“It’s kind of a superpower, isn’t it?” Rhea asks Logan, rhetorically. “If you can lie to someone like that, to their face? I know you’re lying but I still find you very plausible and appealing.”
If you catch yourself wondering why, after two seasons of blithering incompetence, the Roy children are each performing masterfully in “DC,” Rhea’s words are a start. They may make errors in business strategy or miss social cues or trip over their own half-considered duplicitousness, but they thrive at shoveling high-stakes bullshit. The Roys — and the executive floor at Waystar Royco in general — are at their best when called upon to do their worst, because they have that “superpower,” that ability to lie and obfuscate without the feelings of shame that make ordinary people human. Rhea decides she can’t be part of that culture, but she wouldn’t have fit in anyway. She’s not fluent enough in the language.
Written by creator Jesse Armstrong, “DC” has a notably darker, more serious tone than other episodes this season, as it reckons with the fallout from the Brightstar cruise scandal. It’s also a necessary reminder that these people who entertain us so much every week are, in fact, rotten to the core. That’s been an issue with antihero TV from The Sopranos onward: Spend enough time with charismatic villains — even tragic ones, like Kendall here — and viewers will come to care about them and resent challenges to their power. Watching an entire episode where the Roy family and their inner circle are denying or belittling or outright suppressing efforts to hold Waystar accountable for pervasive sexual abuse (and possible drownings) on its watch, as well as obstructing justice through missing documents and wiped hard drives, is a necessary splash of cold water to the face.
The bad behavior begins with Logan and the gang gathering around the television for the much-feared interview with a longtime Brightstar accountant who knows where the bodies are buried. (Or submerged, as it were.) As the accountant talks about decades of sexual exploitation and harassment under “Mo” Lester, and the unexplained deaths and passengers overboard, Roman, Tom, Connor, and everyone else get their hisses and slanders in, as if they were watching the heel in a WWE match. One particularly pungent detail stands out: the acronym NRPI (No Real Person Involved), applied to sex workers or migrants, rather than passengers and members of staff. Onboard, apparently, distributions between humans went well beyond first class and coach. It also leads to this priceless exchange, reminiscent of the scene in The Wire where Bunk and McNulty examine a crime scene using nothing but different variations of the word “fuck”:
Kendall: “So … bad. Bad, but … uhh …”
Roman: “Yeah, but not too bad.”
Hugo: “Bad, I think. Very bad.”
Frank: “I would agree. Bad.”
Roman: “Yeah, it’s obviously fucking bad, Frank. We’re talking here about how bad.”
Hugo: “Well, just from a PR perspective, I wouldn’t want anyone to underplay how bad it was.”
That’s just brilliant writing, and a revealing insight into how executives in a similar situation might look at incidents like this — not through any sense of personal regret or accountability, but as an assessment of damage to the company’s reputation. The thinking immediately turns to possible talking points about the whistle-blower angling for a book deal and the senior cadre not knowing anything about what happened all those years. They also consider throwing Bill, the man who ran cruises during the relevant period, under the bus, despite the fact that Bill had dutifully worked to tidy up the mess for their benefit. His loyalty means nothing to them. (And, as we discover later, he knows that fact well enough to protect himself.)
With Connor relegated to the sidelines as usual — though kudos to him, in retrospect, for giving away nothing at Lester’s funeral — the three Roy children all perform their roles to perfection. Logan entrusts Roman with the huge assignment of lobbying a Turkish bank for enough money to take Waystar private in case the shareholders revolt and Sandy/Stewy have the votes they need for a successful takeover. And Roman works the room masterfully, at least until he and his shady business partners are interrupted by mysterious gunmen. Kendall protects his dithering father with an aggressive performance before a congressional committee that paints the hearing as a partisan move by Gil Eavis and other Democrats eager to muzzle ATN. (And ATN makes Kendall’s testimony the propagandistic takeaway, much as Fox News might under similar circumstances. Plus they have friends in Congress willing to talk about what a wonderful time they had on their own cruises.)
What Shiv pulls off is the most delicate and artful form of ratfucking, because she partly believes in her own unctuous sales job. Talking a sexual-harassment victim out of testifying is such vile work that Rhea can’t bring herself to engage, but Shiv identifies an existential threat to the family business, so she turns up the pressure. This is “soft-skills, lady-duty shit work,” in her words, and her play is to align herself with the victim, making her believe that she has an ally within the company who will help destroy the men responsible for what happened to her. But she goes further than that still: She warns that the forces against the victims are powerful enough to ruin her life — or, at best, redefine it forever. “From tomorrow,” she says, “that’s all you’ll ever be. To your grandkids, to the people you meet on vacation. When they Google you, pages and pages of filth and lies. First line of your obituary.” It’s hard not to think of women like Christine Blasey Ford, someone whose reward for coming forward was endless harassment, smears, and death threats, and the man who allegedly attacked her appointed to the Supreme Court anyway.
It’s crucial for Rhea to draw that line in the end. We’ve seen how much she’s excelled at the ruthless backstabbing and gamesmanship that got her the CEO appointment in the first place, but she has her limits. The Roys are a different species of monster, and Succession can’t be seen as celebrating their comprehensive affront to decency. Their sociopathy is the company’s DNA.
Sad Sack Wasp Traps
• So who’s the “blood sacrifice”? Tom makes the most sense, since he’s been a patsy all season long — “the meat in the sandwich,” as he puts it. His appointment to cruises seemed to be insurance for just such a moment, when the Roys would need a dopey fall guy for their sins. He’s also exposed during testimony as a guy who knew about Lester’s reputation and surely knew about what the company had been busy covering. Yet Tom isn’t technically “blood,” which makes Greg the next logical choice. It’s already known that Greg was rooting around the archives on Thanksgiving Day, after all, and the family has treated him more like an affable mascot than legitimate member. Of course, Greg’s instinct for self-preservation turns out to be as keen as Bill’s, as the Roys may soon discover.
• Greg gets one of the funniest moments of an episode that doles them out sparingly — after rejecting his quarter-billion-dollar inheritance for Waystar, he says, “I can drink these drinks. These are drinks for people, right?” — but his righteous fury at Tom for screwing him over is a new look for him. He’d been happy to serve as Tom’s apprentice, the patsy’s patsy, but the good times are over.
• There’s a brief indication that Marcia might be out of the picture after Logan’s behavior around Rhea, but it’s hard to know yet whether the break is permanent. I’ll miss her withering glares.
• It’s funny to hear Hugo reminding to “eat, eat, eat those dangerous fucking minutes” by filibustering his testimony, because it’s usually members of Congress who eat up their own time by grandstanding, rather than interrogating the person in front of them. It has the effect of letting foes off the hook.
• “You can’t make a Tomelette without breaking some Greggs” will also be the subject line of the email I sent to my editor with this recap attached.
Correction: This recap has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of “Tomelette” and “Greggs.” We deeply regret this error.