With season three of Succession now in the books, Vulture is returning to where it all began with weekly recaps of season one. Rewatch along with us and check back every Sunday night for the next pair of episodes.
“Sad Sack Wasp Trap” is an episode about zombies and corpses. Some of the corpses will remain corpses — absolutely must remain corpses — and other corpses threaten to become zombies. And as with many such macabre narratives, the key to survival is not to get bitten in the neck.
Pity poor Tom Wambsgans, the newly minted head of amusement parks and cruises, because his neck now stands out like Ichabod Crane’s. After his predecessor Bill leaves the job to the cheering of his troops — “like Mandela fucked Santa and gave birth to Bill,” Tom grumbles — he bequeaths Tom a ticking time bomb on his way out the door. The cruises division has been sitting on a mountain of NDAs and payouts related to sexual assault and other horrors on its Caribbean lines — crimes that have been buried further by friendly relations with corrupt island justice departments. “You can steer clear of the whole death pit,” Bill tells Tom, but of course he could not, either. Just by virtue of being told about the secret files related to these cases, Tom is now open to prosecution for covering them up. And it’s absolutely expected that he “keep the nuclear rods cool.”
Like any zombie-to-be, Tom seeks out the next human to turn, and that’s his favorite confidante/whipping boy Greg. He’s been “exposed to a virus,” he tells Greg, and anyone he talks to he “effectively kills.” Picking through the secret files on his floor, Tom found many incidents of shocking criminality from executives, including one who demanded dancers give him blowjobs in exchange for a contract extension. Neither man feels anything like moral revulsion — that’s not a feeling anyone important at Waystar has — but even poor, dim Greg realizes that he doesn’t want to hear what Tom is telling him. (“I feel like I might not like it in the death pit.”)
Then again, Greg may be craftier than anyone gives him credit for, including the viewers. Toward the end of the episode, Gerri warns Tom off any thoughts of a press conference addressing these issues, telling him the story of the “Sin Cake Eater,” who was very well paid for coming to a funeral and “eating all the little cakes they laid out on the corpse.” One day, Gerri implies, he will be the next Bill and the cruises scandal will be someone else’s cake to swallow. Though Tom accuses Greg of ratting him out to Gerri — an accusation that turns out to be correct — he really assumes that his wife, Shiv, who’d only been half-listening to his troubles, was the one who did it. That’s Greg’s power. He’s a savvy doofus. And a zombie-bite dodger.
Meanwhile, Kendall is trying to play Weekend at Bernie’s with his father, pretending that he’s a corpse when he’s really a zombie. Kendall likes being CEO, being The Man, but Logan’s loathing of his son and his incompetent decision-making fuels a speedier recuperation than expected. Much like the end of the previous episode, which found him using every last ounce of energy to call Kendall a “fucking idiot,” Logan wills himself to the office and wills himself to attend the family’s annual charity event, the RECNY ball. Kendall doesn’t want to relinquish control of the company, so his answer to the problem is to cite official protocol with the other executives, feed the press lines about Logan “intending to wind down public duties,” and give outside players like Stewy the impression that he’s still very much in charge.
The threat to Logan is real. His health really is questionable — he moves forward at Marcia’s behest twice in this episode, once in rehab and again at the ball — and Kendall sees an opportunity to push him out of the company. Had Connor not inadvertently caught Kendall planting their dad’s retirement announcement on the TelePrompTer — between a bunch of killer jokes, surely — Logan might not have been in a position to come back. And so he chooses spare but enormously effective moments to assert himself: interrupting Kendall’s clandestine meeting with Stewy; pissing in Kendall’s office, which is an alpha-wolf move that looks plausibly like an old-man “episode”; and canceling his son’s speech to announce “I’m back!” with an improvised address of his own. So what if he has to get carted away in a wheelchair like Paul Pierce in the 2008 NBA Finals?
On the sidelines, two other Roy siblings are trying to throw their weight around like Kendall, and produce follies on a smaller scale. In her capacity as a liberal political consultant, Shiv is trying to handle the fallout from a video of her candidate’s husband’s asshole leaked to ATN. It’s a tricky proposition for ATN to run with the story, but the network is used to spelunking down the darkest caverns of political discourse and so it becomes a nightly hit piece. Shiv fails miserably in her attempt to persuade a program director to back off — she’s told that her name was the only reason she was allowed on the news floor at all — but what she doesn’t seem to realize is that her family connections are why a candidate might want her services. If she can’t get a candidate favorable (or less scabrous) press at ATN, what good is she?
This leaves Connor, the oldest and somehow dumbest of the four, to micromanage the RECNY event like he’s Ace Rothstein in Casino, demanding the chef put an equal amount of blueberries into each muffin. Connor isn’t happy with the conversational balance in the ballroom, so he forces Willa to shepherd half the guests to the other side of the space. But he really loses his mind over the hard butter served with the dinner rolls. He wants everyone fired for this terrible oversight, because this is his event, the sad little bit of responsibility that he’s been trusted to have in the family business. The staff just ignores him and gets back to work.
•Kendall answering concerns that he wants to tell jokes in his RECNY event: “I was fucking king of The Lampoon. Kicked their distribution into shape.”
• Love how tortured RECNY is as an acronym. The letters stand for Roy Endowment Creative New York. It should really be Roy Creative Endowment New York, but RCENY is unusable.
• Roman doesn’t know much about anything, but he does seem to know that the asshole story is a winner, calling it “evidence of precisely the kind of disgusting liberal metro butt-love that makes our viewers angry enough to buy pharmaceuticals.” Or gold. Or online pillows.
• Kendall holds the company line with Tom, telling him that his dad appreciates employees who “ate shit for him and he never even knew it.” Tom’s retort: “I’m going to get a knife and a fork and some Hollandaise.”
• Gerri is extremely shrewd in managing the Roy family. She has to nod along at Kendall when she asks her to talk to his father about not giving the speech, but her ultimate loyalty has to be to Logan, so when she has that private one-on-one, she wishes him good luck. Then she follows it up by squashing Tom’s press conference idea. All in all, a fine evening.
• Most cringe-y moment of the episode by far is Connor floating his radical anti-tax libertarian ideas to a Black dancer backstage preparing to perform. “Social equality could be affected by a complete eradication of federal support,” he offers between stretches.