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kieran culkin-jeremy strong-succession episode 6.jpg

The Clowns of 'Succession' are Running The Circus Now

By Kaleena Rivera | TV | May 3, 2023 |

By Kaleena Rivera | TV | May 3, 2023 |

kieran culkin-jeremy strong-succession episode 6.jpg

(spoilers for episode 6, season 4)

“Boys, you’re not good at this.”

Are there any two (fictional) people who needed to hear this quite as much as Roman and Kendall Roy, two newly-crowned kings going mad with power? While Kendall gets high on his own supply, and Roman, still grappling with grief, gives in to his worst impulses, all their employees can do is hunker down and wait in the hopes that their petty new overlords will mercifully overlook them. Logan Roy, though a terrible person in every way that counts, was at least an exceedingly competent businessman. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” is all-too real for the people working under the enormous Waystar conglomerate who are just trying to collect a paycheck. Too bad for them, these terribly unserious people, clowns that they are, are now running the circus.

It’s the eve of Investor Day, and our co-CEOs are working hard at what they do best: rattling off as many nonsensical buzzwords as possible in preparation for pitching Waystar’s newest venture: Living+, a retirement real estate plot framed as bringing the cruise experience onto dry land or a scheme “to warehouse the elderly and keep them drunk on content,” depending on your perspective. But amongst all the “infinite brainbox” and “unbelievable growth” sound bites, there are other great plans as well such as, um, falling back on what is almost certainly fraud to overinflate stock prices in the hopes of tanking the massive company sale in the works.

Depending on how legal handles it, though, the CE-bros are gonna have to first deal with those hasty firings that Roman doled out. Though snark is his preferred weapon, being combative is a tool that Roman doesn’t usually wield. But while Matsson deserved it on a certain level, the anger he brings to his meetings with studio head Joy Palmer (Annabeth Gish) and Gerri aren’t rooted in self-righteousness as much as insecurity over being a kid stomping around the house in his father’s empty shoes. Joy’s seasoned enough to show deference to the new boss, even if he epitomizes the ‘nepo baby’ label (“No, I’m sure you are where you are for a very good reason”). There’s no masking the truth, however, which is that Roman doesn’t have the background or experience to keep up. His ego, more fragile than ever, kicks in, resulting in him giving Joy the boot.

Gerri, on the other hand, doesn’t bother pretending that Roman has any idea what he’s doing when she catches wind of Joy’s hasty termination. She has enough history and pull to call him out for exactly what he is (“…you are a weak monarch in a dangerous interregnum”). But when she can’t deliver the one lie that he needs—to believe that Roman is as good as Logan—he also fires her. But unlike with Joy, Roman’s discomforted despite the fact that out of all the fake Logan-style posturing he and his brother engage in, firing Gerri is the one move his father actually made.

Demanding that blatant of a lie is the sort of delusion that’s usually the purview of his older brothers. But at the end of the day, thanks to various contracts and attorneys, Joy and Gerri will be fine (even if Roman’s jab at her job performance genuinely stung). For those lower on the rung, however, things are much more precarious. What do you say to the head honcho who refuses to acknowledge reality (Kendall: “Here’s the new rule: No one can say no”)? Although none of these people are in a position to give any pushback, it’s the sort of extreme positioning that doesn’t usually herald a celebrated, or long, reign.

There’s a disconcerting glee in the wake of their destruction; rather than be angry over Roman’s massive overstep, Kendall embraces it. This is what happens when rich brats are in a position to fully adopt the accursed Silicon Valley “disruptor” identifier. The lack of effort to gather any allies whatsoever even subconsciously extends outwards to their sister. We knew their triumvirate would never hold up for long, but their dismissal of her happens in near record time. Shiv’s agitation with them began long before Kendall carelessly took her literal seat at the table, but finding out that her brothers have been plotting without her is a new level of hurt, especially since it’s been mere days since tragedy brought them closer than they’ve ever been.

