overnights

Succession Recap: The Lion’s Den

Succession

Vaulter
Season 2 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating *****

Succession

Vaulter
Season 2 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: HBO

Anyone who’s worked in digital media will feel a shudder of recognition over what happens to Vaulter, the BuzzFeed/Vox/Vice/[Fill in the Blank]–esque publication gutted by Kendall on tonight’s episode. Journalism is a heartbreaking industry in the best of times, but the formula for success for non-subscription, nonprint outlets has not yet been discovered. Even common measures of success, like page views or unique visitors, can be deceptive and easily manipulated, and sites are hugely susceptible to tweaks in social media algorithms, like the very real Facebook hiccup that Lawrence blames for tanking Vaulter’s numbers. If you’re an employee, it can feel like you’re occupying a house that’s been built on quicksand — and you assume that, one day, that house will collapse like all the others.

Succession gets this world excruciatingly right: the open office plan where young writers and editors are arranged like cattle in a dairy parlor, the attention-grabbing headlines (a partial headline appears to read something like, “Why Drinking Out of the Toilet Is a Game-Changer”), the simmering low-level contempt for management. And, beyond that, the show has picked up on the move toward unionization as a protection against a volatile, low-paying industry that hasn’t been good about job security or severance benefits. A scenario exactly like the one where Kendall marches in and pulls the plug under odious terms — 15 minutes to leave the premises, one week of severance pay per year served, unused vacation days not reimbursed, health benefits gone at the end of the month — has happened before and will happen again.

Kendall doesn’t want it to happen, though. On the very first episode of the series, he was doing everything he could to acquire Vaulter, overbidding wildly and taking abuse from its founder and CEO, Lawrence Yee, who believed (correctly, as it happens) that Waystar would devour his company. Lawrence has been Kendall’s chief tormentor for his entire run, seeing right through Kendall’s “hip” corporate vibe and business-speak, which are a thin cover for his fundamental weakness and incompetence. Killing Vaulter should, at the very least, allow Kendall the opportunity to twist the knife on Lawrence for a change, but while he does get the last word (“Go find some other chicken coop, cunt”), it’s not his choice. He actually believes in Vaulter’s potential — insofar as it can make him appear forward-looking and cool, in contrast to his legacy-media dinosaur of a father — and, ironically, becomes its most ardent defender in the end.

For his part, Logan doesn’t really seem to care. To the extent that Vaulter registers with him at all, it’s as an annoying little loss leader that he can give or take, but won’t keep him up at night either way. As business headaches go, Sandy Furness’s play on Waystar is the real migraine. Vaulter is less a problem than a prime opportunity to punish and manipulate his wayward son, forcing him to kill the part of the company he cares about the most as a gesture of penance and renewed fealty. Roman sees it as a victory for his own managerial instincts — his father following his advice on Vaulter, informed by a night of guzzling IPAs with staff, over that of Kendall, who actually pored through the numbers — but it’s a loss for him, too. Despite his betrayals, Kendall remains Logan’s true favored son.

Still, it’s a soul-sickening ordeal for Kendall, who numbs himself through bumps of cocaine and self-loathing. The same Kendall who mouthed, “I saw their plan. Dad’s plan is better,” turns up at the Vaulter offices to pull the plug, cutting hundreds from their jobs with such a detached air that a gob of spittle to the face doesn’t even get a reaction. The advantage of being a broken man is that he cannot be broken any more, certainly not by digital-media employees who make it even easier by detesting him. His father officially welcomes him back into the lion’s den when it’s over — casting Roman out for good measure — but Kendall’s expression doesn’t change from the beginning of the episode, when he sleepwalks his way through his daughter’s birthday party, to the end, when he shoplifts a pack of batteries just to feel some sense of power again.

Power is all Shiv is feeling these days, with the only real stress coming from the decision to continue running Gil’s campaign and potentially serve as his chief of staff or accept her father’s offer to succeed him as the head of Waystar. Gil ultimately makes that decision easier by firing her after a testy exchange in the back of a limo. Shiv’s arrogance in the presence of an actual voter (“How long has it been since you’ve touched a prole?”) causes him to recoil, but it’s Gil taking her advice and making a deal with her father that truly rankles her. What good is rebelling against your father if the man who wants to damage his company strikes a deal with him so easily? Besides, Logan has offered her the keys to the kingdom, so her resentment toward him has been neutralized.

For now, anyway. Logan slow-playing Shiv’s grooming period seems like an ominous sign. She protests the three-year management track (“You have a toddler with a hard-on for chief operating officer and I have to go through a training program?!”), but she can’t risk falling out of favor. She has the king’s ear, as evidenced by the pre-credits scene where he takes her advice on responding quickly to his adversaries’ spin, and she’s not inclined to rebuff him as firmly as she otherwise might. Once again, Logan has all his children firmly under his thumb, each completely vulnerable to his capriciousness. They act at his behest, whether they know it or not.

Sad Sack Wasp Traps

• Another week, another round of wicked Roman rejoinders. On Stewie: “… a dildo dipped in beard trimmings.” On beer: “Can I interest you in going out for one of those IPAs that looks like runoff at the car wash?” To Connor: “Do you think that’s a natural progression from never done nothing never to most important job in the world? Could you maybe get a little experience at, like a CVS or something?” On Tom’s terrible suits: “You look like a divorce attorney from the Twin Cities.”

• An absolute treat to see the legendary Jeannie Berlin turn up as the head of ATN, who takes an immediate dislike to Tom meddling in her operation. She warns him that she’s seen his kind come and go every four years, and doesn’t seem remotely persuaded by that nepotism will give him a special advantage. Her audience will not be patronized by “latte-sipping douchebags with $100 haircuts.”

• Tom has no idea how a news organization works. (Or maybe he does: “It’s so weird, huh? [Logan] happens to own a news company and they say exactly what he thinks.”) And he has no actual vision for ATN other than pleasing his father-in-law by trimming the fat. For that, he’s asked Cousin Greg to find inefficiencies, but Greg can barely find an efficiency on Staten Island.

• “There they go marching off to daddy, like Russians joining the Brusilov Offensive.” Connor’s belief in his own superior intellect accounts for his White House run.

• Most of the night’s best lines belong to Tom, who finds a disgusting metaphor for ATN’s importance to Logan (“It’s Logan’s G-spot. I can finger-bang him all night long”), and asks Shiv whether they should put a big portrait of themselves on an empty wall (“Too Saddam? Too Assad-y”). He also gets a great exchange with Roman’s girlfriend, who finds a way to remind him of their little encounter at his bachelor party. (“You should try swallowing something … like honey.”)

• “You did good, son. Make yourself at home.”

Succession Recap: The Lion’s Den