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Abe Beame is currently looking up countries with no extradition treaty with the United States.
Jayson Buford is ashamed of all of the Shiv screenshots you have on your desktop.
Be sure to check out The Definitive Ranking of Every Episode of Succession.
We open on the Logan crisis fallout team pouring out of twin helicopters. They transfer directly to vans on the landing strip, presumably still in Italy, where fast-rising Fisher Stevens is waiting — ready to set an itinerary. The team needs to figure out where to head next, as Gerri succinctly lays out, “Either New York, or Geneva, or London, or Singapore, or L.A.”, so basically anywhere, except for Sarajevo, not currently on anyone’s mind because no one knows quite how dire their circumstances are. Logan’s juggling corporate structure on the fly, making wild proclamations and firing and rehiring rapidly, as he did pre-stroke in “Celebration”, while also talking about his mom a lot, which, you know, ladies, ????????????????????, amirite?
Meanwhile, Ken has locked himself in a midtown bathroom, in what appears to be a suite in the hotel that houses the ballroom or event space where he held the bomb-dropping press conference (with Greg and Karolina waiting on the other side of the bathroom door). Director Mark Mylod spends a good deal of time focused on Ken’s hands as he decompresses. The hands are open, swimming through the empty space of the hotel bathroom. He’s pressing his abdomen and pushing the air out as he exhales.
It feels like a callback to the very first episode of Succession, as well as “The Summer Palace” — where Logan first changes his mind and yanks CEO, the carrot he’d been dangling in front of Kendall’s face for three years after shanking him with that trust agreement. At that moment, director Adam Mckay zoomed in on Ken’s clenched fists as he grappled with the reality of his father’s betrayal. In one memorable part of the confrontation at his 80th birthday party, Logan asks his son if he wants to take a swing at him.
For almost every moment of the last two seasons, Ken has been a clenched fist. A tight ball of desire, shame, and regret. I am a navelgazing English major, and could be betraying myself as one here, but the filmmaking seems to suggest that this is Ken finally releasing that pressure, the weight of his father pressing on his shoulders and digging into his palms. He sinks into the empty tub, as he did under the surface of the hot tub at the rehab he was summoned from at the outset of Season 2, but emerges from the bathroom changed. Much of his part in this episode seems indicative of Ken as this newly freed man, for better or worse, mostly worse. Ken bursts through the bathroom door ready to fight, a call to “Action Stations”. Let the games begin. Roll credits.
Every season begins with Ken in a car, traveling from one point of inflection in his life to another. Here, for the first time, he’s intense and decisive, in control of his situation, however flawed and fanciful the play may be. It gives credence to the theory that he’s been developing this plan since Greg intonated he had all of Cruises dirt towards the end of the Season 1 finale. Ken has kept him close since, and seems to have all the moves as the action unfolds here. His immediate sniffing out and ejecting Karolina from the car when she procrastinates picking sides is just the most overt play.
But Karolina brings up a good point before she kicks rocks. What role does Ken have now, as a whistleblower who has violated his duty of confidentiality, and fiduciary duties as a director? His claim is as a revolutionary whose insider sabotage was acting in the best interest of the company and its shareholders, but as Lisa Arthur will highlight later, it’s an angle that is bold, perilous, and flimsy.
Back in Italy, as the crew waits for Logan to decide on a plan, another mock roundtable is happening, something like the Season 2 finale kangaroo court politburo, only this time it feels closer to the last days in Hilter’s bunker — the sycophants left around Logan assuring him all will be well, and conspiring amongst themselves, as the bombs continue to fall closer.
Suspicion and mistrust, even for this show, is at an all time high. The question of who knew what, when, and where each person’s allegiance lies both within and outside the bunker is fluid and rapidly shifting — almost every rat on the Titanic attempting to deftly navigate with a foot on both sides of the fence (A personal favorite? Shiv and Tom on the runway, Shiv awkwardly snatching the awkwardly blown kiss, literally heading to different sides of the planet. The frenemy, *or whatever you call friend enemies who happen to be married* uncomfortable alliance/rivalry is heating up and it breaks my heart that it may take a few episodes to get them back in a room together to begin unpacking whatever the fuck is going on here. Though knowing this show, we’ll somehow have a family gathering 20 minutes into the next episode in a magisterial Spanish villa.)
