Near the end of the first season of Succession, the HBO series about a powerful, pitiful family, the only daughter of media titan Logan Roy gets dressed down by his disdainful third wife. “He made you a playground and you think it’s a whole world,” says Marcia Roy to Siobhan Roy, on the eve of Shiv’s wedding to the chucklehead Tom Wambsgans, referring to her cosseted, privileged existence. Tough, but fair.
But it’s hard to blame Shiv for being that way when the entire Succession viewership experience can be so similar. Yes, the series is a playground, a show about bad rich people who operate as if they’re at leisure even when they’re at work. (In lieu of playground equipment, they have corporate ladders, slides into addiction, and big swinging dicks.) On the surface, it’s all frivolous: the helicopters, the calfskin sneakers, the tantrums over cold butter, the irreverent startups, the drugs. And yet at the same time, it also is the world, both our world and its own.
Succession pays off because so much of its subject matter—corruption, corporate subterfuge, dysfunctional fams—is rooted in the unsavory depths of the “real world.” But more than that, it succeeds because of its devotion to its internal world-building, by which I mean its true, ridiculous, ongoing commitment to its bits.
Who knew that, say, swallowing one’s own load would be the gift that keeps on giving, or that a cable-knit sweater in lieu of a suit would make so much sense? From Napoleonic podcasts to the Fly Guys, from egg-lookin’ newborns to a whole lot of piss, Succession routinely generates its own gravitational force. Below, to help with reorientation in advance of Sunday night’s Season 2 premiere, is the guide to its galaxy.
American cheese (n.): “No other cheese in the world can touch [the] meltability or goo factor” of good old processed yellow American cheese, the chef, scientist, and cookbook author J. Kenji López-Alt once wrote on Serious Eats. Which is why senator and presidential candidate Gil Eavis, the love child of Bernie Sanders and Bill Maher that Shiv Roy works for, must be really frustrated when he gripes that he’s come to a knife fight with his adversary Logan “holding a dildo made out of American cheese.”
American Diablo (n.): A (fictional!) recent album by the recording artist Kalfu that is, according to Kendall Roy, “fucking imperial” and Kalfu’s finest work yet. Which means a lot coming from the man who also wants Kalfu to know that he “owns the company that owns the company that owns the label that pays his fucking ass!”
Arthur Laffer, of the Laffer Curve (n.): A guest at Shiv’s wedding and the real-world economist whose theory about the relationship between tax rates and total revenue is a favorite talking point of those who have been hailing tax cuts and trickle-down economics since the ’80s.
Aspen (n.): The Rocky Mountain town where Logan once shattered a femur before being airlifted to a board meeting and still making it on time.
ATN (n.): The Fox News-y channel owned by Waystar Royco that becomes a linchpin in an uneasy stalemate between Logan and leftist Senator Gil Eavis brokered by Shiv: If ATN quits going for the jugular on Eavis, Eavis will quit going for the jugular on Roy.
Austerlitz (n.): An 1805 Napoleonic battle and the name of Connor Roy’s New Mexico ranch, where the family gathers for some PR-motivated therapy that ends in “a very highly regarded corporate therapist” who “just worked with the Sultan of Brunei” knocking his teeth out after diving headfirst into a shallow pool. The ranch earned the name after prior nomenclature was deemed “racially insensitive” and Connor—a Napoleonic autodidact who has supposedly garnered “considerable investment interest” for a podcast about the guy—chose a new one.
bear hug (n.): A corporate takeover strategy in which, prior to launching an all-out hostile takeover bid against a company, the potential acquirer sends a chipper letter praising synergies and offering big enough bucks that there isn’t much choice but to start talks. According to a 2008 Andrew Ross Sorkin explainer, there are teddy bear hugs (private letters) and grizzly bear hugs (public ones), and people who have drafted them over the years include Boone Pickens and Steve Ballmer. In Succession, there are two vital bear hugs in Season 1: the on-paper one that Kendall and Stewy and “the Canadians” put together while trying to usurp Logan, and the physical one that Logan wraps Kendall in at the end of the season as he comforts (and implicitly threatens) his “no. 1 boy” following Kendall’s role in a deadly accident.
