As the perfectly named Tom Wambsgans contemplates the minutiae of prison time — like maybe he can go to FCI Otisville, the “Jewish jail” upstate with the kosher vending machines — he gets a dispiriting visit from Shiv, who asks him, at Logan’s behest, to direct ATN’s prime-time fascist Mark Ravenhead to adopt a more critical tone about the president in a bid to pressure him into supporting her father. This is a horrible task he knows will result in failure and humiliation. And he will have to do it because Tom is acutely aware that his wife is suddenly above him on the corporate organizational chart and that everyone will know she’s, to put it delicately, taking advantage of him. And this at a time when the wags are calling him “Terminal Tom” because, in his words, he has “cancer of the career.”
The second seemingly odious task is actually a gift for Tom. Shiv needs him to pressure Greg to abandon his weak alliance with Kendall (“I’m a sturdy birdy”) and fall in line with Waystar Royco’s joint legal-defense team. Abusing Greg under the guise of corporate mentorship is Tom’s favorite sport. Even in his current weakened state, he has the pleasure of escorting his young charge to the sort of windowless storage room given to Stephen Root’s character in Office Space. However, when he arrives at Greg’s office, he’s crestfallen to discover Logan has already done his job for him. Greg decided to use his tiny bit of leverage to get a management position in the parks division, so no pressure from Tom was needed. This is awful news for Tom, who resorts to desperate measures — from the provocative (a story about Nero’s relationship to the slave boy Sporus) to the merely petty (knocking over a coatrack).
Power has always been a central theme in Succession, but “Lion in the Meadow” articulates it with stunning comprehensiveness. Nearly every scene is about the assessment and exercise of power with each character either contemplating how much of it they have or putting the screws on someone they perceive as below them. And the results are often humbling in the extreme: Just as Tom’s bullying privileges over Greg are on the wane, the weaknesses of all the Roys get thrown into sharp relief. It’s quite likely the entire family dynasty is shriveling before our eyes, which would befit a media empire that has been a lumbering, dysfunctional family business since the first season of the show and is only getting worse. But the effect of a diminished empire is to make its principal players more anxious to lash out and do harm to the less powerful. After all, that’s what the Trump presidency was all about.
As much as Shiv relishes the opportunity to force Tom to do her dirty work — even as she has to feign concern over his legal situation, she does a poor job hiding her pleasure in giving orders — she bumps up hard against the limits of her new title. It’s clear her father and other Waystar muckety-mucks found it useful to send her, a woman of the Roy family, out to be the public face of this new, softer, more understanding “We get it” version of the company. That coronation was ruined by Kendall piping “Rape Me” into the event. But Shiv has stayed out of official company business for her entire adult life, so naturally she wouldn’t get the respect of a seasoned executive anyway. Yet it’s somehow worse than that: Her title is functionally meaningless.
And worse still, the first guy to point that out is Connor, the primo family dipshit who has been even less engaged in Waystar than Shiv over the years. Connor is looking for “some pie” to support his father, and Shiv’s suggestion that he take a show on a Waystar food channel called Gourmando doesn’t nearly fit the bill. He has serious dirt on the corporate culture under his racist, neglectful father. (“What was that they used to say around here? ‘No Blacks, no Jews, no women above the fourth floor.’”) But Connor knows Shiv isn’t the person to give him what he wants; he likens her current job to the “play post office” she used to manage as a child. Later, when Shiv tries to give orders to Karl and Frank — two old hands — Logan takes time out of a hugely consequential meeting just to put her in her place.
But a much more pitched and surprisingly competitive battle between father and son is taking place on Long Island, where Logan and Kendall have been summoned to the seaside compound of Josh Aaronson (Adrien Brody), who owns a 4 percent stake in the company. In terms of wielding power on this episode, no one is doing it with the cool assurance and bravado of Josh. His shareholder status is so precious to Waystar’s present and future he can persuade two men locked in a nasty, protracted blood feud to drop everything and jump on a helicopter as if they were fleeing Saigon. He ostensibly wants to know if he can recoup the $350 million he lost over this battle, but it’s really a golden opportunity to leverage power — just like Greg the Egg and Connor — and see what his enormous stake in the company can buy him. It’s also a near-literal stress test for Logan, who has to appear to be the hale-and-hearty leader of the past and not a frail old man who can’t handle a brisk walk to the beach and back.
Between assurances to Josh that, yes, the two of them can work together, an air of relentless hostility defines the present state of their relationships. Logan’s monologue to Josh about Kendall being “a good kid” who “may be the best one of all of them” sounds persuasive enough to sway a skeptic shareholder, but Kendall, to his credit, sees through it. It’s only on the endless trek back to Josh’s home, when the two of them are alone, that the real talk can commence. Logan takes his best swing, confident that news of Greg’s return to the mothership — along with all his siblings and all the company brass — is the final nail in the coffin. He thinks of the nastiest, most racist sentiment he can manage to extinguish any hope Kendall might have of running the company.
Yet Kendall isn’t hearing it. The press conference that ended last season seemed like an impulsive action, and this season’s first episode exposed no real plan on Kendall’s part to follow through. (It was a three-step plan: (1) Call out his dad for knowingly covering up sexual assaults in the cruise division, (2) [???], and (3) become CEO of Waystar Royco.) But he’s either shrewd or foolhardy enough to continue to commit to the bit. “You’re 600 years old and you’ve pissed off your fucking boyfriend, the president,” he says. “And he’s sending the Feds on you, and you’re wriggling, but you’re in too deep.” He knows Shiv has been a disaster, which suggests he’s still getting info from the inside. (From his old turncoat buddy Frank, maybe?) And he points out the casually oblivious anti-Semitic language Logan used around Josh.
Maybe Kendall doesn’t have the power he believes he has. Maybe he’s just a sad addict who steals batteries. But Logan didn’t need to keel over on Josh’s estate for his own weakness to be revealed. Those levers of power he’s used to pulling may be inoperable — Ravenhead is unmoved for the time being — and Kendall’s point that everybody hates him is almost inarguable even if everyone has fallen in line behind him. With the company’s fate up for grabs, every single Roy is looking feckless, including Logan, the episode title’s “lion in the meadow.” It’s bringing out the worst in them.
Sad Sack Wasp Traps
• A candidate for both the funniest Greg moment in all of Succession and the most concise assessment of the new Edgar Wright film, Last Night in Soho: “I don’t know how you did it back in the ‘60s? Different times. Different times, indeed. Better times? Not for all.”
• More Greg greatness: “I have this stupid worry that I’m going to go over and there will be goons and stooges and rough jacks there to administer a beating.” It turns out Logan rather mercifully concedes he has a tiny amount of leverage and gives him time to think about what he wants. He is a family man, after all. And Greg abandoning his lawyer would notch another victory for Logan over his brother.
• A funny diptych of Beatles references in this episode from Kendall — first when he refers to the Waystar end of a conference call as “the fucking Sgt. Pepper of broken corporate America,” and second when he assures Josh he and his dad will work well together because the Beatles put out some of their best stuff while they were suing each other.
• The whole subplot about trying to find the “tattoo guy” who has Kendall’s initials tattooed on his head recalls the moment in the first episode of the series when Roman offered $1 million to a local kid if he could hit a home run, then tore up the check in front of his face when he didn’t. In fact, Roman offers that magic number to the tattoo guy if he can find a picture of the ink he had scrubbed off his forehead.
• As Kendall struggles with his father, he secures a healthy relationship with his own children by having an assistant livestream a bunny to them on an iPad.
• Tom: “I’d castrate you and marry you in a heartbeat.” Greg: “You okay, Tom?”
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