Succession Recap: Not Serious People


Season 4 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating 5 stars


Season 4 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating 5 stars
Photo: HBO

In the first season of Succession, when the dysfunction within the Roy family has metastasized to the tabloids, Logan seeks to repair his public image by arranging a therapy session at Austerlitz, Connor’s ranch in New Mexico. The location is what sports fans would call a “neutral site,” an arena where none of the parties have a home-field advantage. That’s why the Georgia-Florida game takes place in Jacksonville, between Athens and Gainesville, and the Super Bowl, in all but two instances, has never been held in a home stadium. Austerlitz gives this PR stunt a lovely backdrop for photo ops, but it’s best because in the pitched battle between Logan and “the kids,” Connor isn’t a relevant player. He’s the forgotten child. The first pancake.

There are echoes of that farcical affair toward the end of “Rehearsal,” as Logan crashes the desultory karaoke session all four of his children are having on the eve of the GoJo deal. It takes no time before Logan and the relevant kids attack each other, and Logan issues another of his brusque apologies to mollify them, which is like trying to apply a dirt-encrusted Band-Aid to the Black Knight’s “flesh wound” in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And once again, Connor is the neutral party, ineffectually attempting to mediate a conflict where he’s mostly on the sidelines. Connor does have a stake in all this — if the GoJo deal goes south, he won’t get his multibillion-dollar payout — but he doesn’t have a voice.

Connor often feels like a distant supporting player in the show’s calculus, too, using his money to fund a fringe candidacy and a Broadway production so dire that he wants to reimagine it as a so-bad-it’s-good event, like Springtime for Hitler in The Producers. But “Rehearsal” finally puts Connor — and a devastatingly good Alan Ruck — at its center for a monologue after the karaoke meeting blows up that reveals an acute, heartbreaking awareness of his marginal status. “The good thing about having a family that doesn’t love you is that you learn to live without it,” he says. “You’re all chasing after dad, saying, ‘Oh, love me. Please love me. I need love, I need attention.’ You’re needy love sponges, and I’m a plant that grows on rocks and lives off insects that die inside of me.” Now that his impending marriage to Willa is falling apart, he’s activating his “superpower” to live through neglect and humiliation, but he’s dying inside.

The standard disclaimer to talking about how you feel about the characters in Succession is that they’re all pieces of shit. If they existed in the real world, we would find them as detestable as Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, or other billionaire world-beaters and their failsons. But seeing them in only that one dimension would make for lousy television. The greatness of that Connor monologue, and the impromptu family meeting that precedes it, is that the writers have a strong feeling for the agonies that eat away at all these characters. (Perhaps the only TV fantasy more alluring than imagining a billionaire lifestyle is watching them suffer.) Connor may say that he’s immune to the pain, but he’s been laboring to turn his transactional relationship with Willa into a real one, and it’s teetering in two-step with the GoJo deal.

The reason for this combustible affair is word that the three relevant kids, in conjunction with Stewy and Sandi Furness, have a golden opportunity to fuck with their dad again. Swiping Pierce from under him was fun in the very short term, but at the beginning of the episode, they’re already bored to tears watching “olds” talk about NATO and thinking up new ways to spice up the news. (“Maybe focus on Africa,” says Kendall, in improv mode. “Every day. Like, ‘What’s happening in Africa?’ Sub-Saharan east, Sub-Saharan west. I would watch that shit.”) There’s also the inevitable feeling of buyer’s remorse, which would go away quickly if they don’t get the GoJo billions to pay for Pierce.

And so a plan formulates. First with Shiv, then Kendall, and then ostensibly to Roman, who’s part of this new, fragile-as-the-glass-menagerie sibling alliance. If they join Stewy and Sandi in balking at the deal and asking for more money from Matsson, they’ll be able to screw their father over a second time. Roman has the good sense to blow off Stewy and Sandi, saying, “So either we vote yes tomorrow and we all make billions of dollars, or we sign up for your cool shit and then Dad disinherits us entirely.” But once Kendall gets a call from Matsson personally, warning him that he’ll back out if the deal doesn’t happen, it achieves the opposite effect that Matsson intended. He now has the opportunity to return to that Italian villa from the end of last season and stab his father for real this time. How can he say no to that?