Buckley (n.): The all-boys K-9 prep school on the Upper East Side (mascot: “the blue demon”) attended by Kendall and his profiteer pal Stewy (and a bunch of Rockefellers, and Roosevelts, and Donald Trump Jr.).
Brightstar Adventure Park (n.): An amusement park owned by Waystar Royco, the family conglomerate, and the location of a wig out by a stoned Cousin Greg that culminates in him barfing out of the eyeholes of a giant dog costume. Overseen, along with the rest of the Adventure Parks department, by Shiv’s boyfriend/fiancé/husband Tom Wambsgans.
calamari cock ring (n.): What a bunch of Canadian pension fund guys call Kendall Roy behind his back, according to Frank, who then pleads ignorance on what it could possibly mean. “I think it means they think of me as a cock ring made from calamari, Frank,” Kendall says. “It’s pretty self-explanatory.” Kendall should write this dictionary!!!
California Pizza Kitchen (n.): A casual dining chain originally launched in 1985 by two lawyers in Beverly Hills that has, over the years, built a corporate private-then-public-then-private-again financial history spicy enough to give Waystar Royco a run for its money. One particularly fun period involved some slimy accounting that led to an emergency board meeting that was called without the company’s CEO present and led to his ouster. CPK is now owned by a private equity firm, serves Cajun chicken linguine just the way Greg likes it—Tom taunts him for such plebeian cravings—and does not have calamari on the menu.
Chappaquiddick (n.): The island off Martha’s Vineyard where Ted Kennedy drove a car off a bridge after midnight in the summer of ’69, causing the death of 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne. The Season 1 finale of Succession bears several similarities to the “Chappaquiddick Incident,” as that night is genteelly called: Kendall Roy is in a car with a local high-on-ketamine cater-waiter when it plunges into the water the night of his sister’s wedding. Like Kennedy, Kendall (and only Kendall) escapes. And his powerful family helps to ensure that the “incident” that ended a life doesn’t ruin his. For now, at least!
chinless hippie prick (n.): The possible boyfriend or partner of Caroline, Logan’s acerbic second wife and the mother of three of his four children. It is quite frankly cruel of the show to tease us with a description like this without following up with a visual …
closed-loop system (n.): “Greg tells me you swallowed your own load,” Roman remarks to Tom at the end of the latter’s druggy bachelor party, referring to a sexual encounter between the groom-to-be and a leggy blonde named Tabitha that Tom will be unable to live down for the rest of his life, no matter how much he rationalizes things. “It’s cool, though,” Tom says, “cause it’s like I didn’t cheat, cause all the sperm stayed in my own body. Like a closed-loop system.” Tabitha dates Roman now, sexlessly, which Tom rationalizes as “just one of those weird urban things, like when you go to see stand-up and the comedian is your dentist.”
HBO's Succession presented without context pic.twitter.com/vo32IXaXd8— Miles Surrey (@HKSurrey) July 26, 2018
Colin (n.): Logan’s security detail/body man/probably body burier, who by some means wound up recovering Kendall’s key card at the scene of the car accident.
control the narrative (v.): The Roy family’s constant quest (and seemingly the full-time job of Karolina, a member of the Waystar legal team) to convince the public that they aren’t horrible people and bad at their jobs. When Logan changed his mind and decided to attend Shiv’s wedding, that was why. When the family got together at Austerlitz to supposedly reconcile, that was why. And as Logan tells a crying Kendall post-car accident, they can control the narrative here too: the cater-waiter’s death could be a case of “a rich kid kills a boy” from which Kendall would never escape, or “you know, it could be what it should be: a sad little detail at a lovely wedding where father and son are reconciled.”
crank (n.): A ragged form of meth that Kendall smoked with, per Roman, “some mole men” in New Mexico.
