In “Austerlitz,” the seventh episode of Succession’s first season, the Roys gather on Connor’s ranch for a farcical family therapy session, led by an earnest professional (Griffin Dunne) in glasses and a reassuring sweater. Logan has not-so-subtly arranged the meeting as part of a photo-op, presenting a unified family front to the press, but Kendall is absent and off the wagon, and it’s an unspoken truth that his father is a big reason why. The session begins with Logan taunting the kids: “Go on. Does no one want to take a pop at the champ?” He then goes on to say, twice for emphasis, that everything he’s done in his life has been for his children — to which Shiv, Roman, and Connor can only look at each other and say, wordlessly, “Can you believe this fucking guy?”
Though all three do mumble their disappointment over their father when pressed, the therapist comes to a quick and obvious conclusion, which he offers in two rhetorical questions: He asks Logan if he realizes how much power he wields in the room and if he’s thought about the possibility that his children are afraid of him. Logan’s response is a blast of defensive invective (“I’ll apologize as much as you fucking like!”), and a proposal to meet again later that afternoon is ignored by all.
Nothing has changed. The superb “Mass in Time of War” gathers all the Roy children, including Kendall this time, under the same roof again. Their father is in a severely weakened position, exiled to a Sarajevo airport hotel, picking over a house salad, desperately trying to summon support from his children and his allies. Kendall has “papers” that presumably offer hard evidence of Logan’s involvement in the cruises cover-up, and there is legitimate panic over what might happen if that information comes out. There is a plausible scenario in which their father could be knocked off the perch forever, especially if Shiv, Roman, and Connor can be persuaded to join Kendall in a united front against him. And never forget: All of them want to do this. Their dad has terrorized them ceaselessly for all their adult lives.
But only Kendall, for all his obvious weaknesses and insecurities, has the will to do it. Connor may be persuadable, but as “the first pancake,” he doesn’t really matter, other than as a sponge to soak up as much of dad’s money as possible to bankroll a political campaign, a catastrophic Broadway show, and Napoleon’s mummified wiener. The other Roy children, Roman and Shiv, are interested in at least seeing where the wind is blowing: Maybe Dad’s in real trouble this time and they should plan for that, or maybe, under the impossible hypothetical that they’d support their brother, they might assume the throne for themselves. These are uncertain times, after all, and they are weak-willed, malleable, morally vacant opportunists, always ready to take the path of least resistance. If that path leads away from their father, they’ll take it.
One box of “relevant donuts” puts them back in line. Logan hasn’t been able to reach any of the kids all day, and so naturally, he assumes they’re meeting with Kendall, but their reaction seems more emotional than logical. This is dad the all-powerful, all-seeing eye, making absolutely clear that not only does he know where they are and what they’re doing, but that he’s in control of the situation. Even if that’s not true — and it really isn’t, based on his isolation from his powerful Washington buddies and the universal opinion that a strategy of noncooperation and denial is a disastrous one — they instinctually believe it is. They’re reduced to those cowering kids in the family therapy session because now their dad (via a box of donuts) is back in the room with them.
Sequestering his siblings to his daughter’s bedroom — whatever her name is — Kendall hits them with the sort of professional business-guy speak that probably wouldn’t play well to the executive class, much less to the people who know him best. “If this shit was just epiphenomenal, maybe it could be written out. But these incidents are symptomatic of a foundational sickness within our father and his company.” Okay. That sounds like the press conference. “Big picture: We’re at the end of a long American century. Our company is a declining empire inside a declining empire. People are killing themselves with guns and dope so fast that we’re losing pace.” To that, Shiv says, “Unsubscribe.” Kendall continues with nonsense about information being worth more than water in the 21st century— which sounds like the “future of business” bit on NewsRadio — and pledges to “de-toxify” the Waystar brand, but there’s no confidence in the room.
The most revealing part of the conversation, however, has to do with whether they knew about “Mo” and “The Wolfpack” and what they were all about. Kendall wants them to move forward from a position of honesty, and Connor, his irrelevant brother, concurs. But even in the safe space of whatshername’s room, Roman and Shiv act like they’re in a special session of Congress, mumbling evasive statements or, in Shiv’s case, acting like she was too young to know what was going on. Of the many obvious reasons that a Roy child might not be suited for the CEO position — youth, inexperience, a lack of confidence from shareholders, general ineptitude — being aware of the same sexual misconduct and cover-up that got their dad ousted would be high on the list.
Scripted by series creator Jesse Armstrong, “Mass in Time of War” is a tense, compact episode that gains from penning the siblings all in one place, but it’s also an example of a writer and actors who know these characters on a granular level. A scene where Kendall and Shiv are alone together, for example, nudges brilliantly at Shiv’s hypocrisies. “You know I did the right thing,” says Kendall. “You’re angry with yourself for never doing it.” This is, of course, absolutely true of Shiv, who in the recent past had offered her political services to Eric Bogosian’s Bernie Sanders-like candidate, but keeps sniffing around a post that would put her in charge of the biggest right-wing network in the country. At the same time, Kendall’s claims that he’s the “real” Shiv right now are a cynical mask for his own big-boy ambitions and his impulse to lash out at his father.
Once again, only Kendall wants to take a pop at the champ.
Sad Sack Wasp Traps
• What a magnificent Greg episode, too. Ever since the press conference — if not before, when he talked to the author of a book on Logan — Greg has been a man without a country, drifting between Kendall and the company, vulnerable to legal perils of his own. (“I don’t really want to go to Congress again. I’m kind of too young to be in Congress so much, you know?”) And so, after consulting his friend, a first-year legal student, and getting pressured by lawyered-up family members on both sides of the conflict, Greg persuades his grandfather, Ewan Roy (James Cromwell), to get him his own lawyer. Except Ewan also wants to use Greg to his advantage, to “expose the structural contradictions of capitalism as reified in the architecture of corporate America.” Poor Greg the Egg.
• “That’ll do.” Cromwell, perhaps best known as gentle farmer Hoggett in Babe, says the line!
• Roman’s idea of an “executive committee” for Gerri whiffs of undermining her authority in the top job, but his stated logic (“on the big calls, you dip everyone’s hands in blood”) isn’t terrible. Maybe Gerri is actually sincere in thinking Roman has good instincts sometimes.
• When the ultra-rich have to settle for First Class on a transatlantic flight, know that they’re as miserable as regular folks squeezed into the middle seat in Economy. Connor: “It was fine. They had movies and a selection of heavily refrigerated cheeses.”
• Shiv cuts extremely close to the bone on Roman: “Oh, you love showing your pee-pee to everybody, but some day you’re actually going to have to fuck something.”
• There’s a sad, transactional nature to the relationships on the show, and it affects Marcia, too. She knows Logan needs his wife by his side in the face of public scorn, and so it’s time to renegotiate their prenuptial agreement to more favorable terms.