In a show that orchestrates the arrival of its opening title sequence to maximize its effect (read: right after says something particularly stupid and/or cutting) in every episode, it’s telling when Succession gets right into it and opens with the theme. Tonight’s episode — “Dundee” — eschews any table-setting, opting to dive right in and give the people what they want: Kendall Roy, rapping.
Granted, the arrival of “Ken.W.A” comes late in the episode — but it’s arguably the bizarre centerpiece of an hour that sees Logan, family in tow, return to his Scottish hometown for a gala in his honor. Rhea, the lingering existential threat to Shiv for control of the company, has organized a surprise party, complete with tuxes and speeches. This newcomer has, for the entirety of the season, proven herself to be something of a masterful manipulator. Sure, she’s made her missteps — namely playing both sides while CEO of PGM — but the ex-Piece employee converted a firing into a new job opportunity at a larger company. Her greatest coup, however, was somehow convincing Kendall to perform an original rap song at his father’s lifetime achievement ceremony.
Succession is often willing to let an uncomfortable scene drag on — see “boar on the floor,” or the Roys’ dinner with the Pierces. But they really wrote, and filmed, an entire song for Kendall to perform. Moreover, it’s way, way more ambitious than it has any right to be. This isn’t the coked-out prodigal son (though it’s never clear, exactly, whether Kendall is on drugs) dazedly performing “Gangsta’s Paradise” at karaoke. Rather, it’s an original 32 bars written about his father, complete with a sing-song chorus, delivered with frankly unsettling confidence by Jeremy Strong. The question you’re left to ask is: Why?
The rapping, while spectacular, doesn’t have any discernible impact on the plot. It’s the capper to a manic period for this particular Roy offspring, who seems to largely be ceding his spot in the family business to the combatants who want it more. He’s far more interested in picking up, and discarding, women. After last episode’s tryst with Naomi Pierce, he picks up an actress named Jennifer at the opening of a play, written by Connor‘s paramour Willa. Bragging that he “owns a movie studio,” Kendall convinces her to fly out to Dundee to join him and the family, where he’s inexplicably eager to introduce her to his father. She says the word “awesome” one too many times to Logan, as well as telling her new boyfriend that “you talk about your dad, like, a lot” … and he’s suddenly done with her. At the party, he asks a nameless, nearly faceless attendant that she be put on the next flight back to the States.
Now, the fight for Logan’s attention — and power at Waystar Royco — centers on Shiv and Rhea. The youngest Roy is out for blood. But she’s unable to convince her brothers, or husband, to join her in plotting to “crush Rhea’s skull with a rock.” Her rival makes some half-hearted pleas to the Roy brothers, playing on their egos and promising them the eventual CEO position, but they seem more disinterested than convinced. And Tom, for his part, is finally waking up to the fact that he’s nothing more than a pawn in his spouse’s increasingly ambitious game.
Rhea, meanwhile, is firmly in Logan’s good graces. She’s planning his shindig, and has positioned herself deftly to become the next head of the company. (Of course, most people would know that the patriarch would hate a surprise party. This lapse in judgment is going to cost her.) The only constant with Logan Roy — and in some ways the source of his power — is how mercurial he is. And it’s becoming clear over the course of Season 2 that his constantly shifting allegiances aren’t exactly a strategy; he simply doesn’t know how to make his next decision.
Back in Scotland, it’s clear that Logan has a deep well of emotions tied to his childhood, with no way to express them. Instead he alludes to his past — a dead sister, a passion for bird-watching — then dismisses it just as quickly. His brother Ewan has joined for the festivities, though mostly to berate the media mogul for his “kingdom of shit” and make the “persuasive argument” that Logan is worse than Hitler. Ewan is also attempting to force Greg to abscond from the business by threatening to cut the lanky lad out of his will. It’s a convincing case — a “pretty pickle,” in the cousin’s words — because his will is worth $250 million. Logan makes a genuine case to cut it off, telling Greg, convincingly, that he likes him. Whether that’s true, or matters, remains to be seen. More likely, it’s just a vindictive swipe at his brother.
Hanging over all of the proceedings is the cruise ship problem. Yet another whistleblower has come forward — and this one is more convincing, knows more of the inner workings of the company, and seems determined to speak. Frank, Logan’s longtime consigliere, describes it as an “existential threat.” Throughout the episode, a small team of advisors throw money at the problem: $5, 10, and 20 million all get offered to Wieselman, or “weasel man,” until it’s ascertained he likely has a financial backer who has a grudge against Logan. “Open the phone book,” someone quips, about the number of enemies he’s amassed.
But the disaster looks like a loaded gun to Shiv, once it’s suggested that whoever has the CEO job will immediately take the blame for the deaths and assaults on the Waystar Royco cruise lines. In her desperation for more power, she is operating more desperately than ever — “I will not stop fighting,” Shiv warns Tom — and quickly plays her hand. After a vulnerable moment from Logan, the daughter makes her play, and tells him that Rhea’s the right person for the job. Logan, it seems, needs little more convincing: In his speech at the party, he names Rhea the next CEO of Waystar Royco. The new question, now, is how long she’ll last.
Previously: Love, Hate, Whatever