With season three of Succession now in the books, Vulture is returning to where it all began with weekly recaps of season one. Rewatch along with us and check back every Sunday night for the next pair of episodes.
“Do I go Hulk or Bruce Banner?”
Kendall is on the phone with his wife, Rava, from whom he’s separated, asking about how he should approach a dread-filled conversation scheduled for later that morning. The answer doesn’t matter to him. What he wants to show Rava — what he needs everybody to know — is that he’s The Man now, the guy in big boy pants, in the captain’s chair, calling the shots. He’s the interim CEO of a major corporation, taking over daddy’s office, and perhaps he feels like Rava will see him in a new light, not as the coked-up failson with the gleam of flopsweat permanently attached to his face, but a newly minted Master of the Universe. He gets to tell a banking partner to “fuck off,” just like his father.
“Lifeboats” is a full episode about what Waystar might be like if Logan dies and his children were inadvertently handed the keys to the kingdom. This hilarious, tragicomic hour emphasizes how much Kendall and Roman care about looking the part of the big-shot, forward-thinking, buzzword-spewing executive, but don’t have any idea what they’re doing. The difference between them is that Kendall has the nerve — the hubris — to make consequential decisions in support of his empty vision for the company, which gets him in legitimate trouble. Roman is purely a play-actor, vaguely echoing his brother’s words without co-signing them, which is an indicator both of his own vapidity and his sense of self-preservation. While Kendall is out there making mistakes, Roman is literally jerking off in his office while the unread, never-to-be-read emails roll in. That’s his way of hedging his bets.
The folly begins bright and early, with Kendall psyching himself up with weird gym-punches before he showers and gets to work before sunrise, the first person to trigger the automatic lights in the executive wing of Waystar HQ. Word from home is encouraging: His dad has “tried to put on a sock,” which means he’s not going to die, but he’s also not ready to come back to work. Word from Wall Street is not encouraging: To put it gently, his leadership is not inspiring investors. To put it not-so-gently, “he’s like dysentery for the stock price.” As we learned in the previous episode, if the stock price drops below 130, the $3 billion-plus loan Logan took out in the ’80s will be up for collection, which puts the company in a no-win situation. Gerri runs through various bad options, including layoffs and selloffs, but the talk doesn’t appeal to Kendall, who wants to implement his “Strategy of 1,000 Lifeboats.”
Kendall’s big plan, introduced to a massive all-hands meeting of top executives, fully justifies the market’s lack of faith in him. His one and only thought about Waystar is that it’s a media dinosaur, as old and stodgy as his father, and the way to go “supersonic” is to modernize the company with hip, tech-driven ideas that he hopes others will conceive for him. He wants “multi-platform content,” “franchisable IP,” and “more in the interactive and digital space,” and his expectation is that the various division heads at Waystar will be inspired to let their imaginations run wild, as if they haven’t considered any of this stuff. But by likening their ideas to “lifeboats” and saying that “steady as she goes hits the iceberg,” Kendall sullies the core business of Waystar at a moment when it’s already in its weakest state. A CEO should never compare his company to the Titanic.
The AP headline that immediately follows the meeting lays bare Kendall’s mistakes: “CEO Tells Staff Waystar Headed for Iceberg.” But, of course, he’s in the process of steering Waystar into the iceberg himself. There’s probably no scenario in which Logan’s creditor would not wish to collect after the company’s stock takes a dive, but Kendall’s first conversation with him goes more poorly than it should. He does not have the power to renegotiate the terms, so his answer is to shift from Bruce Banner to Hulk, and tell the guy to “fuck off,” which earns him dead silence on the other end. More devastating to Kendall are the words that follow: “Listen, son, that’s our position.” The disrespect embedded in “son” is unmistakable. We don’t know Kendall’s full history as a player at Waystar, but the verdict of him has been permanently cast.
And so Kendall, facing these odious options, does what any smart CEO would do: Look for a bailout from a coke-snorting college buddy named Stewy. Stewy makes his bones as a corporate raider, so the idea of putting up $4 billion in private equity money for a foothold in legacy media appeals to him immensely. It also appeals to Sandy Furness, Logan’s mortal enemy, who just happens to swing by the office to inquire about his health. Incredibly, it’s Greg who accidentally puts the pieces together when he stumbles past them in Central Park, but Stewy and Sandy have found an opening here and all it takes is a little flattery to slip their way through the door. “I don’t care what the wise apples say,” Sandy tells Kendall about the conventional wisdom on his obvious overpay for Vaulter. In the face of mass disrespect, such obsequious pandering goes a long way.
The cherry on top of this shit sundae is Logan’s return to consciousness, in which he summons Kendall to his room and offers an assessment of his performance as CEO. The way it’s staged here, with Kendall laboring up the staircase like a shamed child, contrasts sharply with the world-beating, up-and-at-’em Kendall at the beginning of the episode. The sheer labor it takes for Logan to get the words out — an unintelligible “Fuginidiot” straightens out into “You … are … fuh … fucking idiot” — makes it worse. No one has been able to visit Logan for the better part of a week, for very good reason, but the old man’s first order of business is to denigrate his son. And pushing every word out is agonizing labor. Kendall’s days as a pretend big shot are over.
• Tom follows up his weird proposal from the last episode by getting down on his knees again this episode to pay “homage” to Shiv’s vagina. “Maybe we should arrange a date when she’s not around,” he says to it, cheerily.
• For Roman, being COO involves the vigorous exercise of his mouth while his body is being stretched out. Like Kendall, he wants to impress everyone with his new position. He tells his trainer that he’s the chief operating officer now. “If it operates, I chief it.”
•Not to be outdone by her brothers’ big moves, Shiv makes clandestine arrangements to dig up some dirt on Marcia, whom Shiv suspects is cutting off access to her dad because of her refusal to sign an agreement that gives Marcia more power. The result of that pricy investigation? No good info on Marcia’s past and Marcia becoming aware that she did it.
• “Internet. Fucking game-changers.” Take away the foul language and Roman has about as much insight into tech disruption as your great-grandfather.
• Greg comes to his first day of work without a job title, and so poor that he’s reduced to living in a youth hostel and tucking office pastries into an actual doggie bag. Greg’s answer to Tom’s horror at witnessing the doggie bags is incredible: “It’s not like they pre-poop them or something. They’re just bags, really. It’s a mental barrier.”