Craig (n.): A name Greg will gladly answer to, especially if it’s Logan doing the asking.
deck shoes (n.): Not to be worn on land, as Tom admonishes Greg.
dildo (n.): A synthetic wang. The American cheese dildo described above is a familiar flourish when it comes to shows in Succession showrunner Jesse Armstrong’s orbit. In the British comedy The Thick of It, which Armstrong worked on with Armando Iannucci, main character Malcolm Tucker is described as “as useful as a marzipan dildo.” (In Iannucci’s Veep, president Selina Meyer references the ostensible difficulty of using a croissant as a dildo.) And Succession also features, in the fourth episode, talk of a “dildo shaped like Richard Nixon,” but in this case gives no specifics on the material composition thereof.
Dundee, Scotland (n.): Birthplace of Logan Roy. Wikipedia is currently trying to prank me into buying that Dundee is hailed for its “jute, jam, and journalism.”
Dust (n.): A hip art startup that Kendall hopes to invest in, leading to a meeting in which he calls the founder’s earrings “very Bauhaus” and says “fuckin’ sweet chili sauce” to express enthusiasm within five seconds of arriving. Later in the meeting, he calls Waystar Royco “the fuckin’ Rebel Alliance,” calls himself “the asshole who can be your Warhol,” and takes off the shoes he’d sported specifically to impress them. Dust founder Angela later rejects Kendall’s offer, saying that the Roy name is akin to Hitler; he retaliates by instructing Frank to smear them as “junkies” and “sluts.”
egg (n.): An ovoid object, typically holding developing cells within, and laid by some manner of living creature.
Egg, Greg the Motherfuckin’ (n.): A shouted term of endearment from Kendall to Greg that refers to an earlier conversation in which Kendall’s savage mother, Caroline, informs Greg that as a baby he “looked like a little misshapen egg.”
Fly Guy code (n.): The intra-moral framework of the self-proclaimed “Fly Guys,” a.k.a. Tom and his non-Roy buddies Matt and Jonas, a sort of “leave no vanilla bro behind” ethos which Tom is forced to breach during his bachelor party out of no real fault of his own. Sucks for the Fly Guys, who flew in :(
fuck factory, shitshow at the (n.): The headline of an exposé on the various goings-on at Waystar Royco, published by the gossipy website Vaulter shortly after Waystar Royco purchases the site.
fuck off (all parts of speech): Fuck off.
fuck, you little Machiavellian (n.): The very highest of compliments that Kendall can possibly think to pay to the increasingly perceptive Greg, and a reference to the cutthroat writings of early-16th century Italian Niccolò Machiavelli, whose Il Principe paved the way for a very specific kind of cheerfully sociopathic LinkedIn blog post.
Fuckchester, Sir Talky of (n.): a.k.a. Frank, per Stewy.
fuckin’ juice-dropper (n.): A startling piece of information delivered during the most important meal of the day. Before Shiv Roy joins the Gil Eavis campaign, she politically strategizes for a senatorial candidate whose husband posts a lewd image of his butthole on a site called Filthy Rich. But ATN staff ponder: How to describe the body part on television? “‘Anus?’ At breakfast?” says Eva, a top producer. “That’s a fuckin’ juice-dropper.”
fuckin’ king of the lampoon (n.): Kendall’s self-assessment of his time as, presumably, publisher (“kicked their distribution into shape,” is how he describes his role) of, presumably, the satirical Harvard Lampoon, a publication well-known for its role in providing a comic outlet/education for the likes of Conan O’Brien, Michael Schur, and Simon Rich—the youngest-ever guy to get a writing gig on Saturday Night Live, and also Succession executive producer Frank Rich’s youngest son.
fuckin’, like, ugly Petro-Ruble rich (n.): A next-level oligarch-ass tier of riches, per Stewy.
fucking tanker, turning a (v.): The act of attempting to reorient a particularly large and unwieldy ship, or truck, or—when roared by a leonine Logan Roy in the midst of a failed attempt to oust him from the board of Waystar Royco—embattled corporation.
fucklehead (n.): One who ought to buckle up.
