I thought the name of this week’s episode of Succession, “The Lion in the Meadow”, was familiar – it turns out to be the title of a children’s book from 1969, which “follows an unnamed little boy who observes a ‘big, roaring, yellow, whiskery lion’ in the meadow outside his house and tries to tell his mother, [who] dismisses his claims as ‘nonsense.’”
The use of the phrase is literal: Logan, tasked with wooing an investor, is required to go hiking, situating him outside the offices of Waystar Royco and his luxurious home, and out in nature. The idea, though, of a son who sees what no one else can is entirely apt, as Kendall – who is asked to accompany Logan in order to prove that all is well behind closed doors – is the only Roy to notice just how frail his father is. As much as Shiv might have made “f***y eyes” at the thought of the Roy patriarch metaphorically bleeding out, it seems likelier and likelier that his pride may be the thing that really kills him, Logan’s inability to admit weakness leaving him gasping and staggering on the trail as Kendall covers for him. The sight of the two men in their matching baseball caps, Kendall holding up his father by the armpits and insisting on his strength, would be touching if they had not called each other horrible things a minute earlier. “Too much sun,” Kendall insists a little stridently, as Logan swoons and falls. Logan might see it as “too much son”, instead.
Etched on a Rando
The hits – by which I mean the stomach-churning revelations – keep on coming, as hot on the heels of Shiv’s sociopathic letter in the previous episode, Roman reveals that he and Kendall once offered a wad of cash to a desperate homeless man in New Orleans, and in exchange asked him to get “KR” tattooed across his face. “Kendall got his initials etched on a rando… Woke-ahontas using a poor’s forehead as a post-it,” Roman gloats, before bringing the victim into Waystar Royco and offering him yet more money to go public with the story. Since the incident, the unnamed man has had the tattoo lasered off; undaunted, Roman casually says he’ll pay a million dollars for a photo.
That the story implicates him too does not appear to bother him, perhaps because where Kendall plays at being a decent, moral person, Roman is content to be a tiny, perma-horny despot, a pint-sized Caligula in desperate need of a Freudian analyst and a cold shower. “I can’t masturbate in a time or place of my choosing?” he asks Gerri when she posits that they ought to have some boundaries in the workplace. “You are building a police state, Gerri!” Ultimately – proving that Mommy knows best – Gerri convinces him to keep the picture of the tattoo as collateral instead. When she mentions that she’s going on a date, we momentarily see him shocked out of his usual complacence: “With who?” he cries, horrified, “Montgomery Clift? The Ghost of Christmas Past?”
I can think of no genteel or decently contextualising way to go into this week’s most extraordinary scene with Greg, so let me simply say: this episode, Tom Wambsgans expresses a wish to cut Greg’s testicles off and then marry him, and his delivery of this unusual request is such that I am honestly unclear as to whether it is a genuine threat, a sexual overture, or a distressing compliment. In one of the season’s best jokes, Tom – whose nickname in the office is now “Terminal Tom” because of his apparently doomed status – has begun to obsessively research prisons and their culture, making a neat ring-bound folder of potential candidates and looking up how to make “toilet wine”. (“I keep hearing a lot of good things about it,” he says about one jail, as if he were looking to apply to a hot-ticket university.) Bursting suddenly into Greg’s tiny office after one particularly intense study session, he asks ominously: “Greg, what do you know about Nero and Sporus?” “I’m not familiar with that IP,” Greg replies, a true-blue millennial living through the age of Marvel and DC. “Sporus was a young slave boy, Nero’s favourite,” Tom continues. “And do you know what Nero did to him? Nero pushed his wife down the stairs, and he had Sporus castrated, and he married him instead. And he gave him a ring, and he made him dress up like his dead wife. I’d castrate you and marry you in a heartbeat.”
Other minor things happen with Cousin Greg this week. He meets with Logan, despite fearing that there might be “goons and stooges and rough jacks there to administer a beating”, and attempts to prove that he’s a “sturdy birdy” by agreeing to drink a rum and coke at something like 11am. He is, in general, heartbreakingly sweet as usual, the same odd mix of mid-century boy scout and buffoon. Still, what could possibly trump Tom’s insane and pervy declaration? How can there be room in any viewer’s brain to hold a single other thought? It is entirely possible that in 10 years, when sea levels have advanced to the degree that we’re all drowning, thinking in our final moments about how we spent our wild and precious lives, I will simply be remembering Tom Wambsgans expressing his desire to castrate and marry cousin Greg. A meteor could be headed inexorably towards our planet, and with the unnerving calm of Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia, I would be awaiting the inevitable, sweet embrace of death while turning over in my mind the way Tom says “I’d castrate you and marry you in a heartbeat” like a zen koan.
A Lion in the Winter of his life
One of Succession’s big guest stars makes his first appearance this week, as the hippy-dippy, beanie-wearing client that Kendall and Logan visit in the country is played by the Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody. It is a straightforward part, mostly designed to facilitate conflict between the alienated father and son team, Kendall and Logan bickering fiercely and struggling to adequately camouflage their mutual loathing. “Do you think your father should go to jail?” Brody’s character asks, his continued support of Waystar Royco seeming to rely on unity within the family. Kendall, in spite of the millions hanging in the balance, cannot bring himself to say “no” to the question. It is smart of Logan to choose this specific moment to deliver a speech about his son being a “good boy” fundamentally – even if his saying so rings just as false as every other compliment or bit of manufactured tenderness he has extended to his children across all three seasons of the show.
When Logan eventually stumbles and collapses on the trail, denied a swig of Evian by his “good boy,” it is the fault of his own inflexible need to be the strongest, the least fallible, the best. The other Roys, of course, blame “Woke-ahontas.” “Do you have a fetish for almost killing our father?” Roman taunts. “Like ‘just the tip,’ but for murdering dad?” The fact that Roman seems to believe every action or reaction must be motivated by some secret sexual desire is about as unsurprising as the eventual revelation that the groovy, rich investor, spooked by Logan’s weakness, has decided to withdraw his financial support of Waystar Royco, leaving both the family and the company in dire, uncertain straits. “It’s not my fault,” Kendall gripes, bleakly, “that he’s an old man who can’t climb a f***in’ hill.”
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