A review of this week’s Succession, “The Disruption,” coming up just as soon as we get less question-y questions…
Early in “The Disruption,” Kendall is in a stretch limo on the way to a black-tie fundraiser for the Committee for the Protection and Welfare of Journalists. He invites Naomi Pierce, Cousin Greg, and the rest of his sycophantic crew to join him in a game of Good Tweet, Bad Tweet, where everyone trades off reading alternately complimentary and insulting social media posts about him. Even the most widely beloved figures on Twitter inevitably attract some level of unhinged vitriol, and Kendall is far from widely beloved. Thus, this is a game only two kinds of people would willingly play: a masochist and a narcissist. Kendall is, of course, a bit of both, enjoying the game when the good tweets are praising his bravery or sex appeal, and laughing off the mildly offensive ones. When someone reads a tweet mentioning his long history of addiction and mental health issues, the game for just a second becomes not so much fun for him anymore. But then the other passengers start shouting down the tweet, and the brief spell of self-awareness is broken.
“The Disruption” is basically an hour-long round of Good Tweet, Bad Tweet for Kendall. His insurrection against his father has made him the media’s number one boy. He’s sitting for magazine profiles, is the top subject of late-night talk show monologues, and is an honored guest at the fundraiser. But a lot of the attention is unflattering, and not just on Twitter. For the moment, he’s just happy for any attention at all, even when cutting-edge talk-show host Sophie Iwobi(*) refers to him as “Oedipussy” and makes him her primary target. He scores a number of big, splashy victories in the episode, including humiliating Shiv during her attempt to conduct a corporate town hall meeting about the cruise ship scandal. Yet it ends with him hiding out on the floor of the server room at Sophie’s TV studio, crippled by the realization that everyone whose adulation he most needs — perhaps his sister most of all — absolutely hates him.
(*) Ziwe isn’t exactly playing herself as Sophie, as you can see elements of other current hosts in her joke style. But when Kendall agrees to sit down with her despite it being a mind-bogglingly stupid idea, it’s hard not to think of several public figures like Andrew Yang doing the same with Ziwe in real life.
Last week’s episode was all about Kendall trying to bring his siblings together, only to be rejected. So “The Disruption” is appropriately about him lashing out at them, and the other members of the family debating how, or whether, to fight back. Connor, as per usual, takes the easy way out, refusing to sign Shiv’s brutal open letter — which brings every one of Kendall’s past transgressions(*) and difficulties with drugs and mental health out into the open — with the lame excuse that his signature is too valuable. Roman, who is somehow the most clear-eyed of the siblings on almost every subject except their father, more bluntly says this would be bad for him and bad for their estranged brother, since the letter would keep Kendall’s misdeeds out in the public eye forever. He mainly spends the hour mocking his siblings and reluctantly sitting down with an in-house reporter for a complimentary interview about Logan, grafting his father onto a fishing story that in reality involved Connor. (He’s hopelessly in the tank for a man about whom he has not one pleasant childhood memory. It’s not unlike Dr. Melfi asking Tony Soprano a similar question about his mother, and his best response involving a time he and Livia laughed together at his father when he fell down.)
(*) The ones Shiv knows about, anyway. But as Kendall is reminded during his return to Waystar headquarters, there are still people in the world who know the role he played in the death of the cater waiter at Tom and Shiv’s wedding. Logan at this point is too implicated in the cover-up to use this knowledge against Kendall, but it nonetheless feels like a ticking time bomb whenever one goes against the other.
That leaves Shiv out on an island against Kendall — but she’s just fine being there after he makes her look so bad during the town hall by blasting Nirvana’s “Rape Me” while she is trying to defend the company’s actions in the cruise ship fiasco. The entire event is phony and stage-managed, with real and pointed employee questions being swapped out for softballs. Logan doesn’t want to give an inch on this subject, whether with a public apology or in cooperating with the feds (the latter stance horrifies Gerri, who still seems to think of herself as legal counsel first, CEO second). Karolina and Hugo’s tagline of “We get it” is somehow even worse than Tom and Cousin Greg’s “We hear for you” slogan last season(*), inviting Roman’s snarky retort upon hearing it: “A bit like those ladies on the cruise ship got it?” Any pretense of a corporate response is just for show, and everyone seems to understand that except for Shiv. Just as Roman keeps convincing himself that affection exists from a father who has never shown him any, Shiv keeps telling herself that Waystar Royco can do good for the world if it just has the proper hands on the controls. When Kendall runs into her and Nate Sofrelli at the fundraiser, he immediately sees through her presence there as Logan’s newest puppet. “He made you get all dressed up for this,” he says in an incredulous, withering tone. “Look at this. It’s you now. I’m sorry for you, Siobhan.”
(*) Tom and Greg take a bit more family abuse than usual this week. Greg discovers that his reward for joining Team Kendall is merely the opportunity to buy an expensive watch he doesn’t even need, while Tom realizes there is almost no way he doesn’t wind up doing prison time for the cruise ship mess. His no-strings-attached offer to Logan to be the sacrificial lamb is greeted interestingly by his father-in-law. On the one hand, Logan is surprised and slightly confused that Tom wants nothing in return, since every decision Logan makes in his life is transactional in nature. On the other, you can tell he’s quickly at peace with it because the world has a way of bending itself in his favor, so why wouldn’t Tom be willing to take one for the team? Also: Tom suggesting to Greg that the Department of Justice investigation will be “like a combine harvester in a wheat field of dicks” is a nice reminder that the writers tend to save their most creative threats and insults for Matthew Macfadyen to deliver as only he can.
But of course Kendall’s holier-than-thou new persona is just a pose he’s adopted, at first to fight back against Logan, and now because he’s enjoying the attention too much — and can’t understand how negative most of it is. While passing the paparazzi on the way into the fundraiser, he lets out a completely unironic cry of “Fuck the patriarchy!” And he seems oblivious at first about how much Sophie and her writers utterly despise him. Like his return trip to Waystar headquarters, he is entering a space where he is in no way welcome, just because he thinks the tweeps will love his latest antics. It’s only when he sees Shiv’s open letter, and learns that Sophie wants to ask him about it on the show, that he seems to understand just how deep in hostile territory he has placed himself, and just how badly he hurt his sister with the Nirvana stunt. He is lashing out at Shiv, Logan, and the rest, and acting like he doesn’t want or need them. Yet it’s clear over and over how desperately he craves their love, and that, until this point, he was convinced this was another minor family squabble that would blow over in time (with the siblings, if not his dad). He’s not the only one to feel that way: It’s only after the town hall that a furious Shiv spits in Kendall’s datebook, after which Logan patronizingly says in reference to her brother, “Sorry, Pinky. Now do you see?” But Kendall’s delusions were the loftiest, and thus reality crashes into him the hardest.
The episode climaxes with the Waystar headquarters getting a nighttime visit from search warrant-bearing FBI agents — interlopers who can do far more damage than Kendall did with his college fraternity-style prank. This should be a big win for Kendall, even if the raid is apparently about Logan going straight to the White House rather than cooperating with the DOJ, and not anything Kendall has done recently. But Kendall is too wrecked by Shiv’s letter to enjoy, or even notice, the win. Succession periodically likes to end episodes with Kendall alone with his demons — see also the famous shot of him pressing his head against the roof deck glass at the conclusion of Season Two’s “Safe Room.” It’s a reminder of just how sad, pathetic, and alone the show’s central character is. Even with all his money, all his power, and for the moment all his notoriety, nobody wants him around, other than the people who are using him in one way or another. You don’t need to read tweets about that, because it’s written all over Jeremy Strong’s face in an expression that says way more than 240 characters of text ever could.