Succession Power Rankings: Big, Big Shoes

Oh shit, this week’s power rankings are in! Photo: David M. Russell/HBO/David M. Russell

Every successful New York–set show has to do its Los Angeles episode. Whether it’s Seinfeld or Mad Men or Sex and the City, it’s important that shows about New Yorkers display how a city where the sun always shines and the chief industry involves making people believe in beautiful dreams absolutely breaks debonair cosmopolitans from the East Coast. Everything happens three hours later than it does in New York! It’s truly awful! (I should note here that I am a longtime resident of the City of Angels, and it is, of course, the best city in the country. No, I have not been paid to say that.)

Because this is Succession, Los Angeles drives everyone just a little bonkers in “Living+.” Roman goes on a firing spree, Shiv and Tom rekindle their whatever (love seems strong), and Kendall briefly flirts with pitching immortality as a side benefit of Waystar’s new real-estate project. Only Gerri and Karl seem immune to the intoxicating allure of the California surf and sun, but even then, they are waylaid by strange and terrible events.
So here’s who is up (Kendall?!), down (Roman?!?!), and entering the charts (the game of Bitey) this week.


Kendall, somehow

Kendall’s story line this week very much exemplifies “They had us in the first half — not gonna lie.” For roughly 80 percent of the episode’s running time, Kendall seems as if he’s going to crash and burn worse than he has ever crashed and burned before.

As he prepares to present Living+, a seemingly DOA series of planned communities, at Waystar’s Investor Day, he overestimates the power of movie magic, starts making up numbers for how much Living+ will boost Waystar’s growth, and really does seem to be edging up to pitching immortality as a side benefit of buying a fancy house from Waystar. Roman abandons the presentation, not wanting to take part in a sure catastrophe, and when Kendall walks out onstage in a ridiculous flight jacket, it seems as though he’s about to completely implode.

But look! He’s in first place! So clearly he doesn’t! Yeah, the presentation is pretty cringey — at one point, he uses a video of his dad to make it seem as if Logan is bestowing an angelic blessing upon him — but he gets his sea legs as he goes on. Granted, he opens by saying the words big, big shoes, like, 50 times, so nowhere to go but up, but when the reviews come in, they’re good. Even though none of what Ken says makes, you know, sense, he sounds vaguely confident while saying it. That’s what matters! And when Matsson sends a nasty tweet about the whole deal, Kendall comes up with a solid response on the fly.

Usually when this show submerges Kendall in water, it’s a bad sign, but this episode ends with him floating triumphantly in the Pacific. Is Kendall victorious? Well, there are four episodes to go, so let’s not count any chickens just yet.



That’s right! Our previously unbeatable champion slips to No. 2! In the past, Kendall’s flirtations with water have led to deaths either literal (the waiter at Shiv’s wedding in season one) or metaphorical (Kendall himself in season three). Suicidal ideation has always been part of Kendall’s deal, but in an episode during which Kendall, Roman, and Shiv are all finally starting to process Logan’s passing, it’s Kendall who looks death in the face and wins, hence the serene Pacific swim. Immortality’s back on the menu, boys!



If Kendall succeeds in this episode, that might be directly attributable to Karl, who lets Kendall know that if any numbers he states from the stage seem phony, Karl will squeal to the press. And in an episode when Roman goes on a firing spree, Kendall correctly realizes he can’t fire Karl without also injuring himself. Kendall scales back his presentation, seemingly making it more vague on the fly, and it saves the day.

Also, the episode puts Karl and Frank in an opera box (with Gerri), thus literalizing their role as this show’s Statler and Waldorf.


Shiv, Tom, and Shiv-Tom shippers

Oh, my beautiful-disaster couple! We’re nowhere near a full reconciliation between the two — and it would probably be a terrible idea for them to return to being married without serious counseling — but the city of Los Angeles brings out the best in them. Their insult-flirting reaches a genuinely sexy place, Tom holds Shiv while she cries during her scheduled grief time, and they have a moment of real connection when Tom asks if Shiv would run away with him to a trailer park for love. (They both end up laughing at the idea.)

