HBO’s most dysfunctional and obscenely rich family this side of the Lannisters has returned. After Succession went supernova in the back half of its first season—improving upon each excellent episode to a hilarious and devastating degree—it became one of the best dramas on television, which made its hiatus all the more excruciating. Well, no more! The Roys and their slimy subordinates are back, and rest assured they’re still the same bunch of power-hungry, incandescent messes we love to hate and hate to love. Every week, The Ringer will break down the biggest developments, track who’s leading the literal line of succession, and catalog each episode’s most savage burns, Cousin Greg–isms, and more. Let’s continue with the second episode of Season 2, “Vaulter.”
The Succession Line of Succession, Week 2
Shiv is still in the driver’s seat to take over for Logan but, unsurprisingly, the transition isn’t going to be so easy. “Here’s how I see it,” Logan tells his only daughter. “You come in, six months with Gerri, six months with Carl, Hong Kong for, say, another 12, Berlin or London, management training for six, come back, spend 12 months alongside me, and when you’re ready, I’ll step aside.”
“That’s a lot of months, dad,” Shiv replies. It’s 42, to be exact—or, you know, three and a half years.
Such is the difficulty of wrestling Waystar Royco away from Logan. Despite his stepping down being the most logical move—not only because of his age and deteriorating health, but because naming a successor is literally the only way the company stays in-family as the battle with Sandy and Stewy heats up—there’s little evidence to suggest that Logan will ever cede control. He seems much more likely to delay until the day he dies. That puts Shiv in a vulnerable position: She’s quit her job running Gil Eavis’s campaign and placed all of her eggs into the basket of a stubborn, conniving, self-serving, untrustworthy man. After some bargaining, Logan seems more willing to fast-track Shiv’s appointment. But because the succession plan is still a secret, there’s nothing to stop Logan from changing his mind as he did with Kendall at the beginning of Season 1.
Another product of keeping Shiv’s appointment a secret: Kendall and Roman are still vying for the job. “No one sees me coming, but I’m right on the shoulder. If dad announces tomorrow, he announces me. There’s no other option,” Roman tells Shiv, who stares blankly and lets her younger brother dream. The co-COOs’ Sisyphean task this week is to dig into the business of Vaulter—the BuzzFeed-like website Kendall fraughtfully purchased in Season 1—and find out whether it’s worth keeping. Kendall, who has a vested interest in standing behind the “lode star” he bought against basically everyone’s wishes, pitches to keep Vaulter in business, even though he admits himself that it’s disconcertingly difficult to determine the financial viability of the site. Roman, who hates the site’s staff of IPA-drinking “pretend journalists” (who are also on the verge of unionization), suggests gutting the whole thing. Logan, a businessman who loves the sound of downsizing—as all businessmen do, as seen in another scene when Tom nearly climaxes when Greg tells him that they could get rid of “50 skulls”—sides with Roman, but leaves the task to Kendall. “You think you can gut Vaulter for me?” Logan asks his broken son with the highest degree of condescension.
Thus begins one of the more ruthless sequences in Succession’s history, as Kendall—beholden by both duty and blackmail—gives an impassioned speech to the Vaulter staff and poses as an ally to their CEO, Lawrence Yee. But just as Roman begins to suspect that Kendall is once again looking to double-cross their dad, it becomes clear that Kendall was merely tricking Vaulter into postponing its unionization and Lawrence into revealing the site’s actual financials. Dead-eyed, Kendall returns to the Vaulter office to let every employee know that they’ve been fired, and to let Lawrence know that the site—minus the food and weed verticals, the only profitable ones, which Kendall hired outside contractors to maintain—is being shuttered. It’s a devastating moment that gets at the precarity of modern media companies being owned by massive corporations with little interest in anything beyond bottom lines; but it’s also a devastating look into Kendall, who shuts down his most prized possession with dead eyes merely because “my dad told me to.”
Worst of all, no matter how closely Kendall follows his father’s orders, he will never come close to the top spot at Waystar. He’s a pawn with zero leverage trapped in a cage of his own making, knowing better than anyone that the second he becomes useless to Logan, he’ll be useful to no one.
Theme of the Week: How’s That for a Carrot?
“Come here,” Senator Gil Eavis says to Shiv, placing his hand on her lower back and leading her out of earshot of anyone else. Things are going well for Gil—he’s up in the polls, people are offering him Boeing jets to use at his leisure on weekends. “The compass points to Pennsylvania Avenue,” he continues. “I have to start thinking of appointments. I’m thinking chief of staff. Can you imagine the look of fear in their eyes when they see you coming at them? Those corpulent, old, white fucks. How’s that for a carrot?”
Gil’s offering Shiv one of the most powerful positions in the United States of America, but it’s important to keep track of his metaphor. In the old days, farmers used to tie a carrot to a stick and hold it in front of a mule to get the stubborn ass to move. The carrot was a means to an end, that end being agricultural production; it was the promise of a reward for—and only for—a job well done. Applying the metaphor to Shiv and Gil, the carrot is the office of chief of staff. Going even further, Gil is the one holding the stick; Shiv is the mule.
