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Have a Seat, Succession: It's Time For Your Annual Performance Review

What better way to evaluate this titan of corporate America's second season? 
  • Sarah Snook, Matthew Macfadyen, Alan Ruck, Brian Cox, Nicholas Braun, Kieran Culkin, Jeremy Strong in Succession (HBO)
    Sarah Snook, Matthew Macfadyen, Alan Ruck, Brian Cox, Nicholas Braun, Kieran Culkin, Jeremy Strong in Succession (HBO)

    To borrow a line from Project Runway, in the world of Waystar Royco, one day you're in and the next day you're out. The journey from Number One Boy to Blood Sacrifice is an emotional roller coaster that ends with a press conference mic drop. No, Kendall (Jeremy Strong) didn't bust out "L to the OG" to the baying reporters —  he had something far juicier up his sleeve in the Season 2 finale of Succession.

    Without straying too far into hyperbole, it seems safe to say that Season 2 of Succession was one of the best seasons of television this year (and possibly in the last decade), going from strength to strength with each episode. Creator Jesse Armstrong managed to keep audiences guessing throughout by employing some surprising narrative maneuvers and character development. Who could have predicted that Kendall's broken appearance in his mother's kitchen would be followed by his now infamous rap? The same can be said for the finale, in which it appeared Kendall would be Logan's (Brian Cox) scapegoat until a killer twist revealed who truly is the Number One Boy.

    Now that the season is over, it's time to take stock, and what better way to do that than in the form of the most terrifying thing corporate America has ever produced: the annual performance review. Which of the Waystar Royco clan are this year's top performers and which need to reevaluate their position at the company when Succession returns for Season 3 in 2020?

    Exceeded Expectations: Kendall Roy

    Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy (Photo: HBO)

    He began the year sweating on live television as he tried to explain why he had set up the hostile takeover bid before falling in line with his father. "My dad's plan was better" became his robotic response, and it appeared as if Kendall would spend the whole season crawling on his hands and knees. Logan covered up his son's involvement in the waiter's death (no real person involved, right?) but wielded it like a weapon whenever Kendall looked like he was becoming whole again. Low points included getting Greg to score him some truly awful coke, and stealing batteries from a bodega, but even a brief rebrand as a Techno Gatsby couldn't hide how broken Kendall was feeling. Rooftop precautions were put in place on the Waystar building when it looked like he was contemplating suicide, a storyline that ensured Jeremy Strong spent half the season with a haunted, hollow-eyed expression.

    Misery and daddy-worship weren't Kendall's only settings, as he did get his groove back on a number of occasions. He flexed his power at work as he shut down Vaulter, he found time for romance with the likes of Naomi Pierce and the actress from Willa's play, and he performed a cringe-worthy rap in front of hundreds without a snifter of embarrassment. A guns-blazing performance before Congress showed the man Kendall could be, but it also set him up for a fall. Despite his name not coming up over the breakfast discussion, it was clear he was on the "blood sacrifice" list. And when he fell on his sword, he justified it as a punishment for his buried crimes of last season.

    And then came that press conference. At the start of the season, Kendall could barely get through prepared remarks; in the finale, we got Washington Ken as he showed the killer that lurks within. He gave his dad a Fredo kiss, then finally got one-up on him. He's gone against Logan before, but only in private rooms, this very public death blow was deliciously unexpected. It's no wonder his father looked proud.

    Most Valuable Team Member: Gregory Hirsch

    Nicholas Braun as Greg Hirsch. (Photo: HBO)

    You can't make a Tomlette without breaking some Greggs, and you can't bring down Logan Roy without some documents to back up your claims. Greg's (Nicholas Braun) "Secret" envelope — which he managed to salvage a few pages from after Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) told him to literally hold his beer as he tried to burn the evidence — was the Chekhov's gun of Season 2.

    He turned down $250 million so he could stay a part of Team Fun Uncle Logan, which, after his performance in front of Congress, appeared to be a mistake. But Greg is too insignificant to be offered up as a skull to placate the masses calling for blood from Waystar. Still, his uncle underestimates his value. In the Season 1 finale, Greg told Kendall he had saved some important documents to show his worth. "I see you, Greg," Kendall responded at the time, calling him a "little Machiavellian fuck." This all came to fruition in the final moments of "This Is Not For Tears," delivering Kendall and Greg as an unexpected team-up. Kendall has been there for Greg all season, including setting him up with an apartment big enough to accommodate his 6' 7" frame. A power flex on Ken's part? Perhaps, but it has paid off big time.

