5 winners and 7 losers from a Succession that had much more embarrassment than usual
Shiv goes to war, Kendall does something indescribably horrible, and Roman… actually Roman does okay for himself.
In this week’s Succession, “Dundee,” the Roys travel to Scotland, where Logan Roy grew up birdwatching and pooping outside, a reportedly hardscrabble childhood.
Logan’s being honored for 50 years of Waystar-Royco — by the town of Dundee itself, the family, the business, and, most of all by erstwhile PGM CEO Rhea Jarrell, who organized the whole affair (and whose affair with Logan is looking pretty damn real). But it’s actually just another excuse for the whole gang to be in the same fancy and uncomfortable room, so that the chess pieces can go flying off the board once again.
(I will say that Succession’s ability to yoke everyone together week after week is remarkable; if being a billionaire really means spending this much time with your parents, siblings, and kids, I’m surprised money is so popular.)
The big event is a full black-tie banquet that Logan wisely tries to flee, featuring a live performance by the Kendall and a not-actually-that-surprising announcement (more on all that later, obviously).
But that’s not at all enough together time, because the banquet is preceded by a desperately uncomfortable private toast and field trips to both the totally normal house Logan and his brother Ewan (James Cromwell) were raised in (“If this place was in Brooklyn it’d be five mil, easy,” Roman says) and the college that Logan is funding (“The Logan Roy School of Journalism?” Ewan asks, “What’s next, the Jack the Ripper women’s health clinic?”). So many opportunities for so many to ruin their standing in the family and boy, do they.
Vox critic at large Emily VanDerWerff and I (The Goods editor Meredith Haggerty) agree that this was a pretty fantastic episode, after last week’s lower-key Kendall devastationfest, so let’s dig right into the five winners and seven losers of “Dundee.”
Winner: Shiv (looks like a loser)
Meredith: There are few better positions in the Successionverse better than “secretly poised to strike,” and Shiv ends the episode literally crouched to pounce. No, she is not named CEO of Waystar-Royco — Logan has confirmed the position is going to his mistress Rhea (at least stepmom Marcia thinks so) — but she’s also not about to be hideously roasted in the cruise scandal fallout. (Whistleblowers! In this economy!)
Rhea won the last battle — one Shiv didn’t even know she was fighting — by suggesting that Shiv go for PGM CEO and then telling Logan about his daughter’s disloyalty. But for someone who dealt with the Pierces for so long, Rhea doesn’t seem to have a great handle on how to maneuver the ultra-family members she recently hung out to dry. She can’t even look at the only Roy daughter (“Are you a person who can’t look someone in the eye after you fucked them?” Shiv asks Rhea, quite directly).
While Shiv seems to lose throughout the episode, she is actually making remarkable headway against Rhea: She seeds Marcia’s distrust, conscripts her more skeptical, Jarrell-friendly brothers into a just-for-fun “dead aunt”-themed prank, and highlights to Logan that his no-fun new girlfriend doesn’t drink. She’s batting around her prey before she ultimately sets Rhea up for the kill. The fall hasn’t come yet, when it does, Shiv will be the one Logan thinks “fucking get[s] it.”
Emily: Look, you and I both know that if we ever met Shiv Roy, she would absolutely destroy us in a way that would be described as “sick” and “awesome” by bystanders, and I do wonder how much of my love for her character is defined by the fact that she would absolutely smother me in my sleep if she wanted my pillow.
But goodness, it’s fun to watch her toy with her prey, as you put it. There’s a looseness to Sarah Snook’s performance in “Dundee” that plays directly against the fact that every other member of the Roy family seems to be more and more on #TeamRhea. Even Tom, beloved Tom, turns on her just a little bit. But it’s fascinating to watch how Succession portrays her getting both sharper and stupider as she gets further into this particular corner. She’s happy to take blowback for dooming Rhea (she tells Gerri she’ll take the blame), so long as both she and Rhea are destroyed by this particular grenade.
