Photo: Peter Kramer (HBO)
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“Kendall Roy is no longer relevant,” Stewy (Arian Moayed) declares to the world on PGM. Kendall (Jeremy Strong), if we’re being honest, probably wouldn’t disagree. There’s shades of the enterprising usurper still there, specifically when he rallies Logan (Brian Cox) to double down on investing in Vaulter, but strategy isn’t what his dad wants from him right now. Logan’s decision to shut Vaulter down is a message; for Kendall to stay in Dad’s pocket, he must kill the thing he loves. That’s, as one might expect from Logan, cruel as fuck. Vaulter was Kendall’s baby. The series opens with his acquisition of the media company, and Kendall’s belief in it as a modern, progressive symbol of Waystar’s potential evolution never crumbled, not even beneath the pithy, combative jabs of owner Lawrence (Rob Yang).

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“In my view, it’s fixable,” Kendall says of the media company, which tried to mask its ailing traffic during a “routine health check.” “All they need is adults in the room.” Roman (Kieran Culkin), on the other hand, says it’s time to “shutter the fucker,” a decision no doubt motivated by his own disdain for the company’s “pretend journalists,” who he definitely still hates for their negative coverage of the Roys last season. He might as well have screamed “fake news.” Also, Roman learns over some “IPAs that look like the runoff from a car wash” that the staff is unionizing.

Logan’s mind was already made up, though. It was made up when he brought it up to Kendall. And what Logan says goes. Kendall’s not lying or passing the buck when he tells Lawrence that he’s shutting operations down “because my dad told me to.” He is, however acting just like his dad when he makes things personal on his way out the door. No doubt lingering on how Lawrence once told him that he’d eat the Roys “one by fucking one” after they let him in the “chicken coop,” Kendall tells him to “find some other chicken coop” with a particularly gnarly expletive. That’s not the Kendall we know, but, hey, where has playing things clean ever gotten him? All he can be now is a pale imitation of his father, and that means acting like his father.

Photo: Peter Kramer (HBO)

As a unionized editorial staffer at a media company, this was a tough episode to watch. One could marvel at how the episode comes right on the heels of two massive stories involving media companies and unionizing—The Ringer’s union was recognized by management (yay!) and Barstool Sports owner Dave Portnoy said he’d fire anyone who sought out information about unionizing (boo!)—but this kind of thing’s been going on for years, even here at G/O Media (formerly known as Gizmodo Media Group, because, yeah). To see 476 employees dissuaded from unionizing by “cool, relatable” corporate suit Kendall only to be unceremoniously fired, dismantled, and replaced by an editor, five interns, and “user-generated” content is fucking gutting. That Kendall “harvested a bunch of ideas” from the staff for Waystar’s own purposes is the final slap in the face.

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Still, as painful as it is to watch, it nevertheless reflects the ruthlessness of our monopolized economic climate, and continues the series’ exploration of how the pettiness and interpersonal drama of the 1% drips down to the working class and, in this instance, journalism. Perhaps most impactful was Roman marveling to Tabitha (Caitlin Fitzgerald) about his own role in the site’s demise. “They’re actually doing the thing I said,” he says. “I mean, I could be right. I might not be, but I could be. Maybe I’m smart.” Even more chilling, though, is Tabitha’s response: “You did a thing. Mazel tov.” Christ.

Kieran Culkin
Photo: Peter Kramer (HBO)

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Speaking of journalism, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) spends the episode acclimating to his new role at the top of the ATN food chain. Along the way, he chats with a salty Cyd Peach (Jeannie Berlin, the venerable actress and daughter of Elaine May), who bristles at his transparency regarding ATN’s subservience to Logan’s vision of the news. “He sends me one of you every four years,” she sneers at Tom, who nevertheless has big plans for the company. After sending executive assistant Greg (Nicholas Braun) out to “body shame” ATN to help “trim the flab,” he decides that moving the network away from its analog systems and into a completely digitized one is his first order of business. That he could chop off up to “50 skulls” with the process excites the absolute hell out of the ladder-climbing little fucker. The more people he can fire, the better he looks.

