Catching Up with Succession: What You Need to Know Ahead of the Season 2 Premiere

Whether you're new to the series or just need a refresher, here's what happened last season.
  • Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin, Brian Cox, Sarah Snook and Alan Ruck in Succession (HBO)
    Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin, Brian Cox, Sarah Snook and Alan Ruck in Succession (HBO)

    When Succession debuted on HBO last summer, it took viewers a few episodes to warm up to the Roy family. Did TV really need another depiction of the one-percent trying to outmaneuver and one-up each other? As it turns out, the answer is a definitive "yes." In this often hilarious portrayal of a family-run media empire with echoes of the Murdoch dynasty, creator Jesse Armstrong (The Thick of It and Veep) has created the perfect show for these unstable times. On the surface, it bears all the hallmarks of a self-serious prestige drama, but thanks to Armstrong’s satirical comedy roots and the show's performances, it offers a biting portrayal of dysfunctional family dynamics and the power of media conglomerates.

    Season 2, which debuts this Sunday August 11, sees Cherry Jones and Holly Hunter joining the impressive cast. Before they go head-to-head with the Roys, here's everything you need to know from last year.

    The Premise

    Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is the founder and CEO of Waystar Royco, a media conglomerate with its fingers in many pies, a direct line to the president of the United States, and more money than most people could ever dream of. Logan worked his way up from nothing, so he holds a not inconsiderable level of contempt towards his four ultra-privileged children.

    On his 80th birthday (the date of his planned retirement), instead of stepping down and handing the reins of the Waystar empire over to his son Kendall (Jeremy Strong), the media tycoon announces he will continue as CEO. Putting a new spin on the Shakespearean tragedy, this patriarch doesn’t need his kids to tell him how much they love him in order to give up his legacy. His refusal to step down is called into question when he suffers a stroke. As he lies in the hospital, siblings Kendall, Shiv (Sarah Snook), Roman (Kieran Culkin), and their older half-brother Conner (Alan Ruck) fight — sometimes quite literally — over the keys to the Waystar castle. Although Logan makes a full recovery, the event gives Kendall a taste of what it's like to sit at the top, setting a power struggle in motion for the rest of the season.

    The Characters

    Family loyalty is a blurry concept on Succession, as each member of the Roy family seems to be walking around with a knife sticking out of their back. Logan is the black hole pulling everyone into his orbit, including his so-called heir apparent Kendall. A recovering addict and ball of neuroses, Kendall has spent his life working toward taking over the family business, but he's also a master of self-sabotage and bad timing.

    As Logan’s only daughter, Shiv has positioned herself outside the family business, choosing tnstead to work in politics. She spent Season 1 working on the burgeoning presidential campaign of a Bernie Sanders-esque candidate played by Eric Bogosian (which caused no small amount of friction with her robber baron father), even though her own personal politics seemed far more self-interested. Shiv managed to keep a close eye on the family business thanks to boyfriend (now husband) Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen), who has an executive position in her dad’s company.

    Kieran Culkin's Roman is the wild card, pushing boundaries, but willing to suck up when required.

    Rounding out the siblings is Logan’s son from his first marriage, Conner, who lives on a ranch in New Mexico, and gives off a rich hippie vibe. That is, until he goes apoplectic when someone messes up the butter at a function.

    Marcia Roy (Hiam Abbass), Logan’s third wife, refuses to accept backtalk from her step-kids, going so far as to call Shiv a “spoiled slut” on the eve of her wedding. There's a little Lady Macbeth in Marcia; she is far more than a trophy wife. Joining the family business in Season 1 is Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun). Greg is an enthusiastic and uncorrupted presence when he arrives, but after birthdays, Thanksgiving, weddings, bachelor parties, and business dealings, he's seen more than enough to lose all naiveté.

