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Monday, 25 October 2021

REVIEW: Succession: Mass in Time of War

Episode 2: Mass in Time of War’ Recapped by Jackson Maher.

Succession is a show about many things, but one of its central ideas, with its endless obsession over who will be Logan’s successor, is to compare modern-day corporatism and capitalism to monarchy. With each of Kendall’s attempts to kill the king, he’s gotten a little closer (vote of no confidence, bear hug, and now press conference), and for the first time since the show’s second episode, characters are letting themselves wonder what a post-Logan world might look like. 

Everyone is a free agent now, trying to figure out whose side is the best bet.

“Mass in the Time of War” starts moments after “Secession” left off. Logan is scrambling, and starting to feel that he’s “losing juice” while Shiv is contemplating whose side she wants to be on after being humiliated and passed over for CEO yet again. Shiv is the first to show up at Rava’s apartment to see Kendall (I hope Rava is far, far away because she’s never getting this place back).

While she’s coy with her motives, it’s clear that she sees an opportunity with Kendall, and that she’s feeling some guilt about begging Logan to sacrifice Kendall instead of Tom at the end of last season. But any consolation she has for Kendall quickly evaporates as he continues to get high off his own ego. “You tell yourself you’re a good person, but you’re not...right now I’m the real you.” Okay, dude, chill.

Shiv has always been keen on playing both sides of conflict. She’s remained outside the company in any kind of official capacity, avoiding responsibility but still cutting deals with her family. In season 1, she leveraged her position with Gil Eaves to help both the Senator and her father gain PR wins. In season 2, she could pick and choose how involved she wanted to be, speaking at the Argestes summit on behalf of the company but also semi-pursuing the Pierce CEO position in an ill-advised attempt to leverage her father.

Her meeting with Kendall is no different. She sees the obvious strength of Roy kids alliance, but she also remembers what happened the last time she put all her eggs in one basket and joined forces with Logan.

Meanwhile in Kendall’s camp, Greg is starting to have his doubts about Kendall as well. Kendall asks him to court his grandfather Ewan for him and is already telegraphing a backtrack on a promise, saying that he doesn’t even have to mention where he got the papers from. It would appear that anonymity was a prerequisite for Greg, maybe he got spooked by all the talk of “Greg Sprinkles” at the end of last season.

He’s being courted by both sides, but also trying to avoid permanently allying himself with either until the dust settles, telling Tom, “I’m not a part of this...necessarily.” Feeling like no one has his back, he turns to his grandfather Ewan (Greg/Ewan scenes are consistently my favorites in the series). Ewan’s disdain for Logan and Waystar seems only outmatched by his liberal allegiance to civility: “I just don’t like seeing dirty laundry aired in public” but ultimately Greg convinces him to help shield him and Ewan sets him up with a third-party lawyer.

Even though Ewan likes to pretend that he’s above the “nest of vipers” that the Roy family is, he is also using people for his own agenda, something Greg learns when he learns the priorities of their legal defense: “Priority 2 — expose the structural contradictions of capitalism as reified in the architecture of corporate America.”

His work husband Tom is keeping his options open as well, both strategically and romantically. “You know you can’t just take my love and bank it and then take a view of the love market and decide if you want to invest in me,” he tells Shiv on the phone, as their relationship becomes more and more of an explicit business arrangement. Their conversations this season have been entirely intelligence-sharing, trying to carve out a position for their own partnership.

But Tom is much more hesitant about trusting Shiv this season, and instead is starting to look out for his own interests first. He keeps the information he gets from both Shiv and Greg to himself, waiting to see if that information might be valuable, and a way to find himself a lifeboat out of the Bosnian shitshow.

Roman certainly puts up a strong appearance as being pro-Logan, and when he shows up at Rava’s apartment to meet with Kendall and Shiv (and Connor, I guess) he constantly says that he’s “just here to report back to dad.” But Roman is also struggling with being passed over for the CEO job, and specifically doesn’t seem to love the idea of Gerri placing him beneath her as an apprentice after seeing the relationship as more of an equal partnership.

In fact, the only time Roman is truly rattled in the episode is when Shiv teases him about Gerri and his intimacy issues in quick succession. (Personally, I would have teased him about his hair, because in this episode, it was bordering on Something About Mary territory. Given his history, that might be pretty accurate actually.)

Kendall isn’t a free agent, he started this war, but he is acting as if he is. He admits that he was advised by lawyers not to do the press conference that way, and that it was actually semi-spontaneous. He’s like a dog chasing cars, just substitute “car” for “schemes to destroy his father.” He has no idea what to do when he actually succeeds.

