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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

‘Succession’ Season 3, Episode 3: Head Spaces and Hullabaloo

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Season 3, Episode 3: ‘The Disruption’

“Succession” is often a “fun” show, where all the sniping and the slip-ups of the rich and the arrogant generates some incredibly entertaining schadenfreude. But any given episode — like this week’s “The Disruption” — can be brutal, as the characters we hate to love fall hard.

The problem with the Roy family right now is that as far as they’re concerned, coming out ahead in their epic public squabble matters more than saving their company or avoiding federal prosecution. Yet just because they’re preoccupied with petty power games doesn’t mean the F.B.I. is going to wait for them to finish clobbering each other.

This is exactly what Kendall’s attorney Lisa Arthur warned him about last week as he bopped around his ex-wife’s apartment, feverishly pitching a coup to his siblings. Lisa has been trying to help the government, to keep her client out of jail. Meanwhile, it turns out that Kendall has been doing exactly what Logan always assumed he was doing: using the Brightstar cruise line scandal as “a play,” to outwit his father and to reinvent himself as a progressive hero.

So everything inevitably implodes this week, not just for Kendall, but for his father and for Siobhan — and in a roundabout and sickeningly sad way, for Roman. The first third of this episode is a bit of a romp, as the Roys rapidly punch and counterpunch. And then the walls start closing in.

First: the not-so-playful sparring, which keeps getting rougher by the minute. At Waystar, Logan and his loyalists are annoyed at Kendall for an interview where he made noises about “planting a flag” within the company, while saying of his family, “I’m just really happy in my head space and I hope they’re happy in theirs.” Roman mocks this mercilessly around the office, tossing around the term “head space” with glee. (Imitating his brother, Roman adds, “I love my kids, uh, Blur Face and Who Cares.”)

Shiv, though, thinks it’s time for a more aggressive public response to Kendall, whose accusations and self-aggrandizing declarations are dominating the business news. She starts by attending the annual gala benefit for the Committee for the Protection and Welfare of Journalists, where she waves away an ATN hater by reminding him her dad’s business has kept a lot of local newspapers alive. She’s defending Logan the only way she knows how: through the wishy-washy talking points she can half-convince herself she believes.

Then Shiv runs into Kendall; and it’s here where this episode starts to take a turn. He offers a meek quasi-apology for his misogynistic rant during their last meeting. (“I maybe threw a couple of ugly rocks.”) But when she tries to get him to promise he won’t cause an ugly scene by coming into the Waystar offices, he smirks. Seeing his sister doing the kind of thankless public-facing hack work that used to be his job prompts him to say, earnestly, “Look at this. It’s you now. I’m sorry for you.”

Worse than earning her brother’s pity, Shiv may have given him an idea. Kendall does in fact decide, almost on a whim, to show up at the Waystar building, hoping to generate some more positive publicity through an open act of rebellion. The whole sequence where Kendall comes in, just before an employee “town hall” Shiv has organized, is incredibly tense, as no one is quite sure what legal right they have to remove him.

This is something that pops up a lot in this episode: the proper chain of command in this new reality where Logan is pretending, for legal and PR reasons, that he’s no longer in charge. Can Gerri swing a deal with the Israelis without Logan’s approval? Does Waystar’s security have to follow Logan’s orders when Kendall — still technically an employee and a shareholder — tries to pass through? Can the staff refuse to admit representatives of the court bearing subpoenas? Can Logan threaten his old buddy, the President of the United States, with bad ATN coverage if the Department of Justice doesn’t back off?

This question of authority extends to what Logan asks of his children. He gets annoyed that Shiv would rather take on the job of publicly attacking Kendall than defending her father. The “I wuv my Daddy” gig falls to a reluctant Roman, who agrees to do an interview with ATN Business but then nixes nearly every question about his childhood. (Roman finally makes up a story about going fly fishing in Montana with his pop, then later admits his genuinely happy childhood memory actually happened with Connor.) Logan would rather Shiv play the sweetie-pie and his son be the assassin, but Roman says attacking Kendall “makes me feel unwell.” After all, his brother was more of a father figure to him than his actual father — who, in a painful scene, insinuates that Roman is a weak-willed worm.