The reconnection deepens an alliance that is fascinating for how unclear it is what it brings either of them outside of the fact that they do seem to love each other on some deep, dark level they won’t look at. Tom sits in on a call that Shiv has with Matsson — but off-camera so the Swede doesn’t know he’s there. And Shiv offers to help Tom host a big election party the guy is clearly not all that enthused about. For as much as I love Shiv and Tom together as a couple, I might love them even more as co-conspirators.

Points off for what seemed like a genuinely terrible Investor Day presentation from Tom, though.


The game of Bitey

So Bitey is a game in which you and the person you’re flirting with bite each other until one of you has to pull away. Tom and Shiv play it at a party, in full view of everyone, and when Shiv eventually has to yank her wrist away, she says Tom finally made her feel something. They both look simultaneously crushed and turned on, which is their default state of being.

Succession is a pretty sexless show, but reader, this scene was fucking sexy. Shiv and Tom forever!!!


Logan Roy’s T.J. Eckleburg impression

In the wake of Logan’s unexpected death, plenty of folks have speculated whether the show would do flashbacks featuring the character. Succession stays true to its characters, who almost never contemplate anything they do, by not looking backward. And yet the temptation to feature more Logan in some capacity must surely have been very strong.

“Living+,” then, offers a different option: video footage of Logan hyping Living+ for investors that was filmed shortly before his death and that the company is now repurposing. (Fittingly to his toxic, abusive ass, at least some of the footage is him shouting invective at the people making him do this.) On the one hand, they literally use the magic of the movies to make him say Living+ will double the earnings of Waystar parks, which is something he didn’t say. On the other, he gets to glare menacingly down on everyone from an enormous screen, turning him into the show’s own spin on T.J. Eckleburg, the giant billboard that gazed symbolically down on the characters in The Great Gatsby.


The city of Los Angeles

Many New York–set shows needle Los Angeles as a ridiculous place that has nothing on the wonderful earthiness of New York. Succession depicts L.A. mostly as a series of soulless beige rooms, which is how it depicts most places. So that’s a win in the “at least they didn’t make us look awful” department and a loss in the “because they made us look as boring as everywhere else when you’re superrich” department.



Once again, Greg succeeds by being nakedly open about doing whatever the Roys tell him to do. In this case, he eventually convinces a sound guy to make Logan say a thing he never says simply by saying that he really needs this one to work out so his bosses will like him. In other moments of honesty, Greg points out to Kendall and Roman that he’s a bit skeptical of the revolutionary nature of Living+, noting that “we’ve had houses for a while.” Greg rarely speaks truth to power, but when he does, he makes sure to say statements whose truth is easily verifiable on Wikipedia.



Though the GoJo legal team is very professional, the man atop the company very much is not. Matsson’s erraticism is core to what has made him successful, as is so often true with so-called disruptors, but that also means that when the attention isn’t on him for five fucking seconds, he’ll do something to suck the oxygen out of the room. So it goes with his tweet, which compares Living+ to, uh, Nazi death camps. If you’ve done something in which Kendall Roy can outfox you in the court of public opinion, you’ve really messed up.


Gerri and Joy

Both Gerri and Joy (the Waystar studio head) end up on the wrong end of a fit of pique from Roman, who goes out to L.A. in a bad mood and seems to just get more despondent as his time in the city goes on. Joy (played by Annabeth Gish!) asks Roman what can be done about the fact that ATN’s presidential candidate of choice has so many celebrities so alarmed, what with the fascism and all. Roman at first tries to suggest that Jeryd Mencken is just another piece of IP, but after a couple of moments to think, he decides that Joy needs to go. He doesn’t say it’s because she criticized his dad’s beloved baby, and yet …

Similarly, he cans Gerri when she tells him that she can’t really believe he’s his father. She can act like it, sure. But believe it? No. He demands her respect, but Gerri’s not going to give that so easily. So he fires her, too. And yet … there she is sitting with Frank and Karl near the episode’s end. It doesn’t seem like she’ll be that easy to get rid of.

