two underdogs could very well be next in line after Rhea.

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Stray observations 

  • Just an incredible episode. Sad, funny, cathartic, and propulsive. This show is seriously firing on all cylinders right now.
  • Speaking of sad, there was something really crushing about the way Logan went about addressing him smacking Roman last week. Instead of an apology, he asks if he even made contact, then asserts that that’s “not something I do.” Iverson would disagree, for one, and Roman is so scared of his dad that he refuses to engage with it in any real way. Instead, he just looks out the window: “Fucking cars, buildings everywhere,” he mumbles. Christ, that cut through to my heart. But there’s more layers to it, too—it’s easy to forget the scars criss-crossing Logan’s back that we saw last season. He and Ewan were clearly abused as children, so it makes sense that a man as narcissistic as Logan would simply deny that he had the capacity to actually hit anybody, despite the fact that he very much does. Because, in that moment, he absolutely meant to hit Roman.
  • Great dynamic between Kendall and Roman this episode. Though Roman clearly still has some animosity towards his brother, it was fun to see them actually act like, well, brothers. They came across like giggling pre-teens when debating whether or not they should disturb Logan when Rhea might be in the room. Traditionally, that kind of lived-in playfulness is resigned to Roman and Shiv.
  • Loved Roman saying “mee-mo.” Also, he was giving off some serious Knox Harrington vibes in that scene in London with Shiv.
  • Interesting that Kendall and Naomi are still orbiting each other. One imagines Logan seeing the two so cozy in the wake of the collapsed Pierce deal also fed into Kendall’s punishment. “You’re the one who’s cunt-struck,” he spits at his son.
  • Laughed hard at Strong’s delivery of “How am I gonna do this?” when taking a dick pic for Naomi.
  • The idea of Gerri hiring an investigator to dig up dirt on Roman has the potential for so much joy, so I was beyond disappointed when all we got were a few handjobs from his personal trainer (!) and “rumors of a face tattoo” situation. MORE, PLEASE.
  • Also sad we didn’t get a chance to see what Tom and Greg’s sleepover looked like. Willing to forgive it, though, for Tom’s Greg impression. “JuSt A tAlKiNg ShOp FoR rEnEwAl.”
  • Greg keeping the blackmail documents in the office “because they’re work” was funny, but him hiding them in folders that read “secret” and “receipts” was fucking perfect. “What polyglot genius could ever hope to crack your impenetrable code?” Tom asks. Greg’s meek “shut up” after was also a delight.
  • Love Tom’s bullshit corporate speak when talking to the lawyers. “In my brief spell, I don’t, at this time, recall anything that, at that time, would’ve caused me any real concern.”
  • Seriously, though, is Tom fucked? I don’t doubt for a second that Logan would feed him to the sharks, despite the guy being his son-in-law.
  • “Relax, branzino porno man.”
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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.