    Kendall’s Story

    Kendall’s first Waystar takeover attempt was thwarted by bad traffic. His second was derailed by the death of a waiter at his sister's wedding. After the first failure, his father fired him from the company and placed stories in the tabloids reporting Kendall’s drug relapse. Which was untrue, but rather than attend group family therapy, Kendall took this as an excuse to start using again. He attempted (and failed) to strike out on his own, before being brought onboard for a hostile takeover attempt. Amped up after giving his dad the bad ‘Bear Hug’ takeover news, he ran out of drugs and, in an attempt to get more, ended up driving off a bridge with a waiter (who was high on Ketamine) in the passenger seat. 

    This was bad for Kendall (and worse for the waiter) as he dropped his hotel key card at the scene, leading Logan to discover Kendall's role in the accident. Logan offered to cover up the crime, and in protecting his son he also shut down the coup attempt. In this devastating moment, Logan stretched out his arms, beckoning his “number one boy” into an embrace. It would be a dream come true if it wasn’t a nightmare. Jeremy Strong crumples in his father's arms, topping off an Emmy-worthy performance.

    Shiv’s Story

    All of Logan’s children have disappointed him in some manner, but to have Shiv working for his enemy really stings. She is clearly her father's favorite, so when she goes to work for the liberal Senator Gil Eavis, it causes quite the rift. Shiv has her own plan to secure the presidential win for Gil and gain the upper hand over her dad by getting Tom to spill all about a huge Waystar-related scandal.

    Shiv has also been having an affair with her ex, Nate (Ashley Zuckerman), something she confesses to Tom, but only after they've married (and a day after he confronted her about it).

    Greg the Egg

    Cousin Greg earned this unfortunate rhyming nickname thanks to the shape of his head when he was born. From the less wealthy side of the family, Greg shows up after he's been fired from his theme park job. Despite bumbling appearances, he is savvier than anyone in the Roy family realizes. He sees and hears everything; and despite his 6’7" frame, manges to be invisible much of the time. Tom sees Greg as the one person below him in the pecking order and treats him as such, including getting him to destroy evidence of some very dodgy dealings. However, he has Roy blood, so he makes sure he has a bargaining chip by copying some of the documents. Kendall calls him a “little Machiavellian fuck” in response to this leverage revelation, which, in this family, is a massive compliment.

    Four Other Things to Remember

    • Roman’s Rocket Launch: After being tasked with a flashy bit of company busywork in overseeing a Waystar rocket launch, the mouthy Roman flexed his power and pushed up the rocket's launch, which ended up exploding on takeoff. Luckily (and somewhat miraculously) no one died -- they just lost some thumbs (and maybe an arm!). So Roman avoided potential criminal manslaughter charges. He is also dating Tabitha (Caitlin Fitzgerald), the woman who Tom hooked up with at his bachelor party.
    • Conner’s Presidential Bid: Conner, the most aimless Roy, living out in the desert with his escort-turned-girlfriend, Willa (Justine Lupe), finally figured out what he wants to be in the season finale: the President of the United States. Everyone treated this announcement like a joke, but how far will he take this bid?
    • Slimy Stewy: Kendall really needs to get better friends, as Stewy (Arian Moayed) has been the architect of his downfall on several occasions. He knows how to work Kendall to his advantage, and so far, has managed to stay on Logan’s good side (despite his shifty antics). However, since he was a major player in the attempted coup, will his luck run out in Season 2?
    • The Cruise Ship Scandal: This is a potential Chekhov’s gun for the Waystar world. Tom thinks all the evidence has been destroyed, but little does he know that Greg still has a few copies stored away for a rainy day. This is a huge conspiracy involving the cover up of crimes that have taken place in international waters as part of the Waystar leisure parks, a branch of the company which Tom oversees. Shiv knows the intimate details, but she could be protected under spousal privilege (if The Good Wife has taught us anything). However, there are too many people who know about this for it not to come up again in Season 2.

    There you have it. Everything you need to know to get up to speed before the new season of corporate skullduggery.

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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