I totally understand if you scoff at me for this, but: I cried during “Safe Room,” the fourth episode of this second season of Succession (available early on HBO for the Labor Day weekend). This episode is just so damn much, truly next-level shit that I kept comparing with Mad Men and The Wire while watching. I thought Succession had peaked with last week’s “Hunting”; I was thoroughly wrong.
Georgia Pritchett’s script for this episode is as dense as Mad Men used to get and as rewarding; “Safe Room” won’t let you forget anything Kendall or Shiv or Tom or Greg have done, but treats them all with a palpable amount of empathy. I am a sucker for pop culture white men who know they are failures, and Kendall’s overwhelmingly deep sadness in “Safe Room” nearly broke me. The way his body fully weighed upon Shiv’s during that hug? When he could finally let the performance of himself fall, and when he let himself collapse into her? Fuck, I’m tearing up thinking about it right now! Kendall is a colossal fuck-up but his awareness of that, and his desperate need for love and acceptance anyway, just ruins me. And The Wire, the best television show of all time, helped us empathize with people society would straightforwardly consider “villains”; Succession often flips that, of course, making us realize that the corporate overlords who talk business as family and capitalism as a way to save us are doing the exact opposite. With their pettiness and their casual cruelty, they’re killing us. I cried for Kendall, but Kendall is part of a system that will gobble up a legitimate news company doing legitimately good work just because it fucking can. He is a tyrant’s enabler, and I wish I could quit him.
“Safe Room” follows the Roys as they split apart onto diverging paths. Roman, taking Gerri’s advice, enrolls in the Waystar Royco management program held at Brightstar theme park. He’ll be stuck there for 6 weeks with “normies,” and he goes into the experience with a pulled-down baseball cap and a shitty attitude, and literally no one at Waystar Royco seems to miss him. No one!
Perhaps that’s because they’re all confused about why Shiv is spending the day with Logan—ostensibly, she’s supposed to be shadowing him, and they start the day off with champagne in his office. How bougie! But Logan doesn’t have a place for Shiv to sit, because he’s sharing his office with Kendall. And everything is going to shit at ATN because host Mark Ravenhead’s fascist and Nazi sympathy is sparking a war between his supporters and antifa protesters, who are clashing outside the building. Shiv wants to get rid of him, but her say at a meeting doesn’t matter; “No coaching from the sidelines,” Kendall smirks when Shiv tries to gesture at Tom to cut Ravenhead’s throat. Logan doesn’t take Tom’s advice, which is really Shiv’s advice. He says they’ll stand behind Ravenhead—strike one against Shiv.
The next strike against Shiv is, well, worse, not only because the circumstances are awful (while Logan, Kendall, Shiv, and Holly Hunter’s Rhea Jarrell are trapped in a safe room; we’ll return to Hunter later) but because she makes a misstep in front of both Kendall and Logan, and is reprimanded by the latter in front of everyone. Because again, as we saw last week, Shiv doesn’t think Logan should keep going after the Pierces and their media company—and she admits as much to Rhea, the family’s representative and a chief officer in their company, telling her that she thinks their corporate cultures are “incompatible.” But that’s not how Logan wants to present this deal, and in fact, it’s Kendall who comes to the rescue, throwing out offers of $20+ billion and essentially forcing Rhea’s hand because the money is too fucking much to walk away from. Shiv’s face when she realizes she got outplayed by Kendall, of all people, is very excellent indeed—just the perfect mixture of chastened and a sublime amount of “What the fuck?”
But at least Shiv has that in common with her husband this week, because Tom too is blindsided: Superficially, by the fact that he’s stuck in a far shittier safe room than Shiv, Logan, and Kendall when a gunshot is heard at ATN and the whole place breaks into a panic, with people evacuating, locking themselves into studios and control rooms, and waiting to hear whether there is an active shooter. (Naturally, because this is ATN, everyone blames antifa, but in reality it was an ATN segment producer who shot himself and whose suicide is almost immediately forgotten by everyone at the company.) The proper Roys are in this beautiful room with humongous leather couches and an array of snacks; Tom and Greg and a few other randos are stuck in one horrendously bland room with budget bottled water and dry-ass pretzels. More deeply, though, Tom is rattled by the things he can’t control in the long term: By Ravenhead, who is clearly a fucking Nazi and yet whose popularity means Tom can’t do shit about his employment. By Shiv, who rejects all of Tom’s hype as they drive into work; when he says the fix for Waystar Royco could be “Mary Poppins with a hard-on” and Shiv replies “No, like me—or, you,” that little pause she takes before “or, you” is a reminder to Tom that he’ll never be her No. 1. Shiv is always Shiv’s No. 1. And finally, of course, Cousin Greg, who has the gall to ask Tom whether he can leave his employ.
That request, which Cousin Greg MAKES IN THE SAFE ROOM WHILE THEY ARE ALL TRAPPED INSIDE, of course infuriates Tom. He’s unwillingly in an open relationship with his wife, and now his best friend and primary lackey at work wants that, too?
We’ve said for weeks, though, that Tom shouldn’t underestimate Cousin Greg, and that comes to pass this week when Greg reveals that he kept some of the documents Greg had told him to destroy last season. Leverage, motherfuckers! And so now Greg has a promotion and more money and a nice office, and I’m not sure if he’ll still be Tom’s executive assistant, but he’s certainly moving up in the world. Not necessarily for what he can do well, but because of who and what he knows … which takes us back to Kendall.