On the way to the jet taking us….somewhere, we get the first explicit mention of Trump, “The Raisin”, and really it ends up being the former administration that decides the motion of this episode. When Michelle Anne, Trump’s babysitter, referred to as “The pantsuit barnacle” (I’m assuming chief of staff) basically goes Pontius Pilate and tells Gerri they’re not going to interfere on Logan’s behalf, he opts to abscond with the people around him he trusts the least to Sarajevo, AKA one of several destinations with no extradition treaty with the U.S. He feels the noose tightening.
This episode is basically the plot of Looper; Logan’s younger and stronger self has been sent to the future to kill him. It’s fascinating watching both men run their own war rooms, mirroring many of the same strategies, having the same ideas and pursuing the same players. But Ken is a step ahead throughout. He’s generating a list of top lawyers to represent him in the coming battle, while Logan makes wild accusations and searches for his missing phone.
The first half of the episode in the immediate fallout of the tactical strike, Ken is a canny operator, and won’t let Logan drag him into his dick measuring head games. When he first decides to set up camp in Rava’s apartment, then begins letting the personal side of his life contaminate the professional, is when the alarm bells start going off and you get the sense this will all end very badly for him. The turn seems to come with the call from Naomi, followed by Greg’s idiotic and tasteless OJ observation, and Ken’s completely galling, almost stunt admission of committing murder, which seems designed by the writers room to gross us out and piss us off. Mission accomplished on both.
Because then, it’s on to Rava’s (who appears to live, literally on Park Place, adjacent to City Hall Park, which would just be a phenomenal Monopoly joke, if I’m right) where this episode, at least for me, goes off the rails. I’ve seen some talk of Jeremy Strong adjusting his approach to his character this season, but that’s not really true. We’ve seen this guy before.
This is the Ken of the bank call from S1 E3 (There’s a lot of “Lifeboats” DNA in Kendall’s piece of this episode), the Ken who tells his ex-wife he’s the man (echoing the Naomi conversation, only this time he’s dealing with either a partner properly supporting his bravery or an enabler dumping gas on a raging ego fire, we’ll see) the Ken of the botched Dust (art startup) venture capitalist pitch, taking off his Lanvin sneakers, oblivious to what an asshole he is — the guy we’ve seen just enough to know he sucks and the world might be better off without him.
The sudden reappearance of Rava reminds us how much of Ken’s arc the first season was motivated by her, how his will to power seemed intertwined with getting back in her good graces, getting back in his kid’s lives full time, and righting the wrongs he committed off screen, presumably as a junkie. There appears to be energy between them when Ken first arrives at her “apartment”, quickly transforming it into an inexplicably childless (Covid?) war room.
But Rava knows Ken well. It’s a little stepped on but she asks Ken if he came to her for “a pat on the back.” He has, combined with a push in the mud, courtesy of his girlfriend who he invites into her apartment, where his fucking kids supposedy are — who then opens a prized bottle of wine gifted by her fucking godfather (Looks like a Pingus 1998? $1,500 according to this highly questionable link but it sounds like sentimental value). He does this all to shit on Rava for presumably not believing in Ken enough, and because she has male razors in her private bathroom? Ken responds to his ex wife essentially saying “never again” after Naomi’s transgressions by celebrating with Greg, in what feels like another fuck you/troll from the writers.
The last half of the Logan camp’s plot in this episode returns to……. the question of succession. Logan needs to step down for the time being, for appearances’ sake. Similar temporary seeming situations that stretched for years occurred in the past for Volkswagen and Walmart, so everyone is fighting to be nominated paper tiger, but it comes down to Roman and Shiv. Both kids “blow it”.
Roman subjects himself to an adult game of Dog Pound, essentially telling his father, who appeared ready to nominate him, he’s not ready for it, but wants to serve at Gerri’s feet, if he must. An interesting question here is if Roman truly blows this or doesn’t want to be in front of the coming war and throws the fight. It’s played as typical Roman erectile dysfunction, but who knows. Ostensibly, this leaves the rock in Shiv’s hands, but somehow Logan blames her for not landing a “deal” that was closed before she got there. So Gerri has it, theoretically, for now.
