The worst chess players tend to be the most aggressive, especially when they’re up against a much better player — which, of course, they invariably are. They will attack and attack, usually settling for an even exchange of pieces — pawn for a pawn, a queen for a queen, sometimes a knight for a bishop, or vice versa — but they never think about where that leaves their position on the board. Their king could be exposed behind a loose constellation of pawns, and their other pieces could be vulnerable to counterattack now that they’ve turned their army into a deranged band of kamikaze fighters. Eventually, the initial satisfaction of mauling a few of their opponent’s key pieces gives way to a quick and embarrassing loss. They can only think in short-term victories.
Kendall Roy is the worst chess player in history. He made a big move across the board in last season’s finale — “a decent move,” his father Logan generously concedes — by refusing to take the hit for the Waystar Royco cruises scandal, instead placing the blame on his dad, calling him a “malignant presence” who was aware of the sexual misconduct and personally approved millions in payouts to keep it under wraps. It is a small masterstroke that the third season begins immediately after Kendall’s press conference, as two years have passed since last we’ve seen these characters, but none of them are given a second of breath. And it is hilariously, tragically clear from the beginning that Kendall has not thought any of this through. He seemed to believe that the man who killed the king would also assume the throne.
The first thing he hasn’t considered when he steps into the car with Greg and the mortified head of PR, Karolina, is that his extremely public act of insubordination against the CEO would lose him his job at Waystar. When Karolina informs him of this, perhaps saving him the humiliation of waving an inactive key card at the entrance, he does what any great leader would do: shoot the messenger. “Look, I need a sealed unit here,” he says. “I need a clean jar. So are you in for this fucking revolution?” (She is not.) And so Kendall hastily arranges to set up battle stations at his estranged wife Rava’s place — partly in a pitiful bid to impress her (“It was kind of for you guys”) — and winds up obsessing mostly about his social-media status, which Greg is busy monitoring. “I might need you to slide the sociopolitical thermometer up the nation’s ass and take a reading,” he tells Greg, who honestly does as well as anyone probably can with an order like that.
Kendall makes one seemingly competent decision to hire Lisa Arthur (played by the great Sanaa Lathan), a sought-after attorney who appears to admire his whistleblower role enough to represent him over Shiv and his father. But she’s also the only person to state his dilemma simply and directly, and it doesn’t happen until near the end of the episode: “This is quite a complex situation to progress,” she says, “because, as I understand it, you want to take down your dad without implicating yourself? And without damaging the company to the extent that you lose control at your shareholder meeting?” He can expect subpoenas from the government, too. It’s not likely he’s considered any of this too deeply, and his lack of planning leaves him without co-conspirators in his family (Shiv hangs up on him) or in the company. (Frank, his trusty turncoat from the Sandy-Stewy alliance, is still considering his options.)
For the time being, Kendall does his best to act the part, which he understands mostly as seeing if his social media is fresh and spouting a bunch of colorful, buzzword-filled nonsense. The first of presumably many future losses to his father is rhetorical when Logan delivers a potent fairy-tale threat (“I’m going to grind his bones to make my bread”), and Kendall can only answer with a bungling, “Tell him that I’m going run up off the fucking beanstalk.” But he hits rock bottom in a meeting with two women in communications who can only smile politely when he interrupts them with ideas like hitting up “the BoJack guys” and “the Lampoon kids” to turn his Twitter feed into a “little powder keg.” It’s in moments like these that he’s back to the guy wearing conspicuously expensive sneakers to seem hip to an independent artist or taking the lead in buying the digital-media company Vaulter. He’s the cool boss.
Still, Kendall has succeeded in putting his father in real jeopardy, scrambling for advice from his remaining children and sycophantic confidants on flights and tarmacs all over the Balkans. That he correctly identifies Kendall’s actions as a “move” is important: His son has a genuine opportunity as a whistleblower to help achieve justice for the cruises misconduct, which gets him interest from Lisa Arthur and the communications team, but they don’t know him well enough to realize that his advocacy for women is insincere. Logan, by contrast, recognizes immediately that this is the latest chapter in a never-ending father-son psychodrama, like a redux of the Sandy-Stewy takeover, but doubly threatening because they’re still nipping at his heels. The morality of the cruises situation is of no interest to any of the Roys, certainly not Kendall. For the kids, it’s about who’s in charge. For Logan, it’s about whether his current mess is survivable.
Unsurprisingly, Logan opts to take the most aggressive tack in the end, to “go full fucking beast” rather than the gentler approach of contrition, image management, and culture change that a lawyer like Lisa Arthur might have advised. But he’s not so unaware of his own toxicity as to pretend that he can still be the face of Waystar Royco. So in a couple of scenes with his advisers, Logan tosses around some names for CEO, a loyal sock puppet who will have some power but allow him to make decisions from the shadows. The discussions set off some farcical wrangling among his children, but the job goes to Gerri, which seems like as prudent a decision as any, with the side effect of taking Gerri’s kinky relationship with Roman to a new level. (“I’d lay you badly, but I’d lay you gladly,” says Roman.)
The premiere ends with Logan glaring ahead with terrifying resolve, confident that he’s survived such threats in the past and that he knows all the levers of power at his disposal. His No. 1 boy is acting out like a petulant child again, and the young man will have to get punished for it. As a father, that’s all he knows how to do.
Sad Sack Wasp Traps
• More great Kendall-isms from the episode: “I can’t have weevils in the fucking flour sack.” “Just feed me the metadata. Anything that’s going to get the markets moving reputationally.” “I think the headline needs to be: Fuck the weather. We’re changing the cultural climate.”
• Roman giving legal advice to his father on Kendall: “This is not a nice thing to say about your son, but maybe you chop him into a million pieces and toss him in the Hudson?”
• When Greg likens the car ride after the press conference to O.J. Simpson if he hadn’t killed anyone, Kendall’s dark joke (“Who said I never killed anyone?”) is a quick reminder about the life he was responsible for taking after Shiv’s wedding reception. He used to feel worse about that.
• Incredible exchange on the tarmac where Connor tries to persuade Willa to salvage her disastrous play by marketing “the whole hate-watch angle.” This involves blurbing all the worst reviews and “making it into a thing for the hipsters and dipshits.”
• Maybe my favorite line of the night, a bit of deadpan from Frank: “I’m looking forward to seeing more of the Balkans.”
• Carl’s meek bid for the CEO spot gets shot down like a skeet target: “Carl, if your hands are clean, it’s only because your whorehouse also does manicures.”
• Perhaps it’s a reference, perhaps a coincidence, but two scenes seem to play on Paul Rudd’s “look at us” meme — one involving Kendall and Naomi Pierce, the other Gerri and Roman.
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