Here at 25YLSite, we handle a lot of heavy lifting. Analysis, interpretation, deep discussion, introspective interviews…you name it, we’ve got it. “Favorites” takes a lighter approach to the material we normally cover. Each week, we will take you through a list of favorites—whether it’s moments, scenes, episodes, characters, lines of dialogue, whatever!—in bite-sized articles perfect for your lunch break, a dull commute, or anywhere you need to take a Moment of Zen. So, sit back and enjoy this week’s offering: the best, most savage insults featured on Succession, as selected by Hannah Searson.
Succession returns tonight, and you all know what that means—we get to welcome back the best, most savage, cruel insults on television, delivered by some of the worst people ever conceived of as characters.
Indeed, Succession, created by Jesse Armstrong (a writer of The Thick of It) and Adam McKay (Step Brothers, The Big Short, Vice) thrives off schadenfreude. There’s no sweeter viewing experience in all the world than watching the Murdoch-esque Roys utterly blow up their lives despite being afforded every privilege that money can buy.
However, before diving into this, I want to define our terms. We are looking for the most savage insults on the show. That means that it has to be insulting. Objectively speaking, the best line of the series is when Kendall listens to Cousin Greg’s attempt at bribery in the finale and goes “You little Machiavellian fuck. I see you, Greg. I love it.”
Savage, brilliant, hilarious swearing—but in the context of the show? Calling someone a “Machiavellian fuck” is the biggest compliment you can give, so it doesn’t count as a savage insult.
On the other hand, Brian Cox’s Logan, unable and unwilling to look his son Kendall in the eyes as he whispers “you are a fucking idiot” as his very first coherent speech since his stroke? Savage, insulting, and true.
So let’s go for it—let’s examine five of the best, most savage insults from Succession Season 1, because, in the words of the legendary Logan Roy, “Sometimes, it is a big dick competition”.
5) Roman’s rocket launch (Episode 10, “Nobody is ever missing”)
Let’s start off with a non-verbal insult. Now, Succession specialises in dialogue—it’s witty and absurd and delightfully profane, but that doesn’t mean that Armstrong and company don’t know how to inflict an utterly savage insult on a character without a single word being uttered.
Kieran Culkin’s Roman Roy can quite possibly make the claim to the most entitled member of the Roy family, especially when compared to his utter lack of competence.
He insists on being named “Actual COO” by Kendall, despite having very little in the way of experience, or management skills, or anything to justify him being put in such a position of responsibility.
His main contribution is his ability to smarmily back the winning horse when said horse is about an inch from the finish line. Other than that, he’s mainly content to sit back and watch the chaos unfold, snarking at his siblings and generally having a pretty great time, with one notable exception.
Throughout the latter half of the season, we’re reminded that Roman is overseeing the launch of a Japanese satellite, given to him as a test by his father. He brags that he’s pushed forward the launch, pressuring the scientists to get it finished by his sister’s wedding. So that he can impress his father, of course.
And then, as the satellite launches on Shiv’s wedding day, it explodes. The whole rocket ship blows up as he’s watching the launch on his phone in the bathroom. Culkin’s performance here is truly hilarious—he’s completely silent as the level of screw up dawns on him, taking in the destruction with furrowed brow before he takes a deep breath, washes his hands, and leaves the bathroom.
This isn’t so much one character insulting another, but rather the entire universe conspiring to insult Roman and remind him that he’s nothing more than a spoilt child.
He won’t learn—the rest of the episode finds him desperately trying to figure out if he’s going to be sued over a worker’s death, only to find out that the explosion resulted in no fatalities.
But for one glorious moment, the universe delivered an utterly brutal dunk on Roman Roy.
4) Marcia compares Willa to a dead sex worker (Episode 7, “Austerlitz”)
In the midst of the Roys’ “therapy” session at Connor’s ranch (that mainly consists of Logan bullshitting his way through a half-assed affirmation of love for his children), there is another battle occurring between the Roys outside of Logan’s direct line.
Tom awkwardly attempts to ingratiate himself into the family, and Marcia coldly contemplates her step-childrens’ chosen partners, including Willa, Connor’s absurdly hot girlfriend.
It’s clear from the first episode that Connor is far more interested in Willa than the other way around, with her being more concerned with getting funds for her theatre venture. It’s equally clear that she wouldn’t be hanging around him if he weren’t Connor Roy—Logan Roy’s eldest son.
“I knew a woman in Paris, she did what you do”, Marcia begins. At first, Willa reasonably assumes that she means a writer slash director slash producer, or whatever she’s into this week. Marcia even affirms that her friend was intelligent, which Willa takes as a compliment, before Tom attempts to move the conversation back to his own relationship with Logan.
Then the twist: “You know my friend from Paris who was your way? She was actually murdered. It was nothing to do with her being a prostitute, it was to do with a restaurant that went poof!”
It’s an awkward moment, and it takes a second for it to click.
This is what all good, savage insults do—they hit at the truth from a new angle, making you stop and question what you just heard. In this case, it paints Willa’s relationship with Connor in a new light; the transactional subtext becomes the text and all of Willa’s pretensions are revealed for what they truly are.
Marcia Roy is a savage, but a clever one.
3) Tom regains his pride by humiliating Nate (Episode 10, “Nobody is ever missing”)
One of Succession’s greatest joys has been the discovery that Matthew McFayden is more than willing to just go for it and look completely absurd when necessary. Tom Wambsgans, Shiv’s weird, awkward, brown-nosing fiancé has to be seen to be believed.