Which brings us to the queen on this episode’s chessboard, Lisa Arthur. Sanaa Lathan is perfectly cast here as a Kerry Washington type who looks like she just got done kicking Kerry Washington’s ass in a Peloton session. Lisa Arthur is somehow simultaneously direct and lawyer slippery, piercingly intelligent, and helps set the board for Ken (Along with Shiv? Who makes an unannounced detour we can at least guess, for now, is headed to Ken’s, or at least is intended for us to believe she’s headed to Ken’s?) for the next few episodes, and will almost certainly follow in the footsteps of Rhea Jarrell and end up dumping Ken and fleeing this godforsaken family.
Ken’s pitch is characteristically terrible. Here’s Lisa outlining his, let’s say, difficult position: “You want to take down your dad without implicating yourself, and without damaging the company to the extent that you lose control at your shareholder’s meeting, and you know Shiv and I have had a friend relationship?” (which leaves out the fact that although he helped cover it up, Logan has evidence of Ken committing manslaughter) And yet she’s on board. Can’t wait to see it all crash and burn.
But you may have noticed I’ve not mentioned Cousin Greg, or Karl’s sandwich, or any good Rome burns, so the time has come for me to pass the ancestral can of Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce to an enigma. You can’t pigeonhole him. He’s there, then he’s gone. He’s intellectually promiscuous, but culturally conservative. He works hard, but he does not play hard. He plays easy. Why would you play hard? He’s lurking, like a dormant virus, being stymied by a variety of enemies that are envious of his talents. He’s Jayson Buford.
Jay: IT FEELS SO GOOD TO BE BACK. Do you remember when we saw the Bourdain documentary and one of his friends said that Bourdain stopped using drugs but never stopped being an addict? That he just transferred his addictions to the show, to martial arts and to love? That is Kendall ‘’Oedipus’’ Roy as well. He isn’t using those vices in this episode but now his addiction is the need to kill his father. To prove that, once again, he isn’t a Roy in that way. The biggest nugget that I chewed on was how Strong has completely changed his acting style again. It transforms us to the “Auserlitz” or “Prague” episode, where Ken was on a drug-filled, adrenalized mission to prove himself to be different from his father. That’s dramatically different from the version of Jeremy Strong that we saw in season two with the slumped shoulders and the voice that sounds muffled like a radio static in a blizzard. To be able to change that on the fly, to mirror exactly what went down during the second season was a jolt as you were watching. Strong mentioned that he was listening to Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail to get ready for this new season and that’s the space that Kendall is in. Power obsessed and drowsy at the same time. Are we headed towards an implosion?
Abe: I mean I would say yes, we’re absolutely headed to an implosion for all parties. So agreed, to an extent, but as I said, and I think you’re saying, it’s not as much a radical departure for Strong as it is a return. This is the Ken that was lying dormant, that we saw glimpses of when he was riding high in season 1, and I think he actually might suck more now? My question is if this is where the show is heading, is there any humanity left? I also thought the transition from Season 2 Ken back to arrogant dickhead Ken was abrupt and slightly unearned, but I guess we’ll see. Is this just going to be Veep now? Also, I set you up for the oop and you didn’t catch it. One of my larger takeaways I couldn’t work into the recap is, do we have a Cousin Greg problem here?
Jay: On many levels, Greg has always been the least great character to me. He’s a doofus with more intuition than you’d think, capable of influencing what’s going on behind the scenes. But, he lacks the Shakespearean/Sopranian range of emotion that Kendall can have in a scene; he doesn’t have the vigorous physicality and crassness that Shiv and Roman have, nor can he be a combination of hateful and heartbreaking like Wambsgans. Connor does what Greg does better than Greg too, and Greg can’t make that campaign video from the second season. But they have never needed Greg to be anything that he isn’t. He reminds me of Carla from Cheers, or Paulie Walnuts in The Sopranos. One of those supporting characters makes the show more comedy to juxtapose the trauma and tension. In this show, Greg exists as a buffer for Gen Z viewers, who are more prone to watching comfort shows. Greg is serene and he’s been that since Day 1 for viewers. He isn’t a part of the main dynamic that the writers want to show. At least not yet.