“You can be our Coriolanus,” Frank says to Kendall, but truly, how much longer can Kendall keep this up? We see here that he escapes to the roof of the building during the day to, sure, enjoy the view and survey the city. But, uh, did anyone else think of Mad Men when they saw Kendall step onto that ledge?
Honestly, I’m not sure if we’re being led toward Kendall taking his own life, but I don’t know how much longer he can manage this unwieldy balance. When Kendall is on, he’s excellent. He takes Rhea’s rejection in stride (“I have a message. The message would be on behalf of the Pierce family and the media organization that it’s privately owned for 150 years. The message would be a typically balanced, nuanced, and objective ‘Fuck off’”) and keeps her talking, and when he starts throwing numbers at her, you can see the kind of businessman Kendall could have been. A similar thing is happening when Shiv learns that everyone is scrambling to cover up Kendall’s recent foray into shoplifting (I love her outraged “He could buy the entire industry!” of vape fluids instead of swiping them) and when she tries to call him out on it; Shiv thinks she has the parting blow with “You seem to be mistaking me for someone you’re in competition with,” but the reality is that Kendall walks away from that altercation. He actually has things to do, unlike Shiv, who Logan brought in only to ignore.
But … I keep going back to that last scene between Shiv and Kendall, and the way he can’t make eye contact with her, and the utterly defeated way he says “Shiv. It’s not gonna be me,” and how thoroughly his body lurches into her, and how quickly he dissolves into sobs, and how even more quickly he pulls himself back together. It made me think of this:
What will haunt me is “I would just ask that you take care of me”—the pleading in that, the weariness, the devastation. Kendall doesn’t have it in him anymore. Does Shiv?
ODDS AND ENDS
+ I don’t even know what to say about Roman this week! My GOD, this kid has a self-loathing death wish, from his extremely harrowing park ride idea (OF COURSE people would vote for a simulation of war!) to his continued catapulting of his relationship with Tabitha to his bizarre phone-sex interaction with Gerri. Gerri! Girl! WHAT ARE YOU DOING??? On the one hand, I was enthused with how utterly fascinated she was when she realized Roman really was jacking off, and obviously they have a relationship spanning decades that means she can pull a variety of insults for Roman from their years together. But like! This can’t end well, right? … By the way, here’s everything Gerri said, in case you need some material for your next hate-sex session.
I’ve heard plenty worse than a spoiled brat ejaculating on himself.
You disgusting little pig.
You are a revolting little worm, aren’t you?
You little slime puppy .
You’re revolting, Roman.
+ Rhea calling Kendall “Oedipus Roy” is my new sexual orientation. Related excellence: The way Holly Hunter confidently tears into her dialogue, highlights of which are “My tummy is delicate. We really only eat Pulitzer over at Pierce” and “Depends on what you think news is: public utility or entertainment option?” and “I think it’s most telling that your most positive spin still sounds a bit rapey.” HOW IS HUNTER SO GOOD ALL THE TIME? IT’S ACTUALLY ANNOYING.
+ I do appreciate Shiv’s continued insistence that ATN is bad (the brusque way she lobbed both “Yeah, sure, but is he a fascist?” and “He’s right there with the fascists” to Tom clued us into her anti-Ravenhead stance from the very beginning), but at what point will she realize that’s not going to fly with Logan? A man who can say with a straight face “I fucking love news and news people” after recently shuttering Vaulter and laying off nearly 500 writers on a whim? Come the fuck on!
+ “It’s like you and your dad have finally admitted how much you’re into each other … Now you can bang!” Oh, Tom. Also great: The very one-sided rivalry Tom is currently pursuing with Cyd Peach, because Cyd is clearly winning—she put doubt in Cousin Greg about his position AND made herself look amazing by being in the control room and sharing her experience during the active shooter live on ATN. Meanwhile, Tom was in a room throwing water bottles at Greg. Cyd knows what she’s doing, that’s for sure.
+ Kendall and Connor have both now blown off Shiv’s story that she quit Gil’s campaign instead of getting fired. Shiv, you’re supposed to be the media expert, how can you not even control your own narrative?
+ My favorite dialogue this episode, courtesy of Gerri and Roman: “Is it very horrible in America?” “No amount of antibacterial gel is going to be able to wipe the America off me.”
+ The most honest line of the entire series so far isn’t all of Logan’s posturing but I think Tom’s “I don’t always like who I am, Greg.” At least he’s that self-aware?
+ Who knew Willa had it in her, to not only call Connor on the Roy family seemed to enable Mo-Lester (“It wasn’t a time before laws, was it?”) but also to protect him from himself by rewriting the eulogy he delivered so that the lingering reporter, who we learn had extensively spoken with Mo before he died, couldn’t collect anything else. I guess she really wants to be First Lady.
+ Ravenhead was a perfect one-off character for Succession in that he is absolutely trash and absolutely recognizable as a very real character in our current media landscape. The way he talked around “the scale, the tragedy” of World War II and conveniently forgot to mention all the murdered Jews was very slippery and not at all surprising. (Tom’s “Are there Easter eggs in there you didn’t get the first time?” re: Ravenhead’s multiple readings of Mein Kampf was chef’s kiss good.)
+ When Cousin Greg panickily worried about “an attack child,” I must admit, I thought to myself: Cousin Greg stans, this is your king???
Next week: MORE HOLLY HUNTER.
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