Because I am a person who can admit when I am wrong about something, let me begin this by saying: When Succession premiered last summer, I despised the idea of it. Another story about rich white people, clearly inspired by the Murdochs? Nope, nope, NOPE.
If that’s why you haven’t watched Succession yet, I totally get it! But Dustin kept saying, “It’s good. Seriously. IT’S GOOD” (but not really like that, because Dustin very rarely uses all-caps to angrily emphasize something, because he is a benevolent and kind leader). So I gave Succession a shot, and the thing is that the Roy family is astonishingly terrible, but in a way that is so complex and wry and delicious that I couldn’t stop watching. These people are thoroughly despicable, and you’ll hate them, but the satire is so cutting that you’ll appreciate the effort and nuance that goes into it. They’re all so weak and so insecure, and the cast is so good, and season two premieres on HBO on Sunday (here is the trailer!), so let’s check in with where season one left off, shall we?
The first 10-episode season of Succession focused on the Roy family, one of the richest families in the U.S. who control Waystar Royco, a multiarmed media and entertainment conglomerate. They own news channels, they own newspapers, they own amusement parks, they own everything and anything; imagine the Murdochs and the Snyders and the Trumps and any awful family rich enough to own a football team, and that’s the Roys. They’re led by the casually cruel Logan Roy (Brian Cox), who thrives on pitting his children against each other: Eldest Connor (Alan Ruck), who lives on a sprawling ranch in New Mexico, indulging in his weirdest, woo-woo desires; second-eldest Kendall (Jeremy Strong), a recovering addict who wants to lead the company but can’t get out of his own way; only daughter Siobhan “Shiv” (Sarah Snook, with whom I am basically in love), who has leapt into the world of politics as a subtle fuck you to her father; and youngest son Roman (Kieran Culkin), a kid who wraps his clear self-hatred in an air of pompous detachment.
The Roys are a mess, but they aren’t the only merciless backstabbers: There’s also Logan’s current (and third) wife, Marcia Roy (Hiam Abbass, killing it), who considers all of her stepchildren with open disdain; Tom Wamsgans (Matthew Macfadyen), Shiv’s now-husband, desperate to prove his masculinity and worthiness; and Greg Hirsch (Nicholas Braun), Logan’s grandnephew from the wrong side of the family, who somehow gloms his way into Logan inner circle. Tom and Greg have one of the most fucked-up, codependent relationships I’ve ever seen on TV, and I don’t want to laugh at how awful they are to each other, but I always do.
Where did we leave each character when season one wrapped with the episode “Nobody is Ever Missing”? Let’s break it down before the season two premiere, “The Summer Palace,” which airs Sunday on HBO.
Logan suffered a stroke in season one, immediately after telling his children that he wasn’t stepping down as CEO and chairman—upending the plans of Kendall, in particular, who assumed it was his turn to take over the company. Whoops! Logan’s public announcement, coupled with his ill health, turn the kids into a crew of infighting vultures struggling for control. When Kendall tries to engineer a vote of no-confidence from the board, Logan fires everyone who voted against him. And although it’s clear that Logan’s increasingly erratic behavior is tied to the effects of his stroke, Marcia certainly isn’t going to let him back down from his children, and Logan isn’t ready to retire, either. In the season finale, when the pair learns that Kendall caused the death of a young man while under the influence of drugs (and while driving to get more drugs), they blackmail him into an alliance. If Kendall doesn’t drop his crusade against his father, they’ll tell everyone what Kendall did. And yeah, that’s exactly the kind of fucked-up shit going on in Succession!
For most of season one, Connor comes off as a bumbling buffoon unable to make any sort of decisions for himself. (Ahem: He is the show’s Jordan Peterson.) Connor isn’t really involved in Waystar Royco and spends most of this time at his New Mexico ranch; when we travel there for an episode, we learn from community members that most of the residents of the town around the ranch think Connor is a bizarre cuckold. (He once wandered into a bar, the story goes, and tried to pay someone thousands of dollars to take care of his sick dog; the person took it out back and killed it for $3,000.) The only child of Logan’s first marriage, Connor is Kendall’s, Shiv’s, and Roman’s half-brother, and he treats them with an air of superiority and detachment. For their part, they clearly all think he’s a weirdo and, ultimately, a fool, in particular for claiming that his “girlfriend” isn’t actually an escort he’s basically hiring to love him. That’s Connor in a nutshell: a gaslighting, wealthy idiot, and so of course at the end of season one he tells the other Roys he’s thinking about running for president. I wish I were joking. I am not.