Fuckleroy, Little Lord (n.): Succession’s adaption of the 1885 rags-to-riches serial novel.
go Lehman (v.): To collapse, corporately, as the major investment bank did during the global financial crisis in 2008.
golf umbrella (n.): A picture is worth a thousand poked-out eyeballs. We all know these dudes.
gruel (n.): An unsatisfying porridge-esque sludge that Gil uses as an illustration of the popular misconceptions about his brand of socialism-lite. “I’m a champagne-for-all guy, not a gruel-for-all guy,” Eavis tells Kendall.
head of being continually thwarted (n.): Kendall’s unofficial job title, per Kendall.
iPad (n.): A touch-screen tablet from Apple whose portable size and glassy facade makes it useful as a surface upon which to snort cocaine, as Kendall’s ex-wife Rava found out when he “left coke smeared all over the kids’ iPads,” she reminds him.
Lanvin (n.): The French fashion house and designer of the grapes-and-sunshine calfskin mid-top sneakers that Kendall cops during his brief T-Shirt Guy phase as he tries to impress the cool kids at Dust. Actor Jeremy Strong told The New York Times that “I spent a long time trying to pick out the right sneakers” and that after shooting wrapped, he kept the kicks “along with a bunch of other stuff that I’m rocking in Copenhagen as we speak.”
Lester (n.): The head of Cruises, whose sexually-harassing ways (and the paper trail surrounding them) are a major part of a cache of incriminating documents that Tom tricks Greg into knowing about and Greg tricks Tom into believing he’s completely destroyed.
Matador (n.): Roman Roy’s lewk, as per Roman Roy.
Mondale (n.): The surname of former Minnesota Senator and U.S. vice president Walter Mondale, and also the name of the Wambsgans’s dog.
Morgan Stanley sex pest (n.): The target buyer of Dust’s upsold art, according to a drugged-up, bitter Kendall.
nudie turtles (n.): Everyone’s truest selves, hidden beneath their protective shells, according to Tom.
no. 1 boy (n.): Connor’s technical place in the Roy family birth order, yet Kendall’s lifelong may you live in interesting times-style curse, uttered by his protective and vindictive father.
ortolan (n.): Have you ever wanted to live that boa-constrictor lifestyle? If you’re rich enough, you can: Last year, the consumption of ortolan—delicate lil’ songbirds whose bodies you crush in the back of your throat while shrouding your face in a fine linen napkin—was a plot point on both Billions and Succession, kind of like the Armageddon–Deep Impact of disturbing culinary behavior.
paddle your own canoe (v.): The advice Greg’s reclusive grandfather, Logan’s mostly estranged brother Ewan, gives him about how to deal with the Roy family.
Patek Philippe (n.): A brand of watch known, per Tom, for being incredibly accurate: “Whenever you look at it, it tells you exactly how rich you are.” Tom gives the watch to Logan, but later (after Roman toys viciously with the mind of the help’s kid during what’s meant to be a chill accessible-only-via-heli softball game), Logan has his bodyguard/fixer Colin give it to the family along with an NDA to sign.
perspicacious (adj.): Does Cousin Greg have one of those tearaway word-of-the-day calendars on whatever empty milk crate he’s currently using as a combination nightstand/dresser/desk? Considering the way he described himself in a conversation with Logan as “perspicacious”—discerning, shrewd, perceptive, astute—all signs point to yes.
Pinky (n.): Logan’s pet name for Shiv.
preekend (n.): Thursday lunch through Friday afternoon, according to Tom.
pre-poop (v.): To preemptively embed feces within dog-walk bags during the course of manufacturing—a thing, Greg points out, that does not happen, which is why it’s all good that he’s hoarding free corporate cookies in what are normally bags of shit.
President of the United States (n.): A job that involves helping Logan Roy with “this FCC red-tape bullshit” and a position currently being pursued by Gil Eavis and potentially also by Connor Roy, who declares in the Season 1 finale: “I’ve finally found a job I want to do!”
