Despite there being a workplace shooting, a funeral, and several scenes of Kendall gazing ominously off the edge of Waystar headquarters, this might be the funniest episode of Succession since “Prague.” From Willa and Connor’s adventures at Mo’s funeral to Roman and Gerri’s verbal intercourse to Tom doing everything in his power to prove an ATN anchor isn’t a neo-Nazi, “Safe Room” matched the darkness of its subject material with pitch-black humor that routinely tapped into many of our country’s own anxieties. The old executives at Mo’s funeral? #MeToo nightmares. News correspondents with ties to fascist organizations? This Splinter piece was literally just published. Meanwhile, antifa protestors are blamed for a shooting that turns out to be a suicide from an ATN segment producer who felt like he was being bullied. Succession is just daring you to laugh at this shit, and I love it.
All of it’s set against some serious tragedy, too, because Kendall (Jeremy Strong)? He ain’t doing too good, folks. There’s something really unnerving about the episode’s first shot being security footage of Kendall climbing the stairs to the roof, as if it’s the last image anyone would see of him after he leapt from the top of Waystar, which he seems to be seriously considering. There’s no glass barriers like there are on the lower decks, and no one up there to stop him, what with it being under construction. “Safe Room” spells out what we’ve been gleaning about Kendall since the season began, that the power his father currently wields over him is both his prison and his lifesaver. After crying into the shoulder of Shiv (Sarah Snook), he asks her to “take care” of him once she takes over, “because if Dad didn’t need me right now, I don’t exactly know what I would be for.” God, that phrasing—“what I would be for”—is so perfect and gutting, a clear manifestation of the privilege and hyper-focus of his upbringing. Who is he if he is not Logan Roy’s son? He tried to find out last season and failed.
Kendall’s more than just a hatchet man in this episode, serving as both a caretaker for Logan (Brian Cox)—he delivers his dad’s meds—and a right hand during their negotiations with Pierce’s Rhea (Holly Hunter, who is so perfect for this world). It’s a dream wrapped in a nightmare for him, and one has to wonder if his shoplifting, which has persisted we find out, comes from an innate desire to be caught and liberated from the family or to make himself more and more vulnerable to his father’s influence.
When Shiv arrives for her first day shadowing Logan, Kendall is wary of her not because, as she assumes, he believes she wants to usurp him as Logan’s successor, but rather because he wants the tenderness he’s heretofore enjoyed all to himself. That doesn’t turn out to be much of an issue, though, as Logan keeps her at arm’s length during her time in the office. She’s not invited to the first meeting with Rhea, during which the Pierce CEO makes it clear that her employers have no intention of selling to Waystar. Later, within the confines of the (real) panic room, Logan is forced to silence her as she tries to continue negotiations. While Shiv, a true politician, tries to, well, negotiate, Logan and Kendall just keep throwing out higher numbers. Negotiation, Logan knows, makes him look weak. As Shiv tries to navigate the incompatibility of the two company cultures, Logan simply tells Rhea to trust him.
“In the end it’s a question: If I say I won’t fuck Pierce over—I’ll keep the brand, their editors, their people—do you trust me? And will you tell them to trust me? Because when I say something will happen, that thing will happen.” The number climbs to $24 billion. Rhea, who likes to classify herself as a “mere conduit,” is sold. But will the Pierce family themselves be so swayed by Logan’s confidence? It’s gotten him this far. In his mind, at least, Shiv needs to understand that.
Rhea does, however, ask for one show of good faith: Fire Mark Ravenhead (Zack Robidas), a hotshot ATN anchor who skews younger but has an alarming history that includes sightings at fascist rallies and a marriage conducted at Hitler’s old Bavarian retreat, not to mention a dog with the same name as the führer’s (it’s spelled differently, though, so it’s okay). Earlier in the episode, Logan and Cyd (Jeannie Berlin) both agree that losing him would also be a sign of weakness, a concession to the hordes of anti-fascist protestors outside the office. Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), who thinks Mark is a lovely guy—“Who wasn’t a bit salty when they were 21?”—is tasked with giving Ravenhead “the full colonoscopy,” but resorts to softball questions, the answers to which still ring alarm bells. Why has Mark read Mein Kampf multiple times? He’s interested in that part of history. How come? “The scale, the tragedy,” he says. “Europe decimated. 7 million Germans, 20 millions Russians, 5 million poles.” Even Tom has to remind him that he’s short about 6 million.