The scenes in which Joy and Gerri are fired exist mostly to tell us something about Roman’s impostor syndrome, but they also suggest a budding lawsuit, considering the two people Roman fired so tempestuously were both older women. The company could easily be faced with a discrimination lawsuit from both, not that we are likely to see it within the show.


Nicholas Britell

My man is always a winner, but especially this week for turning a shot of Roman riding in a golf cart across a studio back lot into something grand and epic with a series of violin arpeggios on the show’s main theme.



Pete’s just a guy who has to sit and listen to Kendall repeat that they need to make the numbers keep going up, even though that’s not what the numbers would necessarily do without being poked and prodded. Finally, in exasperation, he says, “Numbers aren’t just numbers. They’re numbers.” You completely understand what he means. Go, Pete!



Never do it.



Kendall is trying to get through his dad’s death by further encasing himself in the dried-out husk that is his soul, then slapping Waystar stickers all over that husk. Shiv is carefully scheduling grief periods and reconnecting with her estranged husband. But Roman? Roman is simultaneously feeling everything and nothing at all.

He’s wandering the world, feeling completely alone and abandoned and yet also more powerful than ever, and he’s not sure what to do with that paradox. So he fires some people, then watches a clip that Ken had made of his father saying he has a “microdick” over and over again. He was always going to enter a tailspin at some point, but I didn’t think it would come on this quickly. And yet the first time he has to do something that actually involves looking out for people’s well-being and not just dicking over Matsson, he can’t hold it together.

Roman now possesses incredible amounts of responsibility, and he can’t escape his dad’s shadow, but he also hates his dad’s shadow. If (all together now) Succession is about abuse, then Roman is the avatar of that idea. He can’t hold all of these contradictions in his head, so he just doesn’t. Instead, he lashes out. And he doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process. Speaking of …


The concept of a broad social polity and community in which we all share an equal responsibility to make things better and more just

It seems somewhat clear to me that Jeryd Mencken is going to win the upcoming election. It seems somewhat clear to me that Connor is going to act as a spoiler in some way, throwing the election to Mencken. And it seems somewhat clear to me that at least Shiv and maybe Kendall are going to feel great trepidation about this.

We don’t know much about Mencken’s political positions beyond that he has said some pretty racist stuff and that Shiv has described him as a fascist. Yet those two things make it pretty easy to draw a direct line between the candidate and Living+, the real-estate boondoggle. One of the core ideas of fascism is that once you’ve defined an “other” on which all of society’s ills can be blamed, you can then demonize that other in order to accomplish any number of political ends: Society would be a safe and secure paradise if not for X.

And what are the homes of Living+ but safe and secure “paradises,” designed to shut out everyone who’s not rich enough to own one? At one point, a promotional slide offers the slogan “Minimize surprise; maximize satisfaction,” which is meant to sound reassuring but actually sounds ghoulish. Life is about more than sealing yourself off from anything uncomfortable, both externally and internally. It’s about more than making sure you’re never forced to be in the same room as a person you’ve just met. It’s about more than keeping yourself dull and desensitized to everything that’s happening, cocooned in your Kendall husk, covered in Waystar stickers.

The characters on Succession all live in hermetically sealed worlds, and they seem hollow, despairing, and lost. Their money has bought them security, but at what cost? When these characters connect, however briefly, it always feels a little too big and a little too bright, whether it’s the Roy siblings hugging in the wake of their father’s death or Tom and Shiv being slightly honest with each other after hooking up. Yet that connection is vulnerable, intimate, maybe even painful. So the shields go up; the husk returns. And because that is how they know how to see the world, they spread that vision outward via their media empire.

You can easily imagine an ending for this show in which one or several of the characters seal themselves off inside one of these Living+ tombs. The world is on fire outside, but they’re behind the thick walls of their fortress, an endless stream of content playing on every screen, forever distracting themselves to death.

For more, join us for Succession Clubour subscriber-exclusive newsletter obsessively chronicling all the biggest twists of the final season. Existing subscribers can visit this page to sign up. If you’re not a subscriber yet, get started here.

More From This Series

See All
Succession Power Rankings: Big, Big Shoes