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Jayson Buford doesn’t think it’s weird to have different dictators representing family members as their iPhone contact ID photos.
Abe Beame doesn’t trust anyone who would’ve eaten those donuts.
Be sure to check out The Definitive Ranking of Every Episode of Succession and last week’s Season 3 Episode 1 Review.
In the pilot episode of The Sopranos, Tony Soprano describes his personal vision of American decline. “Lately, I’ve been feeling like I came in at the end, the best is over….. I think about my father, he never reached the heights like me. But in a lot of ways, he had it better. He had his people……they had pride. Today, what do we got?” This type of decline isn’t possible to stop; it’s potent, the beginning of the end of the American empire. HBO has run many shows focused on this specific form of late capitalist decline. The Wire did it with the decline of the American city. Six Feet Under is a story about death itself. Sex in the City is about the end of upwardly mobile magazine columnists. Because of Succession’s pace and stakes, it can be hard to keep focus on its tale of the decline of a family, a company, an industry, and a country, but of course, it is. The central conflict in the pilot is Kendall telling his father that he is running the company into the ground. That his power, and his empire has to change, or it will die.
Kendall Roy has carried this conviction through three seasons. His main selling point to his siblings in joining him in his patricide is decline. “He was going to send me to jail. He’d do the same to you.” He thinks that there is foundational sickness in American society reflected by their father. He recites the plot to Prince’s song “Sign o the Times”: “People are killing themselves with guns and dopes. US supremacy is waning. Within that context, we re-position.” Kendall insists Logan is toast. He’s next up, and they’re going to plant the flag and take over, a la, Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. In many ways, Ken is right. Waystar is not the same as it was when they were kids, as evidenced by Logan not being allowed to directly speak to the President, as well as not being able to find a lawyer as quickly as Kendall did. Ken is right, that there are foundational issues in this country. No Real Person Involved isn’t only a phrase for workers.
It’s an uncomfortable and sobering reality of how little big businesses care about anything but protecting their pockets, even in the face of corporate malpractice, sexual assault, and murder. While not always doing it for the right reasons, Kendall has arrived at the truth. They have a fundamental issue within themselves and the American ecosystem. The problem is that there is an aura that Kendall is missing, a swagger. He is still the same kid who has good ideas but can’t stop tripping over his tongue, sabotaging his mission. He can’t stop himself from sounding like a tech bro reading off of cue cards cribbed from a Steve Jobs TED Talk. His siblings don’t want Kendall to be their boss. He’s “busted flush.” They know this and don’t trust him. More instinctively like his father, Roman has a sense that Kendall’s offer is bullshit, that the deal is nothing but a “dick in your hands.” Shiv also doesn’t trust Kendall, or at least can’t openly commit to his brazen treason right now. Sarah Snook is fantastic in the elongated 42-minute scene (minus some plot breaks) with all the kids arguing in Sophie Roy’s bedroom.
Shiv’s is working through her own issues with Tom. Tom is stuck with Logan in Sarajevo, eating terrible salad and lighting up Greg with sadomasochistic death threats that border on a Wu-Tang skit. (“Logan is going to fire a million spiders down your dickie.”) When Shiv says “I love you” to Tom, he thanks her, and calls out the transactional nature of their alliance masquerading as a marriage. He is standing up for himself for the first time. Wambsgans hasn’t been much of a player in these episodes, he’s been lurking in the background, doing some elite cellphone acting. One thing to watch in the coming weeks is Tom coming into his own as something more than Shiv’s appendage.
After an impassioned pitch, Kendall is close to getting the kids to buy in, for once. Both Shiv and Roman go outside to consult with their consiglieres, Rome to Gerri, his psychosexual fairy godmother, Shiv to Tom, belatedly showing her cards. Then, some relevant donuts from their Dad arrive. It effectively douses the proceedings and changes the vibe, however close Ken may have come to finally closing a fucking deal. Shiv starts to do her nervous, live wire tics. Connor leaves, citing going against your father is a bad look for a national figure. Roman sides with Logan, with Gerri running Waystar there are serious doubts his allegiance was ever up for grabs. Shiv leaves too. Kendall throws a tantrum, calling them each names, and saying that he only wanted Shiv in because having a girl boss with you is good optics for men like him. It is reminiscent of the man who raised him and humiliated him all his life, specifically when Logan melts down after the Pierce deal falls apart in “Argestes”.
Now, cranky because I took a nap before starting this review (I go to watch parties. I’m 25), but ready to talk Succession, family legacy, and American decline, is my big brother and close friend, Abe Beame.
Abe: Good evening, Jay. I’d respectfully point out 25-year-olds do not need 2 A a.m. naps, and would like to dedicate a special shout out to the editorial staff at Vice for ensuring my kid’s teachers give me crazy looks when I drop them off on the Lower East Side in *checks watch* two hours. But this is journalism, right?
