Two weeks into the latest season of corporate King Lear – by which, of course, I mean Succession– viewers may find themselves experiencing deja vu. One might have guessed that Logan Roy finally anointing his successor in the previous episode would shift the show’s continued pattern of plot, failure, scheme, failure, double-cross, failure into different territory. This, though, would be a betrayal of the crucial tension powering Succession, which relies on Logan Roy being the living embodiment of an endlessly re-spawning videogame final boss, his defeat always in question.
Because much of this week’s action takes place in the minimalist apartment belonging to Kendall’s ex-wife, Raya, and because most of its dialogue is devoted to the four Roy children weighing up the likelihood of actually taking down their father, it feels almost like a bottle episode: claustrophobic, full of conflict, ultimately leaving its various players in the very place they started. Kendall, once again, fails to incite a mutiny, so that even though he is now public enemy number one rather than Daddy’s Number One Candy Baby, he still winds up looking impotent. He ought to heed the sisterly advice Shiv offers to their brother Roman: “You love showing people your pee-pee, but one of these days you’re actually going to have to f*** something with it.”
Kendall Roy, Plastic Jesus
In last week’s episode of Succession, there was a hair-raising scene that demonstrated perfectly the tonal tightrope this show walks minute-to-minute. Cousin Greg, being hilariously Greg, likened the press hoopla around Kendall to that of the OJ Simpson case, before quickly clarifying: “I mean, if OJ never killed anyone.” Kendall, in a stomach-dropping moment meant to remind viewers of his drunken accident with the young waiter in the first season, turned and asked: “Who said I never killed anyone?” with a tiny, deranged smile, looking like a man in trouble. Speculation on the internet suggested Kendall was about to “go full Joker”, pushed into actual madness by last season’s great betrayal of his father. Actually – perhaps more disturbingly still – in this new episode, he demonstrates a powerful desire to become a “woker,” kinder Kendall, all in service of snatching up Waystar Royco for himself. Calling Shiv, Connor and Roman to the HQ he has set up at the home of his ex-wife, as if they were a cashmere-clad and foul-mouthed Justice League, he asks them to join forces with him in destroying their evil father. “Our company is a dying empire within a dying empire,” he says. “It’s our time now.” “Oh, you mean us, this multi-f******-ethnic transgender alliance of twenty-something dreamers?” Roman sneers, not incorrectly. Shiv, not buying Kendall’s moral turnaround, calls him “plastic Jesus.”
Roman and Gerri Have Something Going
I don’t believe Roman and Gerri should have sex. There – I said it! It seems obvious to me that if our favourite slime puppy and his surrogate domme-mommy were to finally do the deed, the air would rush immediately out of their coupling, and the whole enterprise would flatten like a soufflé falling victim to an open oven door. As it stands, in episode two we are treated to two Roman-Gerri scenes, both of which end up spawning indelible lines: one in Gerri’s office, in which they nominally forge a tight professional alliance in the wake of Gerri being crowned CEO last week, and one in which a steely and unblinking Gerri offers Roman some advice. In that office scene, Roman asks if she regrets hitching her wagon to “a fire hydrant that spews out cultural insensitivity and sperms”, and whether he is talking about Waystar Royco or himself is left unclear. (The way Kieran Culkin says “sperms” here – as “speuhms” – ought to appear on his Emmy reel, alongside the pitch-perfect, mean impersonation he does of Jeremy Strong as Kendall, saying: “Roman is a dick, and he didn’t even bring me anything from the airport and now I feel bad.”) Later, when Roman calls Gerri after Kendall’s summit to ask whether it would benefit him, or perhaps benefit them, if he clubbed together with his siblings to take down his father, she puts paid to the idea. “Stick with me Roman,” she says, coolly. “We have something going. And I’m an incredibly dangerous enemy.” “Don’t threaten me, Gerri,” Roman grunts back. “I don’t have time to jerk off.”
“What’s become of everyone that they are lying about being so permanently lusty over Cousin Greg?” the brilliant writer Rosa Lyster asked this week on Twitter, sounding genuinely distressed. Evidently, Greg “The Egg” agrees that he is not all that erotic. “If everyone’s turning up to battle in their armour, I feel kind of exposed here in my loincloth,” he wails to his grandfather Ewan this week, while looking to hire a lawyer, before swiftly adding: “Sorry, bad visual.” In this episode, Greg grapples with his need for legal counsel, torn as both Kendall and Logan offer aid. “Could someone sue me or arrest me or subpoena me?” he yelps, speaking a million miles an hour, “because I don’t know what any of that means!”
I continue to be tickled by Nicholas Braun’s delightful, limber turn as the gangliest, most flustered member of the family, with that awe being only very slightly dimmed by the fact Braun, in interviews, appears as if he might actually be a bizarro-world Casanova Cousin Greg. So far this season, we have not seen any of the brief flashes of duplicity or self-interest that suggested in the past that Greg might actually be stupid like a fox. He is, it’s clear, about to learn the hard way what “subpoena” means. On the bright side, at least one man remains weirdly, permanently lusty over Greg: Tom Wambsgans, calling him using a burner phone to grill him about Kendall, opens by asking him breathily if it’s “true [that he has] a saucy secret… you like to do your house chores in the nude?” Later, Tom – who has no chill – inexplicably calls Greg “cowboy,” and it’s deeply, deeply weird.
Dad Sent Doughnuts
Logan Roy, who at the opening of the episode is frantically trying to reach his various children on the phone, is mad with anger: “The sky is falling,” he screams, “we have to act on the f****** world!” That Logan sees the world as his to act on, as if nothing were beyond his almost divine level of power, certainly chimes with the outlook of his kids. “Dad’s not infallible, Rome,” Shiv says, as she considers Kendall’s proposition. “No,” Roman replies, “I just don’t think he fails, or ever will.” While the four siblings are squabbling, a box of doughnuts is delivered. Never has the formerly innocuous phrase “dad sent doughnuts” been so chilling, all of them staring twitchily at the box as if it might contain an unexploded bomb. “You think he’d send poisoned doughnuts to the house of his grandchildren?” Connor asks, not kidding. “I’m 98 per cent sure they haven’t been poisoned,” Roman replies, sounding uncertain. As in season one, when Logan Roy’s refusal to step out of the vote of incompetence that Kendall called led to the mutiny being botched, the doughnuts are a demonstration of the father’s domineering reach – this time, he does not even need to be in the room to sufficiently scare his children into compliance. Spooked, they scatter, leaving Kendall totally alone, lashing out at Shiv as she departs; he only wanted her on board, he yells, because “girls count double now”.
“It’s only your teats that give you value,” he adds, creepily. Let the record show that New Woke Kendall™ has been pronounced dead at the age of approximately 40 minutes.