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The Ballad of Ron Rockstone: Breaking Down Episode 4 of ‘Succession’

We get a close look at just how broken Logan’s children are

HBO/Ringer illustration

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 fourth episode of Season 2, “Safe Room.”

Spoiler warning

Editor’s note: HBO released Succession Episode 4 on Friday (instead of its regularly scheduled Sunday) for the Labor Day weekend.

Succession’s Line of Succession, Week 4

With Roman’s insubordination in the rearview, Kendall is able to convince Pierce’s CEO, Rhea Jarrell (American icon Holly Hunter), to agree to a tête-à-tête with the Roys.

“This is us three,” Logan tells Kendall and Frank when strategizing before the meeting. “We’re the group on this, OK?”

Shiv—in for her unexplained first day at the company—is suspicious of the trio’s secrecy. She’s being whisked from room to room in the Waystar building without being told what, exactly, she’s supposed to be doing. “I don’t know,” she tells Kendall when he asks why his sister is around. “Do I have to tell you?”

Shiv’s eventual ascension to the throne is still a secret, and her brother, as far as she’s concerned, is still a threat. Naturally then, she’s excluded when Logan and Kendall meet with Rhea to discuss the potential purchase. But the Pierce CEO drops the best “fuck off” of the season so far when she gives the Roy boys an unambigious “no.” I beg of you, Jesse Armstrong: Give me more Holly Hunter (and Cherry Jones, too, please).

Roman, still ostensibly co-COO, has been whisked away to management training camp, hoping to raise his profile and improve upon his less-than-stellar reputation. It’s a start, and his idea wins a pitch contest. Still, he’s low on the totem pole. Though not as low as Tom, who has been tasked with conducting an investigation of an ATN host with possible (read: clear) ties to white supremacists. It’s all coincidence, they hope, as he’s great with key demographics. But his wedding was at a chapel at Hitler’s Bavarian compound, and his dog was named after the Fuhrer’s dog, and he’d read Mein Kampf a few times.

But before the line of inquiry progresses, there’s a gunshot heard in the Waystar building, and Tom and Greg are sent to one panic room, while Logan, Shiv, Kendall, Gerri, and Rhea are shepherded to another. Trapped in their windowless cocoon, the Roys break Rhea’s wall. First it’s Shiv, who opens her up to the idea that the two news organizations could share a symbiotic relationship. Then it’s Logan and Kendall, who continue to increase the size of the offer from $20 billion upward, all to Shiv’s chagrin.

Rhea eventually relents and tells the Roys she’ll bring the Pierce family their offer of $24 billion. As she pulls away, Logan commends his son for his work in the room, then offers Shiv nothing but a wide stare. Kendall may not think he’s still in the game, but from the outside, it looks like he’s winning. But as we learn a few minutes later, that hierarchy might not last.

Theme of the Week: Logan’s Broken Children

From the time we first met the Roy children, there’ve been moments that illustrate how Logan’s gruff and distant parenting affected them. One example is Shiv’s inability to participate in a loving, monogamous marriage, and the overwhelming sense of dread that causes her to act coldly around Tom when she’s adulterated. Another example is Connor’s detachment from reality and his season-long obsession with becoming president. This week, we were given some … unfortunate insight into Roman’s dysfunctions.

When criticizing the management seminars Gerri insisted he attend, he jokes that he’ll grow up to know the price of an egg and “do phone sex like a normo.” Later, he makes a genuine friend, and it has such an impact on him that he demands for said friend to be fast-tracked up the corporate ladder. Later that day, when he tries to be a normo and have phone sex with Tabitha, Roman is squirmish and uncomfortable. We’ve known the pair’s sex life is nonexistent, but this week we find out why: It’s not until Roman climbs back on the phone with Gerri and begs her to insult him that he’s able to find real sexual pleasure. Maybe that’s just the natural growth that comes from someone who demanded to be placed in a kennel as a child. But even this dysfunction doesn’t hold a candle to Kendall’s Pandora’s box.

Kendall has been in a trance since the start of the season. Gone is the man who brashly wore $670 calfskin sneakers and walked from room to room with a confidence of someone who could afford to purchase each room and everyone in it. His wife and children are gone. Any chance of intimacy with anyone else is gone. His future is gone. His independence is gone. Kendall Roy is a shell whose function is only to serve Logan and his interests.

Chapelquiddick, as someone on the internet called it, and the ensuing fallout—Kendall’s stiff, mortified jaunt back to the castle, and Logan blackmailing him into submission—is all that defines Kendall now. When he shut down Vaulter in Episode 2, his reasoning was “because my dad told me to.” When he suspected his brother Roman may have gone behind Logan’s back to negotiate with Pierce in Episode 3, he sussed it out, and made no effort to hide his unyielding loyalty.

Kendall’s value, as he says to Shiv, lies only with Logan’s potential to use him. Logan thanks his son for securing open negotiations with the Pierce family, and his general public ambivalence toward Shiv could be read as signs of Kendall’s ascension back atop the pecking order. But what followed—his harrowing, emasculating breakdown in front of his sister—shows that Kendall is in no state to compete for the throne.

