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Roman (Culkin) raises an eyebrow as he stands in his father’s office.
Kieran Culkin as Roman Roy in Succession.
Peter Kramer/HBO

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Dissecting the media horror story of Succession episode 2

The HBO series rips its story straight from the headlines

Every week, two members of the Polygon staff sit down to discuss and recap the latest episode of HBO’s Succession. We tackle the major moments in each episode, as well as provide a character-based Power Ranking of the week’s 10 most important players.

Last week’s Succession premiere ended with a heart-stopping exchange between Logan and Shiv. The second episode of the new season makes clear that the show has no intention of slowing down or toning down the intensity: “Vaulter,” is a brutal one, with the media website Kendall brought into the Waystar Royco fold front and center during the hour’s proceedings. Below, Polygon’s Karen Han and Emily Heller dig into exactly what the Vaulter commotion means, as well as flagging the warning signs for the rest of the season.

[Ed. note: Spoilers for Succession season 2, episode 2, “Vaulter,” follow.]

Looking despondent, Kendall (Strong) walks through the Vaulter offices.
Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy in Succession.
Peter Kramer/HBO

Kendall kills his own darlings, gutting Vaulter in a Vice-esque shutdown

Karen Han: If it wasn’t clear that Kendall was broken, it certainly is now. It’s truly awful watching him go through the motions of being alive — when he tells Lawrence that he gutted Vaulter “because my dad told me to,” it’s one of those patented Succession-devastation moments that make you laugh because you know the only other reaction is to cry. What makes it worse is knowing that he thought it was salvageable, but wouldn’t put up a fight because that’s not what Logan decides he wants.

Emily Heller: Succession is so good at making us feel for these characters while reminding us that they are, in fact, making decisions that affect the lives of countless others. Kendall doesn’t want to save Vaulter because he cares about its employees — he wants to save it because it’s one of his few accomplishments at Royco.

Watching those scenes as someone who works in digital media, it was both exhilarating and devastating to recognize so much of the language and imagery. Seeing audience analytics up on a screen nearly gave me an aneurism.

Karen: Yeah, when Chartbeat popped up on one of the screens behind Kendall, it took a solid year off of my life. It’s also kind of crazy to watch since that’s what’s been happening with a lot of major media companies, especially with Vaulter trying to unionize, and the company shutting down everything except the food and weed verticals and hiring interns/using user content to keep things afloat.

Emily: Shutting down Vaulter really does feel like a point of no return for Kendall. We talked last week about how he’s a shell of his former self and it seems like he’s completely lost everything that gave him life. As Roman points out, he can’t even hug his kids anymore. He’s in this weird purgatory where he’s no longer a viable choice for successor but he’s still caught up in his dad’s web. The image of Kendall sitting at a conference table in his dad’s office while Logan looms behind him is haunting.

Karen: It’s such a literal visual of how much Logan is just looming over Kendall’s entire life. What makes it worse that the one bit of rebellion that Kendall tries — shoplifting batteries — is something we know no one else would get away with, and because it’s not for personal gain at all. He steals a pack of batteries, and then promptly throws them out. It’s not as if he needs what he’s stealing, and if anything, this is yet another thing for the family to hold over his head.

Even giving Cousin Greg an apartment turns out to be kind of a hollow move, since he immediately uses the space to hold a party he doesn’t want to have at his own apartment. He has some of his worst lines in that scene, too, saying he’s “looking for love in all the wrong places,” which has been true since the beginning of the show, and saying that he’s “looking for pussy like a fucking techno-Gatsby.” Gross. True to Kendall’s character, but ... gross.

Shiv, Tom, Roman, and Tabitha sit around a dinner table.
Shiv (Sarah Snook), Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), Roman (Culkin), and Tabitha (Caitlin FitzGerald).
Peter Kramer/HBO

Trouble in paradise for Shiv and Tom

Emily: In contrast to Kendall, someone who does seem to be enjoying his spoils is sweet, dumb Tom. He thinks he’s on top of the world: he’s taking over news which is where he wanted to be; He’s living in this incredible apartment with his wife, considering commissioning a huge portrait of the two of them to hang in the dining room (which he worries is “too Saddam”).