Sarah Snook in “Succession.”Credit…Macall B. Polay/HBO

As for why Shiv can’t bring herself to hail her dad, this is addressed in another remarkable moment, where she tries to get Logan to admit to what actually happened at Brightstar. All he will say is that no one will ever find any evidence that he knew anything about “all of this hullabaloo” — and that he was just trying to shield the family from harm.

I’ve written before about how Kendall uses nonsense biz-speak to express how he’s really feeling, but it’s worth taking a moment to consider how Logan uses softening or dehumanizing words — like “hullabaloo” — to insulate himself from criticism. He refers to the women hurt in the Brightstar scandal as “Moaning Minnies.” And he shrugs off the cover-up, saying, “Maybe there were some salty moves.”

Logan says this after Shiv asks, “Can we talk?,” which is her code for, “Can we drop the act for a second?” Alas, she’s never brave enough to demand total honesty. One of her pet phrases is “Is there a world where ___?” (fill in the blank with some variation on “be honest”), which is her tacit way of acknowledging that no, there is not.

All this dancing around the subject ultimately leads the Roys to skip off the edge of a cliff. Kendall thinks he’s controlling the narrative, with his offers to “open the kimono” to business reporters and his willingness to let himself be roasted in person at the late-night TV comedy show “The Disruption with Sophie Iwobi.” (“This is being in the conversation,” he insists, while watching Iwobi skewer him.) And Shiv thinks she can turn things around with her Waystar town hall, where Hugo has tossed aside all the angrier employee comments in favor of what Roman calls “less question-y questions.”

But Kendall pulls a cruel stunt during his Waystar visit, arranging it so Nirvana’s “Rape Me” blares through a few scattered speakers while Shiv is talking. She responds by issuing a statement — which Roman refuses to sign — saying the whole family is concerned about Kendall’s drug addiction and mental health issues.

And then the F.B.I. arrives. Maybe there was a world where the Roys could’ve avoided what’s about to happen. But it’s not a world where any of them live.

Due Diligence

  • Sophie Iwobi is played by the comic Ziwe, who has been a writer and performer on multiple “The Disruption”-like TV shows, including “Desus & Mero” and her own “Ziwe.”

  • The tone-deaf sloganeers in Waystar’s PR department come through again, pitching a series of full-page apology ads with the tag line “We Get It” — a phrase that, as Shiv rightly notes, sounds more exasperated than empathetic.

  • Cousin Greg — or as Tom calls him, the “leggy princeling of ATN” — blows off a work event to hang with Kendall, who he believes is going to buy him an expensive watch. (“I’ve always been self-conscious about my wrists,” Greg confesses.) It turns out Kendall is just hooking his cousin up with a watch-broker and has no intention of paying; but Greg is coaxed into spending 40 grand anyway because he’s told he left his “patina” on the timepiece. (“I don’t have a patina! I shower!”) And then the watch breaks.

  • Tom has his own troubles this week, as he gets legal advice from an old friend who suggests there’s no way he’s not going to see jail time. Accepting the inevitable, he tells Logan he’s willing to sacrifice himself to the feds. Whether he’s being sincere or whether this too is a “play” remains unclear.

  • When Kendall runs into Tom at the Waystar offices, he claps his brother-in-law on the shoulders with both hands — a gesture Tom briefly misinterprets, moving in as though expecting a hug. Whether this moment was scripted or spontaneous, it’s a brilliant illustration of who these guys are.

  • A neat image: As Shiv walks back to her office after the town-hall humiliation, the reflection of New York in the windows as she walks down the hall briefly makes it look like she’s about to step outside and plunge to her to death.

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