In “Safe Room,” the members of the Roy family are sequestered for their own protection. It makes for one of the series’ strongest episodes to date.
Succession thrives in bottle episodes. Think: Tom’s bachelor party at a dark sex party; group therapy in an Arizona mansion; various castles scattered across the globe. When the characters are isolated in a single location, tensions escalate. So when, in “Safe Room,” the entirety of Waystar Royco is confined to company headquarters for fear of an active shooter, sparks began flying quickly — confirmation that the series does its best work in close quarters.
Prior to this point, Logan Roy has made it clear — through some ritualistic violence — that he wants to buy PGM, a rival, prestigious news organization. “When I say something will happen, that thing will happen,” he says. Now, it’s time for what he wants to happen. Enter Holly Hunter as Rhea Jarrell, the CEO of PGM who, in her words, “only eats Pulitzers.” Hunter plays Jarrell with her signature intelligence and charm — it’s as if Jane Craig from Broadcast News just kept getting promoted for 30 years. While she initially rebuffs Logan’s purchasing advances, the active shooter keeps the negotiations going in a safe room, and the Roys begin to wear down her defenses. Logan does seem, no matter how improbable, to inch closer to what he says is going to happen.
As with all things Roy, there are even tiers to who stays safe during a shooting lockdown. While Logan, Kendall, Shiv, Gerri, and Jarrell are in what looks to be a tastefully appointed bunker, Tom and Greg are left to their own devices in a standard-sized, fluorescent-lit office. It’s clearly not going to keep out a determined assailant (or an “attack child,” as Greg hypothesized), and they know it. Despite Tom’s bluster about his status as an executive, he’s not important enough for anyone — even his wife — to consider essential.
That’s why, when Greg floats the idea that he transfer out of Tom’s division and to another part of Waystar Royco, Tom takes it… badly. It’s about when the words “open relationship” are floated that he really begins to lose it, hurling water bottle after water bottle at Greg, exclaiming that he does not feel good, emotionally. The two bond, later, after Greg very politely blackmails Tom for a better position, office, and title — and likely less latte-fetching. He’s learning, slowly but surely, how to be terrible. Tom couldn’t be happier.
Roman, meanwhile, has taken Gerri’s advice and entered into management training in order to gain some semblance of respect from his father. It’s immediately clear that of the four Roy children, he has the loosest concept of what it means to be a human being in public. He’s a child, essentially, in a very wealthy man’s body, and as such does not take quickly to management training. It begins to work, a little, when he starts treating it as a summer camp: He makes the first friend we’ve seen any of the Roys speak to, an “enigma” of a man who thinks of himself as a dormant virus in the company. Together, they essentially reimagine the beach-storming scene from Saving Private Ryan as a terror-inducing VR ride for one of Waystar Royco’s amusement parks. It goes over great.
While he’s taking the training courses, Roman is out of New York. To compensate for time away from his girlfriend, he tries to initiate phone sex, but balks when things get too specific for his tastes. What Roman does like, it’s revealed in short order, is to be humiliated. The sexual tension he has displayed with Gerri — easily waved off, usually — becomes something much more concrete in this episode. In one of the most genuinely surprising developments the show has thrown out there in its two seasons, the two have phone sex. Gerri calls Roman “pathetic,” which really, really works for him.
Shiv, meanwhile, arrived as promised this week to begin her ascent to the head of the company. As expected, though, the transition isn’t all she expected it to be. Kendall, glassy-eyed and likely contemplating suicide, has fully become his father’s right-hand man. He’s taking point on the PGM deal (earning him some difficult-to-get public displays of gratitude), and even doling out Logan’s medication. Shiv, for all the big talk, is not the heir apparent she believes herself to be.
In the best scene of the season so far, the two siblings begin to talk to each other like real people. Kendall doesn’t disclose that he killed a man, and is essentially in thrall to their father, but he does reveal just how broken he is. “If dad didn’t need me right now,” he says, “I don’t know what I would be for.” It’s a chilling admission in a family that prizes power (and the appearance of it) above all else. Sarah Snook, always excellent, ups her game this week, playing Shiv’s realization that Kendall is actually opening up to her with an affecting amount of heartbreak.
The shooting at the office turns out not to be an assault from Antifa — white nationalist protests were ultimately easy to ignore — but a suicide at a desk in the office. Ever insulated from the real world, none of the Roys even bat an eye at the news. Instead, it’s business as usual for everyone except Kendall, who realizes that his favorite spot on the roof from which to look out over the skyline now has a glass barrier around it, ending any speculation that he might, one day, throw himself off it.
Previously: The Most Dangerous Game