Roman Roy has been slapped twice by his father this season on Succession: The first was figurative, when Logan called him a “moron” for trying to arrange a deal behind his back, even though the entire inner circle was sworn to keep the company’s interests under wraps. Before that moment, Roman felt like he had the wind at his back, having not royally fucked up like his brother Kendall and perhaps winning his father’s favor by suggesting the right path on axing Vaulter. By his calculation, he had moved into pole position in the Succession Grand Prix, which didn’t seem like much of a race with Ken having crashed and burned, Shiv seemingly more interested in politics, and Connor bidding for Napoleon’s mummified johnson. His father’s assessment cut so deep to the bone that he slipped off to a management training program in a half-assed attempt to prove his seriousness.
The second slap in “Argestes” is literal, hard enough to knock out a tooth. It’s difficult to say which of the two slaps hurt the most — the first is more existentially wounding, the second … well … knocks out a tooth — but it’s enough to refocus the show on the Roy family dynamic and the various cycles of abuse that run through it, starting at the top. Kieran Culkin’s reaction to his father calling him a “moron” is one of the most indelible shots of the season, as the sibling most defined by give-a-shit swagger is laid low like a child. But tonight’s slap is striking most by how quickly and emphatically Kendall reacts: “No! Don’t fucking touch him!”
Keep in mind, this is the same Kendall who’s spent the entire season numbly acquiescing to his father’s needs and demands. He was the tip of the spear in gutting his precious Vaulter against his own advice, and he was instrumental in making the Pierce deal possible by turning an influential “no” into a “yes.” It’s no mistake that this episode opens with Kendall browbeating the Waystar negotiators on Logan’s behalf, echoing his father’s caterwauling by using the word “fucking” as a modifier eight times in as many sentences. For this same man to defend his brother so instinctually is stunning to witness, especially after Roman had taken such rhetorical delight over Kendall’s misfortune. The Roy children have been in this trench together their entire lives. They share a common enemy in Logan, and they’re willing to set aside their internecine conflicts to come to one another’s defense. For Kendall, a season of dead-eyed sycophancy ended in a split second.
Set against the backdrop of a corporate getaway where the one-percent-of-the-one-percent gather together for panels, nature hikes, and $75 Cobb salads, “Argestes” deals with the fallout from a New York magazine piece on sexual misconduct on the Waystar cruise line. The types of conversations that happen before and after the article drops seem chillingly plausible. Executives have known about these problems for a long time — the chief perpetrator, the late “Mo” Lester, earned that nickname from them — but they’ve chosen to keep the truth buried in NDAs that have sat in the vault, threatening to detonate at any time. When the media finally catches on, the discussion continues to be about the company’s survival, not a long-overdue culture change or shift to accountability.
When word of the imminent article on cruises circulates, the first conversation is about how to keep the piece from coming out at all. This again sets the Roy children against each other in lobbying for their father’s approval: Kendall thinks the magazine should be threatened with coffer-draining litigation if they decide to publish it, while Shiv wants to take the more conciliatory approach of agreeing to work with the author, which might delay the piece until Waystar can close the deal on Pierce. The second approach would involve conceding some wrongdoing within the company, thus making it a difficult sell to Logan, who takes any criticism of Waystar as persecution. He hails from the Trump school of never apologizing for anything.
What’s really telling about the entire affair is how the arguments shift after the article drops and the Roys are scrambling to do damage control. Suddenly, it’s Kendall who argues for full accountability in the form of an internal investigation and a dramatic culture change, and Shiv who wants to hunker down for a few days and let the storm pass. The fact that dancers on the cruise line were asked for sex to secure contract renewals — and that one may have drowned — is never considered seriously by anyone at any point, because keeping the business moving forward and securing the Pierce deal are more important. It’s easy to imagine similar discussions at Fox News, say, after the allegations against Bill O’Reilly or Roger Ailes: There’s no question their behavior was well-known internally, but it comes down to a dollars-and-cents assessment of lost advertisers and shareholder value, not a concern for victimized women. (That’s how you get headlines touting the appointment of Fox News’ first female CEO, Suzanne Scott, that gloss over distasteful aspects of the culture she was allegedly complicit in enforcing.)
In the end, the cruises revelations are enough to send Nan Pierce literally running away from the deal while blaming Rhea and Logan for conspiring to steal the company out from under her. (The hiring of a stand-up comedian for the Argestes awards ceremony is a final twist of the knife: “Ahoy, there! Permission to never fucking board?”) The whole affair leaves Logan in an even weaker position against the takeover bid than he had before, with the prospect of continued fallout and lasting damage to a profitable part of the company. And his kids are ready to go in for the kill: Shiv speaks at a panel about the “dinosaur values” that can limit a company in need of fresh eyes, and it’s Roman’s giggling over his father’s live roasting that earns him a slap. But when the sun rises again, the entire Roy family will still be on this dysfunctional cruise ship together, captained by a man with both hands firmly grasped to the wheel. He won’t see the iceberg coming.
Sad Sack Wasp Traps
• For some reason, I hadn’t paused to look at the ATN chyrons in the opening credits before, and they’re suitably hilarious: “Gender Fluid Illegals May Be Entering The Country Twice” is the top story, but the scroll has “Is ‘Sweetcheeks’ Hate Speech Now?”, which is even funnier.
• Tom and Greg’s banter over ATN’s new market-tested slogan is priceless. “We’re Listening” doesn’t work because the set-top boxes are, in fact, surveilling the people who use them. “We Hear You” isn’t much better, according to Greg, who likens the slim distinction to “Couldn’t help glimpse you changing” rather than “We put a spy cam in your shower.” The compromise version, “We Here For You,” is double-meaning gobbledygook at its most sublime. Or as Greg puts it, “It’s good because it’s not clear what the hell it means, so there’s lots of wiggle room.”
• Tom with maybe the line of the night: “You don’t hear much about syphilis these days. Very much the MySpace of STDs.”
• No one pounces on the Roys’ misfortunes more effectively than Stewy, who scoffs at Kendall’s threat of a deal that will make Waystar too big to buy (“This is a $75 Cobb salad. Dude, you should buy that, use that as a defense.”), reacts to the news (“I guess if you did have something going on like deal-wise, it’s like dead in the water now, like some of the women who went on those cruises”), and extends the comedian’s bit about likening the company to the Hindenburg (“At least nobody was forced to give a blow job on the Hindenburg”).
• “Rock Star and the Mole Woman” is the belated superhero team-up of the summer. Look beyond Roman’s withering assessment of Gerri as “a competent kind of clever filing cabinet that everyone seems content to have around” and a team-up between the two of them makes a certain amount of sense. The fact is, none of the Roy children have any business running the company, so for Roman, the “Jagger Tarzan” with the little dick, tethering himself to a competent executive like Gerri presents the possibility for a more stable core at the top.
• Roman, illiterate: “Is this one of those things I need a woman to explain to me why it’s bad?” Shiv: “Don’t ask me. I’m not your grope Geiger counter.”