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Jayson Buford already knows it’s Conhead season.
Abe Beame knows a guy at the Lampoon.
“Fuck the patriarchy!” So says the corporate raider turned male feminist Kendall Roy at the Committee for the Protection and Welfare of Journalists gala. This, of course, is mostly bullshit. Kendall didn’t do what he did for the good of journalistic integrity, vulnerable women, or because he wants to make the company better. It was a faux-woke chess move, one he had to take to checkmate his father before his father could do the same to him.
There are people, including a Ziwe as a boilerplate late night monologue jockey, that are calling Kendall out for his inauthenticity in his new garb as social justice warrior. This doesn’t stop Ken from enjoying the attention, and asking people to turn up the volume when she calls him a ‘’Caucasian Rich Brain.” I’m reminded of Dust, the art company that Kendall wanted to buy in the ‘’Prague’’ episode, that saw Ken as an extension of his father (‘’I’d be who – Mrs. Hitler?’’). This is no different. s in the Dust debacle, Ken is made to face himself, as a man who doesn’t measure up to the standards, to the person he wants to be, and how the world views him – a force of evil in the shadow of evil.
Shiv is finally in the fold as the President of Operations at Waystar Royco. She’s already picking her spots, choosing to deal with the Kendall situation head on and leaving Roman to sit for a puff piece about his father that he wants absolutely no part of. Shiv is in a similar place as Greg without the ability to truly stay neutral. Like Greg, she’s attempting to straddle two worlds: her father’s murky deep pool, and her brother’s newfound righteous crusade – the type of politics and morality she wants to believe she’s aligned with.
After seeking out Ken at the gala in an attempt to talk him into silence, deeply reminiscent of her witness silencing at the end of last season, Shiv goes to Logan’s house and confronts Logan in a half hearted attempt to unearth exactly what her father knew, and what they’re all on the hook for. Logan gives Shiv the typical runaround, dodging and withholding information while making noble and hollow declarations why he’s done what he’s done – for family, of course. Logan also manages to plant the seed for the coming kill shot, demanding not just fealty, but a scalp from his only daughter. Snook and Cox are fantastic in this scene. They bring something out in each other. They’re both such direct and commanding presences in every other relationship on the show, but in their scenes together it’s a shadow dance. Each is afraid of the other, neither will come out and say what they really mean and/or feel. It’s all silences that speak volumes and words that mean nothing.
Shiv is tapped to do a speech for the company, her first, an introduction/townhall meant to serve as damage control. In one of the more shocking and cringe moments in the show’s history, while she is speaking, Nirvana’s “Rape Me” plays loudly from speakers near where everyone in the company is congregating. (The shot of Roman trying his best not to laugh is brutal in its honesty). Shiv leaves the hall, upset at her brother for embarrassing her. Snook is excellent here. Her face is angry and on tilt at the same time, desperate to maintain composure. She spits in a book that Ken left on his desk, declaring war against her brother (This might be the meanest thing that Ken does to anyone on the show. It’s cruel and childish. Hard to feel bad for what is coming, and yet).
Tom is also sinking. After an off screen consultation with his lawyer, he tells us that he’s been advised that he’s going to jail. It’s pathetic to see him tell Logan that he is willing to go to eat a charge for him, but if there is one thing that Wambsgans will do, it’s sacrifice his dignity in order to cover his ass. McFayden plays the walk from the talk with Logan back to the office perfectly. It is as if he knows that the process is coming and his fate is sealed.
Just before Kendall hits the stage with Ziwe, Shiv releases a statement about the troubles that Kendall has had in his life. She calls him an addict, mentally unwell, a misogynist, and an insincere person – it’s a memo that strips Ken to the bone. Strong’s range shows here: His face drops when he realizes how real Shiv’s statement is, how directly she’s trying to hurt him personally and humiliate him publicly, and brings back all the feelings of worthlessness he had when he fled the scene of the crash that killed Andrew Dobbs. (Colin, Waystar’s security man, reinforces that, successfully reducing him to a stuttering child).