So, many places to start. I’m afraid this show has hit on a cheat code. You can put these fantastic actors in a room, putting lines in these character’s mouths penned by a room that know them so well at this point – with moments like Shiv absolutely skull fucking Roman during the bedroom faceoff, that very little can actually happen in terms of plot or development and we’re satiated. How could you not love that bottle scene that ate over half the episode? We may look back on this episode at the end of the season, and see the sleight of hand that eventually reveals a final play, this episode could be a Trojan Horse, if you will, but as of now it feels like a shell game. A lot of movement, with the actual ball palmed. What say you?
Jay: We’re spoiled. We have come to see Succession as a show stuffed with iconic moments like Boar on the Floor, Roman getting slapped, and Kendall knifing everyone in the stomach at the end of Season Two. So far, we don’t have any of that. It is more nuanced and catered towards comedic lines and character development. Shiv clowning Roman for his intimacy issues (which the kids know more about than I imagined they would) and Kendall’s explosive words towards Shiv was my biggest ‘’WOW’’ moment of the episode. But it was a WOW moment, and I think we are headed towards some fucking bangers in the near future.
Abe: Well, ok fine, if we’re feeling generous I want to call attention to a moment that I do think qualifies as development in the episode. Roman and Gerri get two tete-a-tetes, and they’re great works of subtle positioning. We open on Gerri taking a screenshot of her name scrolling alone the bottom of a news ticker (OR, delivering the sort of pause-the-screen, on-the-spectrum magic you come to these recaps for – the introduction of Safetime, the business being reported above Gerri’s CEO announcement on the bottom scroll, which sounds like a cyber security company. If it’s Gerri’s first big acquisition as CEO, remember you heard it here first). The idea of their first interaction is Rome coming to Gerri to resume their flirtation and partnership, only to quickly get shut down and relegated to the sort of apprenticeship position with which Logan once patronized him. Rome responds with a suggestion to create a board of directors, ostensibly serving as a bulletproof vest for Gerri, but really an attempt to incept her into creating her own system of checks and balances, it’s all very String and Avon.
After a great reaction shot from Kieran Culkin when Gerri sends him to the kids table and gives him a glimpse of what his actual role will in her cabinet, Rome goes directly to Ken without giving notice to Gerri or Logan. It’s a flex, a power move, reminding Gerri he’s not without power or sway, and it works. The kid continually shows himself to be a fucking shark. He calls Gerri from Ken’s balcony “for advice”, or to issue a threat/killshot in the event he could defect, and Gerri folds. My personal favorite touch is J. Cameron Smith’s note perfect “We’ve got something going.” With a touch of desperation, her empire slipping away before she even gets to try on the big trousers. When she closes with a threat, Rome drops a hint of flirtation, reestablishing their illicit, psychotic, incestuous romance. That’s just sick, fucked up, granular development.
Jay: Did you find it interesting that Shiv and Kendall knew about Roman’s issues? Tabitha, his eunuch bestie, alludes to it at the dinner with the Pierce family, but I didn’t know that the kids were in on that aspect of his life. Roman and Gerri are a joy to behold. Gerri is too smart and careful to fuck up with a sex scandal now that the spotlight is on her, but you can feel something is coming. Roman as a character is an open book; That’s why I relate so much to him. What you see in Roman is what you’ll always see. It’s practically the whole point. It’s been said he has the most potential out of the kids. Is the partnership with him and Gerri due to fail or is it as strong as ever? The ambiguity seems to be the point, and I think we’re all here for it.
Also: quick note on Greg is in this episode, who again is the weakest subplot. My one criticism of the episodes so far is that Greg needs to get in on the action more. But the siblings still don’t give him any credence. Ken literally ties his tie for him. It is more between the lines with a character like Greg in how he interacts with everyone not named Tom. For example: I loved James Cromwell as Grandpa Ewan, using SAT words that Greg doesn’t understand or can’t put into sentences (Love him calling Ken “a self-regarding popinjay.”) Greg is constantly shown a striver who doesn’t fit in this world at all, but badly wants to. Hoping this tension pays off somewhere down the line.
Abe: I mean onscreen, I thought about Tabitha in “Ternhaven” as well, but these kids are siblings, there’s a lifelong history offscreen, and it’s a testament to the writing, not just Shiv’s initial dig, and not just Ken’s fucking kill shot that might be the single funniest joke in the history of the show for how raw and specific it is, but the whole fucked up bloodsport dynamic that plays out afterwards. Shiv immediately senses that she went too far, as does Connor who goes out to make peace, then she offers up a deeply sarcastic infantilized “Sowwy” in a funny voice, unable to genuinely express emotion for hurting her brother, and of course Rome responds by refusing to acknowledge his hurt feelings, calling her a whore which in a very twisted way is accepting the apology and resuming the hostilities.
I agree on Greg. It’s so hard to pin down where he’s at right now. In the past, his shifty maneuvering was a response to Tom, he was in this abusive relationship he’d do anything to get away from. He’s a machiavellian fuck again, and I suppose it might be trauma left over from “Greg Sprinkles” and his general impression of being utterly disposable on the yacht in the season 2 finale, but if we’re just reverting back to Greg as a shifty operator, it may be time for him to get some development as a character. We only understand him in relation to these people, he’s ancillary, but now he’s holding the queen on the board. I’m delighted to see Peter Riegert coming in as quixotic, Cardozo Law School Roman J. Israel type, using him as a side piece in his and Ewan’s quest to dismantle capitalism, but it feels very much like C plot side quest bullshit.
