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Eunuch Besties and After-Dinner Stargazes: Breaking Down Episode 5 of ‘Succession’

This week, the Roys meet their liberal counterparts

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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 fifth episode of Season 2, “Tern Haven.”

Succession’s Line of Succession, Week 5

Logan Roy is approaching the finish line in his quest to acquire rival media conglomerate Pierce (or PGM), but a few important hurdles remain before he can nab his prize. Pierce is a renowned media outlet—you’d imagine their news channels don’t have chyrons warning viewers of the dangers presented by “gender fluid illegals”—and they want to ensure handing the keys to the castle to Waystar Royco won’t entirely upend its integrity. Therefore, the Pierce family invites the Roys to their palatial abode to inquire about the latter’s “moral character.” (LOL, I know.)

Obviously, it’s in everyone’s interest to be on their best behavior and act like decent, somewhat normal human beings—but, this being the Roy clan, that’s like expecting Ben Simmons to shoot a 3-pointer. Things inevitably unravel, as Connor gets into a shouting contest with a Pierce who works at the Brookings Institution (“a fine elite establishment,” he notes); Roman can’t think of a single book he’s read so makes one up called The Electric Circus that, per his own description, sounds like a shittier version of The Time Traveler’s Wife; Marcia gets sauced at dinner and starts shit-talking her husband; and Shiv ribs one of the Pierces for getting a PhD in Africana studies (his second!) before blurting out that she’s going to take over for her dad and drawing an excruciating silence. It’s not the showing Logan was hoping for, but hey, at least it’s a sincere reflection of the family.

The head of the Pierce clan, Nan (Cherry Jones), doesn’t hide her distaste for Logan, his conservative-leaning politics, or the Waystar brand. But PGM has suffered losses in eight consecutive quarters; these days, good journalism requires deep pockets. With the approval of most, if not all, of the Pierce family, she’s willing to sell the company to Logan—under a few conditions. Most of them he’s willing to accept—RIP Tom, a sacrificial lamb whom the Pierces don’t want overseeing their prized news division—but Logan balks at their biggest request of all: the immediate public naming of Shiv as his successor. “She may be one of you,” Nan explains, “but she’s young, she’s a woman, and her politics fit better with the core values of our family business.”

The fact that Logan won’t even acquiesce to this condition in the deal makes sense. Ever since offering Shiv the chance to take over the company when he steps down back in the Season 2 premiere, he has slowly peeled away at her spirit, as it’s become tragically clear he never seriously intended to hand her the reins in the first place. Shiv, for her part, has fallen into her father’s trap: she quit her career in politics, the lifeline that ensured her some independence from the Waystar empire, to become an apprentice at Waystar. Instead of hedging her bets, she went all in on trusting Logan Roy to stick to his word. She should’ve known better. If Logan’s aim this whole time was to prove that Shiv wants his acceptance as much as his other children, well, now he’s succeeded. The look he gives her at the end of the episode—after Nan reluctantly agrees to the deal even if Shiv won’t be named successor—is just so savage.

Of course, none of this takes away from the fact that Shiv is still the most logical successor to the throne. The uniquely out-of-control failsons Roman and Connor will be nonstarters in perpetuity; poor, flailing hypebeast Kendall is stealing vape fluid and contemplating suicide. But Kendall remains Logan’s number one boy in earnest because he’s been reduced to a subservient mess who answers his every beck and call (which says a lot about Logan as a parent that this shell of a human who’s continually tried to stab him in the back is the easiest thing he can love). Even though Kendall told Shiv that he won’t be the one to take over the company, he is his father’s ideal successor; with Kendall in control, Logan would effectively be the leader of a Waystar shadow government.

The hilarious thing is none of this will matter when Logan eventually dies—he might have all the money and power in the world, but time is undefeated. The way Logan has been playing the game this season, however, makes you believe he genuinely thinks he’s immortal. That he’s put his most capable child (Shiv) on the brink of psychological ruin (for, what, the fun of it?) means he’s only digging his own grave—for himself, his multibillion-dollar company, and most importantly, the Roy family legacy.

Theme of the Week: The Roys’ Liberal Mirror Selves

For Succession showrunner Jesse Armstrong, the allure of introducing the Pierce family is fairly obvious: In the show’s universe, what would the liberal-leaning version of the Roys be like? If the Roys are somewhat reminiscent of the Murdochs, it would seem the fictional Pierce clan could be a stand-in for the Sulzbergers, the family that’s controlled The New York Times since the late 1800s. There aren’t many direct comparisons beyond that, however. “Tern Haven” introduces so many Pierce family members that most of them—besides Nan and her younger cousin Naomi—are reduced to liberal caricatures, like the one dude going for a (again, second!) PhD in Africana studies. (It’s implied his first degree was in astronomy, since he leads everyone on an eye-roll-inducing “after-dinner stargaze.”) But if I were to describe the Pierce vibe, I would say it felt a lot like Bradley Whitford’s character in Get Out claiming he’d vote for Obama a third term: a genial demeanor hiding something a little more insidious.

