Contributed by Jackson Maher.
Humiliation is the key to much of Succession’s commentary. It avoids supporting the billionaire class by humiliating them—cutting them down to size as they’re failed by their bodies, watching them embarrass themselves in the most cringeworthy ways possible, and by hurling insults around like it was an Olympic sport. These are characters being constantly humiliated by their own hubris.
But if there’s anything we’ve learned during the Trump era, it’s that humiliation is something that can be opted out of, supposing you are shameless enough—which is exactly what Kendall tries to do in “The Disruption,” the excellent third episode of Succession’s third season.
Kendall’s camp engages in a game called “Good Tweet, Bad Tweet” where his friends fire off tweets alternating between vague praise and scathing insults, and try to laugh off the harshest ones. When a Samantha Bee/Amber Ruffin-like show mercilessly rips into him, he tries to spin it as a good thing: he’s at the center of the cultural conversation.
For Kendall, there’s a power in allowing yourself to be humiliated—it steals from those who seek to take from you. To paraphrase Donald Glover, if you place yourself at the butt of a joke, nobody else can take you down, because you’re already there. We’ve seen Kendall welcome humiliation before in the show in order to achieve his goals, notably when he taunted a Vaulter worker who spat at him, “is that all you got?”
At that point, it was less of a conscious choice, and perhaps the treatment he thought he deserved as he reeled from the guilt over the car crash. But, it also gave him the power to be a ruthless and cold killer in the way Logan always doubted he could be. Now in season 3, having been turned down by all three of his siblings, he’s reaching for that same power, humiliating others and letting himself be humiliated in order to gain the upper hand.
Kendall’s biggest target is Waystar, of course, and he shows up at his family’s company in order to show them up in the eyes of the public. Firing him is a bad look in the midst of a federal investigation, so the Roys are forced to just let him enter the building without resistance, or face yet another public scandal.
The first real humiliation bomb comes at the expense of Shiv. As she gives a speech to the company, a number of speakers start blasting the Nirvana song “Rape Me”, a song with layers of meaning here. The first is obvious as Waystar struggles to combat its sexual assault scandal, but the second is just as biting. The song is written with an inverted chord structure of the band’s hit song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and was performed controversially at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards in direct defiance of MTV’s directive. It was used to one-up the network, and here in “The Disruption” is being used to do the exact same thing to Waystar.
Kendall’s guerilla warfare against Waystar isn’t just embarrassing to the company, but specifically to Shiv. This is her first real introduction to the company in her new position as President, and thus, it’s also her first introduction to the family’s inner circle in a public forum. Her only recourse is to punch back.
Humiliation is something that has to happen in front of an audience. Bullying someone behind closed doors (as Tom often does to Greg) is one thing, but to have your power or authority or identity undermined in a public setting is what gives humiliation its extra bite. Shiv’s open letter denouncing Kendall isn’t humiliating because exposes his deepest flaws, Kendall was already welcoming that in the public forum. It’s humiliating because it is a public condemnation that comes from his sister—it undermines his ability to accept it.
It’s one thing to receive mean but true insults from strangers, it’s another to receive them from those who are supposed to have your back, which is precisely why Roman and Connor choose not to sign the letter.
Kendall and Shiv are not the only subjects of humiliation in this episode. Greg is shamed into buying a broken watch he neither wants nor needs in order to try to impress a girl on Kendall’s Twitter team. Roman tells a story to the press about fishing with his father, except that in reality it was with Connor. When Logan confronts him about it, he is forced to say the quiet part out loud: that he’s never had a real dad. Tom offers himself up as a fall guy for the company, but is put down by how quickly Shiv and Logan both accept his offer without any assurances.
And, of course, Logan is humiliated when Waystar Royco is raided by the FBI, and his strong-arm tactics are proven useless. The news covers it all, and it is so publicly embarrassing that it’s even able to make Kendall smirk while he hides from a comedian.
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.
10. Nate (Last week: N/A) – Never a great sign when you have 5 minutes of screen time and it’s spent getting dunked on by not one, but two Roy siblings. “Nate sucks” might just be the platform that can bring Shiv and Kendall back together.
9. Connor (Last week: 10) – Connor gets points for not signing the letter. Connor loses points for being Connor. Without Willa, he has no one to punch down to.
8. Kendall (Last week: 6) – Just when you think Manic Kendall couldn’t get any more manic. I can’t tell if he’s a genius for staying in the public conversation, even if it’s for all the wrong reasons Kardashian-style, or if he should maybe listen to the dream team he’s built and shut the f**k up. Lisa Arthur is totally going to drop him, he’s made an ass of himself multiple times, and his sister said he was a drugged out absent dad (facts, but still). At least he didn’t get raided by the FBI.
7. Naomi (Last week: N/A) – By default, she has to be higher than Kendall because while she’s in his camp, she’s not Kendall himself, and that is a huge plus. I assume she’s just here for the bad tweets, the good ones don’t even seem that interesting.
6. Greg (Last week: 8) – Our boy had to spend $40,000 on a watch that doesn’t work, but it kinda seems like he might be getting somewhere with Twitter girl? Greg has this innate ability to come out on top just by sticking around and eating everyone’s shit long enough.
5. Shiv (Last week: 3) – An episode of highs and lows for the newly minted President. Her first speech didn’t go so well, but she is definitely and officially in the inner circle now and that letter was a real kick in the balls to Kendall.
4. Tom (Last week: 9) – Tom keeps testing the waters in all directions, keeping everyone on his side while committing to nobody. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Tom jump ship for an immunity deal, which could be some pretty valuable testimony against Waystar considering he knows where the bodies are buried. Or rather, where the bodies were thrown overboard.
3. Logan (Last week: 1) – Tough to not lose a spot when you tell the FBI to “f**k off” and they don’t “f**k off.” Still, Logan always seems to be doing his best when Kendall is doing his worst, so this was a good week for that.
2. Gerri (Last week: 4) – She beat Logan in an argument and seems to be maybe amassing some power of her own? She’s not going to be the mindless little soldier Logan wanted her to be and she’s got the brains to do something with her power.
1. Roman (Last week: 2) – Roman is playing the middle-ground between Gerri and Logan beautifully. He looks like a good soldier for his dad and he’s also keeping Gerri close. He also managed to stay out of the Kendall/Shiv debacle and we all know Roman can appreciate a good practical joke so I’m glad he was there to witness the makeshift Nirvana concert.
Succession Continues Sunday on HBO and Monday on Sky Atlantic & NOW.