One question that torments many Succession fans is this: Why do I feel bad for these people when, in real life, I would absolutely detest them?
Tonight’s bruising hour suggests the answer: Because fail-children are still children, unable to wrest themselves from their parents’ toxic influence. The show underlined the point at the end of last week’s episode, with Kendall literally swaddled in a blanket after his birthday party. (His girlfriend accepts the role of the surrogate mother, probably because she knows what it’s like to be part of a family like the Roys.) Their vulnerabilities cannot be extracted from their acts of malevolence but are part of a vicious cycle of abuse that the Roy children absorb, mostly from Logan, and take it out on each other. Or whoever’s closest to them. Or a nation of millions.
Perhaps the one way the show could get us to turn on these characters is for them to enjoy their wealth, and if a luxury wedding weekend under the Tuscan sun makes them all this miserable, it’s safe to predict it won’t happen soon. Mingling in Italy among the European superelite — you couldn’t throw a cannoli on the grounds without hitting a countess in the head — the Roys have flown over to celebrate the union of Caroline Collingwood, Logan’s second wife, and a grinning simp named Peter, whose holdings include a failed salmon-smoking business and a host of cut-rate nursing homes. (On the latter, Roman reports they deceive residents by “tipping applesauce down their gullets and telling them they had a four-course dinner.”) No one thinks the wedding is a great love connection, including Caroline herself, but she’s Kendall, Shiv, and Roman’s mother, so attendance for the entire Waystar family is mandatory.
Scripted by series creator Jesse Armstrong, “Chiantishire” has rock-bottom moments for all four Roy siblings that are so brutal that Connor’s excruciating, still-unanswered marriage proposal to Willa is by far the least soul-destroying. So let’s start there: Connor is still clinging to his one-percent polling number, and that’s at least enough to draw some feature attention from Politico, which is asking questions about Willa’s backstory for a piece they’re writing on him. Neither Connor nor Willa wants the country to know that she was a call girl who drifted into a relationship with him after he offered to bankroll her theatrical ambitions. Connor’s solution is to change the conversation by asking for her hand in marriage — like a loveless Pretty Woman, basically — and so he gets down on one knee at the villa reception and doesn’t get the answer he weirdly expects. Perhaps he felt emboldened by Willa screaming at Comfry on his behalf last week, but really, that moment was more about her feeling her power.
Fittingly, it’s Caroline’s three children who are hit the hardest, and it’s almost a draw to sort out who gets it worse: Is it Kendall, who tries and fails to collect on the gift offer that ruined his 40th birthday? Or is it Shiv, who engages Caroline in a frank conversation about motherhood? What about Roman, whose master-of-the-universe dreams unravel, courtesy of a shaky acquisition deal and a hastily texted dick pic?
If you ask me, Kendall gets it the worst. Kendall always gets it the worst. A long and cursed campaign to oust his father from the throne has ended not in a dramatic showdown but something worse: an anticlimax. In the end, Logan had access to all the levers of power and Kendall didn’t. The worst thing that happened to Logan was a few uncertain days in a Sarajevo airport hotel, where he needed time to assemble his forces and strategize. While Kendall could not even deliver documents that could shake a conservative-held DOJ from its slumber, Logan crushed the investigation so effectively that he destroyed the president’s political career as a side effect. So Kendall’s only move is to wave the white flag, accept his father’s “cash in and fuck off” proposal, and face an uncertain future in exile. And Dad turns him down cold.
Logan likely never intended to make good on his gift. It would be out of character for him to reject any of his children outright, including Kendall, who didn’t spend much time out of the inner circle even after leading a “no confidence” vote and marshaling Logan’s bitterest rival into a takeover of the company. He’s a family man, after all, forever soliciting advice from the kids and setting them against each other for his sick bemusement. For Kendall, though, the cruises mess was his opportunity to prove to himself and the world that he was better than his father — not the monster who turns “black bile into silver dollars” but the whistleblower heroically exposing wrongdoing in the company. But, of course, he knew about the wrongdoing and the black bile (“You’ve just noticed, did you?”), and, respectively, helped cover it up and propagate it. Logan bristles so much at the notion that Kendall is a “good guy” that he plays his trump card, the accident at the last wedding that he covered up for a drug-addled Kendall. And he’s right, save for one small detail: Kendall is capable of feeling guilty about it.