Tom has other worries, too. Greg (Nicholas Braun), perhaps the only person in his life who fears him and respects his authority, wants to switch departments. “Are you attempting to break up with me, Greg?” he asks when the two find themselves locked in a “panic room” after a shot rings out at ATN. “This is not a good feeling, Greg, that you’re making me have.” Of course, his anger stems, too, from being so unimportant that he wasn’t ushered to the same safe space as Logan and, it turns out, Shiv. His fury boils over as he pelts Greg with bottles of water, though he later apologizes. “I don’t always like who I am, Greg,” he says in a rare moment of self-awareness. So desperate for Greg to stick around, he doesn’t even care when Greg tries to blackmail him with the cruise scandal documents from last season. Instead, he promotes him. Like Kendall, he needs a damn friend.
Roman (Kieran Culkin), meanwhile, actually makes a friend in Brian (Zach Cherry, who you may remember from HBO’s Crashing). Brian, who is hilarious and owns “several high-end racing drones,” brings a level of enthusiasm to the management training sessions that not even Roman can resist. Later, he tells Gerri to “fast track” this “rough diamond,” which might be the only nice thing Roman’s done this entire series.
His own feelings of inadequacy remain, though, both as a Roy—he gets barely any screen time in the Waystar introduction video shown to the trainees—and as a boyfriend. When Tabitha (Caitlin Fitzgerald) tries to have phone sex with him—he’s gone in Florida for six weeks for the program—he grows agitated and uncomfortable with her “breathy” voice and boilerplate patter. So, what does turn him on? In a reveal that’s been teased this entire season, it’s Gerri (J. Smith Cameron), or at least her willingness to degrade him verbally. As he jerks off, she calls him a “revolting little worm” and a “slime puppy” and, folks, I am here for it. I doubt this will ever result in any kind of physical intimacy between the two, as I don’t think it’s that kind of attraction—Roman, who’s been given everything in this life, just seems to get off on somebody telling him he’s just as shitty of a person as he knows he is. I remain curious where this is all leading, however.
Finally, Willa (Justine Lupe) gets a chance to shine in this episode when she saves presidential hopeful Connor (Alan Ruck) from sabotaging himself at the funeral for Mo, whose name, we learn, is actually Lester. “Mo-Lester,” Connor explains. “Old Mr. Fiddlesticks. Uncle Meat Hands. Dad wouldn’t let us in the pool with him. But, you know, the guys of that generation—it was a different time.” (Connor’s constant, casual assertion that the groping and assault of the so-called “Wolf Pack” is just something guys did in the old days is hilarious and terrifying. Also funny: Him opening his original eulogy with “Lester touched a lot of us...”) Willa is forced to explain to him that these are people he shouldn’t be publicly praising, especially when biographer Michelle (Jessica Hecht) is on the premises. She ends up rewriting his eulogy so it states simple, undeniable facts and nothing more. “When a man dies it is sad,” he reads. “All of us will die one day. In this case it is Lester who has done so. Lester was alive for 78 years but no more. Now he is dead.”
Fingers crossed nobody’s saying that about Kendall by season’s end.
- Dear god I hope he we get more scenes of Gerri degrading Roman. “Slime puppy” is an all-timer.
- Logan asking after Kendall when he reaches the panic room is interesting. A rare sign of concern and a window into his true feelings about his one-time golden boy.
- We haven’t seen much of Marcia (Hiam Abbass) lately, but she asked Willa to see what intel she could glean from Mo’s widow regarding what he told the biographer.
- Tom to Shiv: “It’s like you and your dad have finally admitted how much you’re into each other. Now you can bang.”
- Great throwaway line: Roman telling Gerri to “send goons” if he doesn’t return from training.
- Speaking of Roman, I didn’t love him being an ass being to the parkgoers, but I did enjoy him having to dress up as The World’s Biggest Turkey, which, if you’ve forgotten, comes from the hit movie he tried to smother when he was in Hollywood.
- “I’m intellectually promiscuous, but culturally conservative. I work hard, I don’t play hard. I play easy. Why would you play hard?” Please keep Brian around. And please let Roman keep pretending to be named “Ron Rockstone.”
- “How about terror? Like actual terror?” Roman says when he and Brian are tasked with creating a new theme park ride. “Like a VR experience, but, like, I’m actually gonna fucking die, like war.” This man needs hobbies.
- Not quite a Gregism, but Braun’s delivery of “I’ll never tell” when asked where he keeps the documents was perfection.
- “Are you asking if you can blackmail me?”
- Still, the funniest line of the episode was Greg worrying about “an attack child” climbing through the small windows of their bargain bin safe room.
- Prepare to meet the Pierce family next week. Per this Vanity Fair piece, they’re loosely based on the Sulzbergers, the longtime owners of The New York Times.