Between Barry’s feral ninja girl, Atlanta’s Teddy Perkins, and Twin Peaks’s nuclear “Part Eight,” it would be understandable to assume you’d seen it all on television. The medium’s golden age may be over, but these past few years have seen an explosion in the bonkers one-off episode. Viewers have been treated to every manner of strange, surreal, and otherwise outlandish—or, almost every manner anyway.
Even at a time of peak bananas TV, “Hunting,” last night’s boarish episode of Succession, stood alone. Though not quite as patently absurd as some of the aforementioned episodes of television—actually, it all seemed within the bounds of corporate America barbarity—it is... the first time I can recall seeing ostensibly respectable businessmen oink on command.
But let’s back up. “Hunting” revolves around a corporate retreat held at a classical mansion-castle in Hungary. In the spirit of “morale boosting,” the top executives at Waystar RoyCo. go on a boar hunt, and later have a pig roast. But when Logan (Brian Cox at his fiercest) smells traitors in his ranks—someone spoke to his unauthorized biographer; half the company is trying to undermine an acquisition—he turns dinner into a second hunt. The planned feast, set around a long, regal table, and lit dimly by candlelight, devolves into a game of Boar on the Floor.
If you’re not familiar—which you’re not, seeing as it’s an invention of the show—Boar on the Floor involves Logan mercilessly interrogating his underlings. When someone doesn’t give him the answer he’s looking for, he makes them sit in the corner of the room, near the roaring fireplace. “Boar on the floor,” he barks, first at Karl (David Rasche), then at Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), and then at Greg (Nicholas Braun).
And yet, it’s once Logan has his three piggies near the fire that things really get weird. He makes the three grown men, each dressed in conservative business casual, do some full-throated oinking as they crawl around on their hands and knees like feral hogs. And then, to suss out which pig is the fink, he tosses two pieces of sausage in their general direction, and makes them fight over the meat. Whoever doesn’t get a piece, naturally, is guilty on all counts. It’s the sort of ruthless hazing you imagine taking place in America’s worst fraternities. And it takes no time at all for the spared executives to join Logan in tormenting his three victims, chanting “Boar on the floor!” and laughing at their colleagues. (Roman even tapes it.)
Though extremely tense, a tad frightening, and utterly cruel, the scene, perversely, is also outrageously funny, striking the Succession zenith. Tom crying “Karl stole my sausage!” is about as good (and memeable) as Pete Campbell’s infamous, “Not great, Bob!” And at the next morning’s breakfast, when Jeannie Berlin’s acrid ATN Chief Cyd Peach taunts Tom at the buffet line by dryly saying, “I’ll eat your sausage, Tom,” there are hints of “I drink your milkshake.”
But Boar on the Floor advances the Succession narrative, too. Throughout the episode, Logan accesses a new level of sadism, which is part of what made it stand out for director Andrij Parekh, who’s directed and shot a few prior episodes. “You saw Logan as a power-hungry monster before, but you never saw his monstrous behavior affect people this close to him,” Parekh says. The scene ends with Logan roaring “I will win!”, but during the game it’s clear that it’s not just about finding the rat; Logan plainly enjoys abusing those around him for its own sake.
For more on “Hunting”’s significance, what inspired Boar on the Floor, and what shooting the intense scene was like, GQ had Parekh and series showrunner Jesse Armstrong break the episode down.
GQ: How did you end up with an episode set around a pig hunt?
Jesse Armstrong: I come out of sitcom, and this is probably true with dramas too, but I love a strong, central event, especially with this show, which is an ensemble show. Event and circumstances which bring big groups of our characters together work really well. So on the one hand, we have the series arc stuff that we are attending to, and that points in certain directions. And on the other hand, in our discussions we always have a bunch of settings and circumstances which will be good fun or interesting to hit. A corporate retreat that involves some hunting was one of those. And when we looked at a bunch of the story beats that we were going to be hitting that episode, it just felt like there was a congruence there.
Why set the retreat in Hungary?
Armstrong: Well, I wouldn't want to be too didactic about it, but there were a bunch of things that were at play. I know a bit about Stalin and the dinner parties that he would hold, and the cruel jokes he would play on his confidants and associates. And so you might see some echoes of that. We’ve obviously got a very authoritarian government in Hungary right now. The country's got a conflicted European history, which is interesting. And also, there was a certain amount of debate about, within a certain time of the year, what we could hunt where; it had to fit logically and realistically.
Andrij Parekh: I think it was [set in Hungary] to add a foreign flavor to the episode. I think it's a destination, but it's not a premiere destination where you might have a corporate retreat happen. It was a little bit ironic. I think this Eastern European myth of the storytelling allowed for the dissension into this very primitive scene of men on their hands and knees fighting for a sausage.