So let’s move to Logan. He opens the episode, which I thought was intentional, then he gets little screen time, but I felt his weight hanging over every scene and every interaction, where are we at with him, and what do you think is coming, particularly for him and my returning queen Hiam Abbass?
Jay: It was rough seeing Logan held up in that hotel room, eating hotel salad that looks as bad as something out of a college campus cafe at 3 a.m. Not because he is likable, he is the opposite, but because we are so used to seeing him in control over every situation. It’s a far cry from what the Roys looked like at the start of the series. The Roys have generational wealth, but they aren’t old money like the Pierce family. They’re new money, insecure in their standing. Armstrong and the writers are showing that in Logan’s refusal to estate plan, to build a road to the future. The clock is ticking on the family’s empire, but he can’t hear it. Roman’s shoulders are slumped as Logan gets off the plane, as if to say ‘’Here we go.’’ His reign is close to being over. We’ll see if he can grasp one last power move before it is all said and done.
Marcia coming back is great. Hiam Abbass is great at seeming mysterious in nature, yet as forceful as any other woman on the show, if not more. She comes back and demands that Logan do three things: Secure some money and power for her son and her daughter. She also wants to speed up the process of her getting those board seats promised in the pilot but never signed off on by Roman and Shiv. Logan’s infatuation with Rhea Jarrell humiliated her, but she is too smart to walk away without milking the situation for every drop of blood. She’s a survivor and a warrior. We didn’t even talk about her bringing up Ken’s vehicular homicide. Logan threw cold water on it right away. Do we think that comes up?
Abe: The salad may have been bad, but nothing compared to the refrigerated cheese Connor had to eat on his non-chartered flight. So if I may, allow me to push back on this a bit. I think this was low key Logan’s episode. You could argue that the kids make the decisions they do for other reasons, but he walks out with the entire family back in pocket. If I were to craft a narrative arc for these two episodes, the first would be Kendall’s tactical and strategic superiority. He gets all the right players, the ringers and mercenaries he needs, on his team. This one was about what Ken always has and always will suck at, the human element, the big dick content, getting the people he really needs in war to wear his sigil and raise his banner.
Logan immediately understands once he lost the chess match he needs to press the emotional buttons and pull the levers, and with small touches like the phone call to Connor, a true whore if there ever was one (I highly recommend watching the Connor phone scene just focusing on Willa and nothing else, fantastic reactions from Justine Lupe) and of course, the donuts. The kids are debating if the donuts are poison, it’s George Lakoff. You can’t not think of an elephant without thinking of an elephant. The person who taught me the most about chess once told me that you never want to be reacting to your opponent, on defense, they have to react to you, and though you didn’t see much of Logan in this episode, I think we saw him urgently understanding, and then forcefully regaining control of the narrative, at least within the family, for now.
Speaking of seizing the narrative, fucking Marcia! Has anyone on this show ever used their leverage to such devastating effect? Did we even know she has a fucking daughter? She secures generational wealth for her family, hands the keys to her personal butcher/lawyer Celeste, and doesn’t even need to be in the room as Celeste dresses and flays Hugo. She’s giving Logan a backrub as her lawyer takes chunks of his company and fortune by the fistful. I think the show is sitting on the manslaughter. Right now, it feels to me like it’s going to be deployed as self-immolation, a kamikaze attack with Ken at the precipice of victory. For now, they seem to be acknowledging that as the final and lasting strike that sinks the entire family, now that Logan has been complicit in a coverup, once and for all.
Jay: Good point about who Connor is. He’s the one who reveres Logan the most, alongside Roman. Logan knows exactly how to manipulate that weakness. So many moves made on this show are based on offscreen history. The donuts, in many ways, are to psych the kids out. He knows that the kids can’t work together. In large part because that is not the environment that he fostered as a father. If the kids are beefing, not on the same page, and throwing tantrums at one another, it is because of Logan Roy. The donuts are a reminder of that, it’s a way to say one of you, several of you, are all of you are talking, betraying one another as you sit in this room, and it’s all coming back to me. He’s everywhere, omnipresent. This is effective because they weren’t raised to work together. They weren’t raised to be a family. Everything is war. Competition is what breeds power, greed, and lastly, burn out. At one point Kendall tells Shiv that he is her, and what he means is he’s her id, he’s doing what she wants to, what she wishes she could, he’s breaking the power his father has over all of them and attempting to correct the score and doing something good.
It’s hard to see Logan exposing what Kendall did on that night in England because he would be complicit too. It wouldn’t help anyone involved. But the fact that he has that in his back pocket means eventually it will happen. Chekov’s waiter. Also: How great will the first showdown between Ken and Logan be? It’ll be unbelievable. Cox and Strong do such great work together. Both actors have such intense characters. And it’s coming. Next week?