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Succession's Round-Table of Treachery Was the Show at Its Most Pure

Nobody does whiplash-inducing rapid-fire blame-shifting like the Roys.
  • J. Smith-Cameron, Brian Cox, Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin, Alan Ruck in Succession (HBO)
    J. Smith-Cameron, Brian Cox, Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin, Alan Ruck in Succession (HBO)

    Warning: Spoilers ahead for last night's Season 2 finale of Succession, "This is Not For Tears."

    Succession wrapped up its breakthrough second season in stupendously satisfying style, leaving viewers on a note of self-actualized sabotage for Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong), who ended last season a traumatized and defeated shell of a man after his inadvertent manslaughter put him back under the thumb of his vindictive dad. This season, after Logan (Brian Cox) spent the entire finale getting everybody else in his inner circle to personally audition for why theirs shouldn't be the head that rolls at Waystar Royco, before ultimately settling on Kendall as his sacrificial lamb, Kendall got the last laugh when he flipped the script witn his televised press conference and, instead of falling on his sword for daddy, publicly crucified his dad and called for his ouster.

    It was a phenomenal scene, and one that will have Succession's healthy gaggle of fans in entertainment media singing its praises for however many months before the show returns. But for the record, it wasn't the best scene this season; hell, it wasn't the best scene in this episode. That came earlier, after the Roy family and their most prominent underlings (Gerri, Karl, Frank; no Karolina, strangely enough) sat around, brunching on the family yacht somewhere near Greece, and proceeded to steadily and spectacularly dole out reasons why any of the others should be the sacrificial lamb.

    Logan makes sure to say upfront that he thinks he should be the one to resign, before allowing his kids to talk him out of it (not for any kind of fondness for their old man, but because it wouldn't be enough to satisfy the public). But someone's gonna have to go. So at breakfast, Logan asks the question around the room: who should get fired? Roy siblings Kendall, Roman (Keiran Culkin), Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Connor (Alan Ruck), are joined by Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), Greg (Nicholas Braun), Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron), Frank (Peter Friedman), and Karl (David Rasche), with the goal of hanging one of them out to dry.

    Kendall floats out Gerri's name first, due to her being the company's general counsel. Roman returns to his favorite refrain: The Ballad of Why Frank Sucks. Frank, the slick bastard, says he would probably be a great choice, but since his loyalty to the company was put on black last season in the failed coup, he wouldn't be enough of a sacrifice. So he suggests Karl, who in turn suggests Gerri again, causing Roman to defend his pseudo-mom and secret lover. Roman throws Tom under the bus, Kendall agrees, hell, even Shiv agrees that Tom's skull would be the right skull. Nobody's happy about having to throw these barbs around the room, of course. Heavens, no! Well, okay, Roman is. But everybody else makes sure to preface their remarks with the utmost of due respect for the colleague, family member, even sibling who's about to get thrown under the bus. "Look," Kendall tells Tom, "I'm saying this, but I don't believe it, I'm just saying this because this is the time we're all saying things."

    This, ladies and gentlemen, is Succession at its most elemental. A pack of feral beasts, all raised or otherwise conditioned to respect success in business and nothing more, each trying to push the agenda of "anybody but me" without looking too self-indulgent. This is family dynamics changing on a dime, with Kendall and Roman agreeing on Tom, before Roman spins around on Shiv, before Greg's name gets invoked only semi-sensically, before Connor makes a self-aggrandizing offer that's really mostly about his running for president. It's a scramble, it's a delight, and it's done over a delish-looking brunch spread. It's also exactly what we've come to Succession: to watch a bunch of masters of the universe, throwing each other under every available bus in a mad scramble to stay in power a little bit longer.

    Nothing gets decided at this brunch. No heads get rolled. But it's Naomi Pierce's quote from earlier this season come to life: "Watching you people melt down is the most deeply satisfying activity on planet Earth." And while she may have been flirting with Kendall when she said it, the sentiment remains true. And when that meltdown includes Roman suggesting that they augment a Tom firing with some "Greg sprinkles," or Gerri putting Karl on blast for his rub-n-tug massages, that's when Succession reminds us that it may not only be HBO's new Game of Thrones, it could also be its new Veep.

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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, Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin, Matthew Macfadyen, Nicholas Braun, Sarah Snook