Every week, two members of the Polygon staff will sit down to discuss and recap the latest episode of HBO’s Succession. We’ll tackle the major moments in each episode, as well as provide a character-based Power Ranking of the week’s 10 most important players.
The season 2 premiere of Succession barely leaves us any breathing room from the season 1 finale — not just in terms of how much time has passed, but in how quickly the action revs back up. Though it’s been obvious that there’d be some reshuffling of the pieces on the metaphorical game board given how the first season ended, the premiere gets to it right away, putting some major moves in play that will have a huge effect for the rest on the season.
[Ed. note: Spoilers for Succession season 2, episode 1, “The Summer Palace,” follow.]
Kendall is out, and Shiv is in
Karen Han, entertainment reporter: Obviously the big moment in the season premiere is Logan offering Shiv the keys to the castle. As an audience, we’ve always considered her a viable heir — she’s the smartest one out of all of her siblings — but it’s not a reality that’s become clear within the world of the show until now, especially not to Shiv.
It’s such a tense scene to watch, not only because we’re watching Shiv basically sign over any independence she had from the family, but because there’s still so much opportunity for things to go wrong.
Samit Sarkar, front page editor: Opportunity? I was basically grimacing through that entire scene because I, like Shiv at the start, was never convinced that Logan was seriously entertaining the idea. Through the first season of Succession, we watched as Logan slowly recovered from the stroke he suffered in the pilot episode — and by the time we reached the devastating season finale, it was clear that he had fully regained the powers of manipulation that made him the media mogul he is.
It seems like he’s primed to fully unleash those powers in season 2. Leave aside Kendall, who cowers in Logan’s shadow like a wounded dog, and focus on the other Roy children —Logan seems to be able to play them all like a fiddle. With Shiv, the key to unlocking her trust is giving her what she’s always craved: an acknowledgment from her father that she, not the former heir apparent, Kendall, is the brains of the family. When Logan finally treats her as his equal by offering her the company, she’s almost surprised by the realization of how much she wants it. You can see it all play out on Sarah Snook’s face, and it’s a great scene because you’re excited for the possibilities while remaining unsure about whether it’s just another gambit from Logan.
Karen: I mean, it’s definitely another gambit, right? Brian Cox has said that he thinks Logan genuinely loves his children, but we’ve already seen that that love really only goes so far. The same holds true here, even though Shiv can’t help but be suckered into the fantasy that he’s presenting of her eventually running the company. As you mention, it’s kind of heartbreaking to see Shiv’s face light up, and see how much she actually does want this. I actually teared up — Succession is so good at twisting those emotional screws.
I also honestly expected something like this to happen way later in the season because it does feel so momentous, but I think it speaks to just how good Succession is that they don’t save this (expected) dramatic beat for the sake of just drawing things out. Logan knows he has to move fast, and the show does, too.
Samit: What hurts even more is that Shiv immediately demonstrates the truth of her conviction that she would kill it as the CEO of Waystar Royco, even though she’s spent her adult life trying to build a career outside the family business. Last season, she thought about joining the campaign of a Bernie Sanders-esque liberal populist, a figure who took direct aim at people like her father. In return, Logan went with the “just business” route — using the power of his news division to attack the candidate — and then got personal, threatening that he wouldn’t show up at Shiv’s wedding. She tried to shrug that off, but you could tell that it really hurt.
Like you said, Logan is ruthless when it comes to his company. Shiv knows that, and until now, she’s maintained a casual interest in being brought into the fold — because, it seems, she feels that anything other than running the show would be beneath her considerable abilities. But the desire has been there all along, and now that Logan knows it, he can use it to his advantage in dealing with Shiv, his other children, and the question of his company’s future.
Waystar Royco has a new patsy, and a new way forward
Karen: Of course, the entire reason that Logan is trying to bring Shiv into the fold is because he literally has to name an heir in order (ironically) to keep the company under his control, rather than having to take it public. He also has to keep it looking like the family is a united front, which is a struggle given the way Kendall so publicly rebelled against him.
It’s a problem he’s taking care of by putting Kendall in the news, feeding him the company line of “Dad’s plan was better,” which he then parrots throughout the episode. It’s kind of awful watching him shuffle around so lifelessly, being told he can’t ride a motorcycle alone, being toted around to deliver his dad’s messages, being pulled out of rehab, etc. I mean, it’s hysterical watching him ride in the back seat of a motorcycle with his arms straight down instead of holding onto the driver, but it’s tragic, too.
Samit: Everything in this episode involving Kendall is simultaneously hilarious and sad, including the way that Shiv and Roman treat him when they run into him by the beach. I lost it when he repeated his talking point one more time at the end, when speaking with Stewy and the other guys attempting a hostile takeover of Waystar Royco.
The man is a shell of his former self, and why? Because there but for the grace of God goes Kendall — with his father playing the role of God in this case, of course. And when the man upstairs commands you to put the feast in the garbage and replace it with pizza, that’s what you do, even if it means tossing out giant lobsters and aged porterhouse steaks.
Episode 1 Power Rankings
The very nature of Succession means that Logan will probably default to being No. 1 on the power rankings list every week — with that in mind, we’re putting him at the top this week (king of the castle, baby!) and we’ll shuffle him around a little in following weeks to try to give everyone else a fighting shot. —Karen
As previously stated, I am so, so nervous for Shiv. I want her to become the heir so badly, but I also wanted that for Kendall, and look how that turned out! Even she’s not immune to the toxicity of her father, which is really the only thing that any character on this show needs to survive. —Karen
Hey, Gerri’s star is on the rise! She’s about to be named as Logan’s successor! Wait, what’s that? You’re saying they picked her jokingly because it doesn’t really matter — they just have to appease investors for the moment? And everyone, including Gerri, laughed at the idea of her actually running the company? Oh. —Samit
Tom! Poor, sweet Tom. Cream-colored turtleneck Tom, who has to cut his own honeymoon short because the Roy family is so nuts. He’s got a good slot on the list this week because he’s set to head up Royco’s news division, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets knocked down a few pegs next week because 1) ATN is awful and 2) Shiv has said that part of her takeover would involve jettisoning news altogether. Sorry, honey! —Karen
5. Dead raccoon
Though this raccoon died in an ignominious fashion, caught in the chimney of a billionaire’s dormant summer estate, it had the last laugh. Releasing an odor so foul that the stench permeated the mansion and led Logan to discard a banquet fit for a king’s court ... now that’s the ultimate power move. —Samit
Stewy is still one of the very few characters on this show who seems to have his feet on the ground, despite the fact that, as Kendall tells him in the first season, “Everyone hates him.” Anyway, the point is that Kendall is wrong — we love Stewy! — and his scene with Kendall in which he appeals to him as an honest friend, not a business rival, will probably be the kindest thing anyone does all season. —Karen
Greeting Kendall with kisses and then asking if he’s had any “accidents” or “hiccups” is a subtle, savage burn from Marcia, whom Kendall probably sees as his evil stepmother at this point. (Although in fairness to her, he’s probably going to run into trouble trying to obtain something better than “the worst coke I’ve ever had.”) —Samit
If Shiv ever does become CEO of Waystar Royco, strapping Roman to one of his Japanese rockets and getting him as far away from a company leadership role as possible is her first move, right? —Samit
Nobody is going to take Connor seriously until the moment he’s elected president. —Samit
Please, never let him get elected president. —Karen
Kendall, just grab onto the motorcycle driver, for goodness’ sake. —Karen