Instead of facing the music and going on the show, Kendall hides in the backroom. While that is happening, potentially instigated by Ken’s conversation with Lisa Arthur earlier in the episode, the FBI raids the Waystar Royco offices. Logan is his usual defiant self, telling Gerri to tell them to ‘’fuck off.’’ But like any bully punched in the face, he relents. The walls are closing in on the Roy family. But now, to discuss these issues, and many more, a good Catholic lad who couldn’t even take his undershirt off in front of his wife, Abe Beame. – Jayson Buford
Abe: Jayson, as always, no one I’d rather spend a Sunday evening trading takes with. So my initial reaction was this episode was 90% fill, 10% kill. The real protein, the meaningful plot shift of the episode, comes in the last few minutes with the raid. But on a subsequent rewatch, as always with this show, it’s in between the lines, it’s in the relationships, the subtle trauma and devastation, where the real action and juice is, and this week obviously belonged to Shiv and Kendall.
Because the lingua franca of this show is savagery and bloodsport, I heard the shots fired last week as Shiv declined to ride with Ken and walked out as Ken tantrumed, but kind of dismissed them for what I saw them as: The ranting of a child transparently trying to wound his little sister, grasping for a foothold, any foothold, as he falls. I see Shiv as an invincible, brilliant badass, and I can’t decide if that’s the wrong read and she’s playing tough, or if it’s right and those words were hurtful in a way I didn’t fully comprehend, because I feel the bulk of this episode is reckoning with those words and that hurt.
From the beginning of the episode, Shiv assigns herself with the task of neutralizing Ken. First she tries honey at the gala, as you point out, using the same approach and logic she attempted with the victim from cruises, which Ken sees through and calls her out for. Like Shiv with Roman last week, the siblings are so good at cutting to the root of agendas and motivations, and surgically picking each other apart with their words. Ken sees Shiv’s attempt to redirect him, assuming the role of Waystar Michael Clayton, like Darth Vader assuming the helmet and armor, and he’s not wrong, and she knows it.
But before we go any further, and there’s much more to unpack between the two in this episode so please make me come back to this, but let’s address “Rape Me”. This show never does this, they always more or less operate above board and show their hand before it’s played with two notable exceptions, but I want to just float my epic fan theory that it was a set up. The empty speaker boxes in Ken’s office, Logan sitting in his office waiting like Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate with that fucking “I told you so” smirk, how he was pushing Pinky in the direction of fratricidal war, leading up to this dog fight in the cage, I’m sure it’s not rat fucking, but it’s never directly addressed and it would make for a hell of a twist. What do you make of my off the grid conspiracy brain?
Jay: I don’t think so. Succession writers never trick us in that way. The beauty in this show isn’t the moments that are meant to shock you, but how they unravel, and how the characters are processing information in the real time. Kendall did that to Shiv to put her in her place, rub her nose in her hypocrisy. But it’s interesting, in the scene with Shiv and Kendall, that she has become who he used to be: A front-facing Waystar Royco employee at all times. Shiv can be brilliant, she definitely has the stones, but she’s still an enigma. Kendall is peering right through her facade.
Abe: Aight, so yes I agree. Almost 99% YouTube documentary fan theory spazzing, but wanted to put it out there in case somehow it hits. The whole incident broke a little too clean for my taste, and I never trust it when characters die off screen.
Let’s get back to Shiv and Ken. So Shiv responds to “Ken’s” act of aggression by essentially pulling Logan’s “Operation Black Sheep” from Season 1 – when in the wake of his first coup, he spreads to the media that Ken has fallen off the wagon. It fucks with his custody, and causes Ken to actually fall off the wagon in a literal death spiral that ends up killing Andrew Dobbs and torpedoing Ken’s chances at the company, self-worth, and any sort of peace. At the time, Shiv is horrified at Logan’s play.
So we’re pretty explicitly getting Shiv finally becoming Logan, but it’s happening in this sort of forced, uncomfortable way. I thought Logan’s reaction to Rome not signing her letter was fascinating. He appreciated the cunning and gamesmanship for not signing the hit piece he all but forced Shiv to write. It’s like the inverse of how he reacted to Tom’s offer to fall on the sword. Tom badly misread Logan, believing his offer of selfless sacrifice would earn him a point of respect. But Logan respects strength, resilience, and ruthless intelligence. That’s what he seems to respond to in Rome’s move, and what I suspect he may ding Shiv for. She’s showing her whole ass going after Ken in such a messy and public manner. When Logan smeared Ken, his own kids weren’t sure where the attack originated. So I wonder if, yet again, like she did with the Pierce deal, in the urge to be the leader she believes her father wants her to be, Shiv is overplaying her hand and fucking up.