Of course, his bullying of Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) is a highlight throughout the show, but Tom deserves a shout-out in his own right. He’s a social-climbing buffoon, determined to get in good with Logan, especially as Logan is, technically, his boss as well as his father-in-law.
Tom goes along with whatever Shiv (Sarah Snook) and the rest of the Roys say, clearly over-compensating for his middle-class upbringing. Even his wedding erases Tom from the narrative—it’s held in an enormous Irish castle, hosted by Shiv’s terrifying mother. His own parents are bused in from the airport, as he berates his wedding planner—“I hope you’re happy, Charlotte, ‘cause my mother is dying of thirst, and I just picked up a bag. I’m carrying a case on my wedding eve!”.
Much like the rest of the Roys, he’s an overgrown child given far too much money and power. The difference is that he wasn’t born to it, so he’s bullied mercilessly by the rest of the family. Save for Greg. There’s always someone lower down the pecking order than you.
His final humiliation of the season is Shiv’s revelation (in an unexpected pang of conscience) that she’s been sleeping with her old flame and colleague, Nate. But apparently this is where Tom draws the line.
He goes up to Nate, who was invited to the wedding, and stands there as he tells the other man to leave. But not before making him put his wine back.
And no, Tom is not content with Nate just handing over his glass of wine. He makes the man pour his half-drunk glass of wine back into the bottle. Waste not, want not.
For once, Tom’s on top—inflicting a petty, ridiculous humiliation on someone outside of the family just because he knows he’s got more power than them.
Congratulations, Tom, you’re truly a Roy now.
2) The vote of no confidence in Logan (Episode 6, “Which side are you on?”)
Let me be clear—I know nothing about business. I actively try to avoid learning about actual business and finance because, quite frankly, it’s boring.
I have no idea if the chaos in which Kendall’s vote of no confidence against his own father plays out is remotely accurate to actual board meetings, but I’d be way more interested in them if it were more like this.
The thing is, Kendall’s not wrong to try to oust his father; Logan is very clearly still recovering from his stroke, he’s ‘old school’ in his approach to mass media, and, of course, he’s a colossal asshole. But Kendall’s not clever enough to actually beat him.
Logan’s a bully and as much as we like to pretend that bullies always get their comeuppance, they don’t. When Kendall calls (via phone) on Roman to back him up as promised, Logan shoots him down—“You’d better be smelling your fuckin’ armpit, Romulus”, and of course Roman chickens out.
This entire scene is an exceedingly rare variety of savage insult—one that starts off by insulting one person (Logan), before gradually being turned around to absolutely annihilate the original insulter (Kendall). A self-own, if you will.
You can tell that this vote is going to go badly as soon as you realise Kendall’s not going to make it back to the office in time, instead having to participate long-distance. His pleas for support are nothing in the face of Logan’s withering glare and muscle in the room. It all goes downhill for Kendall from there, really, culminating in his unceremonious and utterly brutal firing.
In the words of the great Omar Little—you come at the king, you best not miss.
1) The entire show is the universe insulting Kendall Roy
The first episode made me think of Arrested Development’s classic pilot. There are enormous and obvious similarities—both shows revolve around absurdly rich families, comprised of idiot siblings, a bullying father, and obviously illegal activities. Also, both shows open with a second son being denied a long-promised promotion by his father, leaving him humiliated.
Much like Arrested Development is one slow-moving dunk on Michael Bluth, Kendall Roy is the subject of an entire fictional universe taking every single opportunity to dunk on him.
My guy can’t catch a single break. His father is openly abusive towards him (perhaps to a greater extent than his siblings), his ex-wife is uninterested in getting back together with him, and he can’t do anything right in business because people just fundamentally don’t like him very much.
The opening scene of the show finds Kendall trying to pump himself up before a big meeting, ‘rapping’ along to music playing through his headphones in the backseat of his chauffeured car. The way the diegetic music cuts out, leaving Kendall yelling nonsense like “Yeah! Yeah! Brooklyn!” immediately clues the audience into his true character—he’s a moron.
Every time he goes up against an opponent, he comes across as either tremendously out of his depth, or trying way too hard to seem ‘cool’. It’s embarrassing, and it’s hilarious.
The extent to which the cosmic forces of the universe despise Kendall Roy is made crystal clear in the finale of the first season. As a result of a drug-fuelled bender, he crashes his car with a waiter in it into a lake outside Shiv’s wedding. The waiter, of course, drowns. Obvious reference to the Chappaquiddick Incident aside, this is the absolute nadir of Kendall’s luck.
Earlier that day, he gave his father a ‘bear hug’ which…does some kind of business thing, I think, that would essentially remove Logan from running the company. Like I said, I know nothing about business. The important thing is that this is Kendall’s grasp at independence from his father. After this incident, though? He’s forced to go crawling back to Logan, returning to his embrace as he has his father clean up his own mess.
That is how the first season of Succession ends—with Kendall finally accepting the defining truth of his life: he’s a hot mess of a rich boy, utterly dependent on his dad for his own sense of identity. The universe judged Kendall Roy long ago, and this is what he deserves.
It’s also the best possible summary of Succession. The show is ultimately a tragedy, sure, but like all great tragedies, the universe’s antipathy towards the characters’ suffering is hilarious.