Kendall Roy believes himself to be media-savvy. In the lunch interview that opens this gut punch of an episode, he cheekily offers a journalist the lede to her own profile of him: “Kendall Roy ordered the fennel salad and picked at it inquisitively.” It’s a pretty good guess, actually, given the long tradition of tortured scene-setting that accompanies profiles of important people. And he wants her and her readers to know that he’s not fazed by the negative press his actions have drummed up. Of the nickname “Oedipussy,” he says, rather wanly, “It doesn’t hurt now.” This is what it means to be in the public arena, and not only is he prepared to take a few hits, he’s ready to step right into oncoming traffic.
The text and subtext of Kendall’s behavior in “The Disruption” — all suggested so beautifully by Jeremy Strong, who is locked into this character — is a complex fusion of strategy, egotism, and childlike neediness and vulnerability that’s simultaneously pathetic and heartbreaking. One correct thing that Kendall understands about the modern-media (and social-media) ecosystem is that it rewards people who keep themselves in the conversation, even if everyone is dunking on them. When a television host mocks one of his tweets (“We must overthrow the culture of corruption that silences women”) for fake wokeness, he’s right to believe that it amplifies his relevance more than it damages his reputation. Just ask any Republican politician if getting called out for their hypocrisies via quote-tweet or Daily Show segment has ruined their careers.
But there’s a lot more to it than that. He has a compulsion to appear bulletproof to the public and the people in his inner circle, to be the good sport who doesn’t mind having “bad tweets” shouted out in the limo and is willing to appear on the late-night show (hosted by Ziwe) that’s attacking him the most vociferously. (His communications people don’t love it, but he waves them off.) Yet there’s a part of him that feels he deserves it because he’s living with the guilt of knowing exactly what happened on those cruise ships, just like his father and siblings, and his addiction once resulted in a man’s death, which was subsequently covered up. He has talked about exposing his father as a “cleansing,” but he can never feel clean, even when he generously offers himself up for a broadcast lashing.
As with everything, though, Kendall’s feelings circle back to his father — as do Roman’s, as do Shiv’s. The episode after Kendall’s failed attempt to forge unity against this common enemy, they’ve all returned to hurting each other badly over a man who has alternately betrayed, neglected, and manipulated them their entire lives. Now that they’re manning opposing battle stations in the hullabaloo over the cruises scandal, Kendall and Shiv, in particular, are landing blows far more devastating than any well-aimed tweet or talk-show monologue ever could. They’re siblings. They know where the soft spots are.
For Shiv, it’s the reminder that she’s sold herself out completely. Back when she had no role in Waystar whatsoever, she could freelance as the cool, liberal-minded Roy, someone who could offer wisdom (and access) to progressive politicians and who would surely be calling for justice for sexual-assault victims on cruise lines. Now she’s appearing at a benefit specifically to get a read on Kendall and discourage him from coming back to his office in corporate headquarters. “They made you get all dressed up for this?” Kendall asks with a smile before coming in for the kill. “It’s you now. I’m sorry for you, Siobhan.”
Still, it’s debatable the extent to which Kendall means to hurt Shiv, specifically when he turns up the day of the town hall event and has the Nirvana song “Rape Me” piped into the room. She feels less like a target here than collateral damage, the victim of a well-timed prank intended to remind everyone at the company (and beyond) what this less-than-open, PR-managed event is intended to cover up. That it is essentially Shiv’s splashy debut as the president of domestic whatever-the-hell was probably lost on him, or maybe he doesn’t have a great sense of whether he’s gone too far anymore. Her ambition — the thing she sold out for — is to run this company someday, and he’s humiliating her.
Hell hath no fury like a Roy scorned. The open letter Shiv drafts in response to Kendall’s behavior — loaded with fake concern over his addiction and this inventory of personal faults (drug addict, serial liar, absentee father, history of problematic relations with women, etc.) — isn’t even as clever or well-calculated as his IED at the town hall meeting. Even Roman, who comes about his sycophancy to Logan more naturally, wants nothing to do with the statement, nor does Connor, who calls it “a Times New Roman firing squad.” Shiv issues the letter anyway, timed to undercut a TV appearance and phrased so that Kendall cannot laugh it off. It breaks him.
Logan presides over all this drama with a smug imperiousness. He’s interested most in how his children’s actions might affect him, of course, but there’s a sadistic part of him that enjoys watching them fight. These are the pit bulls that he’s trained, and now he has a ringside seat for the dogfighting match. When Roman turns up in his office late in the episode, Logan nods his head in appreciation of Romulus’s refusal to sign Shiv’s open letter — not because the letter was unduly nasty to his favorite son, but because not signing it was the prudent thing to do. He then asks about the Montana fly-fishing trip, the “cherished memory” that Roman half-whispers after rejecting other softball questions about his warm relationship with his father.
It was actually Connor who took him fishing, Roman says. “A single, multiuse childhood memory.” If he and his siblings ever win that coveted kiss from Daddy, it will be the first.
Sad Sack Wasp Traps
• “Open the kimono” is an unfortunate rhetorical flourish under the best of circumstances, let alone the prelude to an interview around sexual misconduct at your family’s company.
• Gerri’s start as acting CEO in a nutshell: (1) Tells Carl to move forward on the purchase of an Israeli machine-learning operation. (2) Carl nods and takes the idea to Logan. (3) Logan says kill the deal.
• A full-page apology starting with the slogan “We Get It” seems like a reference to a specific incident of real-world corporate penance, but it may be a case where it sounds like all of them. Hugo thinks it’s “quite funky,” but Roman and Shiv feast on it like animals. Roman: “We get it … a bit like those ladies on the cruise ship got it?” Shiv: “We get it already. Stop moaning about the rapes.”
• Logan’s legal strategy of telling the authorities to fuck off finally does not pay dividends.
• There’s a specific nastiness that Tom permits himself to deploy with Greg, who’s his underling and perhaps the only person around he can abuse. Hence threatening like “DOJ is going to be like a combine harvester in a wheat field of dicks.”
• Another line-of-the-night candidate from Tom: In offering himself up as a fall guy to Logan in case someone needs to go to jail, Tom quietly assures him, “I won’t wriggle. Just clunk the trout on the head and put it in your pouch.” Now that’s the sort of fly-fishing expedition that might send Logan to the bait shop.
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