In conclusion: Shiv Roy! We stan!
Shiv’s hair update: Oh, we stan!
Loser: Rhea (thinks she’s a winner)
Emily: Everything Rhea has apparently been working for lo these many weeks comes to fruition at the end of “Dundee,” when she is named the new CEO of Waystar-Royco. She stands triumphantly at Logan’s side. She’s maybe possibly having sex with him. She’s broken up his marriage! And she even reveals herself to be an excellent party planner, if easily manipulated by her maybe possibly future step-children.
Except that’s just it — she’s being manipulated by one maybe possibly future step-child in general: Shiv, who has pulled her dad’s strings just so, meaning that Rhea is about to inherit a company where a major scandal will break in the press, and she’ll be hammered. The only real consolation Rhea could take from this (once she finds out) is that it’s maybe possibly mutually assured destruction. But that’s just the thing: Shiv doesn’t care. She only wants to salt the earth.
But it’s not just Shiv, either. Rhea is tricked into bringing up Logan’s sister Rose, whose death he apparently blames himself for. (There’s lots of Logan lore hinted at in this episode!) Kendall, Roman, and Connor are nominally more interested in having Rhea around as their mom and boss (what a combo!), but they’re not above taking the piss out of her either. It’s not a great combination for a future leader who’s about to have a scandal dropped in her lap.
What I love about this is that it takes Succession’s default storytelling mode — the Roys destroy somebody out of petty spite — and makes it something we want to see happen. Rhea hasn’t actually done anything wrong. She’s maybe done something untoward, but she wants a job. The person who’s really cheating the system here is Shiv, who knows more than she’s telling, but because we know Shiv, we’re happy to see her succeed.
So we leave Rhea on the verge of triumph and disaster, the surest loser who thinks she’s a winner yet.
Meredith: I don’t know what things are like in the Pierce household, but how Rhea Jarrell thought she was just going to swan into Roy manor and take what’s is rightfully theirs so easily is beyond me. (I’m kidding, I know exactly what things are like in the Pierce household: educational lectures and secret drinking.)
Grabbing power at Waystar-Royco was just never going to be as easy as Rhea thought it was, and there’s no worse sign for her that it happened as easily as it did. Sure, she’s CEO for now, but that’s a disposable position; she’s not family (an only slightly less-disposable position).
The whistleblower scandal — an angry and guilty accountant from the cruise department is looking to spill secrets about the boats’ tendency to uh, let’s say, “offshore” their on-board crimes (i.e. dump offenders with foreign governments), and seems unwilling to stay silent no matter the price, having turned down $20 million — has been burbling at the sub-Logan level, and that’s a level Rhea has no facility with. All that work (ew) to buy the car, and she has no idea what’s under the hood. When she finds out, well, maybe that’s when she’ll start to drink.
Emily: For starters: Ewan is clearly the big money behind the source for the cruise line story, right? Succession all but comes out and says this in the closing moments of “Dundee,” but it’s still delicious to see Ewan carrying this grudge against his brother as far as he has. It likely takes a Roy to defeat a Roy.
But Ewan is also the closest thing to a moral conscience the show has — albeit one who is using his vast resources to completely destroy another man as thoroughly as he can. He points out that Logan may be the single human being most responsible for destroying life on this planet, and y’know, he’s not wrong?
I would hate Succession a lot more if it constantly pointed out to us how bad the Roys are for the world at large (as opposed to just each other). But it’s worthwhile to hear every so often that they’re really rotten people who are tearing the planet apart for no real reason beyond their own self-regard. That this is all placed in the mouth of a man whose motives make him suspect is all the more delicious. You can just imagine ATN laying into the biased and horrible Ewan Roy.
Emily: Wait. Greg? A loser? Did you know this could happen?!