But since we’re on the subject, let’s jump to Tom for a second. I think one way to read this episode for him, as you seemed to, was hapless rubery. I think there may have been something else going on. We never see him actually consult with an attorney until after he’s gauged Shiv and Logan on where they stand in regards to his future, which seems to be: prepped and ready to pop his ass in the oven.
Then, we’re not privy to any actual consultation with said lawyer, he calls directly after the conversation with Logan, who he’d never conversed with before despite having told Shiv he’d already had a consultation, before Greg beeps in. Is this Tom seeking out independent counsel? Did he actually even meet with Waystar counsel as he had told Greg he would? Was this all Tom playing 12-dimensional chess with Shiv and Logan, waiting for someone to stand for him, then when no one did, begin to strategize a possible defection?
Jay: I think Shiv was always a beast like Logan is. I agree her writing the memo is reminiscent of Logan’s move in “Austerlitz”. The letter shakes Ken to his core. It seems like that is the first time he realizes that this is real, and his chess moves have real world implications for his reputation as a human being, which wasn’t great to begin with.
Tom is interesting: He is playing his cards close to his chest, while doing his typical ass kissing. I wonder what he is planning as well? It doesn’t seem like him to be playing 12-dimensional chess with Shiv, but after the Season 2 finale on the boat, he knows the weight of this situation. He knows that he can be sold out. He may be looking to take back control.
Here is my thing: Do you think this has been a let down so far? It’s been three episodes. They have set the bar so high because of Season 2. Do they need to advance the plot more? The craft has been impeccable, the acting is still the best on television, but Season 2 was great at advancing the plot. Is this affecting your view of the season? It’s still brilliant, but we are still in for a slow burn to me. It’s reminding me of Breaking Bad Season 3, which also takes a while before heating up.
Abe: As I said, I thought that at first, but for some reason it hit different after a subsequent rewatch. This episode was all about backlash. We’re so intimate and close with these characters, so inside, the outside world is an abstraction. We get hits of context off of TVs playing precious snippets in the background, but nothing concrete, not really. I think this episode was in some ways grounding us in the outside world before moving to the meat of this season’s middle third, I hope anyways.
But even if it doesn’t, what they did here was impressive. We get to see Ken’s situation from the outside in. The whole Barry Schneider and Lisa Arthur thing, these powerful women and outside political forces aligning themselves with him in episode one seemed implausible because he’s such an obvious moron in the room, but what this episode helped me understand was how that looked coming out of the press conference. Here’s this infamous piece of shit, stepping up and saying the shit everyone has always wanted to hear about his piece of shit father. Imagine Donald Trump Jr. getting behind a podium and killing his dad on TV.
By showing us the inevitable news and Twitter cycle, how we’d go from elation to taking this figure down a peg with skepticism and record pulling, as Ziwe does (serving as an admittedly kind of lazy shorthand for the reckoning that would come for a figure like Kendall in the real world), feels right and at least for me, kind of places this story in context, helps me frame the narrative in a way that could play on my timeline.
What sets Succession apart is the way it doesn’t give you all this up front, and makes you piece it all together, then does the work of getting back inside and showing us how these characters they know so well would react to all this, and in Ken’s case, it’s of course to collapse. I think I’m not alone in saying I’ve hated him this season, I think we’re explicitly meant to, sometimes inauthentically on the writers’ part, and much like Logan probably does, I miss the broken Ken.
Sure enough, we start to see him very broken here, from the outset of the episode, much like Shiv, reeling from the trauma of every single one of his siblings rejecting him. He’s trying so hard to be liked, and thinks by being this kind of transparently inauthentic version of vulnerable he can “win” an interaction with a reporter or a late night television writer, it’s tragic. All he wants is to be liked, and he’s so unlikeable in his attempts to be liked, that watching it as a passive observer makes you at least want to like him because you understand he’s trying and just doesn’t have the equipment to get the things he needs from people.