Abe: Ok, well I’d argue Greg had seemed to be progressing through this show in a Dickensian arc, and you would think this was to be his masterstroke, and yet he was basically an afterthought/throw away joke machine here, with everyone laughing at his expense, his ineptitude, the constant punchline, etc. I was kind of hoping his possession of the nuclear documents would elevate him here, and turn him into a consigliere of sorts for Ken. Instead, he seems to have taken a step back, Tom’s befuddled lackey at the foot of a new master. Is this setting us up for a defection because Ken isn’t treating him with proper deference? No reason to believe that after sitting through this, but who knows. Maybe it’s rope-a-dope (sorry).
Jay: We’ll see the stones that Braun has as an actor in this season. Braun’s always good, but it is definitely the role that lands the easiest punches but sticks in your head the least. One thing that shows how good Strong is: the comedy between Kendall and Greg is as good as the comedy between Wambsgans and Greg in the ‘’Argestes’’ episode in second two. Greg looking things up on social media and misidentifying the Pope is “We here… for you” gold.
Abe: I loved Sanaa Lathan, she was an easy fit who jumped directly into the role, but I feel like her defection from Ken, and probably the show, is imminent. I can’t imagine her here for more than a few episodes. What’re your thoughts on Lisa Arthur?
Jay: Great to see Ms. Sanaa Lathan show up. Love and Basketball and Brown Sugar are classics. I think she will be a player for the first half of the season. Won’t be someone that shows up after a certain point, but she is going to lurk in the shadows for Team Kendall for a while. Snook and her had a great scene. Sarah Snook is terrific when she realizes she doesn’t have the upper hand. Shiv doesn’t like a power imbalance because everything about her tries to be so calculated. When it doesn’t go her way, her face becomes more expressive, her body language more explosive. Snook might be operating at a thousand volts this season. One thing that is interesting to me: Prestige shows like the Sopranos or Mad Men used to set up a new season as if there was a gap in time between the seasons. Succession seems to be doing the Vince Gilligan in New Mexico style of picking up time right where it left off. Is that a good idea or not? It’s a mixed bag for me, but might work for a show like Succession, which is very reactionary.
Abe: I’m totally with you on the Shiv thing. I was actually thinking about it tonight when listening to Roman strategize about how to deal with a prosecution. These kids are all spoiled brats. They hate hearing “no” and refuse to believe the rules apply to them. With Ken, it was easier to lose sight of last season, but we’re seeing it again now. There’s that great showdown scene in “Austerlitz,” when Ken accuses Logan of hating his own kids for having advantages he never had, now we see why, it wasn’t just aspirational, it’s because their privilege made them suck! Shiv is better at putting an acceptable face on it than the rest of her siblings, but any time she hears the word “no”, you see the little kid who can’t have the golden egg come out from hiding. Also, let me just say, I told myself I was going to be the thirst cop when it came to your Snook obsession this season, but man. She might be the only person who looks better coming out of the pandemic, which is really saying something based on how she came in. Just, incredible actress, incredible performance, and a fucking star. Jeff, feel free to cut this shit because we are both in the bag at the moment. [Ed. Note: if it is to be said, so it be, so it is.]
Jay: You have no idea. This was an incredible Shiv fit: The badge pinstripe pants suit with the button up with the collars that dip to the side like they would wear in the 50s, she looks so powerful. The way they juxtapose her lack of power in Waystar Royco with her power in the real world is jaw dropping. I want to marry this woman. Tom has no right to be only saying ‘’thank you’’ after she tells him that she loves him. If you think that it is a lie Wambsgans, then fine: But accept it, and love that lie.
Abe: Alright, alright, I’ll be fine, but you have an actual promising media career going, let’s not both get canceled. Here’s the pressing question because I know we’re on opposite sides of this: I think this episode is mid, you loved it. I think it was a lot of table setting, which isn’t bad for a first episode, but a lot of conversations in rooms, and not just conversations in rooms, there were five entire phone calls that happened, where a character gets a call from another one in secret in front of others and won’t let on what’s happening because it’s kind of sleepy palace intrigue. I just felt like more than an expo dump or table setter, this was a placeholder, a time filler. Much like Lisa Arthur, or Gerri as CEO, I don’t see much of this going anywhere, or bearing out on the actual protein of the season or the grand narrative of the series. I could be wrong, but if I’m not, this is very, very mid Succession. “Change my mind.”