But there’s something standing in the way of his ascent: His wife, Shiv (Sarah Snook), who Logan named as his successor in the season premiere. Macfadyen and Snook remain one of the show’s most electric pairs, with both navigating their labyrinthian dialogue with the perfect balance of tenderness, restraint, and subdued selfishness. It’s simultaneously hilarious and tragic, the way she has to couch the news that Logan wants to anoint her in so many cushions of doubt—“I thought I would be deleveraging power if I said no,” she says, though she barely tries to sell it and he doesn’t believe it. This approach, however, allows Tom to still maintain the idea that he could one day be the man on top, even as a pesky voice inside him reminds him that his wife will always be more powerful than him. “If I’m CEO you’ll be something...huge!” she tells Tom, which isn’t much of a salve for a dude who desires absolute power. This sense that, despite his current position, he’s not powerful enough resonates through the entire episode. Just look at how he snaps at Shiv for making fun of his suits at dinner with Roman and Tabitha. Or the way he reacts to Tabitha’s jab about “swallowing” (a reference to last season’s “Prague”). In this family, he’ll always be the country yokel.

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There’s a touch of delusion on Shiv’s side as well, though. “What if a good person ran Waystar?” she asks, a question that can’t help but feel naive in the grander scheme of this show. Tom, though, has no such idealism. He not only pissed off Cyd with his cynicism, but he alienated Greg. “Greg, you don’t have principles!” he says, baffled by Greg’s claim that ATN is “kinda against” his values. For Tom, this is just business. ATN isn’t a news station, it’s a “profit center.” That’s more or less Logan and Roman’s mindset, too, though maybe Shiv isn’t entirely full of it. She comes from politics, which, cynical as it can be, is still about people. And if there’s one thing her male counterparts have made clear in this episode, it’s that, in business, people are nothing more than heads waiting to be lopped off.

Stray observations

  • Just hearing the phrase “pivot to video” gives me nightmares. So does any chatter about Facebook’s algorithm. God, this episode...
  • Forgot to mention that Shiv has parted ways with Gil Eavis (Eric Bogosian), who is thoroughly enjoying the perks that come with leading in the polls. She bails even after he asks her to be his chief of staff, showing just how damn much she wants the job. That she has to mask her clear excitement from her husband doesn’t really bode well for her and Tom.
  • Connor (Alan Ruck) and Willa (Justine Lupe) are in New York City for the opening of Willa’s play and, it appears, the beginnings of a presidential run for Connor. “I’m still applying for the job of President of the United States,” he declares. And here we go...
  • Kendall is lonely. He offers Greg a free penthouse to stay in and asks if they can hang out, which is really kind of sweet. It turns out, though, that hanging out means having the kind of sad, drug-fueled parties that Jesse Pinkman was throwing at the tail end of Breaking Bad. “I’m looking for pussy like a fucking techno Gatsby,” Kendall says (I think; our screeners don’t have captions). Greg’s hilarious reply of “hell yeah, man” is followed by an earnest plea to take the party upstairs so he can sleep.
  • It was fun actually seeing one of the Waystar parks in the opening, and even more fun to hear Tom talk about people giving “handy jobs” on the rides. Throw in his talk of a “cheeky little breakfast bang” and Macfadyen’s British is showing.
  • Logan wants his Alexa turned off during his chat with Shiv. “I got enough spies without Bezos after me, too.”
  • When Tom asks Shiv if their discussion is about “the arrangement,” are we assuming that means an “open marriage” situation? That’s how I read it.
  • Roman makes fun of Vaulter for the beehive on its roof and, as someone who used to work in an office with a beehive on the roof, I felt very seen. It’s good for the environment, you asshole!
  • Kendall stealing batteries in the final scene only to throw them in the trash outside the store is interesting. Courting danger? A tiny way for him to still feel some power, perhaps?
  • “Tom has a cold and he wants everyone to know.” 
  • “Everybody’s against racism, Greg!”

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