just say numbers

Succession Power Rankings: Executive-Level Business, or Something

Photo: Peter Kramer/HBO

Spoilers ahead for season two, episode four of Succession, “Safe Room,” which is streaming early this week on HBO Go and HBO Now.

What a perfect Succession episode for a holiday weekend: Holly Hunter, Nazis, some light blackmail, and plenty of palace intrigue! Half of the Roy family is slouching toward the Pierce deal, which will make Waystar Royco too big for Stewy to acquire; the other half of the family is dealing with their various foibles. Tom is trying to fire a Nazi. Greg is being seduced by Cyd Peach. Roman has been exiled to a few hours spent among regular people, and Gerri gleefully watches from afar. Connor is still trying to be president, and trying to woo donors at the mysterious Mo’s funeral. The highlight of the episode — nay, this entire season? — is a Tom and Cousin Greg moment that’s borderline feral: these two lovebirds and best friends holed up in the shittier panic room, hashing out their relationship problems. I loved it! Here’s who’s up and who’s down after this week’s very great “Safe Room.”

1. Cyd Peach

Cyd Peach is the devil incarnate, and for that reason I respect and admire her greatly. For no pressing reason, she sows discord in the Greg–Tom relationship when she asks Cousin Greg what his actual job is: “Sort of like a farm hand? Clip his coat? Oh, do you have to milk him?” That is both all there is to it and all I will say at this time.

2. All these hoity-toity references

“And you must be Oedipus Roy,” Rhea Jarrell says to Kendall. “She could be our Coriolanus,” Frank says of Rhea to Logan, who replies: “Why don’t you take your library card and fuck off.” I have never felt more like the uncultured swine that I am! I didn’t go to Yale.

3. Logan Roy

Last week Logan was panicked; this week he’s regained at least a little bit of his prowess. He’s going all in on this Pierce deal, against everyone’s judgement — but isn’t part of the thrill of Succession just assuming that Logan knows something we don’t? For how much Logan time we get on this show, not a lot of it is spent watching him interact with people outside the family. He watches and probes Rhea Jarrell with precision: A deal with the Pierce family isn’t totally off the table, otherwise Rhea wouldn’t be bothered to make an appearance in person. What a curious beast Logan Roy is! But a powerful one, too: “When I say something will happen,” he says defiantly, “that thing will happen.” I’m inclined to believe him.

4. Cousin Greg

In one single episode, Cousin Greg has moved from the top of this ranking to the bottom of this ranking and to the top again. I’m still a little on the fence (perhaps why he appears on this list twice?) but the writer Sarah Hagi brought up a point recently that I was very interested in: “Cousin Greg is the most evil person in Succession and I can prove it,” she Tweeted.

I liked this reasoning when I saw it, and this episode supports it: This is all newly learned behavior for Greg, and in the same episode where he can beg for a (kinda, sorta) promotion, he can (kinda, sorta) threaten to blackmail Tom. Cousin Greg doesn’t have the same killer instinct as Logan or Shiv, he’s not as smart as Kendall, but he’s looking to get in where he fits in and it’s sort of working for him. We’re four episodes into season two and Cousin Greg has a new apartment and a promotion!

5. Rhea Jarrell

And I thought Shiv’s power bob would be thee look of the season! Meet Rhea, who I would love immediately if I hadn’t already promised my heart to Ms. Cyd Peach. I haven’t loved a character introduction so much since Captain Jack Sparrow in the first Pirates of the Carribean movie! (Yes, I am trapped in a weird, demented brain.) Rhea arrives in the heat of an ATN protest, slipping through undetected in her black Jaguar like a Death Eater in the night. “Well that was exciting,” she grins. Absolutely great energy here! Kendall is especially awkward around her; Logan seems intent to nail her down. But Rhea somehow bobs above and beyond them both during their sit-down, needling the Roys in a very specific and pleasing way, which would put her second on this list but she is, by her admission, just a conduit. The Pierce family is the almighty.

Rhea is slick, though, and a deal-maker. She seems to trust Logan, but will her bosses? There are so many glass balls up in the air right now, and Rhea is central to at least three of them: the PGM acquisition, the Pierce family themselves, and who has the best hair this season. (Also: Technically, I was not named after Holly Hunter but I like to think that spiritually I am named after Holly Hunter.)

6. Kendall Roy

I am so sorry to announce that Kendall is apparently allowed to “just say numbers.” The meeting with Rhea is a disaster on the Kendall front, but the post-shooting panic-room huddle — where Kendall dexterously senses that there’s a number in the Pierce family’s mind and they aren’t sure the Roy family will hit it — is redemptive. Also, did you see the way Logan’s first instinct was to ask if Kendall was safe when there was an active shooter in the building? As Shiv’s mother, I would like to say: upsetting.

Meanwhile Kendall is moody and depressed, crying into Shiv’s shoulder and stealing vape fluid for no reason, other than to feel alive/like a 22-year-old at Union Pool.

