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Kerry Is Succession's New Greg

Her sudden loss of status adds a wrinkle to Waystar RoyCo's power games.
  • Zoe Winters as Kerry in Succession (Photo: Macall Polay/HBO)
    Zoe Winters as Kerry in Succession (Photo: Macall Polay/HBO)

    [Editor’s Note: This post contains spoilers for Succession Season 4, Episode 2, “Rehearsal.”]

    If her ATN audition had been any good, then Kerry Castellabate (Zoe Winters) might have upended Succession's power structure. Coming into “Rehearsal,” the second episode of Season 4, she certainly seemed to be in a strong position. Instead of bluntly announcing her desire for influence, she had waged a shadow campaign, moving so subtly into Logan’s (Brian Cox) good graces that his own children barely noticed her graduation from assistant to lover to potential mother of his fifth child. Her quiet ascent made her fascinating in a group of loud, desperate strivers, and as recently as the Season 4 premiere, when she was negotiating emotional truces on Logan’s behalf, she was perched to make a major move.

    Her success would've been remarkable because this is not a series where David slays Goliath, Charlie inherits the chocolate factory, or the former peasant ends up running the cherry orchard. There are plenty of low-status people who get close to the Waystar RoyCo throne, and plenty who fool themselves into thinking they’re about to sit on it, but they're always knocked to the ground. Logan himself may have risen from the dirt, but he’s not helping anyone follow him up. That’s why Kerry’s relationship was so tantalizing. It looked like she had assembled the right ingredients — the sex, the potential pregnancy, the competent assisting — to ascend higher than anyone had gone before.

    Then came that audition tape. Zoe Winters deserves a standing ovation for making Kerry such a fabulously horrible news anchor. The halting delivery, the fumbled lines, the demon doll smile while reporting a tragedy: It takes skill to be so believably terrible. And Winters has to sell that ineptitude, because it's Kerry’s undoing. By displaying a flaw — and arguably by displaying enough ambition to audition in the first place — she gives Logan an excuse to push her aside.

    Logan's response to the tape is admittedly ambiguous, and at the end of the episode, Kerry is still with him in the karaoke room where he has a neon-hued confrontation with his children. But there’s clearly something sinister in the way he asks Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and Cyd (Jeannie Berlin) to give their "honest" opinions of Kerry's audition. He's almost daring them to tell him the truth, and when they (unconvincingly) lie that they think she's got talent, he seems to take it as proof that they're bootlickers. And that, of course, implies that he knows how bad the tape is.

    There's a similar tension when Logan catches Hugo (Fisher Stevens) and Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) giggling at the audition like naughty kids. That weakens Kerry’s position in a different way, because if the boss’s girlfriend is open to mockery, then the boss is, too.

    However, the clearest sign that the tape has cost Kerry her status is that Tom sends Greg (Nicholas Braun) to tell her she's not going to be on TV. If Kerry were important enough, Logan would break the news himself, or at the very least, Tom would suck it up and do it instead of once again taking advantage of his fellow “Disgusting Brother.” When the mess lands all the way down on Greg's lap, it's clear that for all her apparent slickness, Kerry hasn't come so far after all. Now, she's essentially the new Greg.

    To wit: Kerry and Greg are both outsiders vying for some kind of foothold at Waystar RoyCo. (Yes, Greg is a Roy cousin, but no truly prominent family member would begin his journey vomiting through the eye holes of a theme park costume.) More to the point, they’re young outsiders. Older hangers-on like Frank (Peter Friedman) and Gerri have a resigned weariness about their place in the pecking order. Relative whippersnappers like Greg and Kerry are still working outrageous angles, trying to get ahead by having a baby or testifying before Congress. They can’t see that someone like Tom, who both married into the family and became complicit in more than one underhanded scheme, has pushed that strategy about as far as it goes, and even he's sitting alongside Frank and Gerri in the almost-but-not-quite club.

    So when Greg and Kerry face off in that ATN conference room, it’s comic and tragic at the same time. Greg thinks he can suavely let Kerry down, but he flails from the beginning, reduced to lying about a top-secret focus group that deems Kerry bad TV. Kerry thinks she can end him by threatening to pull him apart like human string cheese, but that only proves she's missing the point. A true player would realize that Greg’s instructions have come from the top. Both of these interlopers are enacting the mind games they see all around them, but they don’t comprehend they’re playing little league.

    Ultimately, their tiny battle just reinforces a hierarchy the show has been emphasizing since Season 1. It's remarkable, really, how impenetrable the company’s inner sanctum is for anyone who wasn't born inside it. This is a thumb in the eye to viewers who yearn for an up-by-your-bootstraps story of success. In fact, by trapping characters like Kerry and Greg in wan recreations of power dynamics they'll never actually master, the show suggests that the so-called American dream is a sucker's game. That's always been part of the story, and every time another outsider gets shunted to a lower caste, the show renews its refusal to let dynasties change. Episodes like “Rehearsal” tell us there are only a handful of Roys, but there are infinite Kerrys and Gregs, refusing to see that a lifetime of climbing won’t get them very far.

    Succession airs Sundays at 9:00 PM ET on HBO. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.

    TOPICS: Succession