And he’s too sweet and dumb to notice that he is being played. Unbeknownst to him, Shiv singled out news as one of the areas she’d cut when she takes over. His only ally, Greg, doesn’t want to work at the right-wing propaganda machine that is ATN. And later he learns that Shiv has “modified” the plan he’s been working towards. Tom has hoped to take over Royco when Logan steps down, but Shiv just said yes to the job.

Karen: The power dynamics there are pretty interesting. When Roman invites Shiv and Tom over for dinner, he tells her that he thinks he’s next in line for the throne, excepting one other person: He asks her if he needs to be worried about Tom. He doesn’t even consider that Shiv might be his real competition.

The dinner also goes horribly, with Roman and Shiv ganging up to make fun of Tom’s taste in suits. We’ve seen the Roys behave pretty horribly towards Tom before, but I think it’s finally starting to get under his skin, what with Shiv telling him that she doesn’t think she can be monogamous, everyone at ATN being pretty hostile to him, and now with his plan for taking over Royco going kaput.

He reminds me a lot of Pete Campbell in Mad Men in that he, like all of the other characters of the show, isn’t a great person, but is maybe a little more clear-sighted about everything than the other characters. He’s the only person who seems to be able to be objective about ATN — no, he doesn’t have any qualms about working for a horrible news network, but he recognizes it for what it is — and he also explicitly tells Shiv that she should be careful, as Logan might do to her what he did to Kendall.

Emily: Karen Han — Pete Campbell apologist.

Karen: Honestly, yes.

Sid (Berlin) stands, looking down at Tom (Macfadyen), who is seated in her office.
Sid (Jeannie Berlin) and Tom (Macfadyen).
Peter Kramer/HBO

Episode 2 power rankings

1. Shiv

Everything’s coming up Shiv — for now. She’s making a lot of risky moves, hoping for a big payoff. Pulling a “you can’t fire me, I quit” on a potential future president is ballsy, and Shiv has the biggest balls in this family. —Emily

2. Sid

God, I love Jeannie Berlin. The moment she popped up in the ATN offices, I screamed. Sid is high up on the power rankings list this week purely by virtue of being played by Jeannie Berlin. Extra points for how little she’s willing to put up with Tom. —Karen

3. Greg

Greg the Egg. Bigger than before? His telling Kendall that he “can take a lot in terms of psychological pain” is one of his saddest lines thus far, as it goes a long way towards explaining why he’s so willing to be this awful family’s punching bag. It’s worse given how long it takes him to realize that Kendall isn’t joking about giving him the apartment, even if it’s for less than great reasons. Save him! —Karen

4. Tabitha

“You should try swallowing something.” —Emily

5. Logan

Logan telling Marcia to turn off the Alexa in their house because he doesn’t want Jeff Bezos listening to him is just ... chef’s kiss. —Karen

6. Kendall

Everyone keeps telling me that they like Timothée Chalamet because he’s a skinny, sickly boy they want to nurse back to health and honestly that’s how I feel about Kendall. —Karen

7. Tom

His suits are fine! Leave him alone! (I also want to note that his coffee is from Maison Kayser, not Starbucks, which feels like a perfect money-detail.) —Karen

8. Marcia

Marcia always plays things pretty close to the vest so who knows what she’s scheming, but Logan sending her out of the room while he’s talking to Shiv is ... not great, Bob. —Emily

9. Roman

Besides throwing an excellent dinner party, Roman has been sinking. He straight up admitted that he didn’t know what to do with Vaulter, and doesn’t see the metaphorical shark in the tank with him. (I’m talking about Shiv.) (He doesn’t see his sister as a threat and that will be his undoing.) —Emily

10. The Vaulter guy who spits in Kendall’s face

Hopefully that momentary satisfaction will sustain him after his health benefits run out. At least he can blame his firing on “Facebook chang[ing] their algorithm.” —Emily

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