As Kendall and Logan have a dinner that doesn’t last past uneaten appetizers, Shiv and Caroline meet to drink wine and trade insults, but it isn’t long before that interaction leaves scars, too. “I might have been a bit of a spotty mother,” says Caroline. “But you’ve been a shitty daughter.” Caroline is stuck on Shiv’s decision to choose her father over her in the custody dispute (“I’ll have the carbonara and Daddy”) and doesn’t buy her excuse that she was only a child at the time. At this point in their chat, Shiv can still manage her sarcastic curl of a smile because she’s used to rough play. But the next line gets her: “The truth is, I probably never should have had children,” says Caroline. “You’ve made the right decision. Some people are just not made to be mothers.”
Shiv’s realization that she’s turning into her mother shakes her badly. Her lack of interest in Tom as a partner in their marriage, much less a partner in parenthood, had been blazingly evident in the lead-up to his assumed prison time, when he wanted a baby to anchor him into their future together. When she comes back to him that night raving about wanting a kid and winning the fight for the company, Tom is thrilled by the attention. He is less thrilled that Shiv’s pillow talk — which cannot all be laid at Caroline’s feet — starts with, “You’re not good enough for me. I’m way out of your fucking league.” It gets worse from there.
And finally, there’s Roman, whose fall from grace was as precipitous as it was inevitable. His swaggering overconfidence is a subtle problem in the lead-up to a big board meeting, when Sandy Furness inquires about Shiv’s absence and Roman tells her, “This is just inner circle,” not respecting the fact that Sandy owes her board seat to Shiv. But bigger screwups are to come, starting with his role as chief Lukas Matsson wrangler, which was always dodgy but gets dodgier when Matsson seems to retreat from the Waystar acquisition of his company and suggests a merger of equals instead. (Shades of AOL Time Warner, which turned out great!) Roman stumbles into a bit of good luck when Logan reveals surprising openness to the idea, but in his celebratory ardor, a dick pic intended for Gerri winds up on Logan’s phone instead.
Logan is apoplectic. Credit Brian Cox for digging deep into the rhetorical bag for the thunderous “ROMAN!” that practically shakes the hotel floor. Roman is reduced to a child once again. Every important person in the company knows that he’s in trouble with Daddy, and all the slimy dealmaking he’s been doing to please Logan is reduced to ash between his fingers. He’s a “sicko” now, a “laughingstock.” In his omniscience, Logan has probably known about his son’s weird sexual peccadilloes for a while, but now that they’ve become company business, he has to put a stop to them.
But Roman, like Kendall and Shiv, can’t put a stop to anything. This is who he is. And this is who they are. And these are the architects who have built them.
Sad Sack Wasp Traps
• Logan staring into the board room while in recusal over the cruises investigation draws a very funny line from Stewy (“I feel like I’m taking a shit in the Guggenheim, y’all”), but it reminded me most of the meme where Guy Fieri stares through the window.
• Roman celebrating his No. 1 child status by taking victory laps around Shiv gets so nasty that even she finds it notably off-putting. (“What were you doing? Brunching with other sock-puppet girlboss presidents?”)
• Assuming Connor met Pope John Paul II, who is much more of a “full-fat pope” than Pope Francis.
• Logan isn’t the first to evoke the drowning incident near Shiv’s wedding. Comfry informs Kendall that a podcast is telling stories about the Roy Family from different angles, including about the dead caterer. Put in a big ol’ pin in that.
• “Will you make me the happiest man slash the most bulletproof candidate in the world?”
• Keep in mind, our own Kathryn VanArendonk wrote a piece on “The Unbearable Sadness of Tom Wambsgans” before this episode was made available to press. Surely his devastating morning-after conversation with Shiv about their “spicy” pillow talk belongs in the sad-Tom file.
• Logan forcing his grandson to try mozzarella before shooing him away is a low moment even before you remember that this is the same grandson, Iverson, that he struck with a can of cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving in the first season.
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