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Succession knows that sometimes it is a big dick competition

Brian Cox and Alan Ruck
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 third episode, “Lifeboats,” here.

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Everyone’s in crisis mode in “Sad Sack Wasp Trap,” ensuring that nobody, not Logan nor Kendall nor Tom, can enjoy the ultra-fancy Roy Endowment Creative New York (RECNY) Ball. A virus has swept through both the family and the company, manifesting in a myriad of forms. For Kendall (Jeremy Strong), it’s Logan (Brian Cox), who, despite being in recovery, is taking meetings and undercutting every decision his newly minted CEO of a son is making. For Roman (Kieran Culkin), it’s Frank (Peter Friedmann), who’s been rehired and named vice chairman to Roman’s general advisor. “The weasel prevails,” Roman declares, still bitter over what happened in L.A. For Shiv (Sarah Snook), it’s ATN, the Waystar news division that’s milking the latest fuck-up of her Democrat client’s husband for as many clicks as possible.

For Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), who might be the most fucked of all, it’s a file containing all of the parks’ division’s dirty little secrets: “Theft. Sexual assault. Rape. Murder.” “Okay, the bad ones,” Greg (Nicholas Braun) replies as it dawns on him that he, too, is now infected. The file was gifted to Tom by his predecessor, who’s clearly so, so relieved to pass along the “air-gapped” computer containing the horde of incriminating evidence that, in Tom’s mind, is “bound to come out.” What it brings out in him is the little boy from St. Paul who, once upon a time, at least, still believed in bringing good to world. He tells Greg and Shiv that, bad press be damned, he’s considering doing “the right thing.” Maybe a press conference and an investigation into the “tight group of naughty rotten apples” responsible will minimize the damage and, gasp, actually punish those responsible? General counsel Gerri (J. Smith Cameron) is furious when she finds out, admonishing Tom and forcing him to ponder who ratted him out—fiancée Shiv or newbie Greg. After the latter convincingly tells him he’s innocent, Tom turns his eye to Shiv. Can he trust her? The great joke of the subplot is that it was Greg, a testament to the kid’s own capacity for ruthlessness. Tom might have power over him right now, but Greg, doofy as he is, seems willing to do the dirty work that Tom can’t. Maybe he is a Roy, after all.

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Nicholas Braun
Photo: Peter Kramer (HBO)

It’s not like Tom is getting any help from CEO Kendall. When he tries to tell his soon-to-be brother-in-law about it, Kendall channels his father, saying that Logan’s favorite employees were the ones “who ate the shit for him and he never even knew it.” The less he knows, the better. He needs to keep up appearances, after all, what with Logan hanging around the office. He does his best to stand up to dad’s off-the-cuff demands—Logan wants to buy a data mining company, despite Kendall dubbing them “snake oil”—but Logan is a distinctly Trumpian figure, and he responds to Kendall’s bucking by taking a fucking piss in his son’s office. Shrewdly, Logan can hide the act’s intentions behind his sickness—the series began, after all, with a stream of wayward urine—but he knows that Kendall knows it’s intentional. “Sometimes it is a big dick competition,” Logan said in the show’s premiere—when reason fails, be a bully. Hey, it works. Just look what happens when Kendall tries to get Gerri to dissuade Logan from speaking at RECNY. She makes a show of their chat for Kendall’s sake, but simply tells Logan “good luck.” He’s got these people under his sweaty thumb. Kendall, clearly, does not.

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Elsewhere in the episode, Shiv tries to be a bit of a bully herself. After the husband of potential senator Joyce posts a pic of his asshole for the world to see, Shiv is forced to do damage control. That means confronting Eva (Judy Reyes) about ATN’s wall-to-wall coverage of the gaffe, even going so far as to promise her some “nasty little tidbits” on others, presumably other prominent Democrats in her orbit. That this is a flagrant abuse of power goes without saying, though Shiv does try to couch her media manipulation in the coverage being “bad for democracy.” She’s right, of course, but bending a news network to your will, as we’ve seen time and again under our current president, isn’t any better. That Shiv stumps for Democrats is such a clever subversion; as we’ll see more of in later episodes, Succession sees the swamp as bipartisan. One party might be more vile than the other, but nobody in D.C. is innocent.