“Shiv, it’s not going to be me,” he says before begging for a hug and crying into her shoulder. It’s the closest he’s come to telling anyone what happened that night in England. It’s a safe bet the truth will come out before the season ends. But for now, the pain metastasizes in subtler ways. He steals and does drugs to feel something. He looks out on the rooftop, and inches closer to the edge to feel something. Or maybe he just wants to feel nothing.

Most Callous Display of Wealth

All things considered, this was a relatively tame episode as far as Roy family opulence goes. Most of the main characters interact only within the Waystar headquarters, and those who don’t are busy attending management seminars and funerals. We do get a peak at the chasm between the haves and have-nots, however, when an active shooter alarm locks down the company.

Logan, Kendall, Rhea, and Shiv are escorted to a luxe panic room behind two doors (one with security, one with a keypad lock) , and furnished with pristine white couches, drinking glasses, Voss water, bunk beds, and a television.

All screenshots via HBO

Greg, Tom, and some underlings, meanwhile, are shuttled to what’s effectively a glorified cubicle with a window, some Aquafina, a rent-a-cop, and some mid-2000s Dell desktops.

“How is this safe? It’s just a room!” Greg says before pointing out the flaws with their bunker. “A person could fit through there. A person could definitely fit through that window. A small person. An attack child.”

Campaign Watch

The Connor Roy campaign took another left turn this week and has graduated from high-priced consultants and hyper-decanted wines to keynote eulogies. Mo’s (can we call him Mo?) funeral serves as a perfect opportunity for Connor to land donors—what obscenely rich person doesn’t want a flat tax? As they arrive, Willa tells Mo’s widow she’s sorry for her loss, only for the widow look back in confusion, not knowing who “Mo” is. Turns out, “Mo” was the deceased’s nickname. His real name was Lester. Mo-Lester.

“Just, you know, old Mr. Fiddlesticks. Uncle meathands. Dad wouldn’t let us in the pool with him. But you know, the guys of that generation, it was a different time,” Connor says when Willa asks if Mo was actually a predator. Later, as Connor ponders the phrase “Lester touched all of us” for his eulogy, Willa discovers more about him, and his friend circle, nicknamed “the Wolfpack,” and argues against him delivering the speech in fear that it might reflect negatively on his campaign for him to look so chummy with a potential criminal (and an objectively bad guy).

“It’s complicated. It was a different time,” Connor says.

“It wasn’t a time before they invented laws,” Willa replies, as Michelle Pantsil, Logan’s biographer, arrives. Out of caution, Willa neuters Connor’s speech and reduces it to a series of objective facts like “Lester was a man,” and “when a man dies it is sad.” Truly presidential stuff.

The Most Brutal Insults of the Week

5. When a longtime coworker insists on making obscure historical references.

“Why don’t you take your library card and fuck off?” — Logan Roy

4. On suggesting a family member by marriage is property.

“I will not let you do this to me! I will not let go of what is mine!” — Tom Wambsgans

3. On tourists that approach a giant anthropomorphic turkey.

“Gobledy go fuck yourself.” — Roman Roy

2. What to say when your quasi-son starts masturbating to you over the phone.

“You disgusting little pig. How pathetic. You are a revolting little worm, aren’t you. You little slime puppy. You’re revolting, Roman.” — Gerri Killman

1. When Kendall tries to explain a cover story for a secret meeting.

“Thank you for the cover story. We don’t need to bother with all that. We know you’re interested in acquisition again, and we have a message. The message would be on behalf of the Pierce family and the media organization it has privately owned for 150 years, the message would be a typically balanced, nuanced, and objective fuck off.” — Rhea Jarrell

The Cousin Greg Corner

What a week for the Machiavellian fuck. Earlier this season, Greg expressed his concerns to Tom about transitioning to ATN. The Fox News analogue conflicted with his morals from the start. And things haven’t changed after some time on the inside. After a (minor) panic attack in the panic room, Greg works up the confidence to ask Tom for a transfer.

“ATN, human furniture, verbal assaults, physical humiliations, Nazi stuff, shooters. I just don’t love it,” he tells Tom. “I wanna go explore. And then I could come back. It could be like a business open relationship”

For reference, human furniture:

Tom takes this news poorly, and pelts Greg with water bottles while keeping security from intervening. Later, after Tom apologizes for the way he behaved, Greg plays his hand. At the end of last season, Greg mentions to Kendall that it’d be in his best interest to look after him, and now, faced with keeping a job he has no desire to continue working, he does the same to Tom.

“So you know how you had me destroy those documents at cruises? Well I kept a few of them. Just in case I got in trouble and because I was worried maybe I was destroying evidence of criminality.” Greg says. “I don’t want to bring anything up to you in a way that feels like, horrible, but would it be bad for me to mention those to you now?”

“Are you asking if you can blackmail me?” Tom asks.

There’s some cross talk about the logistics of blackmail, and Tom concedes and gives Greg more money, a new title, and a new office. At least things are going well for one member of the family.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.