Every week on HBO’s “Succession”, the drama surrounding the Roy family and their media conglomerate, Waystar Royco, often cuts me to laughter. The Roys fight their way through the scandals, doing all that the equivalent of the exorbitant person is slipping on a banana peel.
Whenever anyone who’s struggled with the show’s first season wonders if it’s worth it to stick it out, I always stress that the show is hilarious and artfully self-aware. It reflects real life without directly reproducing it, finding the right balance between reality and escape. Even the most uncomfortable moments and devastating revelations are also wickedly funny, like when the Roy siblings exchange lacerating slurs with mocking voices, instead of actually talking about their feelings and being real humans – because they don’t know how.
Sometimes there is nothing funny about it, like in Sunday night’s episode, “Mass in Time Of War”. “Succession” has always been about the brutality of growing up in a family where relationships are purely transactional, and this week’s episode reminded viewers of that in each of its major developments.
Kendall (Jeremy Strong) tries unsuccessfully to get his siblings aboard his rival company, the next step in his coup against their father Logan (Brian Cox), launched in the dying moments of Season 2. (The Plans Kendall rarely, if ever, succeeds, so this one was doomed to fail.) Throughout Sunday’s episode, he secretly invites Shiv (Sarah Snook), Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Connor (Alan Ruck) in his commercial bunker, aka the apartment of his ex-wife Rava (poor Rava, who is now apparently responsible for housing and feeding half of the characters on the show – she didn’t ask for that!).
When one by one, the siblings abandon the plan, Kendall unleashes a shootout with brutal insults. He reminds Connor how “unimportant” he has always been in the family. Connor is the only child from Logan’s first marriage, while his younger siblings are linked by Logan’s second marriage. He is also Roy’s only brother who has not been directly involved in the family empire (like Kendall and Roman) or built an independent career (like Shiv, formerly a political agent). Instead, he embarks on Logan-funded vanity projects (decanting wine, funding his girlfriend Willa’s play, “Sands,” running for president).
Turning up the volume each time, Kendall repeatedly tells Connor, “You are not wanted!
Even Roman thinks Kendall may have gone too far. “Like he hasn’t heard enough of that in his life,” he tells Kendall, as Connor sneaks away in disappointment.
Kendall saves his most horrific tirade for Shiv, the one brother he really wanted for his alliance, he admits. He accuses the false progressive Shiv of being a false selfish (which is right). “Is it cowardice or greed?” He asks, before suggesting he wanted her for the wedding ring “just because you’re a girl.”
“Girls count double now, didn’t you know?” He chuckles. “It’s only your pacifiers that give you value! “
Many Roy family fights are brutal and uncomfortable, but ultimately still funny. This one was just plain mean and upsetting, even for “Succession”.
This week also marked the long-awaited return of Logan’s third wife, Marcia (Hiam Abbass), whom he rejected and betrayed in Season 2. When Hugo (Fisher Stevens), one of Waystar explains that Logan and company executives want Marcia to help Logan repair his image by appearing publicly alongside him, Marcia reveals that she also has a plan. She lists her own financial conditions and alludes to a divorce. Marcia knows how to play the game.
There was still a lot of belly laughs in this episode. In a fully branded move, cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) – who, like almost everyone on this show, needs a strong lawyer – finds law student friend Lia to advise him. . Poor Lia has no idea what she’s gotten into and how serious Greg’s legal issues are (“Do you want me to text my teacher?” She asks Greg) . Later, Grandpa Ewan (James Cromwell), Logan’s brother and one of his fiercest critics, reluctantly helps his grandson find a lawyer.
But like all Roy, Gramps also wants something from this transaction. He enlists his personal lawyer, who wants to use Greg as “our little corner” to take down Logan and Waystar Royco and “expose the structural contradictions of capitalism as reified in the architecture of American business.” (Greg the egg is now Greg the corner.)
Like a lot of people, before I became a super fan of “Succession”, I struggled with the first season, wondering what could be appealing about a show where everyone is terrible. Then I found out that this is precisely the point. But still, it’s human to try to find someone to put down roots. For me, the series changed in Episode 6 of Season 1, when Kendall’s first attempt to oust her father failed dramatically, precipitating its downward spiral for the remainder of the season and the following. Dare I say, I sympathized with him – maybe?
As transactional and conditional as they are, the bonds between the Roy siblings have always been at the heart of some of the devastating moments of the “Succession”. At the start of Season 2, at her professional and personal nadir, Kendall asks Shiv for a hug. Confused, Shiv reaches out for an awkward, half-assed hug – before realizing that Kendall, who is crying now, really needs a hug. It’s sad. Sunday night, watching Kendall unleash her vicious slurs against her siblings, thus replicating the cycle of abuse inflicted by their father, I once again felt almost bad for everyone.