As for Logan, he isn’t accustomed to losing to anyone, much less his children, who are once again playing out of their league. He hears Shiv and Kendall talking business-ese about the wisdom of holding out for a better deal, but he’s not buying it: “You’re such fucking dopes. You’re not serious figures. I love you. But you’re not serious people.” Besides, the prospect of making the deal and turning his attention to ATN — much as Murdoch did when he ceded 20th Century Fox and other film and TV assets to Disney while holding onto Fox Corporation and Fox News — is hugely appealing. It’s his most powerful plaything, a force that can make or break political careers, and he’s eager to speak through it as directly as ever. His speech to the troops on the ATN news floor is a rousing statement of malevolent purpose.

He may have lost his girlfriend in the process, however. As Kerry’s hilariously demented audition tape for an anchor spot makes the rounds, even Logan seems too terrified to let her down. One can imagine a scenario like Citizen Kane, when Charles Foster Kane pushed his mistress and second wife, Susan, to become an opera star and wound up clapping alone after her dreadful performance. (Creating the film’s most famous meme.) Logan cannot afford to let it get that far, however, so he passively sloughs off the job on Tom, who, after a few diplomatic fumbles, shows real leadership skills by passing this hot potato along to Greg, who of course gets eaten alive.

But if the kids scored one victory in their first meeting with their father this season, they may have wiped out this relationship, having swiftly eroded the plausible deniability that Logan might have claimed over Kerry’s scotched ambitions for TV stardom. His new ATN — faster, lighter, meaner, wilder — has no room for weird smiles and flailing arms. Another killer with a dog-eared copy of Mein Kampf will have to do.

Sad-Sack Wasp Traps

• Greg’s descriptions of Logan prowling the ATN floor in sunglasses, like “if Santa Claus were a hit man,” are all wonderful. But nothing beats “It’s like Jaws if everyone in Jaws worked for Jaws.”

• It’s a shame that Logan intends to fire Cyd, partly because I’d miss the great Jeannie Berlin, and the mutual contempt she and Tom have for each other is so entertaining. In two quick breaths, Tom blames her for the expensive news floor (“Cyd really loves the sense of space”) and implies that she’s totally disengaged (“She doesn’t stay late when it’s opera season”).

• Even in Connor’s lowest moment, when his wife-to-be has disappeared to some unknown location, Roman cannot help digging in. “Maybe she’s found a spot she likes,” says Connor. “Sure,” replies Roman. “On another man’s dick … on a much bigger, nicer, harder, younger dick is all I’m saying.”

• Connor, a man of the people, decides to order the swill of the common man: A Belgian Witbier.

• Tom to Greg on the Kerry situation: “It’s like Israel-Palestine, but much harder and more important.”

• The funniest part of Greg’s attempt to let Kerry down easy is his description of the made-up focus group: “It’s a bunch of grandpas and little twerps and such.”

• The song Connor moans through in karaoke is Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat,” which puts him among an illustrious group of artists who have covered the song, including Tori Amos, Jonathan Coulton, and Joan Baez. For what it’s worth, a much cooler song than “Desperado” by the Eagles.

• Pity poor Roman, whose abuse at his father’s hands always keeps him coming back for approval. Recall that in the middle of the first season, Kendall staged a no-confidence vote to get Waystar’s board to move off the reputedly dementia-riddled Logan, but Roman wilted under pressure. The arrangement Logan appears to have made for Roman in the episode’s last scene is a return to his role as the Matsson-whisperer in the wake of the closed deal, but we saw how that went last time. His father has made him feel useful again, but that usefulness will once again be temporary.

Correction: This recap has been updated to note that the Super Bowl has been played in a home stadium twice, not once.

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Also, Scott Tobias will be answering comments in the recap of Succession episode three. He’ll monitor comments for 48 hours after the post publishes and respond to questions about the episode. Join the conversation next week!

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Succession Recap: Not Serious People