Succession review, episode 2: Does Logan Roy have feelings?

Latest instalment sees a family confrontation that is one of the most tense and most affecting in the history of the show

Philippa Snow
Tuesday 04 April 2023 10:16 BST
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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

On the press tour for this season of Succession, Brian Cox has been saying something shocking. “Logan Roy,” he has suggested, “is a very misunderstood entity because he’s a lonely man… And his big Achilles heel is that he loves his children.” Reading this, I was determined to keep Cox’s observation in my mind as I embarked on the new series, even though try as I might, I could not think of many obvious examples of the Roy patriarch’s love being demonstrated in the previous three seasons of the show.

I suppose I had imagined that, like many very wealthy people, Logan saw his children as a possible investment – that like a historic King, he had hoped to produce conquerors and warriors and tacticians, and had accordingly been extremely disappointed to end up saddled with an impotent sex goblin, a quasi-liberal girlboss, an extremely sad white rapper, and whatever Connor is.

Evidently, as Cox plays it, there is more to Logan’s relationship with his children than this transactional flow, and while it’s a cliché to say that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference, it’s a cliché for a reason. If last week saw the Roy siblings apparently achieving victory over their father in the marketplace, this week we see a different kind of battle in the family. It would be a stretch to say that anyone involved emerged victorious, but that’s Succession for you.

“It’s like Jaws, if everyone in Jaws worked for Jaws”

Fresh off their idiotic idea for The Hundred last week (“Substack-meets-Masterclass-meets-The Economist-meets-The-New-Yorker”), the Roy siblings have gathered around the television to imagine how they might decide to reimagine Pierce Global News. “So many olds, where are the hotties?” Roman (Kieran Culkin) mutters, Romanly. Kendall (Jeremy Strong), still identifying as a Buddhist and a Good Guy, believes that the channel should “have a focus on Africa every day… just what’s happening in Africa.” “That sounds like homework, the show,” Shiv (Sarah Snook) grumbles, thereby adjourning this particular meeting of the Brain Trust.

Elsewhere, their furious father, still fuming from the loss of PGN in last week’s episode, has arrived at the ATN offices looking, per cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun), “like if Santa Claus was a hitman”. Logan rants and raves a little, and then says that he would like to give a speech for his employees. The speech, which he delivers from an undignified stage made out of printer paper boxes, is a barnstormer, and what follows are some hair-raising selected highlights:

“I want to know that we’re killing the opposition. I want to be cutting their throats! Our rivals should be shaking in the backs of their chauffeured cars because they can’t believe what we did! So f***ing spicy. So true. Something everyone knows, but nobody says. Because they’re too f***ing lily livered.

“They cannot believe what we said, and the fact that we f***ing said it. The f***ing jam smears on the highway. Now, anyone who believes that I’m getting out, please shove the bunting up your ass. This is not the end. I’m going to do something better. Something faster, lighter, meaner, wilder, and I’m going to do it from in here with you lot. You’re f***ing pirates!”

Cox as a Jaws-like Logan in ‘Succession’ episode 2
Cox as a Jaws-like Logan in ‘Succession’ episode 2 (Sky)

If anyone knows f***ing pirates and the way they operate, it’s certain to be Logan Roy. He was not born rich, having clawed his way up to billionaire status with blood underneath his fingernails and bone shards in his teeth, and his alienation from his children is so total because fundamentally speaking, he belongs to an entirely different and more brutish species.

It is meant to be amusing when he self-identifies as a “man of the people” shortly before he gets up to make the speech, but in a sense, the speech itself proves that it’s true – we see a flash, furious and galvanising, of the kind of energic and merciless man he must have needed to be when he was not yet enough of a big dick to delegate his business to a hundred other people, and the monologue has something of the Shakespearian battle scene about it.