Then when he crumples against that AV stack, curls in a ball and actually becomes truly vulnerable, as he hears Ziwe, who based on the graphics, is a TBS late night attraction with like 30,000 viewers or something, but Ken allows to get directly in his head, and rip his life apart using his little sister’s own words, I mean it’s over. Give this man an Emmy, give me a fucking tissue.
Jay: The walk leading to the room is one of the best things they have done all series, with the score slowing down with every ginger step that he takes. We need to talk about the game of “Good Tweet, Bad Tweet” that Ken plays. It shows how in-love with himself that he can be, his need to be shot down just like his Dad has shot him down his whole life. The range Strong has is as wide as the multiple ways RJ Barrett can get buckets now. To see him go from manic to the uncomfortable realization that his sister no longer has his back is sad. This is a fractured family and he is at the forefront of it. (Ziwe on the show strikes me a bit too on the nose. So is Dasha from Red Scare being on it, although she was solid this week as Kendall’s PR girl. I hope the writers don’t continue to be online as much).
Roman using Connor taking him fishing as a stand-in for the fact that he has no good childhood memories is a good scene. Roman has been surprisingly not as active this season as he was last year but that was some of the funniest work to date. He has nothing to say to the man because he genuinely has no good moments. Logan Roy is a blackhole that sucks you in and leaves you darker than you were before. I thought that it was interesting for the Roys to talk about their feelings for one another too. Logan laughs at Roman when they discuss the interview. Sentimentality isn’t what the Roy family excels at.
The FBI is coming now. I said a few episodes before, is Logan losing his influence and power? He tries to lean on the White House Chief of Staff and fails. The feds are doing a sweep. Is Logan in for a world of hurt next episode?
Abe: Let me just say while I don’t condone unforced RJ Barrett comps in a Succession recap, I completely and totally support my brother in this particular instance, with the beautiful gift he gave the world Saturday night. Before we move to “Next time, on Succession”, I want to address something you said because I had been considering it as well.
I think “Good Tweet, Bad Tweet” is very much tied to the Ziwe device. They are both kinds of games, or torture instruments that allow Ken access to his Icarus instincts. He loves the waxen winged rush of the idea of who he could be, with the torture of being reminded in carnal and bloody fashion who he is.
You brought up Roman and the lack of Logan memories. I don’t think there were no good childhood memories of his father, I think he’s so fucked up and shut down he doesn’t have access to them. It’s too complicated for him to untangle the one good birthday party from the three very bad abusive shitty ones, so he stuffs them down below uncomplicated memories like fly fishing with Con.
In the same way, Ken understands, on some intuitive level, something is very wrong, but he doesn’t have access to it. Jeremy Strong’s face when he’s staring up at Ziwe, completely stripped down for parts, is practically in a hairshirt, in torn garments self flagellating, it’s sadomasochistic. There’s a naked pain and a knowing perversity in that pain, in the world finally and properly reordering itself with him at the bottom. Going back to Rome, we are shocked and compelled by his perversion, Ken’s is no different. Ziwe crushing him on air is like Gerri speaking the truth he knows in his heart through a bathroom door.
In episode 1 of this season, Rome says something to the effect of, of course Ken will fail, that’s his thing. And I don’t think he realizes how right he is. The Andrew Dobbs tragedy wasn’t a tragedy, not exactly. Ken was going to seek out destruction the night before he was to ascend to power, until he found it. Increasingly, I believe his self-destruction is inevitable. Because he needs it. He feels acutely that he’s had every conceivable advantage and opportunity to be a better person, and he isn’t, and that weight on him is unbearable every second of everyday until someone is in a room or in the news telling him exactly who and what he is. A FUCK UP. So yeah, I can’t see it ending well, unless it’s in acceptance. with him reduced to nothing, doing yoga on a mountaintop in California, but another show tried that already to mixed results.
As for E4? Something we didn’t talk about is I think Ken may have triggered the raid in that convo he has with Lisa Arthur. He pushes her to make something happen. Something isn’t adding up. Logan’s meeting with Michelle Anne seems to end in quid pro quo, good coverage for an easing of federal focus, and yet we end where we do. What changed? I’m not expecting any quick or easy answers with this show, but it is time to downshift.