Little did Gil know, however, that he wasn’t the only one dangling a carrot in front of Shiv. And after unyoking herself from the senator’s campaign, Shiv is ready to chase the CEO position at Waystar Royco that her father’s holding in front of her. And though she’s currently still on a high from being secretly offered the position, she’d be wise to recognize that her situation hasn’t really changed—there’s just a different man holding the stick. “You saw what your dad did to Kendall, there’s gotta be a chance he’ll do the same to you,” Tom tells Shiv late in the episode.
Tom is right, of course. Elsewhere, Logan is dangling carrots—read: his affection—in front of his sons/co-COOs Kendall and Roman. Or maybe it’s just one carrot that both are in competition for. “The one who fixes it, gets a cookie,” Logan tells the sons with a sneer on his face. The business with Vaulter is Logan’s style of emotional manipulation at its cruelest, as he flaunts his approval for one son at a time while forcing the other to look on in shame. The warmth of Logan’s sun turns into cool, devastating shade at a moment’s notice. Both Kendall and Roman would be wise to stop bending to the whims of their father—to stop letting him pit them against each other in the name of corporate maneuvering—but they had their spines removed long ago. Beyond Kendall’s blackmail-related reasons, both sons have been trained their whole lives to chase the favor of Logan Roy. They’re his mules, and always will be. And remember: In the metaphor, the mule never actually gets the carrot.
A Sampling of Vaulter Headlines
- “Meet the World’s Richest People Trafficker (He’s a Surprisingly Nice Guy)”
- “Soylent Green Could Become a Delicious Reality”
- “Is Every Taylor Swift Fanatic Secretly Marxist?”
- “5 Reasons Why Drinking Milk on the Toilet Is Kind of a Game-Changer”
To be honest, I would click on all of these.
Most Callous Display of Wealth
I could give this award to Kendall’s move to buy five massive New York City apartments to sit on “until the market starts to move,” but I think there’s a better option. At Kendall’s daughter’s birthday party—held at one of Waystar’s amusement parks, which Logan “benevolently” shut down for the occasion—the birthday girl has done all the rides and is looking for a bit more of a thrill. “Can they make the wagon train go faster?” she asks. “Well, let’s ask,” he replies. And then this happens:
Using your family name to turn a children’s ride into a death machine for the sake of your daughter’s enjoyment—the height of luxury!
The Most Brutal Insults of the Week
5. On Connor Roy moving into a New York City hotel: “He rents a room, he rents a girl.” —Marcia Roy
4. To Lawrence Yee, after Vaulter’s shuttering: “Go find another chicken coop, cunt.” —Kendall Roy
3. On Tom: “Where do you buy your suits, by the way, Tom? Maybe that’s why I’m not moving as fast as you, I just don’t have that corporate box-y look. Right? I mean, I’m sorry but like, what the fuck? You look like a Transformer. What’s wrong with your body, man?” —Roman Roy
2. On Tom again: “You look like a divorce attorney from the Twin Cities.” —Roman Roy (Side note: Everyone was very mean to Tom this week and it BROKE MY HEART.)
1. On Kendall Roy’s relevance: “Kendall Roy is no longer relevant.” —Stewy Hosseini
The Cousin Greg Corner
Because Succession can’t just be 50 straight minutes of corporate backstabbing and deeply disturbing family dynamics, we were given a delightful C-plot centered on Greg’s search for a new apartment. Things do not start well, as his prospects are initially limited to:
- Moving in with Willa’s friend, who “has an issue with spores”
- Moving to a 600-square-foot apartment in Staten Island (Per Tom: “What?! Cousin Greg is moving to Staten Island? Oh my God, did you hear this?! Greg is getting the ferry to work—check out Brian Ferry.”)
Connor suggests he looks into staying at a hotel, because Connor is incapable of realizing there are people in the world who are not living off inherited wealth. And things get even worse when Greg is shown a studio in the city with a bedroom that is actually “a mezzanine” with a mattress on it:
The place has a considerable amount of storage, though, as Greg points out, “The thing I need storage for most urgently of all, Stanley, is me?” So that’s a no-go as well.
The apartment hunt doesn’t fully turn around until Greg delivers drugs to Kendall in one of his aforementioned five massive apartments. (Greg’s assessment of the apartment: “It’s an abundance of footage, an embarrassment of footage.”) Kendall tells Greg that he can live in it until the place actually sells—which, because the unit probably costs at least $5 million, it won’t. For a moment, Greg becomes Tom Hanks in Big:
But of course there’s a catch—the Roys don’t do nice things for people. Kendall, a man who is self-professedly “looking for pussy like a fucking techno Gatsby,” wants to also use the space as a party den. So on the bright side, Cousin Greg has a giant apartment—in the city—that he doesn’t even have to pay for. On the other hand, some of Kendall’s acquaintances are humping in his bedroom.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.