HBO’s Succession returned this past Sunday, coming out of the gate strong in the premiere episode of this sophomore season. Written by showrunner Jesse Armstrong and directed by Executive Producer Mark Mylod (Game of Thrones, Entourage), Succession hit on many of the beats that made the first season such a pleasure to watch, all while feeling fresh and new. There was no rehashing or time wasted. Succession has a story to tell and that story largely revolves around Kendall.
”You’re just a sex robot for Dad to fuck.” Roman wasn’t wrong in this assessment of his older brother Kendall’s life currently. While Kendall might not literally be a robot used for his father’s sexual pleasure, he is most certainly at the mercy of the patriarch of the Roy family. The episode opened with Kendall, still in Europe and not only dealing with the guilt from killing the waiter in the Season 1 finale but also detoxing from falling off the wagon hard. This beaten-down Kendall might be a sight we have to become accustomed to for a while.
One thing this episode made clear was that Kendall’s attempted coup at his father’s business was a damn good one. Had Kendall not wrecked that car, there’s a strong likelihood that he and his partners (including the amazing Stewy) would’ve toppled the media king. Logan knows this and is reeling in this episode, all while trying to portray his trademark confidence. Being the man that he is, Logan is going to take the leverage he has over Kendall and exploit it to the fullest. (Insert sex robot jokes here.)
Kendall is broken. The concerns over the death of the waiter may be eased some when one of Logan’s fixers reassures him that there’s no evidence implicating him in the young man’s death but Kendall’s issues run deeper. He spent all of the first season trying to elevate himself to be the one to slay the king. His demons derailed his plans and now he’s indebted to his father, and given what his father knows, that leverage is lifelong. The guilt, the shame, the disappointment in himself, not to mention the physical detox have all left Kendall a shell of himself, only living to carry out Logan Roy’s wishes. Logan paraded Kendall out on TV with his tail between his legs and later sent him to deliver a message to his former partners: a message that Logan would rather die than surrender.
A running story in this episode was Logan considering selling the company after his lawyer advised him to. In one of the best scenes of the episode, Logan brought the family to their summer home, which was complete with dead animals in the walls, causing a terrible odor and a trademark Logan outburst, which showed the audience that no matter how vulnerable he is, he’s stubborn and not done fighting.
Watching Logan ask his four children if they thought he should sell or not, with the caveat that if he didn’t sell he would have to name a successor, was as good as this show gets. The politicking between the siblings and their father really is a thing of beauty and a lesser show could not pull this off. It would be easy to venture into cheesy territory with the family power struggle but this cast and Jesse Armstrong’s writing make this dynamic truly captivating television.
After a failed full-family conversation, Logan saw Roman and then Shiv privately. While we didn’t see the outcome of Roman’s conversation, we did see Logan tell Shiv that she was the one. The two discussed a plan to bring her out of the world of politics and fast-track her to the top of the company. While on some levels this does make sense—this is Succession after all—is Logan playing his kids against each other or does he really see Shiv as the best bet to run the business after he’s gone? Either way, there’s bound to be a lot of moves left to be made in this chess game.
In addition to the excellent family drama we saw, in true Succession fashion this episode was hysterical. Roman, a character that could easily veer into overplayed territory, had more one-liners than I could possibly write down, including telling his family that their dad was dying of cancer with a completely straight face. “C’mon, it’s funny, Dad’s dying of cancer.” Few shows and characters can pull off the style of humor that Roman has, but damn, he kills every line given to him.
Shiv and Tom’s honeymoon was also comedy gold: two people who did not want to be on a boat together, constantly checking their phones, looking for any reason to go home. Last season we saw Tom come to understand that their marriage would never be one of love; he almost seemed to embrace that here, pushing his new bride to get him a more desirable position at the company while the family was at the summer house. Watching Shiv avoid telling her husband the full truth about her conversation with her father only richened the pot. Nobody is safe from the games this family plays with each other.
Cousin Greg made great use of his small amount of screen time, screwing up a drug deal for Kendall. Greg bought the ridiculously rich Kendall cocaine from the park, giving Kendall plenty of ammo to belittle Greg. That was the only scene of the episode in which Kendall had a spark of life to him. Maybe it was the coke or maybe it was the chance to trash-talk Greg, asking him if the street dealer gave him a receipt for the worst coke he’d ever had in his life. If I have one wish for this season, it’s more Greg.
The table has been set for what should be a great season of television. I’m really looking forward to the dynamic between Shiv and Logan this year. Is she really the chosen one? What does a potential fallout between the two of them look like? How does Roman play into this? There’s no way he’s going to go down quietly once he finds out about Shiv’s deal with their father (although it’s possible that Roman also has a deal with him, you never know). I also have this sneaking suspicion that Tom is going to wind up becoming an adversary of his wife, though whether it’s on purpose or by accident remains to be seen.
Then, of course, there’s Kendall. He can’t get much lower than he already is. What does the rebuilding of Kendall look like? What allies does he have left? What pull does he have anywhere? I can’t help but think of Stewy saying to him that he can play the friend card. Will that offer exist down the line? Despite his predicament, one way or another Kendall has to crawl out of the hole he’s in, and whether it’s by his father’s side or against him is something I can’t wait to see. Join me next week as I dive into episode 2 of what looks to be a great season of Succession.