A review of this week’s Succession, “Mass in Time of War,” coming up just as soon as these are relevant donuts…
A fair amount happens among the broader supporting cast this week. Marcia extracts her pound of flesh in exchange for publicly reconciling with the philandering Logan. Ewan returns to help Cousin Greg hire a new (and extremely anticapitalist) lawyer (Peter Riegert, an HBO vet from The Sopranos and Show Me a Hero). Gerri tries settling into her new role as CEO, even as she’s aware both the title and any power that should come with it are probably just illusions(*). Stewy shows up to offer his take on the Roy family civil war, and brings with him a new player: Sandy Furness’ daughter Sandi (Hope Davis, an HBO vet from In Treatment and The Newsroom).
(*) A trenchant bit of commentary on how out-of-touch modern big-media executives can be: Gerri has to resort to taking a photo of the TV set with her phone because she doesn’t know any other way to capture evidence of her new title to show her daughters.
There are amusing bits of business with the likes of Hugo and Karolina, who have to listen to Marcia’s many demands, because Logan would rather pay in money than apologize to her. And Cousin Greg and Tom Wambsgans remain reliable sources of laughter, whether alone (a spooked Cousin Greg noting, “I’m kinda too young to be in Congress so much”) or together (Tom on the phone telling Greg, “Logan is going to fire a million poisonous spiders down your dickie. You better find an animal’s corpse to climb into and hide!”).
But really, all that matters from “Mass in Time of War” is the gathering of the four Roy siblings in Rava’s apartment.
Succession tends to keep the quartet either split into smaller groups or part of larger ones — the latter with Logan as the dominant personality. But the circumstances of Kendall’s power play, and Logan’s temporary self-exile in Sarajevo, create an opportunity for him to gather his brothers and sister in an enclosed space without any other interference, so he can pitch them on teaming up to finally overthrow their evil, controlling old man.
It doesn’t work out, because of course it doesn’t. This is not a show about the well-meaning younger generation coming together to cure the world of the ills visited upon it by their parents. And besides, it’s unclear if any of these four mean well in the slightest. Roman doesn’t even bother with a pretense of caring about other people(*). Connor occasionally makes a show of it for campaign purposes but has no idea how to function as a normal human, as evidenced by the puzzled and disappointed tone he takes as he explains that non-private air travel comes with “movies and a selection of heavily-refrigerated cheeses.” Shiv historically positions herself as the conscience of the family, but when push comes to shove, she inevitably chooses security over righteousness. Kendall even taunts her about it, saying, “You tell yourself you’re a good person, but you’re not a good person. Right now, I’m the real you.” But Kendall’s no better than she is, and is adopting his “plastic Jesus” pose, as Shiv will later dub him, because it’s the best argument he thinks he can make for the others to join him against Logan.
(*) The one sadly ironic exception for Roman is his father. The worse Logan treats him, the more loyal Roman seems to become, in the misguided belief he can someday win his dad’s affection.
But beyond the fact that none of them is as noble as Kendall needs them to be, they have each endured decades of emotional abuse and neglect from their father. In some families, that brings the victims together. The Roy kids, though, use each other as punching bags to unleash the hurt they’re afraid to turn back on Logan. They are conditioned to attack and mistrust one another. Every time Kendall or Shiv seems to be pushing the rock up the hill toward the point where they can all work together, someone can’t stop themselves from lashing out. The hour is a whirlwind of insults — some clever, but most just crude — whether it’s Kendall and Shiv mocking Roman’s sexual proclivities or Kendall dismissing Shiv as worthless outside of her breasts.
All these interactions are crackling with tension and comic verve, but also with a painfully tantalizing sense of possibility. Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin, and Alan Ruck make clear how desperately each of the siblings wants a healthy relationship with the others. And the latter three offer periodic hints that their characters really wish they could join Team Kendall, if only they could shake off the fear of losing everything. (Or, in Roman’s case, the fear that they might actually win, and kill their father in the process.) They’re ultimately too accustomed to pain and betrayal to expect anything better. It’s awful, but it’s great to watch.
With Kendall’s pitch a failure, the episode saves its biggest actual developments for the concluding scenes. Logan finally returns to New York to take a more active hand in winning the civil war, and makes Shiv the offer she’s been dreaming of her whole life: She will be positioned as the real power behind the throne where Gerri is currently sitting as a “full biological suit” for the family. Did she know such an offer would be coming when she turned down Kendall? Surely not. But even the possibility of such a thing is more appealing to her than the risk of going against Logan. All he does is win.