Let’s all remember for a moment that Greg is actually “Cousin” Greg (or maybe Gregory) and that he came by his position in the family via worming his way into their good graces. (There’s a reason he and Tom — the only two real outsiders at the Roy core and the only two people who weren’t born into the ruling class but, instead, a ruling class suburb — are such good pals.) And, thus, Ewan is his grandpa, who can disinherit Greg as easily as he likes. Greg stands to inherit $250 million! That’s not “buying Pierce” money, but I mean, I could use $250 million.
Greg seems for a second like he might do what his grandfather wants and leave behind Logan Roy forever. But then Logan says some nice things to him in the bathroom, and it’s clear Greg will be dragged ever deeper into this whole mess. You think Logan’s going to give you $250 million in his will, Greg? Psh.
Of course, Greg being Greg, he’ll probably try to play both sides with his cache of cruise ship documents, and we’ll watch him bumble his way through that, in his secretly conniving but outwardly idiotic Greg way. He’ll be a winner again soon enough!
Meredith: Although folklore has it that Baby Logan “lived in an open sewer and was raised by rats,” Dundee, Scotland seems like a pretty lovely place. It has a bandstand! And now it has birthplace bragging rights and a fancy new school, to boot.
Yes, Dundee University gets a whole bunch of money to teach Scottish youths how to aggregate clickbait (“10 reasons why you’re never getting paid,” Kendall jokes, in a gag that I for one found funny and not soul-crushing), and the whole town sees a surely bizarre influx of media leaders and their money (where are they all sleeping? Can that one nice hotel hold them all?). No final word yet on the name of the local airport.
I would have loved to learn a little more about the locals beyond the one protester — “Roy cunt” his sign read, which Tom explains is like calling someone your buddy in Scotland — but Dundee seems like a nice little town that will be just as well off for Logan Roy having left it as Logan Roy is.
Meredith: I hope you are in the mood for love, because “Dundee” is as sexy (Kendall???) and romantic (Gerrman!!!) as Succession has ever been — especially considering, as Emily pointed out last week, it has never, ever been.
Kendall spots Jennifer, an actress in Willa’s play, Sands, at pre-opening night (or whatever that nonsense is), and — reminding her that he owns a movie studio — embarks on what he calls “one of the all-time great psychosexual expeditions” (“We’re like the Lewis and Clark of fucking,” he tells Con). Um, what happened to Naomi Pierce, she of the expected dick pic? Jennifer’s clearly not long for this world (ahem, see the next loser) but that makes three out of four Roy siblings somehow sexually involved with the cast and crew of Sands, so hopefully Willa will consider casting Gerri as a dune of some kind.
Speaking of! Gerri and Roman’s business marriage proposal from their Argestes trip becomes a real marriage proposal this week, or at least “the equivalent,” which is Roman offering to kidnap and force cohabitation. Or one of his other tumble of suggestions: “You kill me, you chop my dick off, something. I’m kidding — you eat me, I eat you, like they do in Germany.” Like they do in Gerrmany indeed! Roman leaves Gerri (and me, honestly) to think about it, but it’s the best deal a Roy has ever put on the table.
Emily: Before Jennifer meets Kendall Roy, things are looking up for her. Willa’s play (Sands! A lot of the lines you heard were placeholders!) apparently has bad buzz (Connor insisted it had good buzz at one time, but I’m not so sure, bud), but she’s got a significant role in it, and that’s how you build an acting career. Pay your dues in the trenches, take the parts others might not want, and then build a reputation that helps you get the big roles.
Well, consider that plan mostly shot. Because she runs away to Dundee with Kendall, her other castmates get mad at her, and it’s not hard to imagine she’ll end up blacklisted by casting agents. Admittedly, I’m catastrophizing about the acting career of a character we might never see again, but Jennifer doesn’t even get to keep dating Kendall, because he breaks up with her for saying “awesome” too much after meeting his dad. (Jennifer is me. I’m not ashamed of it!)
With that said, she’s a winner in one regard: She accurately pegs Kendall as someone who talks about his dad a lot. Brutal.