Quebec (n.): The Canadian province where Logan and Ewan Roy were raised “by an uncle with a print shop and a few advertising billboards and an aunt with a herd of cattle.”
Rhomboid (n.): The underground quasi-orgiastic cool kids party in Brooklyn where, in a late audible, Roman holds Tom’s bachelor party. (The original plan had been Prague, and Tom had even packed his scarves accordingly.) Unclear whether the Morgan Stanley sex pests have gotten word about this place or caught on to closed-loop theory.
rip (v.): What happens to the dinner rolls when the butter’s too cold at a fancy dinner. (Other things that can go wrong: a lopsided crowd; signature cocktails that are too avant-garde; pesto in the gin; no flow.)
robot Olympics (n.): One of Roman Roy’s failed programming ideas from his time in Los Angeles.
Romulus (n.): Logan’s pet name for Roman, and also the name of the ancient twin raised at the teat of a she-wolf who murdered his brother Remus and founded the Roman kingdom.
RECNY (n.): Standing for the sorta word-salady Roy Endowment Creative New York, the gala-hosting Roy family foundation that Connor wants his father to pivot away from supporting “sick kids and contemporary dance” and “toward tax reform.”
Sad Sack Wasp Trap (n): Roy family shorthand for their annual fundraiser, and an accurate description of, like, basically anything called a “gala.”
Sausalito (n.): A quaint, tourist-trappy harbor town just north of San Francisco where, according to Caroline, Greg’s father used to try to sleep with all the men.
Shanghai (n.): Where Kendall was corporately exiled for a year after going to rehab, and where he vocally does not wish to return. (Sort of Succession’s version of Equities in Dallas?)
Skunkhead Tanner (n.): A bartender in New Mexico recognizes Kendall’s last name and tells him a story about his brother: One night, Connor came into the place with a cancer-ridden dog, saying he couldn’t bear to have the dog put down but also couldn’t watch him suffer. He offered to pay anyone to take the dog and give him a good life. “Anyway,” the bartender tells Kendall, “Skunkhead Tanner over there took three grand, shot her in the parking lot.” Kendall smokes meth with Skunkhead Tanner later that day.
sourdough starter (n.): A substance with which one can make bread without needing yeast, and a gift from Connor to his confused dad, who refers to it as “bread goo.” (Hey, perhaps it could be used as the next Armstrongian dildo!)
strategy of a thousand lifeboats (n): Kendall’s corporate plan, which involves trying to have a foot in as many media businesses as possible (except porn, “a bad lifeboat,” he says), and therefore kinda presupposes that the ship is sinking.
Stewy (all parts of speech): A private equity vulture trying to take over Waystar Royco. A Buckley classmate. A schemer. A big mood. Even a mother tongue: “Luckily, I speak Stewy,” says Kendall when he floats the idea that his old classmate should lend him four bil and hears that Stewy is “not necessarily totally opposed to this notion.” That, Kendall says, is “Stewy for: ‘I have a fuckin’ raging hard-on for this.’”
Tanegashima (n.): The Japanese island from which a Waystar media satellite is set to be launched, an event that Logan delegates to Roman to manage. Roman’s plan to get his father’s attention by broadcasting the dangerously accelerated launch during Shiv’s wedding is foiled when his sister rejects the idea—“I don’t want to have a big fucking dick blasting off at my wedding,” she says—and the launch is a literal bust, exploding before takeoff. Luckily for Roman, no one dies; there are only a couple of lost thumbs, and maybe an arm.
tasty morsels from groovy hubs (n.): Roman Roy’s grand (and correct!) vision for what the internet ought to be.
