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Succession's Side Characters Say a Lot About the Roy Family's Capitalist Playground

Season 2 offers even more schadenfreude at the expense of the rich and powerful, but it's the Roy acolytes who are the hungry ones.
  • J. Smith-Cameron and Kieran Culkin on Succession (HBO)
    J. Smith-Cameron and Kieran Culkin on Succession (HBO)

    Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers from last week's Season 2 premiere of Succession.

    One of the great pleasures of the first season of HBO’s Succession was its gleefully lurid portrayal of excessive wealth. If you’re of the mindset that absolute abundance corrupts absolutely, the show’s collection of garbage adult children — the Dreaded Laramies of Park Avenue, as it were — was catnip. They rapped in the back of chauffeured cars, they masturbated in million dollar offices, and, above all, they ate each other alive. It was irresistible schadenfreude.

    It was the secondary characters, however, who provided some of the most interesting points of tension, from Waystar Royco lifer Gerri, to wrong-side-of-the-family naif cousin Greg. By virtue of not being gazillionaires, they were adept at showing us just how warped the Roys' world truly is. Thankfully, if the show’s second-season premiere was any indication, we'll be getting a good deal more of this in the episodes to come. From mummified Napoleonic genitals, to maggot-ridden raccoons, the Roys and their associates seem primed to feast on anyone they see as a threat, and more often than not, that means another Roy (except, perhaps, for that poor contractor). This is mostly a relief, because the show is one of the best we have at probing the rotten core of America's nightmarish capitalist playground.

    Yet there’s also something deeper at play. Last season’s finale pushed the audience to see the Roys as tragic figures rather than comedic ones. I didn’t feel bad for them, per se, but I did start to feel craven for taking so much pleasure in their misfortune. In no case was that clearer than with Kendall, whose devastating substance abuse issues were front and center as his dysfunctional family and domineering father ripped apart whatever stability he had scraped together.

    He’s still got the blood of a young waiter on his hands, of course. He’s far from innocent, and it remains to be seen whether his Chappaquiddick-esque crime will stay under wraps, but he’s also clearly struggling. He’s largely mute, looking as haggard as ever as he relies on Greg and his park blow to get him through the night. Given that season two picks up not long after season one ended — Shiv and Tom are on their honeymoon, and Roman is giving press conferences about the spectacularly failed space launch — this is unsurprising. But it will certainly be interesting to see how the show continues to go about addressing the humanity of these characters, and whether or not their wealth supersedes it.

    One especially effective way it has done this in the past is in the careful positioning of people like Willa, Gerri, Greg, Tom, and Marcia. To a certain extent, they’re foils to the utter ineptitude and spoiled arrogance of Kendall, Roman, and Connor (and, to a lesser degree, Shiv). They weren’t born into extreme wealth and privilege, and you can immediately detect a difference in how they move through the world. But I find myself wondering how long that can last. If you’re surrounded by people like the Roys, it’s bound to take a toll. Greg—who was once so worried that Kendall would overdose that he finished his lines of cocaine and then almost had a nervous breakdown — is now Kendall’s drug mule. (In typical Greg fashion, he buys him the worst cocaine he’s ever had. Just stay in the California Pizza Kitchen where it’s safe, Greg.) Willa still hasn’t dumped Connor, despite the fact that he wants to buy Napoleon’s penis. Gerri continues to endure the demeaning circus instead of taking a buyout and fleeing to a sleepy beach town. Tom stayed with Shiv, despite the fact that she confessed to having an affair on their wedding night, and can’t stop making feckless overtures to Logan regarding his business.

    And Marcia, well… Marcia is a wildcard. She’s clearly not a saint — her retrograde views on women are proof enough of that—but we barely know anything about her. Could she be Succession’s ultimate winner, taking over after Logan’s untimely death at the hands of a rabid raccoon? Maybe. Will she and Shiv finally have it out, putting an end to the tension we’ve seen building toward since she barred Shiv from seeing her father? I certainly hope so.

    There are other mysterious players, too. Logan’s financial advisor, played by Danny Huston as an appropriately slimy banker who wears a suit that probably costs three times my rent, pops up out of nowhere. We know he must be a valued member of Logan’s circle — as the patriarch points out, when have you ever seen Logan wine and dine someone outside the family? — but we have no idea what his motivations are. The same could be said of Colin, the henchman slash fixer who briefs Kendall on his legal footing following the accident. And then there’s Stewy, a smarter, snakier Jean-Ralphio Saperstein, who continues to bring the one-liners (“That’s a 1987 power move!”) and now sports a menacing streak of grey hair.

    How these (mostly) rancid Jenga pieces will fit together remains to be seen. But for now, bring on the scheming, and, for the love of god, please put Greg in every scene.

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    Sophie Kleeman is a writer and editor living in New York.

    TOPICS: Succession, HBO