7. Cousin Greg saying, “Nazis? Yeah — yeah, they’re the worst.”

This line reading — I don’t know a better person! With his feet up on Jonah, Tom calls Cousin Greg in to give him the skinny on Mark, ATN’s latest racist broadcaster. Greg reports that the rumor is that Mark named his dog Blondie, after Hitler’s dog. Tom tries to deflect the detail, saying that Logan likes the guy and so do the ratings. “Oh, dude,” Tom sighs. “If it’s true, he’s gone. I mean, Nazi’s terrible right?” Cousin Greg’s eyebrows shoot up. His heart maybe stops beating entirely. He straightens his back almost imperceptibly. “Nazis?” he says, incredulous. “Yeah — yeah, they’re the worst.” The inflection on “worst” is so specific and beautiful it brings a tear to my dry eyes. That inflection doesn’t say, “Yeah dude, Nazis are the fucking worst,” or even “Oh man, Nazis can fuck off, amirite?” That inflection says, “According to everything I’ve read and seen I’m pretty sure Nazis are, like, the worst thing on the list of bad things. Wait, you didn’t know that?”

8. Brian

“Me? I’m an enigma. You can’t pigeonhole me. I’m there and then I’m gone. I’m intellectually promiscuous but culturally conservative.” Do you hear that? That’s the sound of about nine Hinge profiles being furiously edited to reflect this line of dialogue, and I have swiped left on every single one.

9. Connor Roy

Finally, a little insight into who exactly Mo is. Was. Is! Whatever. Unfortunately it comes at the detriment of Connor and his absolutely ludicrous presidential bid, which will no doubt be successful. Unfortunately he is the only Roy sent to a child-ish molester-ish’s funeral; fortunately he’s able to edit his speech at the last minute to say absolutely nothing of substance other than objective facts. Connor is pretty meh this episode honestly, but I’m excited to see what kind of narcissistic mania his donor-boner funds next.

10. Shiv Roy

How much does it hurt me to rank my daughter Shiv beneath Connor? You will never know. Shiv deserves better; Shiv deserves more! She’s come home to run the company only to be undercut at every opportunity: Either her dad is avoiding her or ignoring her, or she’s exiled to faraway offices or corners of meetings. The Pierce dealings are kept from her until the active-shooter panic drops her right in the middle of them. It’s brilliant and tragic to watch how, nearly imperceptibly, Kendall, Logan, and Shiv’s conversation with Rhea turns from chitchat to a numbers negotiation. The Pierce acquisition is a bad deal according to everyone, but should Shiv white-knuckle it to get back on top? The way Logan growls her name as they’re throwing numbers around with Rhea does not exactly inspire confidence. Being pro-PGM is working for Kendall.

11. Gerri Kellman

There has been a frankly criminal lack of Gerri on these rankings, mostly because all season I have been wondering why Gerri hitched her wagon to Roman. She’s played both sides of the Pierce acquisition. She’s willing to feed information to Shiv when it suits her. But of all Logan’s kids she’s chosen Roman as the favorite son? Puzzling. But now I get it! It’s like that Veep season when Sue dated Kent, or when Banker Danny Huston described the Pierce negotiations as “French-kissing an armadillo”: It’s so bizarre, but I can’t look away? Unfortunately, being in cahoots with Roman in any capacity keeps Gerri from a top spot this week.

12. The Wolf Pack at Mo’s funeral

Leo, Lukas, Tobey, Kevin, sometimes-sixth-man Orlando — representation matters.

13. Roman Roy, a.k.a. “Dirk Turkey,” a.k.a. “Ron Rockstone”

After last week’s pitiful show of maturity, Roman has put himself in a self-imposed exile with normals (a.k.a., the Waystar Royco management-training program). Somehow this only reveals that he is even more of a moron than I — or Logan — could suspect. He survives the training program, but, like, barely. For someone so desperate to lead or even just prove himself, Roman really only has bad ideas and smarmy one-liners; at least Connor, Kendall, and Shiv have ideas about things. (Even if they are bad ideas, like not paying taxes or calling An Indecent Proposal your favorite movie.) Roman still isn’t sleeping with Tabitha, but is sleeping with Gerri — sorta?

14. Jonah

With Tom’s “footstool fiesta,” Jonah has now become the least powerful of the HBO Jonahs, which is pretty terrible considering his only competition is the jolly green jizzface, a.k.a. Jonah from Veep.

15. Tom Wamsgams

Poor Tom and poor Tom’s meeting with Mark, and poor Tom’s little file folder with one single sheet of paper asking, and I quote, “Dude, you’re like ……….. not a fucking Nazi …… right?” How nostalgic I am for three episodes ago when I thought Tom’s most pressing problem was Cyd Peach! Cyd is scary and powerful and hilarious, which is why she ranks high on this list; Mark is a complete and total racist loon, which is a different can of worms entirely. How nostalgic I am, even, for Tom’s incest joke at the beginning of this episode!

But, you know, whatever. All of this small potatoes compared to him getting dumped by Cousin Greg! I thought Renata Klein cornered the market on best HBO breakdowns, but Tom has the best scream-cry this side of the Mississippi. How utterly humiliating to be broken up with by Cousin Greg in a panic room that isn’t even the nice panic room. I will say, though, that Matthew Macfadyen’s acting during this scene is absolutely magnificent to watch. It’s like he’s decomposing before us, heartbreak turning to malice — where is his Emmy nomination? Impossible to believe this is the same face that told Lizzy Bennett that she’d bewitched him, body and soul!

Succession Power Rankings: Executive-Level Business