Still, he has a pitch, “My point is the milk is going sour...it’s our time...Okay, big picture, we’re at the end of the long American Century. Our company is a declining empire inside a declining empire...US supremacy is waning.” He wants to go omni-national—whatever that means—and monopolize information itself. I mean, it’s one of the better pitches we’ve seen Kendall make. It’s a low bar to clear.

Together, they’ll treat Waystar like Alexander the Great’s empire (a metaphor that brings absolute glee to Connor’s face), with Kendall as the uniting king. Okay, well maybe it’s not a great pitch.

He’s also totally full of shit. While he spends his time with his siblings calling them out on playing both sides and claiming “I don’t like bullshit,” he abruptly ends a speech about truth to lie to them and meet with Sandy and Stewy.

Meanwhile in Bosnia and incommunicado with his children, Logan is searching for any ally he can find, and decides to bring Marcia back into the fold. She’s all too happy to come back because she knows that she can strengthen her position. She makes a number of demands to Hugo and Karolina for herself and her children, in part as restitution for him flirting with Rhea Jarrell and in part because she knows she can. She has the leverage in this situation and she’s using it well.

Everyone’s decision has both pros and cons. Joining Logan means joining a morally bankrupt man who will throw his own children under the bus to save himself. But Logan is also incredibly formidable. He may not be infallible, but as Roman points out “I just think he never fails or ever will.”

Joining Kendall means joining forces with an incredibly unstable person, someone who is somehow even more manic now than he was when he was on a drug bender in New Mexico. Kendall is an idiot who doesn’t know the difference between “it’s high time” and “it’s high tide” repeating the latter incorrectly several times at the crux of his pitch. Plus, it means effectively killing their father who, for all his faults, is still their father. 

Ultimately, that cost is just a bit too rich for Connor and Roman, and with them out, the strong Roy alliance Shiv envisioned evaporates—she’s out too. Kendall then goes to vindicate all of their choices, going on a rant that has all of the hatefulness and misogyny of his father, but still somehow lacking the inherent venom.

Playing both sides works out well for Shiv though, as Logan pulls her closer, promoting her to president and asking her to be his direct proxy, with Gerri for cover should anything go wrong.


POWER RANKINGS

Each recap, we’ll countdown where each character stands. This list is based on who is in the best position to accomplish their goals, whatever those may be, and just my general and totally objective view of who had the best episode.

11. Sophie (Last week: N/A) - Kendall forgot her name AND Roman touched all her stuff. Plus, now her room is ground zero for a coup attempt. Rough stuff.

10. Connor (Last week: 8) - He can’t find the right storage for his wine and he was spooked by donuts from dad. The Conheads need a win, get it together dude.

9. Tom (Last week: 6) - Tom’s laying low right now, and his falling in the rankings isn’t due so much to him falling behind but rather others having a bigger week. He’s got Shiv chasing him for once, his bromance with Greg seems to still be alive, and he gets points for calling Greg from a non-Tom number. Isn’t he clever?

8. Greg (Last week: 4) - He got not one, not two, but three lawyers thrown at him and everybody wants him on their side. Can you blame them when he says things like “I’m kind of too young to be in Congress so much.” Protect Greg.

7. Ewan (Last week: N/A) - He’s got Greg seeing the same lawyer he’s using to settle his estate (and write Greg out potentially) and he’s got another soldier in the war on corporate America.

6. Kendall (Last week: 1) - We knew it was going to start heading this way quickly, but jeez. Kendall has lost every potential ally other than Lisa Arthur, who just keeps burning the midnight oil. I mean, does this woman sleep? Kendall also really consolidated the whole “I hate women” thing he’s got going on this season when he told Shiv “it’s only her teets that give her any value.” Ew.

5. Marcia (Last week: N/A) - Look Marcia isn’t going to be CEO, she’s not going to end up on top. But she’s here making life better for herself and the ones she cares about. Collect the bag, Marcia.

4. Gerri (Last week: 3) - Gerri nearly lost Roman but sweet-talked him with some good old fashioned threats. Plus she got on the news ticker and got to show off for her daughters!

3. Shiv (Last week: 7) - From “not CEO” to “President” it’s been a rollercoaster 48-hours of show time for Shiv. President seems like a nice middle ground between the mobility of an outsider and the accountability of leadership. Sounds perfect for someone who can’t commit to anything.

2. Roman (Last week: 2) - Roman is playing this season pretty well, he’s close to the top but doesn’t have a target on his back and has the flexibility to join Logan, Shiv, Kendall, or stick with Gerri. That business training really paid off!

1. Logan (Last week: 5) - He’s wrangled Shiv, Roman, and Marcia back to his side without having to stay in exile in a non-extradition country. I see this as an absolute win!

Succession Continues Sunday on HBO and Monday on Sky Atlantic & NOW.

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