Warning: Many spoilers ahead for "D.C.," the Season 2, episode 9 of Succession.
The dam finally burst on this week's Succession, with the cruise division scandal that's been threatening to break for nearly two seasons finally hitting the primetime newsmagazines, and it's bad: sexual harrassment allegations, cover-ups, wrongful death, and the kind of callous corporate culture that can refer to the deaths of sex workers or stowaways as incidents with "no real person involved." It would all seem unbelievable if we hadn'd been watching the Roy family in action for two whole years. With political enemies in Washington (welcome back, Gil!) moving swiftly toward Congressional hearings, team Roy scrambled to come up with an effective defense that could keep them out of jail AND keep the shareholders from bolting to Sandy and Stewie's takeover attempt. And when the panic began to set in, that's when we got to see this family — whose antics and maneuverings we've enjoyed watching all season — absolutely bare its teeth and show their true face. It was as brutal as we would have expected.
From the patriarch on down, no one gets out of "D.C." without some major tarnish on them. Logan (Brian Cox) — looking at times like he's on the verge of another stroke — gets called before Congress, is unable to keep Rhea Jarrell (Holly Hunter) from jumping ship as CEO, and ends the episode confessing to Shiv (Sarah Snook) that he's probably going to have to sacrifice a family member in order to keep the company. Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) gets roasted alive by Gil (Eric Bogosian) on national television, where he's forced to implicate cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) in his data-dumping crimes. Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) and Kendall (Jeremy Strong) get called out by name in the faux-60 Minutes report, and while Kendall becomes a momentary cause celebre in conservative media for his "YOU'RE the puppet!"-style indignance before the committee, he might be getting set up for the chop next week. Even Roman (Kieran Culkin), who gets to skip the D.C. trip entirely, ends up getting shaken down by armed insurgents instead for his trouble.
For all the fun that we've had with the Roy clan this season, from "Boar on the Floor" and "We Hear for You" to Kendall's cringe-worthy rapping and Shiv's stunning backless turtlenecks, the truth bubbling not far under the surface was what we've always known: this is a dark-hearted family with nothing in the way of scruples or even values that would stand in the way of perpetuating their own empire. And while it's good and fun to get caught up in the palace intrigue of it all and to get invested in the moral relativity that would let us pine for Shiv or cry for Kendall, episodes like "D.C." are crucially important in order for Succession to survive. The wickedness of this family can't ever be further away than an arm's reach.
If the scenes of Roy family members testifying before a partisan Congress — liberals like Gil thundering away at their every obfuscation; conservatives like Senator Roberts (Victor Slezak) lobbing softball compliments at his political allies on the hot seat — reminded you of certain recent political hearings, they should have. If a chill reminiscent of the time you watched the Brett Kavanaugh hearings on TV didn't run down your spine while watching Kendall get praised for aggressively putting the self-righteousness of his Democrat accusers on trial, much in the same way that Kavanaugh's combativeness in the face of sexual assault allegations was praised for the same, I'd posit that you were watching the episode wrong.
The Kavanaugh allusion came into sharp focus during the episode's most ruthlessly exacting scene, as Shiv was deployed — actually, not deployed. She volunteered. Time to stop cutting Shiv all that slack. Shiv tracked down Kira (Sally Murphy), the sexual harassment victim who was set to testify before Congress and blow a hole in the side of the Roy ship that they wouldn't be able to recover from, and using every Shiv weapon in her arsenal that we've all become so familiar with, she manipulated this woman into stepping down. She didn't use intimidation or threats or any of the vulgarity that might have been employed by her father or her brothers. She was as insidious with this victim of harassment and abuse as she's been with the Succession audience: seducing us with competence, sanity, and a (relatively) friendly face. She's the one who wants to clean house at Waystar, after all; bust every man in management ranks who did wrong, and remake the company her way. (Remember that "cleansing fucking zeal"?) Shiv deployed honesty and vulnerability about her own situation, how her dad lied to her and screwed her over, to gain Kira's confidence. And in the end, everything that we've all loved about Siobahn Roy was put to the task of silencing this woman's story, all for the benefit of her filthy family business.
The insidiousness of it all is that Shiv accomplished this with truth instead of lies. The picture she paints for Kira of how her life will come to be defined by the story she's about to tell Congress isn't wrong. The way Shiv lays out the inevitability of the "filth and lies" and refusals to believe her story that Kira will face chillingly harkens back to what happened to Christine Blasey Ford in the immediate aftermath of the Kavanaugh hearings. Of course, it's not out of concern that Shiv tells her this, and her promise to use Kira's truth to help make Waystar clean again isn't any less of a lie than the rest of it.
Exactly one week after we all cheered her on for so effectively maneuvering Rhea Jarrell in front of a firing squad and keeping her position of power in her family intact, it's illuminating that it's Shiv and not Rhea who steps out of that car to meet Kira, ready to silence a troublesome whistleblower by any means necessary. And it's Rhea, not Shiv, who chooses to step away from Logan after she realizes she "can't see the bottom of the pool" of Logan's villainy anymore. Last week, Shiv won, Rhea lost, and we were all marching in her victory parade right up until tonight. Because tonight we remembered: Shiv's the scorpion; we were the frog.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.
TOPICS: Succession, HBO, Brett Kavanaugh, Brian Cox, Christine Blasey Ford, Eric Bogosian, Holly Hunter, Jeremy Strong, J. Smith-Cameron, Kieran Culkin, Matthew Macfadyen, Nicholas Braun, Sally Murphy, Sarah Snook, Victor Slezak