The Biggest Turkey in the World (n.): A film that Roman tried to kill during his time at the films division in Los Angeles, only to be overruled by his colleagues, who were right: Audiences LOVED the story of an enormous, havoc-wreaking turkey. When Roman walks in on his girlfriend, Grace, enjoying a scene in which said turkey eats corn from a family’s backyard, he is so bitter at his professional misjudgment that he ends their relationship then and there.
the death pit (n.): A metaphysical state of awareness of the true and harrowing contents of the air-gapped depository of covered-up corporate criminality that the retiring head of the Adventure Parks division, Bill, foisted upon his successor, Tom, with the chipper advice to “just keep the nuclear rods cool, nothing’s gonna blow.” (Naturally, Tom immediately pulled Greg into the death pit, too.)
the dog pound (n.): The subject of a tense conversation between Kendall and Roman, who reminds his older brother of a childhood “game” in which Kendall would lock Roman in a dog cage with some dog food, sometimes for hours at a time. But Connor has a different memory: Roman liked the cage, he says, and besides, the dog food was really chocolate cake.
urinate (v.): To excrete urine from one’s body; to take a leak; to pee. Examples include: tinkling onto your expensive floor in the middle of the night because you are a doddering old man (the opening scene of the whole series); filling water balloons with bodily fluids to throw in protest at bad old corporate executives (as in Episode 7); and pissing all over the floor of your son’s office because you’re an asshole who can.
Uncle Noah (n.): The uncle who raised Logan and his brother, Ewan, in Quebec and who—based on a sneering reference Kendall makes to “Evil Uncle Noah” and on a lingering shot of some brutal scars on Logan’s back—was also abusive.
unconscionable (adj.): Tom’s lawyer’s (in other words, Tom’s mom’s) verdict on the terms in the prenuptial agreement with Shiv. (That said, she DID get “all excited about tiered share option tie-ins for my sperm count,” Tom tells his affianced.)
usury and onanism (n.): Unsecured debt and masturbation, otherwise known as The Great Dangers, according to “my readings,” says Connor Roy, who plans to fashion his future presidential campaign on a platform of radical eradication of these ills. ROY 2020: SAVE THE GOOD SEED.
va te faire foutre (phrase): Essentially boils down to “fuck off” (or “go fuck yourself”) in French. Logan’s third wife Marcia spits this at Shiv during the same savage fight in which she reduces Shiv’s whole world into a playground.
Vanity Fair (n.): Tom’s lawyer (in other words, Tom’s mom) was a subscriber to this tentpole Conde Nast title covering the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and young Tom used to longingly pore over the magazine, gazing aspirationally at photos from the annual Roy family gala.
Vaulter (n.): The edgy website with shades of (pre-Hulk Hogan, RIP) Gawker that Kendall struggles but finally manages to buy, often butting heads with its blunt, assured founder Lawrence Yee.
vote of no confidence (n.): Seeking to oust his father at the top of the company, Kendall lobbies the board members to vote that an erratic Logan is no longer fit to lead Waystar Royco. (This was inspired by a real-life situation from 2004. That year, Disney chairman of two decades Michael Eisner was voted out at what was described as a “rowdy annual meeting.”) But when a possible terrorist attack closes airspace and Kendall can’t make it in time—he has to attend the meeting by speakerphone, which never ends well—his alliance crumbles, and his big coup attempt is officially, humiliatingly botched.
Waystar Royco (n): [Extremely corporate training video voice-over voice] Waystar Royco is a family. A family that spans four continents, 50 countries, three divisions: entertainment, news, and resorts. Working together to provide a net that can hold the world, or catapult it forward to the next adventure! Joining Waystar Royco, you’re joining one of the most dynamic news and entertainment companies in the world.
white drugs (n.): A category of narcotics that Greg doesn’t do—until he does, at Tom’s bachelor party, in order to prevent Kendall from snorting eight straight lines (or, to use Tom’s parlance, eight “big white dicks”). The closed captioning in this scene describes Greg as “gurgling” as he reels from the experience, and Tom taunts him gleefully all the while. “Greg, you total coke whore!” he exclaims. “I hope you don’t die!”
words (n.): Nothing but “complicated air flow,” if you’re Kendall Roy and the words in question involve your little brother getting a promotion.
yo (n.): What Kendall wanted to gather everyone together, early in his tenure, to say.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.