Kieran Culkin and Jeremy Strong
Photo: Peter Kramer (HBO)
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As the appointed organizer behind RECNY, Connor (Alan Ruck) is dealing with a whole host of his own crises, though they’re mostly manufactured. The forks are wrong! The butter is cold! The signature cocktail “too avant-garde”! The Roys are, by and large, rotten, but there’s something truly bizarre about Connor. Ruck feels similarly—when we interviewed him about the show, he spoke about the character having an undiagnosed “delusion disorder.” That checks out, especially once he starts quoting Napoleon to Logan. He proposes taking over the foundation and shifting the focus from “sick kids and dance” to tax reform. He also, unprompted, tells a black dancer that “social equality could be affected by a complete eradication of federal support.” It’s very funny and very sad, because you fucking know that this is exactly how the 1% talks. Logan’s love for him is almost sweet; he knows Connor is too stupid to ever be a viable threat.

Connor does, however, make things even worse between Logan and Kendall, a misunderstanding leading him to tell Logan that Kendall is going to announce his dad’s retirement. As such, Logan usurps Kendall’s spot, telling the rapt audience—Greg is particularly enamored with Logan—that he’s back, “full time and better than ever.” Offstage, he dresses down Kendall, with Kendall telling him he planned on making “one joke about how you’d never retire.” But Logan is beyond paranoid at this point, and his rage at Kendall nearly causes him to fall, an act that everyone in attendance knows would send the stock tanking. It’s telling that Kendall’s the one who ensures he doesn’t, grabbing his dad’s arm and propping him up. He’s looking out for the company, sure, but, for Kendall, it’s family first and business second. If only Logan could say the same.

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Stray observations

  • Logan and Marcia’s walk to the stage is such an impactful and necessary moment of humanization for Logan, who’d like to be seen as all-powerful but is all too vulnerable in this moment. It’s easy to view him as pure damn evil, but he and Marcia’s love is ironclad. They need each other.
  • Kendall was “fucking king” of the Harvard Lampoon, if you were unaware. He really kicked their distribution into shape. I love Kendall but he’s such a goon.
  • I’m so chilled by the way Roman gazes at the dancers with such glaring disdain, as if he’s personally offended by any form of genuine expression.
  • That tiny moment did more for me than his bullying of the RECNY waiter, who he basically intimidates into asking for Grace’s number. Him putting the buzzing phone against her crotch is striking, sure, but we get it—power is the only thing that excites him.
  • Roman on Joyce’s husband’s asshole: “It’s dirty, it’s weird, and it’s evidence of precisely the kind of disgusting liberal metro butt-love that makes our viewership angry enough to buy pharmaceuticals.” You know, just in case you didn’t get that ATN is Fox News.
  • In the ultimate self-own, Tom reveals he grew up fawning over the photos of a WASPy charity ball in his “mom’s Vanity Fairs.” Sweet boy. A poodle trying to be a pit bull.
  • Love that little look Shiv and Roman share when Logan says “everything I’ve done I’ve done for my children.” Since the first episode, both Snook and Culkin, as well as the creators, have made great pains to illustrate the individual bonds between each pair of siblings, and Shiv and Roman’s might be one of the most natural. They just always seem so amused by each other.
  • Connor fondly reminiscing on his father berating and belittling “all the names of Old New York” is a brilliant bit of writing and performance. “And you’d whisper in my ear, you’d say that Astor used to be that and he ran this till he SNAFU’d that and he’s porking her and she’s a slut and it was just...a very lovely time.”
  • Speaking of Connor: “Look out, Middle East, because I can fix anything.”
  • Biggest laugh of the episode, though, might be Tom telling Greg that maybe “you’ll meet a wealthy widow and seduce her with your sad eyes.”
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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.