Jay: I thought it was a good episode. Would not make my Top 10, but it is in the Top 15. It’s a great Strong performance, one of his very best. Sandler in Uncut Gems like, with its ability to make you laugh and want to give this guy some Lithium pills. Strong has become so reliable. Truly one of the best, if not the best, American actors working. He’s a true original. Every tic, every line reading, and every devilish smile in this episode is only something that he could have done. ‘’The Juice is loose’’ irony from him is madman behavior by the writers, played perfectly by Strong. The absolute glee in his voice. For a while, he has forgotten how mentally torn to pieces he was after that infamous vehicular manslaughter in the first season. It’s a table setter, for certain, but consider this: Every Succession season opens with the main idea: The fact that a son is going to commit patricide, or a Dad is going to dehumanize his son. In the pilot, Logan got the upper hand. In the premiere of the second season, Kendall is punch drunk. He’s completely dried out, both in the fact that he is sober and dried out in his moxie. He’s a human famine. Finally, Kendall landed one and now he’s moving like King Kong, calling his car the righteous vehicle. Scary hours. Don’t talk to the enemy. Loose lips can put a boar on the floor.
Abe: I have it as 16 on our running list which we’ll update at the end of this season. Alright, well for a brief peek under the hood for those dedicated enough to this near 5k word recap of a single television episode to make it to this point, it’s currently 3:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, because again, you’re reading gonzo TV recap journalism, no screeners in our game, so I’m going to leave you, Jay, and you the reader, with a last word bit I wrote as I pondered this episode between the watch and the rewatch, before I ship this off to Jeff and Pat to hopefully throw up before lunch tomorrow. Thanks for hanging in. We’ll see you back here next week:
Post episode, I fear an issue I’ve come to think of as The Wolf of Wall Street paradox infecting Succession. Over the course of the last decade, as more and more of these stories grappling with the super rich have emerged, a type of critique has emerged with it. It’s a kind of Maude Flanders pearl clutch rendered by Marxist tiktokers that amounts to the demand for these stories about bad people destroying the world to contain a Doestoyevskyian morality in plot and commentary. The characters in these stories can’t be seen as enjoying the spoils of their lives, and they also can’t be made to seem overly human, relatable or sympathetic. So no hugging, no learning, and no fun.
The critique is an instance of non-constructive criticism, it comes with no solutions and is simply a demand by reactionary internet assholes to make the world as they want to see it, rather than how it is. Making “good” or even “watchable” art out of this ridiculous criteria is obviously someone else’s problem. But you can do some bar napkin math and see that if we’re expected to follow these hostage taker’s demands, what’s left is a series of relentless bad things happening to shitty people with no redeeming traits. And when that happens, you basically turn your characters into curdled cream, and your audience into Nelson Muntz. We’re expected to show up every Sunday night to point and laugh at people we hate. That’s fine for a pitch black rotten satire like Veep, but to me, and I would like to believe millions of others, there are dimensions to this show that made it something more than that brilliant, brittle, half hour shot of Malort.
It was a problem that David Chase grappled with — how people kept excusing the behavior of and attempting to root for his shitty people, so he kept stripping their humanity away relentlessly, till there was none left. But that took roughly a decade. In these post-Lost times, when the writers’ room is very aware of their own gas and in constant conversation with it, my fear is this season of Succession will lose sight of why the last one was so powerful. It was the moments of grace and reprieve it lent these badly damaged, miserable human beings. The vulnerability we were given brief glimpses of.
And you can see this happening as the nuance begins to fall away from the Roman and Shiv relationship. It’s always been combative and playful with mutual care at the bottom. Perhaps the logic is now the final prize is in sight, but now it just looks like it’s heading toward petty bloodsport.
If this simply becomes The Wire Season 3, which transformed Avon from a patient, brilliant, disciplined kingpin to a cowboy spinning handgrenades on his palm, I fear for this season, and the future of this show. Maybe the long game has always been to sucker us into the idea of this dramatic tragedy, only to reveal it as a horror farce. It’s not my choice or my show, but I don’t know if it will be the best possible version of what this show had the potential to be. And as someone who has loved every minute thus far, and hasn’t seen the seven episodes critics got to enjoy ahead of this season because I’m not an actual critic, I for now will hold onto the hope that the show remains smarter than I am, and will prove me wrong.