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.
There are many opportunities to talk about the failings of the Roy children because that’s part of what Succession is about — a company (and a country) bequeathed to the dipshit scions of the superelite. Connor, Kendall, Shiv, and Roman have neither the qualifications nor the wisdom nor the temperament nor the basic competency to run a popsicle stand, yet they stand to inherit the world because meritocracy is an idea that may be promoted on ATN opinion shows, but not in the actual halls of power at Waystar. Even still, the siblings inevitably fumble the ball.
But with all that throat-clearing out of the way, let us admit this: Logan Roy is lucky to still have a job.
In the riveting “Which Side Are You On?” Kendall and Roman’s efforts to drum up support for a vote of “no confidence” against their father result in the expected comedy of errors, but the fundamentals of the move are strong. Logan is certainly feared at his own company, but he’s also hated, and the combination of his weakening health, falling stock, and uncertainty about his leadership decisions creates the best possible opportunity to knock him off the perch. A board vote against him is a clean and well-timed way to do it, too, and Kendall and Roman have the benefit of old hands like Frank and (more quietly) Gerri helping him strategize a coup. When the four of them meet in a diner — one that does not have a cortado with almond, alas — they have sound reason to believe that they’ll be successful.
If there isn’t some unidentified threat that shuts down the airspace over Manhattan, the vote likely succeeds. If Logan recuses himself from the board meeting as he’s supposed to do, the vote likely succeeds. If Roman can summon the courage to support his own cause, the vote definitely succeeds. Instead, it ends in a tie, and all those who voted against Logan are ejected from the board — and, if present, from the building.
It feels like Logan got final approval on the cut of “Which Side Are You On?” because Kendall’s biggest triumph as a vote-wrangler is reduced to a wordless montage sequence. On the morning of the vote, with one “maybe” hanging in the balance, Kendall gambles on missing the meeting altogether by driving out to a Long Island hospital to persuade a crucial board member to join the cause. It’s possible that this voter, Ilona, who we’ve never seen before, hasn’t spent enough time around Kendall to have the proper lack of faith in him, but his personal visit turns out to be the right call. It’s the terrorists who beat him on this day when he cannot catch a quick copter back to headquarters. The narrative gods do not want him to win.
He does his usual best to lose, too. Kendall opens his campaign inauspiciously by mentioning the “no confidence” vote to Stewy, who makes no effort to mask his displeasure about the move because he knows that Wall Street will view such upheaval kindly. (“You’re fucking with my money, Ken.”) But Stewy is in the position that many other board members — a lot of them future abstainers, like him — occupy, which is that he isn’t well-served by voting in either direction. With typical frankness, Stewy tells Ken, “I can promise you that I am spiritually and emotionally and ethically and morally behind whoever wins.” And with typical cluelessness, Ken counts this as a vote in his favor. (Though again, if the winds of change were blowing more favorably the morning of the vote, and Kendall isn’t making his case through traffic tunnels and honking horns and dropped reception, then Stewy is probably a “yes.” Others, too.)
It’s hard to believe that Lawrence, who delighted in torturing Kendall into an exorbitant fee for Vaulter, could be listed among the persuadable, but his digital outlet is in a lose-lose situation at the company. Vaulter represents the cool, new-media vision Logan’s sons are trying to push forward over his ancient, legacy-media instincts, so Lawrence is caught between a CEO hostile to his outlet and Kendall, who he doesn’t respect in the least. Roman sees this as his time to shine, however, so he persuades Kendall to allow him to meet with Lawrence to secure his vote. To the very reasonable question, “What’s your vision?” Roman launches on what he believes to be the hip, cool answer that will impress the hip, cool Vaulter guy. He talks about laughing in the middle of a bookstore, with all its hilariously antiquated writing on bound pieces of paper. He believes the future is about “tasty morsels from groovy hubs” like Vaulter.
Roman reads the situation hilariously wrong. He believes that he’s telling Lawrence what he wants to hear. He believes that the publisher of a “groovy hub” like Vaulter surely has contempt for books and for the exhausting ordeal of reading or writing the paragraphs and pages necessary to bring ideas across. (Roman doesn’t pick up on Lawrence’s wry joke about him going “post-literate.”) He also thinks they are both “disrupter” types who share a hunger for newness for its own sake, anything to bust up the stodgy old models for profitability in the past. Though Roman and Kendall don’t agree on much, they understand Waystar as a vehicle for their own relevancy and status. They’re embarrassed to be associated with the old man’s business.
Of course, they’re not cool at all. That’s why “Which Side Are You On?” opens where it does, with Kendall backstage with Stewy at a hip-hop show, no doubt mentally calculating the amount of time it might take for him to say that he “hung out” with the talent. When a brief greeting proves insufficient, Kendall wants his assistant to remind the man who pays his checks in the chillest way possible. Being rich affords you that level of status, which is a lesson Tom tries to impart on Greg by taking him for an evening of illegal birdsong consumption and $2,000-a-bottle service at the most exclusive corners of the most exclusive nightclubs. With enough money, you can shield yourself from the opinions people might have about you.
The true power is not caring, and it belongs entirely to Logan. He doesn’t care that his sons think buying up local news stations isn’t cool. He doesn’t care about honoring the protocol of recusing himself from a board vote, especially if it’s a fatal threat to his leadership. He even openly roots for cancer as an emphatic display about how much he doesn’t care. The one thing he does care about is winning. And in “Which Side Are You On?” he hangs another W on the board.
• The other major subplot in this episode is Shiv possibly reviving her working/other stuff relationship with Nate, an ex-boyfriend in the political consulting world. The two share some fun, half-nasty/half-flirtatious banter about the business and their love lives, but it isn’t folded into the rest of the hour that elegantly.
• Tom looks happy and liberated all episode, having escaped (for now) the cruises scandal that had been nipping at his feet. “It’s like this 900-pound gorilla has finally stopped fucking me,” he says, a line made funnier by the fact that Shiv can’t even give it a third of her attention.
• The exchange between Greg and Tom over California Pizza Kitchen is an instant classic, demonstrating the money gulf between them. “It’s pretty delicious,” says Greg. “No,” replies Tom. “No, it isn’t.” The young man living in a youth hostel and tucking office pastries in doggy bags not long ago will have to learn how to be rich.
• Ewan coming all the way down from Canada again to vote in favor of the brother he hates is almost impressively principled because Ewan can see Kendall’s move as a move rather than an act of concern. “It’s a wanton act of egregious selfishness,” he says, “in keeping with everything else I’ve come to loathe about this rat’s nest of a family.”
• Poor Greg. The same night his grandfather makes him eat every bit of a noodle dinner he doesn’t want, he sits down at a prix fixe restaurant with Tom, who immediately tells him, “When I had their monkfish, I thought I was gonna shit, puke, and cum all at once.”
• The title of the episode is a protest song written around a mining strike in Harlan County, Kentucky, in the ’30s. That same area would appear in Barbara Kopple’s landmark 1976 documentary Harlan County, USA, about a months-long strike that turned violent, with Kopple herself in the middle of the action. Bit of an odd touch to include it here, frankly, but it does offer a jarring perspective.