Succession Season 2 Episode 1 Review: The Summer Palace

"In five years, you'll be in the mega toilet"

“Is this real?” Shiv (Sarah Snook) asks out loud in the sunny office of the Roy vacation home. Siobhan, or Shiv, is typically–appropriately–sharp and short with her father, Logan (Brian Cox), the patriarch of the unfathomably wealthy and correspondingly out of touch Roy family. In the pivotal scene from Sunday’s Season 2 premiere of HBO’s surprise 2018 hit Succession, Shiv was offered the entire Roy media empire away from the prying ears of her three siblings.

You Might Also Like:

It’s the table Logan and writer/creator Jesse Armstrong have set for the season: we know Shiv will succeed Logan, so now what? Of course, much like the table of marbled beef and fresh lobster dumped into the trash simply because they existed in the stink of rotting raccoons jammed into the chimney by a disgruntled contractor, we know the succession plan can’t be that simple.

Kendall (Jeremy Strong), the oldest of Logan’s three children from his second marriage, let countless wolves into the family hen house last season. The former golden boy and de facto successor has flushed his chance in every conceivable way. He was too excited to take the reins from Logan during a health scare and made rational, if brazen, choices that flew in the face of the ego that built the entire operation. When snubbed as successor because of the bad press the company would get for empowering a former addict, addiction returned for Kendall. Kendall attempted not one but two coups, the second of which was well under way when Kendall kinda sorta vehicular manslaughtered a server at Shiv’s wedding.

Now, only 48 hours or so removed from these events, Kendall is torn from his (needed, if extravagant) rehab and asked to walk back his part of the takeover as part of the deal Logan made with him to make the legal trouble of his terrible choices disappear. Kendall knows he’s cooked, but knows the only thing he has, the only thing he is, is a Roy. His failed attempts at running the business in the past are staring him in the face metaphorically and literally in the form of his former friend Stewy and rival media king Sandy Furness, previously his partners in the hostile takeover. Both men are still out for blood, the wheels are in motion and can’t be stopped.

Kendall spills what the buyers know about Logan’s health and mental state. It’s not good. His siblings know how much he has hurt their family, which is to say their business. His younger brother Roman (Kieran Culkin), fresh off of supervising a disastrous satellite launch in Japan, hates Kendall for threatening his life of irresponsible excess. Even Connor (Alan Ruck), the oldest sibling from Logan’s first marriage and Jordan Peterson stand-in who is perhaps detached from reality a step further than the rest of his family, is feeling the stress of Kendall’s moves.

For all of the ire pointed at Kendall, the truth is, as Logan’s banker puts it, Waystar Royco is in the toilet now and will be in the “mega toilet” in five years. The only reason the succession conversation becomes the focal point by the end of the season premiere is because Logan refuses to face the music. He wants to be the only media dinosaur in town. “Last man standing,” he says, his daughter chosen unbeknownst to anyone else to run the empire sitting at the table.

Returning to the key scene in the premiere, Sarah Snook’s face tells an entire story of its own. Shiv has been disappointed before, but never revered, by her father. “Are we really having this conversation,” she asks. Brian Cox plays Logan softer than any scene in season one, assuring his only daughter that this is what he wants. It is real. We see Shiv move from defiant, to flattered, to skeptical, to despairing, to jubilant, to relieved, and all the way around again. A lifetime of familial pain reflected in this climax. “Remember this,” Logan says, “this slant of light.” Logan is making a memory with his daughter. A happy one, Shiv believes for now.

Kendall’s fed line “I’ve seen their plan, my dad’s plan is better” is repeated often in the premiere. Succession seemingly answers its titular question in this premiere, but the Roy family is a mistake factory. The real question is: will there even be a Roy family empire to succeed?

Unanswered Questions:

  • How will Shiv spill the beans about the plan? She will, of course, but how? To Gil, the Bernie Sanders facsimile she’s working for? To Tom, her Waystar ladder-climber husband hiding enormous secrets for the company?
  • Greg, Logan’s grandnephew, is a fuckup in a much more endearing way than the rest of his family. He knows stuff, too. All we saw of him in the premiere was buying “park coke” for Kendall. He’ll get involved for sure. My guess is Tom will find out about Shiv and tell Greg and Greg will spill it to everyone else.
  • Gerri, Logan’s long-suffering general counsel, knows where the bodies are buried. She’ll only be a punching bag for so long.
  • We didn’t see much from Marcia, Logan’s third wife. She seemed to pull a lot of strings in season one, but told Logan maybe he should sell in the premiere. She’s got a lot going on under the surface.
  • There’s a great moment where Roman tells Logan, in front of everyone, that he’s making a mistake by letting Kendall in again. It’s a shock because Roman’s the laughing stock of the family, but it could be a sign of things to come. If Kendall was the boat rocker of season one, Roman might have some tricks up his sleeve in season two.