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 fifth episode, “I Went To Market,” here.
“I’d be doing it for him,” said Kendall (Jeremy Strong) last episode, couching his planned vote of no confidence in Logan (Brian Cox) in a patina of concern falser than it is true. Kendall does love his dad. He’s obsessed with his dad. As he’s weakly outlining his reasons for the vote over a tinny speakerphone, he says he worships the ground Logan walks on. That’s obvious. But Logan’s raised him in such a way that Kendall feels there’s only one way to truly earn his dad’s respect, and that’s to usurp him. The problem is that Logan wants to be crushed under the foot of his opponent; he wants to fear that which destroys him. He does not fear Kendall. As is slowly starting to become clear, all Kendall does is force him to confront the inadequacies of his bloodline.
The vote felt doomed. There was a lack of confidence in its planning, even with Kendall, Roman (Kieran Culkin), Gerri (J. Smith Cameron), and Frank (Peter Friedmann) leading the charge. And it’s that unsureness that led Kendall to Ilona’s Long Island home, where he laid out his position for her and, in doing so, ruined his chances of making the meeting on time. Who knows whether her vote could still have been secured had Kendall simply told her over the phone, or if everything would’ve played out differently had he actually been in the room. Would his presence have forced Logan from the room so a fair vote could he had? Would it have encouraged Stewy (Arian Moayed) and Lawrence (Rob Yang), both of whom Kendall thought he had in his pocket, to not cower under Logan’s rage? Or would Logan’s rage have won out anyway? It’s easy to imagine Roman and Gerri buckling even with Kendall in the room.
There’s a queasiness to Andrij Parekh’s direction, giving the sequence the kind of sad, sweaty chaos it needs. Much of it comes, too, from the bumbling energy of Friedmann, who takes “roll call” for perhaps the first time in Waystar history in order buy Kendall some time. But it’s Cox that steals the scene, his slow realization of what’s happening giving way to a blustering, trapped-in-a-corner impotency that, had Kendall been in the room, he maybe could’ve conquered. Once Logan hears the fear in Kendall’s voice, though, he knows he’s won. His tactics are so very Trumpian—defy rules and decorum by being the loudest person in the room and, in doing so, prove that nobody’s really got the stones to stand up to you. Oh, then fire everybody who thought to stand up for themselves.
What Cox really sells, though, is how shaken he is by the whole thing. “I’m in the middle of turning a fucking tanker!” he screams loud enough to rattle the windows. He’s also weirdly exhilarated, though, framing the whole thing as a game to both Kendall and Frank. “That was your shot. You lost,” he says to Kendall. “You tried to kill me and you failed,” he spits at Frank. Then, later, he’s proud, having regained the confidence he lost after being snubbed by the president. “I’ve just taken down a terrorist myself,” he says to the leader of the country. “My son.”
Themes of loyalty ring out elsewhere in the episode, too. Shiv (Sarah Snook) spends the majority of the episode debating two things: Should she bail on her upstart candidate and link up with the campaign of Gil Eavis, a Bernie Sanders-like progressive? Also, should she cheat on Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) by rekindling her romance with Nate (Ashley Zukerman), the political strategist working as Eavis’ right hand? Nate’s into it, despite him also being engaged to be married. He calls Tom a “corn-fed basic from hockey town,” but, in the end, the pair sleep separately. “We behaved ourselves,” Shiv says, but will they be able to do so once they’re working on the same campaign?
Tom, meanwhile, wants to secure the loyalty of Greg (Nicholas Braun) in the wake of the kid shredding some very damning documents. “The nuclear reactor’s been sealed off,” says Tom’s fixer. “The infected have been shot.” He takes Greg, “my little R2 unit,” for a night on the town. First, the pair eat at “one of the most exclusive pop-ups in the city,” where they eat a “deep-fried songbird” while wearing a napkin over their heads to “mask the shame.” (This is a real thing, by the way.) “Look, here’s the thing about being rich,” Tom tells him. “It’s fucking great.” Later, they dance the night away at a club, but Greg is no doubt thinking about what his Grandpa Ewan (James Cromwell) told him earlier in the night.
“Paddle your own canoe” through this “rat’s nest” of a family, he says. Greg processes this, which is why I don’t entirely believe him when he acts so oblivious about the vote of no confidence. He knows what it is, and he knows that it could be very good for him if Tom “Team Kendall” Wamsgans becomes “the third most important guy in the company.”
- Shiv gets the episode’s best line: “I tried playing with you and you broke.”
- So Logan really, genuinely wants to become “Proctor & Gamble of the news,” and he’s hoping the president can help with “this FCC red tape bullshit.” God, that’s dark.
- Kendall bumming around backstage with rappers is so perfect. “You’re fucking imperial right now,” he says, white as all hell. “I think American Diablo is your best album.” That the rapper wants nothing to do with his lame ass is even better.
- As much as Ewan hates Logan, he can’t help but find the vote “a wanton act of egregious selfishness,” thus cementing his vote in Logan’s favor.
- Ewan is, of course, the show’s only real honorable character, but, slimy as he is, Stewy won’t bullshit you, either. “I can promise you that I am spiritually and emotionally and morally and ethically behind whoever wins,” he tells Kendall.
- One of the best exchanges on this entire series: “Have you ever visited the California Pizza Kitchen?” “No. Dear lord, no.” “It’s pretty delicious.” “No it isn’t Greg. You might think it’s delicious but it’s not.”
- There’s truth to Roman’s talk about the modern consumer wanting nothing more than “tasty morsels from groovy hubs.” He’s essentially talking about social media. Nobody actually reads, anymore.
- Roman on his appeal: “People like me. They like me. I look like a matador and everyone wants to fuck me.” Okay, buddy.
- Another brilliant exchange: Tom telling Roman and Kendall his black eye is from a bedroom tryst with Shiv, and the brothers, without blinking, asking why he thinks they’d want to hear about him fucking their sister.
- The episode gets its title from the song playing at the end. “Which Side Are You On?” was written by Florence Reece, the wife of a Kentucky union organizer in 1931. Hear Pete Seeger’s rendition below.