Poor Kendall. He just wanted his father to hand over Waystar Royco to him; why won’t he? Kendall is the show’s clearest attempt at a straightforward protagonist, and he checks off all the tragic boxes, from bad relationship with daddy to strained relationship with his kids to complicated relationship with his siblings. A recovering addict who falls off the wagon after he’s outplayed by his father, Kendall has some good ideas about running Waystar Royco but is so caught up in his sickness that he can’t make them happen. At Shiv’s wedding, when he’s on the hunt for drugs, you think, maybe Kendall will overdose, maybe the scandal will be that the media learns he’s using again, maybe his ex-wife will see and she’ll take their kids away. It’s so much worse that Kendall’s mistakes result in the drowning death of a young man, and I will never forget the way Kendall just … walked away from the scene (his very own Chappaquiddick). His meeting with Logan and Marcia, where they tell him what they know, is phenomenally thrilling and uncomfortable; I thought I would throw up when watching it the first time. How Logan tries to use Kendall this upcoming season as a wedge between him and his other children will probably be the source of most conflict, I think.
I LOVE SHIV. If Kendall is who the show thinks we should root for, Shiv is the actual real deal: Clearly the smartest of the Roy children but held back by her gender; a daughter who craves her father’s affection but simultaneously wants to prove to him that she doesn’t need him. Much of her arc last season was divided between her very confusing relationship with fiancé Tom and her work for the show’s version of Bernie Sanders, presidential candidate Gil Eavis, who hates everything Logan Roy stands for. In working for Gil, Shiv not only declares her willingness to help someone opposed to her father but also starts up an affair with her ex-boyfriend Nate, who then comes to her wedding, as does Gil. Shiv’s smart as fuck but not nearly as smart as she thinks, and the fact that she marries Tom—basically admitting to him that she doesn’t believe in monogamy, but does want an ally who will worship her and go along with whatever she wants—is indicative of her deep selfishness. She’s awful, and I adore her, and every scene she shares with Marcia is a delight. The two women thoroughly despise each other, and it makes me happy.
Roman is the clown of Succession, and I say that with both affection and derision. The youngest son of Logan is desperate to prove himself not because he wants to but because he thinks he should, and his demands for more responsibility are utterly unearned. Roman somehow becomes vice president of Waystar Royco, and I’m not sure what he does? If anything? He claims he’ll have Kendall’s back during the no-confidence vote, but wilts away; we learn at Shiv’s wedding that he’s not sleeping with the woman he brings as a date, although he’s spent all season bragging about his conquests. Roman is very much a person who can’t seem to rise to the occasion of anything, whether that’s sex or running a company, and his simultaneous ignorance and impulsiveness come to a head when the Japanese rocket launch he was in charge of goes horribly wrong. He’s wracked with guilt that the rocket exploded, but when he learns nobody died, it’s like the event never happened. It just utterly disappears from his mind. And I’m curious whether anyone will really realize the depths of Roman’s ineptitude this upcoming season, or if he’ll continue alone his merry Eric Trump way.
The thing about Marcia is that the Roy children either outright hate her or barely tolerate her, but the reality is that she is very clearly devoted to Logan—and the genius of Abbass’s performance is that I can’t tell if she actually loves him, or if she’s hyper-aware of the status that comes with her position and is intent on holding onto it, no matter what. And, on another level, does it even matter? Marcia is clearly down to play the game alongside Logan, and the way she is committed to helping him cover up the effects of his stroke while maintaining his position make clear that she has no intention of moving over for his kids anytime soon. My favorite thing about Marcia is how the Roy children seem to have no idea where she came from, what her background is, who her people are. She has a son that pops up every so often to do whatever Marcia or Logan want, but we rarely see him interact with the Roy children—except for when he’s present in that meeting with Kendall about the man he let die. I’m curious if Marcia will have more to do this season, but no matter what, I want more interactions between her and Shiv. The energy these two women exert despising each other! Whew!
Through Tom, we see the lengths to which “regular people” will go to be connected with the wealth and prestige of the Roys: Tom is constantly humiliating himself to either appease Shiv or to make a good impression at Waystar Royco, and any small amount of power he is given, he uses to abuse others below him. I honestly think he might be worse than the Roy children because he adopts their behaviors, when he should know better? Tom’s big storyline this season—aside from marrying Shiv, and signing an “unconscionable” prenup before doing so—was his ordering Greg to destroy documents that included troubling information about the company’s cruise ships and how they dealt with perpetrators of crimes on the cruises, including rampant sexual abuse. That’s obstruction of justice, and that is a big fucking problem, and I’m curious whether the show will move past it or if Tom’s decision to include Greg in destroying evidence will have increasing repercussions. I mean, would Shiv cover for Tom as well as Greg would? I’m not sure!
Finally, let’s talk about Cousin Greg, whose mother bosses him into getting a job at Waystar Royco although he’s from the wrong side of the family. Wherever the Logans go, Greg is just there, sticking out because of his height and his awkwardness. But the toxic relationship he develops with Tom is only one entry into the Logan world—Greg knows how to use the impression of him as a bumbling, unsophisticated rube to get others to trust him, and that’s an important skill in a world where everyone could turn on each other. When Kendall calls Greg “You little Machiavellian fuck,” it’s not an insult, but a compliment and an invitation—further into the Roy mania, a place that will eventually destroy your soul. Get ready, Greg!
Did you watch season one of Succession? What do you expect from season two? Do you know Holly Hunter is on this show now? DID YOU???
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