Spoiler Alert: This post contains spoilers from "Safe Room," the September 1st, 2019 episode of Succession.
Complicated family dynamics dominate the relationships on Succession as Logan (Brian Cox) refrains from naming his heir apparent in a bid to outrun old age. But you don’t have to be an actual relative to experience the kind of paternal, romantic, or sibling-like connection that come with blood and marriage. In a world this cutthroat, leverage is not the only commodity worth having, it's also important to have people you can rely on in a crisis. Nevertheless, trust is hard to come by when even your nearest and dearest will resort all kinds of skullduggery to get ahead. It isn’t just the Roys who have skin in the game, the many confidantes their inner circle has accumulated over the years also have vested interests. People like Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) and Frank (Peter Friedman) haven’t endured years of humiliation just to be tossed out onto the street.
After last week’s “morale-boosting” corporate retreat, Roman (Kieran Culkin) has taken Gerri’s advice and enrolled in a management program, a thankful Greg (Nicholas Braun) is back to keeping his head down and Tom’s (Matthew Macfadyen) latte’s flowing, and Shiv (Sarah Snook) is making the first steps towards what she hopes is a serious offer from her father. However, a violent incident at the office leads to haves-and-have-nots panic rooms, as well as much introspection regarding toxic dynamics. It isn’t just those with the Roy name who possess power, and other than Logan sitting at the top, everyone's positions are in flux.
With that in mind, here are the four most complex pairings on Succession at the moment:
Ever since Greg officially entered the Roy family business, Tom has rejoiced at having someone beneath him in the pecking order. Finally he had someone to do his bidding. Often the comedic relief, there's clearly a darkness in how Tom treats Greg as his own personal meat puppet, but creator Jesse Armstrong knows it would be terribly dull if Tom was just a bully with a laundry list of insecurities. Last week, Tom had the perfect piece of information to save himself from Boar on the Floor humiliation, but instead chose to keep quiet about Greg’s indiscretion. It wasn’t completely altruistic, as there are long term benefits to this relationship, but it was still heartening to witness the intimate hand squeeze over breakfast the following morning showing solidarity. They are both outsiders despite being members of the family.
Conflict arises because Greg doesn’t like what ATN as a news organization stands for, or the office culture that includes using people as furniture. After the shooting lockdown, he uses this opportunity to tell Tom how he feels, thinking perhaps he would show some of the humility he experienced in Hungary. Unfortunately for Greg, Tom is dealing with an unresolved Shiv relationship issue, so when he proposes an open relationship (from a business sense) it causes Tom to lash out both verbally and physically. The words he says are much more about his wife than they are about his executive assistant. However, Greg has leverage over his boss (and the entire empire) with his cache of documents pertaining to the cruise ship scandal. In this allusion to blackmail, rather than reacting like a betrayed lover, Tom switches to proud papa, laughing as he exclaims, “Atta boy!” at Greg's machiavellian maneuver.
Gerri is one of Logan’s closest associates, his work wife of sorts, and by extension the Roy children share this familial bond. She is Shiv’s actual godmother, as we learned last season, though we also learned that everybody in this circle plays fast and loose with the rules of decorum. Roman hates that no one takes him seriously, an admission he shares with Gerri, unburdening his self-doubt on her, which he hides with humor in front of everyone else. When she helped him with his shirt buttons last week, he quipped, “You know, if I were capable of any sudden movement, I would totally pounce on you right now.” Well, this escalated quickly, as instead of having phone sex with his girlfriend, he instead jerked it on the phone while Gerri called him a “disgusting pig,” “a revolting little worm,” and a “slime puppy.” Thankfully Gerri is just a mother-figure and not his actual mom.
One of the most secretly fascinating aspects of Roman is his sexual preference. We've seen him masturbate in his office, but any intimate acts with another person have been off the table. Tabitha (Caitlin Fitzgerald) has remarked on a number of occasions that they haven’t slept together, and he wasn’t into her suggestions over the phone. Instead, he sounded more like Steve Carell in The 40-Year-Old Virgin discussing boobs as bags of sand. He gets this moment of gratification with Gerri, but it feels more like a dare than attraction. Gerri is probably so used to playing whatever games the Roys throw down that she leans into this moment rather than hanging up.
Unlike Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Frank isn’t bound by a sense of family obligation. He's been pushed out before by an impetuous Logan flexing his power, but with a click of the fingers, he comes crawling back. Does Frank not have any dignity? Logan mocks him in front of everyone, but Frank has bills to pay and contacts to exploit. He is a willing participant in the Waystar circus. He knows exactly what he is signing up for, the insults don’t mean all that much anymore. Logan tells him to “take his library card and fuck off” when he cites Shakespeare as a reference. This belittling remark is an attempt to show Frank that even though he's in on the secret plan, he doesn’t matter. This is met with barely a shrug, as there is nothing Logan can say or do to him that will surprise or offend.
Kendall is a shell of the person he was in Season 1, with a limited range of catch-phrases including “Dad’s plan was better” and “Because my dad told me to.” It is as if he is a toy with only two options. Any agency he once had is long gone. When Logan opened his arms to his son and called him his “Number one boy,” it would have been the pinnacle of Kendall’s career if a manslaughter cover-up hadn’t initiated it. Everything Kendall now does is because of this one moment.
Logan is, of course, using it to his advantage. Kendall will never attempt another coup, and he will forever be in his debt. So while his son caused the mess of this takeover bid, Logan now has an ally to clean up every disaster. In “The Hunt,” Logan pits brother against brother, positioning himself physically behind Kendall in order to get a rise out of Roman. They might be his children, but he isn’t above mind games, which is why it was slightly jarring to see a concerned Logan asking repeatedly where Kendall is during the lockdown. Despite his twisted power plays, Logan is still their father and this concern for his son’s well-being is genuine. It isn’t just a potential active shooter putting him at risk, as the end of the episode confirms the regular trips to the roof of the 75-story building have been noticed and preventative measures have been taken to ward off any suicide attempts. Kendall is there to administer his dad’s medication, but his father is also keeping an eye on his son’s precarious mental state.
And the one relationship that stands out for NOT being twisted? It is...
The Roy siblings aren’t what you would call close. Kendall alienated himself from Shiv and Roman as a result of his disastrous takeover bid, but they weren’t exactly tight before, either. Getting high together on the eve of Shiv’s wedding gave a snapshot of happier times, but Roman’s childhood cage memories show that even at a young age there was a struggle for power. After the incident at the wedding, Kendall has recoiled at any act of physical intimacy. His arms stay firmly by his side when his daughter embraces him. Eye contact has also been an issue, but at the end of “Safe Room,” when Shiv demands that he look at her, she breaks the robotic spell. For a moment, he lets himself be vulnerable, asking for a hug, a request that bewilders his sister. As he releases a sob into her arms, the power balance shifts once again.
Shiv sees Kendall as her biggest rival, particularly after observing how enmeshed he is with their father. He has Logan's ear, the office next door, and is in charge of his meds. She thinks Kendall has leverage, but that couldn’t be further from the truth, which makes this whole scene particularly devastating. He just wants her assurance she won’t let him fall by the wayside, saying, “I don’t exactly know what I would be for.” She might not know why Kendall is no longer competition, but this genuine display of emotion should be enough to strengthen their bond. Both of them need an ally right now.
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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.