Meredith: I have been waiting for Connor’s triumphant return, because the truth is he is probably the Roy with the second best lines after Roman. But the “first pancake,” as Shiv calls him, had a pretty tough week.
To start, there’s Willa’s money-losing play, which Con tactfully tells anyone who will listen is full of temporary dialogue. The production’s titular sands (and what a title) cost $529 per bag, aren’t even from the desert, and are seemingly full of mites (“I don’t know about that or bear legal responsibility,” Connor tells an itchy Greg, who sat too close). He can’t keep the actors from running off to bone his siblings, or grab his dad’s ear about the financial hit he’s taking.
Plus, Shiv gets Connor good with that breakfast-themed burn, and seemingly no one in Scotland even mentions his presidential run. The man’s a future world leader/Tony-winning producer! Where is the respect?
At least he doesn’t try to rap.
Emily: Logan might be fucking around with Rhea, but the real sin is that he didn’t tell Marcia anything about stepping down from the CEO position. She doesn’t care about the sexual aspect of her marriage nearly as much as the idea that she is the power behind the scenes.
“You broke something here,” Marcia says, and then the two have what could be the quietest marriage-ending argument you’ll ever hear. I’m sure it isn’t truly over (please!), but look at the way Marcia hisses, “Oh, God forbid I miss the plaque! Your shiny, little gravestone!” She might be a loser, but she knows exactly how to set everything on fire on her way out the door.
Meredith: Roman finds himself surprisingly well-off by the end of the family trip to Scotland: He’s not playing a high-stakes game of Julius Caesar with his father’s mistress like Shiv, or rapping like Kendall. If Rhea manages to ride out the coming storm, Roman is best-positioned to benefit, and if Shiv wins, he will have at least proved his ability to plant a cruel and terrible idea to hurt Rhea. Not useless!
Plus, he has a future career in improv — I really believed he was throwing his own shit at Shiv during the siblings’ scuffle, and his recording for Logan’s video hints at untapped talent as a drive time DJ (“What up, prick licks? It’s DOCTOR Moron, I’m a ding dong doodle bug dipshit with a titmouse dick, and my dad hates all of you, fucky go bye bye”) — and the love of Gerri (*wiggles fingers* think about it) to look forward to.
Loser: The WTF Are We Gonna Do Committee
Meredith: If there was ever a club you don’t want to be a member of, it’s this one. Succession could have an entirely separate Upstairs/Downstairs-style spinoff about what happens on the non-Roy tier of Waystar-Royco — about the semi-normal millionaires working to listen in to our conversations, cover up ocean crimes, and fill our brains with evil crap — but it would be even more punishing than this program about the miserable megarich idly ruining our lives.
It’s a tough gig! Gerri formally commands Team People Who Actually Maybe Do Shit (Ger, Frank, VP of cruise comms Hugo, PR-lead Karolina, ATN network head Syd, and — technically unemployed but present — Shiv) in the face of the whistleblower threat, but by mid-gala, things look bleak. The guy doesn’t seem to like money? No one in the club can relate. The situation is “spiraling,” the people who do things have no idea what to do, and their savior — Shiv, who agrees to take the blame for putting off telling Rhea — is perhaps not the most trustworthy accomplice. Likely one or more of them will be picked off before the season is through. My money’s on Hugo.
Loser: Hip-hop as a musical form
Emily: The only time I thought Kendall and Jennifer might be made for each other was when she seemed to be weirdly into the rap that Kendall performs for his dad, which is truly the most embarrassing thing to ever have happened on Succession, and that’s saying something. (“This might be the end of the company,” Roman says. “We might get sucked into a black hole of embarrassment that we never get out of.”)
Earlier in the episode, Rhea told Kendall that he was the true future of Waystar, and since he’s sort of the protagonist of this show, she’s probably right. But did you see how many people were filming him performing? There’s no way he’s going to recover from this.
Now when I say L, you say O-G! L! [deafening silence] L! [puts microphone in Logan’s face to deafening silence]