The Pierce family comes across as performative—extolling good virtues while also, much like the Roys, seeming just as comfortable with a lavish lifestyle that includes frequent helicopter rides and glitzy mansions. Nan, for instance, asks her head housekeeper Rosa if she’d like to relax and have a drink with the rest of the gang, despite knowing she has to get back in the kitchen and work on the evening’s feast. That this suggestion to chill out with the 1 percenters is done within earshot of Logan seems entirely the point. Then, after Rosa and the rest of the Pierce staff slaves away at dinner, the main course is handed over to Nan so she may bask in the glory of what’s presented as a “home-cooked” meal. (Technically it was, but also, the closest Nan got to preparing the meal was carrying it from the kitchen to the dining room.)

It’s not that the Pierces are morally bankrupt people, they just care so much about putting on appearances you become suspicious of them. There’s something comforting about the way the Roys wear their awfulness on their sleeves. The Pierce clan doesn’t say anything damning, but they come across as hungry vultures eating up the Roy dysfunction.

As far as obscenely wealthy families go, the Pierces are certainly a better alternative to the Roys—you’d much rather tolerate the 1 percent pursuing PhDs in Africana studies than ludicrous presidential bids centered on tax abolishment. And, again, you’d expect their news division to actually inform viewers instead of right-wing fear-mongering. But if there’s a lesson behind meeting the Roys’ mirror selves, it’s that the über-wealthy will still put their own interests above anyone else’s. “You can’t put a value on what we do,” Nan tells Logan during their heated negotiation—except that, at $25 billion, it turns out you can.

Most Callous Display of Wealth

In lieu of saying, “uh, the entire episode?” and getting reprimanded by my editors, let’s focus on the flirtatious tête-à-tête between Kendall and Naomi at the Pierce mansion. Naomi is the biggest objector to a Roy takeover, for very understandable reasons: Waystar-controlled tabloids brought national attention to the lowest points in her life, including a nasty car accident that left her with a shattered femur. She is also, like Kendall, recovering from a drug addiction and can’t resist a good time.

Their bonding sesh ought to be familiar to anybody who’s gotten plastered and had deep (and probably incoherent) philosophical conversations with someone they’ve just met. But instead of, say, shooting the shit on the roof of an apartment, these two nearly commit what can only be described as the world’s first helicopter DUI. (Or, I guess, technically FUI?)

Thankfully, Kendall is able to stop the helicopter from taking off, and these two messily make out after Naomi says, “You’re such a little nothing, aren’t you?” Suffice to say, no amount of booze and/or drugs would make jumping into a helicopter and pushing a ton of buttons seem like a normal thing to do. This is a quintessential rich people problem.

The Most Brutal Insults of the Week

5. On the Pierce negotiations: “Uh, would you like to hear my favorite passage from Shakespeare? Take the fucking money.” —Logan

4. On yet another night of Roman being a naughty boy: “You know what you are? … A sick fuck. You’re a sick fucking animal—yeah, don’t look at me. Get in the bathroom. Now!” —Gerri, my kinky queen

3. On Roman’s impotence: “No, we’re not planning to have a baby, ‘cause that would require us having sex … we’re like, eunuch besties.” —Tabitha

2. On what’s basically the thesis statement for the entire show: “Watching you people melt down is the most deeply satisfying activity on planet Earth.” —Naomi

1. On preparing Kendall for the fateful Pierce weekend: “Keep clean this weekend, eh killer?” —Logan, which is brutal on so many levels!

The Cousin Greg Corner

For a while, it seemed like Succession was totally, tragically deprived of Cousin Greg content this week. But then, like a gangly phoenix rising from the ashes, Greg the motherfucking Egg emerged at Logan’s penthouse at the end of “Tern Haven” to celebrate the completion of the Pierce deal.

A few things. Greg wants to go by “Gregory” now for reasons unclear—perhaps because, like a kid starting high school, he believes that a fancier-sounding name will help him create a new image. (It’s definitely not gonna stick.) He is also blissfully unaware that everyone but Logan has left the weekend miserable, but still asks innocently enough, “Was it awesome?” [Narrator voice] It was not awesome. And finally, in a new contender for one of the best quotes of the season, Logan joyously greets Greg with: “Have a drink, have a drink, you beautiful, Ichabod Crane-fuck, you.”

You beautiful, Ichabod Crane-fuck, you—just, wow. Put this on a poster; tattoo it across my chest. The best part is, while it’s an insult to Greg’s stringy appearance, this is what it’s like to catch Logan in a great mood. Though Logan is a ruthless monster, it’s sort of sweet that even he is cheered by the sight of Greg awkwardly walking through the door with a naive smile. It certainly won’t be the last time on this tragicomic series that we’re warmed by the presence of Greg—sorry, Gregory.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.