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Contrast this with Roman’s whining, childish threat to an assistant when he learns that Logan has denied him access to the family chopper: “I’m going to set aside several hundred thousand dollars, and I’m going to dedicate it to destroying your life, how does that sound?” In theory, it is a Logan line. In practice, it sounds like the words of a spoilt child who has no tactical intelligence beyond the threat of throwing his money at a problem – a Little Lord Fauntleroy whose soft hands have not once been splintered by a rung on a career ladder.

Eggwatch

Time now to return to coverage of Succession’s buffoon prince; its himbo Jimmy Stewart; its MVP with the least corporate value of all time. I am, of course, talking about Cousin Greg, who is introduced in this week’s episode watching his uncle prowl the floor of ATN, and nervously informing Tom (Matthew McFadyen) over the phone that Logan is “just moseying… terrifyingly moseying”. I imagine that the writers of Succession get a little thrill every time they land on a new perfect bit of Greg-ese, and if the essential structure of these jokes – Greg, a faltering millennial idiot, for some reason has the cadence and vocabulary of a retired university professor circa 1954 – tends to repeat itself, Nicholas Braun’s ability to nail his line deliveries means that the bit never gets stale.

‘Disgusting brothers’ Greg and Tom
‘Disgusting brothers’ Greg and Tom (Sky)

This week, Greg the Egg cracks several more of the proverbial while trying to make a workplace omelette, having been given the task of telling Logan’s girlfriend-cum-assistant Kerry (Zoe Winters) that her dreams of TV stardom are a bust. Tonally bizarre, fumbling, and full of arm sweeping, the tape she’s made as an audition for presenting the news on ATN is so ridiculous that it has swept the building, prompting furtive titters from the staff.

“This is an incredibly delicate piece of diplomacy,” Tom informs Greg, when the two realise they must put an end to Kerry’s career in TV news before it even begins. “It’s like Israel and Palestine, except harder, and much more important.” Proving that he ought never to be roped into any matter of international diplomacy, Greg panics in the moment and invents a focus group comprised of “a bunch of grandpas and little twerps” to blame for Kerry’s failure to launch, after first offering to “give [her] a heads up on the download on what the murmurs are.” (That Greg himself is sort of simultaneously a “grandpa” and a “little twerp” might help explain why these two demographics came immediately to mind.)

“If this focus group isn’t real,” Kerry snarls, not buying it, “I’m going to take you apart like a human string cheese.” Greg, who does more closely resemble a string cheese than any other character currently on television, merely gulps.

“The rats are fat as skunks”

Marriage, at least in the universe of Succession, continues to look like the worst idea on the planet: this week, Shiv discovers that her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Tom, has conflicted every decent lawyer in America out of action, in a move she recognises as her father’s handiwork.

Later, arriving at the rehearsal dinner for Willa (Justine Lupe) and Connor (Alan Ruck)’s wedding, Roman, Shiv and Kendall run into the bride, drunk and escaping, having announced to the entire wedding party that she cannot marry Connor. “Just toss her another ten grand,” Roman suggests, brightly, to his brother. “Or a snowmobile and some teeth-whitening vouchers.” Connor, who may or may not have recently heard a Bruce Springsteen song for the first time, announces his desire to go to a dive bar where the customers are “chicks, and guys who work with their hands, and grease, and sweat from their hands, and they have blood in their hair.” “I don’t like these guys,” Roman sniffs. “They sound like a medical experiment gone wrong.”

Regardless, the Roy siblings do end up spending an evening slumming it, with Connor ordering “what any regular joe would have – just a Belgian Weiss beer.” If his father can still maintain a slight claim to being a man of the people, Connor continues to behave like a man from outer space.

Shiv’s conviction that her father has been meddling in her divorce has galvanised her into action, and she has begun to scheme in order to hit back. It is the eve of the board vote at Waystar Royco which will decide on the company’s acquisition by the eccentric Swedish tech baron Lukas Matsson, and she is determined to join forces with two board members and sometime-frenemies of the Roys, Stewy Hosseini and Sandi Furness, to delay the sale. Ostensibly, her position is that Logan has not negotiated fiercely enough, and that there is more money to be made; in fact, she may be risking the sale going through at all, and in doing so dooming the immediate cash injection she, Roman and Kendall had been hoping to receive.