Say what you will about Shiv, but she’s tough enough to maintain a stiff upper lip. At least until she gets to a reserved conference room for her daily cry session. When Tom accidentally discovers her (“You’re scheduling your grief?”), the comfort he provides reopens the door for the two to once again become intimate with one another. More than sex, it gives Shiv the chance to once again obtain an ally—flirting with Matsson is one thing, but the inability to exert any control over him crosses him off as a potential romantic partner (also think of the blood)—and Tom a chance to survive, as his Sporus is busy playing pitch bot these days. A twisted affection undergirds all of this, something we see exemplified in the absolutely unhinged game Shiv proposes, called Bitey. In a scene that is a strong contender for Most Intimate Television Moment, we look on as Shiv and Tom lock eyes, forearms, and mouths as they bite down on one another in full view of dozens of party guests. It’s equal parts odd and sexy, an uncomfortable PDA featuring two people who have found connection in their willingness to hurt one another and be hurt.

This was never a couple who was going to pursue marriage counseling, yet I couldn’t have guessed that sinking literal teeth into one another would have brought them closer. But after addressing what she’s managed to mostly avoid naming over the past few months (his betrayal), Tom comes forward with an explanation so honest that it almost comes off as logical (Macfadyen kills this monologue):

“And you didn’t ask me in. Shiv, you kept me out. And I always agreed to all the compartments, but it seemed to me that I was gonna be caught between you and your dad. And I really, really, really love my career and my money.”

As they sit on the bed cracking up over the idea of ever risking poverty in exchange for a moral code, their shared laughter is both genuine and slightly demented and their bond feels stronger than ever. Their relationship, always skewed towards Shiv, has now reached something akin to an equilibrium. Never is it clearer than when Tom walks in on Shiv having a call with Matsson and she quietly allows him to stay. It’s difficult to imagine this going for the long haul, but both of them need someone to help make their way through the troubled corporate waters they’re in. Framed as such, it’s probably the strongest alliance made throughout the series’ run.

The biggest surprise is that after nearly an hour of anticipating Kendall going full “L to the OG,” he pulls a stunner by succeeding. Sort of. His speech starts off horribly (“Big shoes. Big, big shoes. Big, big shoes. Big, big shoes”), and descends to awkward ghoulishness when he has a digital Logan appear to give posthumous support. The speech works largely because as a concept, Living+, though terrible, would absolutely appeal to some consumers. The idea of a Fox News-esque organization having land occupied by its faithful viewers may sound funny in a chilling sort of way, but replace it with literally any major IP to have existed in the last twenty years, and you can imagine how quickly a substantial number of people would sign on (research Celebration, Florida for a real life example). It also succeeds because that circus tent’s worth of investors are just as excited to see Kendall juggle buzzwords. The Karolinas and Gerris of the world can see it for what it is—especially when Kendall hints at immortality as part of his pitch—but it’s another story for people who are accustomed to temporarily parking their money into ideas in the hopes of generating more money.

Nevertheless, it’s a major win for Kendall and his corny flight jacket. Roman managed to avoid wearing the matching one—after Shiv maneuvered him away from Kendall; in her defense, with Kendall’s Wile E. Coyote-esque track record it took little convincing—by backing out of the presentation. But when Kendall stumbles into victory, Roman instantly regrets the decision. He walks off alone, dejected over the knowledge that though he’s co-CEO in name, it’s Kendall’s face that will be now remembered (never mind the guaranteed failure that awaits them). Not only is there no glory to be had now, there’s no more “huggy thing” or any of the sibling camaraderie they shared just a few days earlier. All Roman has left is another digitally manipulated video of Logan disparaging him, which he plays over and over again, tolerating his cruelty as always in exchange for the brief comfort of being acknowledged. But despite being viewed as a success, Kendall too, winds up alone, left with nothing but his thoughts as he awaits his next cue. The Roy clown car just got a lot more spacious.

Best Quotes:

Kendall: “Maximize your physical potential. Live, well, not forever—”
Roman: “Why not forever?”
Kendall: “Well, sure! If not forever, live…more forever.”

Roman: “Who ready for F*ckywood?”

Greg: “I think it’s hard to make houses seem like tech…because we’ve had houses for a while now.”

Greg: “So you help me get in the good books. Understand, Mr. Snippy-snip?!”

Kaleena Rivera is the TV Editor for Pajiba. When she isn’t wishing for a supercut of Jess’ many expressions, she can be found on Twitter here.