Whatever dust Succession needed to shake off in premiere episode “Secession,” consider it shooketh. If “Secession” felt slightly overwritten and slightly overly deliberate, “Mass In Time Of War” is firing on all cylinders. Everyone is pissed off at everyone else, everyone is hiding knives up their sleeves, everyone is plotting. Somehow a box of doughnuts creates a major narrative shift? Somehow Connor Roy is briefly a schemer? Somehow Greg the Egg might end up with a leftist lawyer to defend him against potentially both the FBI and Waystar Royco? “Mass In Time Of War” makes clear how desperate the Roys are acting and how little they really know what they’re doing, and it’s highly entertaining to watch.
Marcia’s (Hiam Abbass) face when she tells Hugo (Fisher Stevens) exactly what she needs financially and nepotistically to stand by Logan’s side again? Exquisite! Stewy’s (Arian Moayed) bemused expression—his raised eyebrows essentially saying, “This crap, one more time?”—when Kendall swears that he can deliver Logan’s head on a platter? A delight! What a joy to have both of them back, and James Cromwell too, and Character Actor Peter Riegert of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, One Tree Hill, Damages, and The Sopranos. A bounty of riches, truly.
Let me put all my “Jeez, this ensemble” geekery aside, because I need to save some energy for the upcoming arrival of Alexander Skarsgård. Switching gears, kudos to Jesse Armstrong for using “Mass In Time Of War” to make Kendall’s self-celebration—and martyr complex, and immature nastiness—unbelievably clear. Kendall thinks Logan is bad, and he is good, and therefore if you are not with him, you’re bad too. All the way bad! 100% bad! I think there is a valid argument to be made here that he’s somewhat right.
How could Roman and Shiv have grown up in that family and not known what kind of people were running cruises? Or not known why they called Lester “Mo”? Or not known what kind of person their father was? Remember when Shiv was working for U.S. Senator Gil Eavis (Eric Bogosian), this show’s Bernie Sanders analog, and she said she agreed with his mission and was passionate about changing the Waystar Royco culture? What happened to that person? To quote Kendall:
“I get it, sis. You’re angry with yourself. You know I did the right thing. You’re angry with yourself for never doing it. … I saved the family. … You tell yourself you’re a good person. But you’re not a good person. Right now, I’m the real you.”
Boom! Kendall is coming at this from a place of unbelievable haughtiness (and hypocrisy), but there’s a kernel of truth to this. Shiv is just as mercurial and power-hungry as her siblings, and she was the one who talked that whistleblower out of coming forward. Perhaps that was pragmatic, but it still served Logan’s agenda. But on the flip side, I can also acknowledge that Roman and Shiv are so wrapped in privilege and protection that they might not have explicitly known the same stuff that, say, Kendall did, since he’s older than them and has been in the business longer. So really, all the Roy children are wrong, to varying degrees. And Kendall’s demand for loyalty at all costs isn’t very different from Logan’s; Shiv has it right with her scoffing “Are we excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven unless we accept the one true truth?”
It’s not like the four Roy children haven’t all been in the same place at the same time before: Shiv’s wedding, Logan’s celebratory event in Dundee, the family yacht. This time around, though, they’re digging into each other with particular verve and with an instinctual sense of what makes each other tick, and I can’t quite remember a scene with this much rawness before. Kendall’s read of Shiv as insincere was correct; Shiv’s read of Roman as unable to commit was correct; her “Unsubscribe!” to Kendall’s self-important rant was gleefully mean.
And yet the alliances were unexpected, too. Roman and Shiv make sense since they both stayed at Logan’s side after the Kendall bomb, I think he trusts them the most, they’re not morons running for president, and they share legitimate-seeming concern for what Kendall’s coup will do to their old man’s health. Connor and Kendall, though, was jarring at first—but if we step back, the pettiness jumps out, no?
Connor is still pissed that Daddy wouldn’t give him that small personal loan of $100 million. Kendall is of course still pissed that Logan would sacrifice him for his own sins. And while Kendall has convinced himself that this is about saving the company, about saving its soul, and about addressing its “foundational sickness,” it’s not like Kendall is going to hand over power, right? He thinks he should be the guy to take over. Not Shiv, not Roman, not Connor. Kendall wants to get rid of one “great white” and become King Potato, and he has the gall to wonder whether his siblings won’t join him because of “cowardice or avarice,” as if Kendall wouldn’t be CEO, remain unfathomably wealthy, and accumulate more power.
Kendall would change Waystar Royco into what, CNN? Facebook? What he’s describing as this merger of news and technology isn’t exactly a groundbreaking idea, and it’s not like it would be automatically great for society, either. All businesses have an agenda, and news businesses count among those. Kendall was right in season two episode “DC” when he told Sen. Eavis that, and this slide backward in pragmatism might seem noble—but it’s self-serving, too. And so every sibling hears his offer, calls their loved ones for advice (Roman to Gerri; Shiv to Tom, whom she also persuades to offer her a half-hearted declaration of love), and backs out as soon as that box of doughnuts appears at Rava’s apartment. Who leaked where everyone was to Logan, I wonder?