Shiv in a karaoke booth in ‘Succession’ episode 2
Shiv in a karaoke booth in ‘Succession’ episode 2 (Sky)

Kendall, more easily persuaded to lash out against his father, quickly comes around to her side of the argument, leaving Roman on his own. Inevitably, the sibling squabble reaches crisis point on Connor’s supposedly cheering night out at the dive bar, when Shiv notices that Roman has received a text from Logan, and demands to read his phone.

It transpires that Roman had texted Logan wishing him a happy birthday, and in what both Shiv and Kendall characterise as “a betrayal”, ended the text message with “take care”. “What was I supposed to say?” Roman asks in disbelief. “’Happy birthday, hope you fall down a flight of stairs s***head’?” Tired of listening to his brothers and his sister fighting, Connor poutily insists that everyone relocates to a karaoke bar; he ends up sadly crooning Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” for them in a private room with bisexual lighting, a spectacle Roman describes as “Guantanamo level s***”.

It would be easy to imagine that this scene might be the most excruciatingly vulnerable in the episode, and that the audience’s tolerance for emotional masochism had been tested to the limit – in fact, moments later, Connor reveals that he has told Logan about Roman, Shiv and Kendall’s Machiavellian scheming vis-à-vis the Waystar deal, and that Logan is now on his way to meet them, leading to a family confrontation that is one of the most tense and most affecting in the history of the show.

Logan does not scream, or shout; he does not call them f***s, or ingrates. He says that he is sorry that they missed his birthday party, leading Kendall, spluttering with disbelief, to ask: “Did dad just say a feeling?” As ever in Succession, the shifting uncertainty of the show’s psychological terrain makes it easy for the writers and the actors, both, to booby-trap their audience with sudden bursts of melancholy or cruelty, and the experience of seeing Logan appear to express genuine tenderness is so unusual and unnerving that it leaves the viewer in the same position as it leaves his children: we have no idea what we ought to believe.

“You are such dopes,” he tells them, when Shiv and Kendall insist that all they want is more money. “You are not serious figures. I love you, but you are not serious people.” His tone when he calls them “dopes” is soft enough that for a fleeting moment, he sounds just like any other father playfully teasing his children. Between “not” and “serious people”, Cox leaves a small, pregnant pause, and his dampening eyes appear to focus on another place entirely, as if an unhappy realisation about why his children are the way they are is washing over him like a terrible tidal wave.

When Logan leaves, his tail practically between his legs, he launches into a rant about New York that is not really about New York at all. “The rats are as fat as skunks,” he fumes, referring obliquely to his bratty kids. “They hardly care to run any more!” Cast your mind back to last week, and remember that he called them “rats” then, too – then think about the old saying about rats and sinking ships, and consider whether the ship in this particular instance is the company of Waystar Royco, or the family.

“The good thing about having a family that doesn’t love you is that you learn to live without it,” Connor, horribly and heartbreakingly, tells his siblings as Kendall and Shiv begin to gloat about how much they have hurt Logan. “You’re all chasing after dad saying love me, love me, pay me attention. You’re f***ing love sponges, and I’m a plant that grows on rocks and lives off insects that die inside of me.” It is absolutely no surprise that after they all leave the karaoke bar, Roman slinks off – love me, love me, pay me attention – to be with his father, and it is no surprise, either, that his father immediately tries to recruit him for ATN.

“You really want me?” Roman asks, and Logan, perhaps simply knowing what Roman wants to hear but perhaps also meaning it a little, answers: “More, Romulus. More. I need you.” How much anyone needs anyone in the Roy family is, of course, anyone’s guess.

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