There’s so much going on in “Tern Haven,” the fifth and best episode of the second season so far, that it’s hard to know where to begin. But perhaps the proper place to start is Logan Roy, whose presence is felt in virtually every scene on Succession, even the ones where he’s absent. His cruelty and capriciousness dominate everyone in his orbit, forcing his children especially to react only to him, whether through pitiful acts of rebellion or vile mimicry, or through substance abuse, sexual masochism, or just plain old heartbreak. He’s the black hole at the center of the show, the only character who draws no sympathy, even when he’s been reduced to a frail, withered, vulnerable old man. Waystar Royco is the family business, intended for his children, but the thought of actually bequeathing it to any of them is far eclipsed by an impulse to manipulate and abuse them for sport.
Logan’s toxic influence is all over this episode, which ingeniously compares and contrasts the Roys with the Pierces, two families that come to the news business from different ends of the political spectrum, but share an interest in obscene wealth. Logan’s ostensible interest in acquiring the Pierce media group is linked to the proxy battle in defense of his company, which hopes this $25 billion asset will make Waystar too big to buy. And from the start, everyone in his inner circle with any amount of intelligence has been against the deal: The resulting debt could sink the company, and there are plenty of indications that Pierce itself isn’t in good financial health — the most obvious being its willingness to indulge such an officious suitor in the first place. He’s set for a vast overpay.
The actual reason for Logan’s interest is more purely malevolent: He’s the snot-nosed boy on the beach who wants to smash the most meticulously sculpted sandcastle. There’s a sequence in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull where Jake LaMotta, the self-destructive (and destructive-destructive) middleweight champ played by Robert De Niro, is facing a challenger named Tony Janiro. When LaMotta’s wife notes offhand that Janiro is a good-looking guy, La Motta makes a point to pummel him in the ring, directing all his shots to the face. “He ain’t pretty no more,” he sneers to his wife after the fight. That’s Logan’s psychology to the core. He doesn’t want these Shakespeare-quoting, Ph.D.-accumulating, Brookings Institution snobs to feel like they’re better than he is. They have a price, too. For $25 billion, he gets to make the world see that they ain’t pretty no more.
That accounts for why Logan refuses to give Shiv the thing she wants — the thing they agreed on — when he has the perfect opportunity to do it. As terrible and humbling as this whole affair ends up being for Shiv, Logan’s primary reason for not announcing her as his successor is that it’s what his adversaries want. It would make the Pierces happy if Logan would cut away Ravenhead as a peace offering — which, oh by the way, he hasn’t done — and it would make them feel better if Shiv, whose political leanings are more liberal, were appointed the future steward of the Pierce brand. That way, the Pierces could get the money they so desperately need and continue to enjoy the satisfaction of performing a vital public service to the world — like, absurdly, helping in their small way to tear down the Berlin Wall. It would be an unsatisfying victory for Logan to give them anything other than money. He may want them to sell, but he needs them to sell out.
No doubt Shiv is collateral damage, though. “Tern Haven” follows her from the very first shot, as she takes the elevator up to a family meeting before the Pierce visit and fully expects her father to make the announcement. She believes that she has an important role to play in convincing the Pierces to sell, but she’s ultimately blindsided by what that role turns out to be. She and her brothers are there to work some “no”s into “yes”s, but that’s as far as Logan is prepared to take it, because her position at Waystar isn’t a chip he’s willing to play in the negotiations. That leads to utter humiliation on her part — first from her father’s continued withholding of a position he promised to her, later when she tries to force his hand at the dinner table, and once again when Logan walks away from the table after Nan Pierce insists on Shiv as successor. (Poor Tom, though. Logan is totally fine with him not overseeing the news. On that point — and that point only — he’s willing to compromise.)
The scenes between Shiv and Tom are maybe the first time I’ve been convinced that their relationship is real. Tom has been a useful patsy this season for his wife and father-in-law: In “Hunting,” Shiv deployed him as her proxy to express misgivings about the Pierce deal, and here Logan wants Tom to be the “right-wing ogre” responsible for ATN. But Shiv, despite her Logan-esque exploitation of Tom as both blunt instrument and pitiful cuckold, really does lean on him for support, and he gives her his attention in kind. “I really want this,” she tells him in a break at dinner. “I want to be sitting at that table.” And does his best to pick her up and assure her that she’s already there. It almost doesn’t matter that he gives her the confidence to make a truly shocking mistake when they return. He loves her and has her back.
While I don’t love looking at Succession as a reality-show competition where someone will be declared the winner at the end, it should be said that Kendall is quietly showing some competence now that he’s back in the fold. Naomi Pierce goes to great lengths to turn up just to register an emphatic “no” on the deal, but she and Kendall speak the same language — both children of privilege who have withered in the spotlight and lost themselves to substance abuse. Kendall does what he’s best at and absorbs her insults like a sponge (“You’re such a little nothing, aren’t you?”), but comes back to her with an insight. “Don’t block your own escape,” he says. “Just imagine getting out from under all this. You can take the money and you can just get the fuck out.”
“Then you’re free.”
Sad Sack Wasp Traps
• So many lines and moments worth savoring this episode, but my favorite may be when Nan Pierce invites Rosa, a servant, to set down her tray and have a drink with them. It’s such a perfect moment of liberal-elite benevolence, offered as a display of her magnanimousness, with the expectation that it will be politely refused. Chef’s kiss, as they say.
• “They want $24 billion but they also want to ensure the integrity of their news outlets into the future.” “And I want an onion to taste like a fucking peach.” Logan knows exactly where he stands in this negotiation before it even happens.
• Some really tough looks from Marcia on this episode. The exact source of her animus toward Logan isn’t clear, but it’s certainly vivid, particularly in her resentment over him trying to stage-manage her like his kids. “Merci beaucoup,” she says. “I’m very excited to be getting top marks along with your other pupils.”
• Oh boy, Roman’s sexual peccadilloes. It’s hard to say exactly why he needs to feel deviant in order to achieve sexual gratification, but it’s leading to some startling places, from his weird request that Tabitha act like she’s a corpse (“I think maybe the morgue is closing for the night”) to a reprise of the dominant-submissive dynamic he’d developed with Gerri. This show is nothing if not bold.
• Logan’s bullshit speech to the Pierces about the greatness and value of their media outlets may ring hollow to everyone else in the room, but Connor is touched: “I like this dad. Why couldn’t this dad be dad?”
• Naomi is quoting from Richard II in lieu of grace at the dinner table: “The purest treasure mortal times afford is spotless reputation; that away. Men are gilded loam or painted clay. Mine honor is my life; both grow in one. Take honor from me, and my life is done.” Again, all credit to Kendall for getting a “yes” vote out of her.
• Wonderful bit of staging with Logan scanning the table as his children are each fucking up their assignments. Connor’s sparring with a Pierce son (played by Mark Linn-Baker, “Cousin Larry” of Perfect Strangers fame) is indicative: “That’s just the sort of expert analysis I’d expect from a deep-state wonk with both lips glued to the Soros teat.”
• “Watching you people melt down is most deeply satisfying activity on the planet earth.” Oh cool, is Naomi a Succession fan, too?