    Most Loyal: Roman Roy

    Kieran Culkin as Roman Roy. (Photo: HBO)

    Roman (Kieran Culkin) found himself an ally in Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) and became the most successful Roy sibling in the process. As the court jester of the family, he'd never been taken seriously, and his involvement in the explosive satellite launch at the end of Season 1 didn't do him any favors. He'd be loath to admit it, but Roman isn't above self-improvement, which is why he enrolled in the management training program at the suggestion of Gerri. And while that particular relationship has been hard to define, Gerri has definitely made Roman a better person this season, which has translated into greater business acumen. During the big blood sacrifice discussion, he defended Gerri in the only way he knew how, questioning the wisdom of sacrificing a woman for the sins of the cruise scandal in the most Roman way possible ("Haven't we — and I'm kidding here — killed enough women?"). He was also the only one to show concern for Kendall after learning he was picked as the sacrificial lamb. Earlier this season, Kendall leaped in front of him after their dad smacked a tooth out of his mouth. Unlike Shiv (Sarah Snook), these brothers have each other's back.

    Some of Roman's schemes didn't play out, including sweetening the Pierce deal (he jeopardized it) and buying his dad's favorite soccer team. However, his time in Turkey showed just how far Roman has come, as he kept the jokes to a minimum, which was some kind of miracle (it also showed how scared he actually was). He even expressed a desire to to have a normal conversation with his siblings — who immediately mocked him, which feels like the most normal sibling reaction — and he finally grew a backbone with his dad, advising him not to get bought out in the Turkey deal. Rather than take the easy option and instant gratification, Roman pointed out its flaws. Feels like growth.

    Needs Improvement: Shiv Roy and Tom Wambsgans

    Sarah Snook as Shiv Roy and Matthew Macfadyen as Tom Wambsgans. (Photo: HBO)

    Married life has not been smooth sailing for Tom and Shiv, as they couldn't even enjoy their honeymoon without being called home to deal with the hostile takeover situation. Tom got a big promotion, yet he still couldn't get any respect, certainly not from the likes of his wife or father-in-law. He didn't even get to hide out in the actual ATN safe room during a possible active shooter scenario. The pair's open marriage agreement caused friction all season, finally coming to a head in "This Is Not For Tears" as Tom weighed whether his sadness would be greater with or without Shiv. He lost Boar on the Floor (while Shiv was hooking up with an actor from Willa's play), he performed terribly before Congress — perhaps he was "dead-catting" it, though that seems like an overly sunny interpretation — and everyone thought he should be the sacrificial lamb. Even his wife didn't stick up for him, at least not publicly (she threw her brother under the bus in private). He went from feeling like a media-industry God to recognizing just how terrible everything is in the span of a single season.

    At the start of the season, Shiv had it all: a dream job offer, an incredible makeover, and a doting husband. Now, it's only her closet that retains the powerful glow. It's hard to tell whether Logan would have announced her as his successor in the first place, but her flirtation with a job offer from Pierce pretty much sealed her fate. She was outplayed by Rhea (Holly Hunter), and even Shiv's attempt to undermine the new CEO didn't get her much farther than pressuring a former Waystar employee to keep quiet as an errand for her dad. Just because Shiv is a woman, it doesn't mean she won't sink to some disgusting lengths to save the family business. To channel Tyra Banks, "I was rooting for you! We were all rooting for you! How dare you?"

    2020 Goals

    Logan has always managed to either palm his company's misdemeanors off on someone else, or pay his way out of a disaster. This is no longer an option now that his son has publicly hung him out to dry. The wry smile on his face at the end of the finale can be read in a number of ways, including pride that Kendall does in fact, possess a killer instinct. It could also signal that he was in some way the architect of this strategy, but it's more interesting if Logan has to start Season 3 back on his heels, particularly after a season of breaking Kendall down until he seemed like he was nothing.

    In terms of alliances, Roman shouldn't lose sight of how he got into this lucrative position, and he needs to keep Gerri by his side. Greg deserves the position of his dreams, so this is a prime opportunity to flip his power dynamic with Tom. Tom has been through a lot, though. He and Shiv certainly need couples therapy, which would also be an ideal way to give further insight into their relationship. In terms of guest star antagonists, Holly Hunter and Cherry Jones awill be hard to top, but considering how in-demand the cast was at pre and post-Emmy parties, the list of actors vying for a guest role on Succession is probably very long. Maybe combine this with the other best show of 2019 and get Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sian Clifford, or Andrew Scott to guest as someone from the UK office.

    And while we're on the subject of awards, the Television Academy ignored this cast entirely in 2019, but given the show's surprise win in the writing category and its popularity with Sunday-night TV pundits, we suspect this could change in 2020. Those acting slots left empty by Game of Thrones should be amply filled by Roy family members and associates. Seriously, just give Jeremy Strong the Emmy now.

    Final Assessment: A breakthrough season if ever there was one, Succession already has fans eagerly anticipating its return and speculating as to which machinations we might see. All the characters hit their marks and then some. Expectations for next year are sky high, but Succession seems poised to meet them.

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    Emma Fraser has wanted to write about TV since she first watched My So-Called Life in the mid-90s, finally getting her wish over a decade later. Follow her on Twitter at @frazbelina

    TOPICS: Succession, HBO, Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin, Matthew Macfadyen, Nicholas Braun, Sarah Snook