Where did you shoot?
Parekh: We shot in New York, at a castle that was built I think in the early 20th century. It's called Oheka Castle, and it's actually supposed to be reminiscent of castles in Hungary. I think it's pretty well sold as Hungary. I even got Hungarian yogurt for the breakfast scene clips. There was also an Austrian hunting advisor who helped us quite a bit. He runs these hunts for these extremely wealthy clients—usually British—who basically want to go shoot boar.
What were some of the inspirations for the episode generally, and Boar on the Floor in particular?
Armstrong: We research heavily, and there's a pressure to keep pace with reality. We’ve read the books about Sumner Redstone and Ghislaine Maxwell, who's been in the papers recently—her father was a British media tycoon called Robert Maxwell—and Tiny Rowland, who was another British entrepreneur, and obviously Murdoch, who often gets mentioned in relation to the show. And also DisneyWar [by James B. Stewart], about scandals with Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg at Disney. If you read all those books, the associated long magazine articles, and occasionally talk to people related to those organizations and the families, the stuff that has happened is so extraordinary and extreme. The one challenge is not to do a version of reality which is less vivid than what has happened. So we have to challenge ourselves in the room to keep it real, but not to forget that extraordinary things happen and that people behave in extreme ways.
Parekh: I was just thinking of the Stanford Prison Experiment, where people are made either guards or prisoners, and [about] how people settle in a habit, and they allow themselves to do things that they would otherwise never do. I was thinking, “How awful could I make this for the actors?” And this is kind of what I came up with. The oinking is scripted, but them crawling around on their hands and knees going in circles was not scripted.
How did you approach shooting Boar on the Floor?
Parekh: At first, I asked all three of the guys, “Are you okay with this?” To do it as an actor, you've got to be tremendously giving, and it's very humiliating. I told them I was going to end up pushing it. And I also told them, “If you ever feel uncomfortable, let me know and we’ll stop.” I was very careful with their feelings and the level of humiliation we were bringing into their experience. But at the same time, that humiliation has to happen for the thing to work.
What was the shoot like?
Armstrong: I remember being there during the shoot with Tony [Roche, the episode’s writer], and it doesn't feel very funny on the day. Certainly some parts of it don't. I think in the room, the dark, gothic humor is at the forefront of your mind, but you know that on the day, you'll probably end up getting something with a slightly different flavor.
AP: Everyone was pretty in the moment. You have the people watching, urging them on. I wanted to make it as gruesome a spectacle as possible, and it was. It was awful to film. It was awful to inhabit at that moment. But I think it's quite powerful in terms of a climax of that episode.
During the dinner when Logan is giving his speech and addressing people, everyone else moves within their space really awkwardly.
AP: What we wanted to do was to make you feel like you were in grade school and you were being called on by the teacher. Logan basically calls on each person to stand. I wanted to make it as humiliating as possible. I think that allows us to get to the Boar on the Floor moment quite easily. You're not suddenly taken for a surprise that Boar on the Floor happens because you see what he's doing to people and how he can humiliate people very easily and very masterfully.
How did you think about spacing the characters around the table?
Parekh: It was very important to me that Logan was at the head and Roman and Kendall were his right and left hands. Roman and Kendall are close to him, and basically the power dissipates the further you are from Logan in the room. I wanted to have Logan be the focus of that dinner. I spent a lot of time thinking about the seating chart and being the maître d' of this party. That I think allowed the actors to inhabit the reality of that scene quite effectively—just to allow the eye lines between Tom and Greg to be quite clear, the eye lines between Kendall and Roman to be quite clear. Frank is placed next to Jerry, and at the very end they have this moment at breakfast. So it was all developing conflict within the staging of the scene before the acting actually happened.
Why stage Boar on the Floor near the fireplace?
Parekh: To make it feel really Neanderthal and primal. You feel like this could happen amongst cavemen. They're close to the fire and about to be burned in the room.
Were you worried about the scene going too far?
Parekh: You don't want it to become farce.
Armstrong: I think the scene lives in the uncomfortable territory of, "Fuck, I can't believe that this is happening." We take pains to try and paint quite a realistic corporate world. So I guess the only constraint that we set on ourselves is to believe that these people could get up in the morning and go back to work. So we were happy to push it as far as we could within those bounds.
These interviews have been edited and condensed.
Playing Kendall Roy calls for a little suffering and intensity. But all that seriousness is the fun part for the HBO actor.
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Nicholas Braun, Succession’s endlessly amusing Cousin Greg, takes GQ for a cruise around Coney Island.
Originally Appeared on GQ