“Family, Shioban! If you don’t understand that, then fuck off!”
Succession is a show about family all right, but the extent to which such a bond matters to Logan Roy and his children is tied up in manipulation and abuse, and the corrupting power of money. We are told that, ostensibly, it’s important to Logan that Waystar Royco is eventually bequeathed to one of his children, and we’re engaged every week in the eternal horserace to determine which one has the edge — or, more precisely, which one is fucking up the least. But that’s a distraction to us as viewers as much as it’s a distraction to the Roy children, who are forever jockeying for position. Because for Logan, “family” is mostly a cudgel to beat and manipulate them to his own ends. When he talks about the importance of family, his words are emptier than those of Breaking Bad’s Walter White, who professed repeatedly that he wanted to sell meth to keep his wife and children comfortable after he died, but kept on cooking long after he had so much cash he was burying it in the desert.
The context for Logan’s dressing-down of Shiv toward the end of “Return,” another soul-rending episode in a season full of them, is a trap that he and Rhea have set for her. Ever since telling Shiv that she’s next in line, Logan has been disappointed by her errors in judgment, though it was never clear that he had any intention of handing her the reins even if she was the perfect surrogate. He needed her to stop consulting a political candidate who was hostile to his interests, and with that threat removed, he was free to slow-roll her ascension for three years or longer. But Shiv will not free her father from his word so easily, as evidenced by a poorly received memo that lays out her plans for Waystar in professional fonts and formatting, like the kid who laminates her book report.
After getting fired from Pierce for conspiring to manipulate Nan into a deal, Rhea is now a freelance corporate backstabber, but her assessment of Shiv is correct: She thinks she’s smarter than she is. That opens the door for Rhea to give Logan the handcrafted, artisanal betrayal he needs to nullify his promise to Shiv over the future of the company. In a conversation with Shiv in London, Rhea cleverly ingratiates herself to Shiv by tacitly requesting the green light for an affair with her father. (“No, it’s good to check before you fuck someone’s dad,” says Shiv. “You do your due diligence. Your paperwork. Do I need to sign, like, a release form?”) So when Rhea follows that up by floating the possibility of Shiv running Pierce Media after Nan steps down, it seems like she’s doing her a favor. It doesn’t occur to Shiv that Rhea’s influence at Pierce is probably less-than-great now that Nan has fired her. And it certainly doesn’t occur to Shiv that Rhea might be doing her father’s bidding. Again, Shiv thinks she’s smarter than she is.
The family theme takes an even sadder turn when Logan forces Kendall to return to the scene of the crime from last season, when his substance-abuse issues led to a Chappaquiddick-like incident off a bridge in rural England. After a report from one of Sandy and Stewy’s tabloids suggests some grumbling from the victim’s family over their son’s death, Logan opts to swing in for a visit and a photo op, but he makes Kendall come along. It’s unclear exactly why Logan wants to torture Kendall like this, especially after he’s been such a dutiful lieutenant in the aftermath; perhaps he feels like it’s good parenting to make his kid confront his mistakes, like pressing the snout of an untrained dog into the poop it’s left on the carpet.
At the time, Kendall was grateful to have his father’s men sweep the incident under the rug, but the residual guilt and shame has been the dark cloud that’s trailed him all season. The image of Kendall sitting alone in the family kitchen, surrounded by childhood photos, is haunting enough on its own, but there’s something particularly poignant about him cleaning and drying the glass after accepting an offer of water. He comes back later that night with a wad of cash to jam through the mail slot — as a rich person, money seems like the solution to every problem — but the thought that he doesn’t want to burden the victim’s family any further, even by leaving a dirty water glass, is touching in its way.
With the proviso that Kendall’s recklessness and privilege were responsible for another man’s death and the coverup that followed, Succession does allow us to see him as a human with a flickering conscience, and Jeremy Strong has exposed Kendall’s tragic dimension beautifully all season long. But the fact is, Kendall doesn’t have anyone in his life to talk to about what happened, including his mother, Caroline, who’s as vile a creature as his father and seems to hold even less interest in tending to her children’s emotional well-being. Caroline picks up on Kendall’s emotional distress over late-night tea in the kitchen, but actively recoils at the prospect of hearing him out. (“Are they quite difficult things? Because I’m a bit tired for hard truths.”) He didn’t go to prison for his crime, but he’s experiencing a different kind of isolation now, and it was a desperation bid to expect Caroline to act like a real mother for once.
The scene between Kendall and Caroline helps clarify what we already suspect about her — and about Logan, for that matter. In a bid to keep her from using her 3 percent share in the company to influence a shareholder revolt against the Roys — a move Roman likens to “burning down the coliseum with your children inside of it” — the children turn up to negotiate with their mom over inedible lumps of pigeon. Caroline sees through the official offer and counters with one of her own: She either gets the Summer Palace, valued at three times the money Logan is offering, or $20 million and seeing the kids every Christmas.
Both options are borne of contempt for Logan, who has to choose between his property and his children, but as with many divorces, it’s the kids who are collateral damage in the dispute. Logan is all too thrilled to pay less and send the kids to England for Christmas. That’s family to him. If you don’t understand that, then fuck off.
Sad Sack Wasp Traps
• No chance Kendall’s dick pic comes back to haunt him, right? It’s Chekhov’s dick pic.
• Gerri and Roman break their two-episode streak of weird erotic interludes, but only by a technicality. The look on J. Smith-Cameron’s face when she fantasizes about the oppo research she plans for Roman — “Let’s see what a tenacious bottom-feeder could grub up on you” — has a distinct get-a-room quality to it.
• Tom’s analogy for the internal investigation of cruises is revealing: “That interview is going to be like slipping into a bubble bath. Just light a scented candle in there, put some Eagles on, and start playing with myself.”
• Of course, Tom’s prediction of a “softball” inquiry turns out to be wrong, which leads to the incredible folly of him demanding the incriminating documents from Greg and then Greg continuing to keep his insurance policy — first by taping the conversation and then by scooping up a few pages before they can be burned. Three particularly funny moments: (1) The documents hidden in a folder labeled “Secret,” (2) Greg in the bathroom prepping for surveillance like a nervous actor backstage before a performance (“Male rape … Rrrrrrape of the male”), and (3) Tom actually saying the words “Hold my beer” in the wild.
• Casting Holly Hunter is always a good idea, but she doesn’t often get the opportunity to play such a diabolical character, and she’s thriving in the moment. That final shot of her sitting and plotting has a fine Pacino-in–Godfather II quality to it.