What we’re talking around here is that Kendall certainly has skeletons in his closet, and the question really is whether Logan will use them. Think of what Marcia (bless you, Marcia!) asks Logan: Would he ever consider blackmailing Kendall, or any of “those fucking kids of yours”? This is the most rattled Logan has ever seemed, so much so that he reaches out to Marcia and agrees to do whatever she wants, aside from apologize about that dalliance with Holly Hunter’s Rhea Jarrell (get that bag, Marcia!). And where we end this episode for Logan is an answer to the broadcast-news query “Where is media mogul Logan Roy?” He’s back in New York, and he’s no longer hiding, and he’s going on the offensive.
This is where I think Gerri was right when she advised new apprentice Roman to back out of the Logan children’s alliance: Unless all the children are fully on board, Logan will do whatever to weasel his way between them, and even if they were to win, Stewy and Sandy Furness’s daughter Sandi (Hope Davis) are waiting in the wings. Continued Roy family control of Waystar Royco is not guaranteed, even with Logan instilling Shiv as a way to keep tabs on Gerri. A Roman/Shiv feud is brewing, and Roman better make some time in between threat-induced jacking off to strategize with his new
And finally, let’s talk about Greg and all of his “necessarily”s. Yes, he gave Kendall the papers, and yes, he’s freaking out. Kendall is offering a lawyer, Gerri is forcing a lawyer, but I think Greg is making a smart move by getting his own representation. Does Uncle Ewan now become another master for Greg, though, by paying for Roger Pugh (Riegert)? And when the pair blandly, baldly says that they plan to use Greg to “expose the structural contradictions of capitalism as reified in the architecture of corporate America,” and that he’s going to be a “little wedge,” what exactly does that mean? Does Ewan want to make a play for bringing down the company and Logan, too? He didn’t like “self-regarding popinjay” Kendall’s methods (“histrionic and meretricious”), but maybe that’s because he has his own sly plan in mind. Kendall’s “Do you think human beings matter?” sounds like something Ewan would say, and maybe they have more in common than we might think.
- My apologies for using the term “slash fic” last week when referring to Gerri and Roman. I thought the term implied all sexual character pairings, not just queer ones, and I’m sorry for my misunderstanding of that. Thanks to those who reached out to correct me.
- Logan being programmed in Shiv’s phone as Saddam Hussein makes a lot of sense.
- Also: Logan needs to come up with a new praiseful descriptor past “No. 1 Boy.” First it was Kendall, then it was Connor. Roman won’t eventually fall for this, will he?
- Related to Roman: I know the show wants us to be upset at Logan and Roman pantomiming Logan hitting Roman on that tarmac, like Logan’s previous (recurring?) physical abuse is a joke that they both choose to laugh at, and congratulations, Succession, you did make me upset!
- “She’s a whore, and it’s not my problem if she wouldn’t finish him.” Where is Hiam Abbass’s Emmy already?
- I said this on Twitter and I will say it again here: Marcia’s little caress of Logan’s suit lapel was the hottest moment I’ve seen on TV in a while; yes, I am counting all of Scenes From A Marriage.
- Of all the familial relationships, I find Kendall/Roman most fascinating: Kendall jumped to Roman’s defense when Logan backhanded him some episodes ago, but Roman is the one urging Logan to go after Kendall and smear his personal life, but Roman is also the guy bringing Kendall a thoughtful gift from the Roy family’s globe hopping after Kendall’s press conference. There is so much awfulness and affection tied up in the three of them.
- Kendall’s dig to Shiv about her being seen as a “token woman wonk woke snowflake” was simultaneously hilarious and hurtful, but if Shiv really thinks Logan will let her be anything but a “mascot,” well … (Although, I never need to hear Kendall say the word “teats” again.)
- I saw this question come up after the premiere, and I think this second episode makes it worth asking again: Where are Kendall’s children? Clearly them not being around is a purposeful choice, as was Kendall struggling to remember Sophie’s name but then being overly protective of her stuff. But I can’t figure out how Kendall’s children not being around, and Rava having those men’s razors in her apartment, might be connected. A guy Rava is seeing who would be trusted enough to have the kids sleep over doesn’t quite track.
- Would I watch a spin-off show with Gerri’s and Marcia’s daughters? Yes, I would.
- “Information is going to be more precious than water”? Has my man Kendall read or watched Dune?
- Look, I know Connor was ragging on non-private-jet travel with “They had movies and a selection of heavily refrigerated cheeses, so you know, it was really nice,” but that truly sounds like a delightful time!
- I enjoyed both of Kieran Culkin’s Roy sibling impressions, but I think his fast-talking Kendall was a little more on-the-nose than his version of Shiv’s “fucky eyes.”
- The Trojan horse Stewy delivers to Rava’s apartment: chef’s kiss.