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Shiv (Sarah Snook) stands with her arms crossed.
The queen is in the castle.
Peter Kramer/HBO

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Succession brings an amazing ship to fruition

The HBO series blesses us all as the king of cursed ships

Each 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.

It’s almost cruel just how much is packed into this episode of Succession, which follows one of the most serotonin-generating culminations of character rapport with what is easily one of the series’ most heartbreaking scenes. Last week’s episode was a wild ride, taking the “rich behaving badly” thread of the show and blowing it up into upsetting proportions. This week’s episode sends us crashing back into more tangibly human territory — and it’s a devastating fall.

“Safe Room” brings home several chickens to roost that have been out and about since the beginning of the show (or in one case, since the cataclysmic ending to season one), and helps set up the stakes for the season to come.

[Ed. note: Spoilers for Succession season 2, episode 4, “Safe Room,” follow.]

Roman (Culkin) looks frustrated at his teammate, Brian (Cherry).
Roman (Kieran Culkin) and his new friend Brian (Zach Cherry).
Peter Kramer/HBO

Roman and Gerri work it out

Karen Han, entertainment reporter: Emily, Simone, and I all watched this episode together, and I think we all just started screaming when it became clear that Gerri and Roman were actually going to have phone sex. I think we’d all picked up on the vibes — the rapport between them has been interesting since the word “go” — but to think that they were actually going to go through with it was kind of unthinkable. But thank you God, and thank you Jesse Armstrong, for this tremendous gift.

Emily Heller, staff writer: God, every muscle in my body tensed up when that scene started. My soul fully left my body. And it’s so good because it’s truly wild but it makes absolute sense. Going back and watching older episodes, knowing this dynamic, the pieces fall into place. I recently rewatched the second episode of the first season, and in the first Gerri/Roman interaction we see, he tells her he “just [wants] to fuck.” (He’s talking about a business proposition, but still.)

I’ve held some extremely cursed ships in my time, but this is by far the best. I never thought the show would explicitly go there and I’m so glad it did.

Karen: Yeah, it’s nuts — but so good — that this is canon. And we have six more episodes of the season left of it, which feels like Christmas come early to me. We’ve been aware since the beginning that Roman’s relationship with sex is a fraught one — he and his girlfriend have yet to have sex, and it’s a failed attempt at phone sex that leads him to call Gerri in the first place — and it seems like he’s slowly figuring things out. It’s also worth noting, here, that in the first season, it was revealed that Roman actually asked his siblings to lock him in a dog cage, and that his being able to get off with Gerri has more than a little to do with the fact that she doesn’t take any of his shit/will tell him what’s what.

Emily: Right, after those scenes in the first season when it’s implied that Roman doesn’t really have sex with his girlfriend, there was speculation among fans that Roman was gay and stayed in the closet because he was scared of his dad. That would feel both really boring and also a step back in terms of LGBTQ representation on screen. I’m so glad that the writers went in a completely different direction with his sexuality.

Greg (Nicholas Braun) and Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) confer in a conference room.
A meeting of the last two (relatively) pure souls in all of Waystar Royco.
Peter Kramer/HBO

Tom takes out his frustrations with Shiv on Cousin Greg

Emily: Speaking of cursed ships, we have to talk about Tom and Greg’s breakup. Poor Tom just can’t catch a break. When a shooter scare occurs at ATN, security brings him to the B-list panic room (which is really just a conference room) while his wife and father-in-law are escorted to a bulletproof bunker to negotiate the biggest deal of the company’s life. And while away from the action, Greg, his closest ally and best friend, tells Tom that he wants to leave news to try his luck in a different department. (Preferably one with fewer Nazis.) Tom is clearly thinking about Shiv and how betrayed he’s felt by her inability to stay monogamous. “This is not a good feeling that you’re making me have” is gutting because he doesn’t even have the language for how he feels.

Both Matthew Macfadyen and Nicholas Braun are incredible in this scene, by the way. When Greg tells Tom he wants them to be in a “business open relationship,” tears started welling in Tom’s eyes! I just want them both to leave this toxic family and run off into the sunset together.

Karen: It’s so easy to tell that Tom is projecting his feelings about his marriage onto this interaction with Greg — it’s just that he can say this all to Greg but doesn’t feel that he can (or doesn’t know how to) say any of this to Shiv. “I will not let you do this to me. I will not let go of what is mine!” feels a lot like what he probably wanted to say both times he realized Shiv really hadn’t been kidding about what she told him on their wedding night.

It sucks, too, because Tom kept a big secret for Greg last week, only for Greg to now use what they did in cruises (shredding a bunch of incriminating documents) as blackmail in order to get Tom to let him leave. He’s also generally much more honest with Greg than he is with anyone else — after pelting Greg with water bottles, Tom tells him, “I don’t always like who I am,” which is a pretty heavy statement to lay on anybody.

The whole debacle also pretty clearly suggests that he’s going to reach a breaking point in his relationship with Shiv; he’s not happy about it, and he’s not going to be able to just keep stewing about it.

I also want to note that there’s a new point in the column titled “Proof Logan Roy Actually Loves His Children,” as, when the attack occurs, Logan, while being ushered into the real safe room, keeps asking about Kendall’s safety.

Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Shiv (Snook) stand facing each other.
A frank talk between siblings.
Peter Kramer/HBO

Kendall threatens to pull a Mad Men

Karen: It’s a real case of emotional whiplash when the Roman/Gerri scene segues directly into a startlingly tender talk between Kendall and Shiv. They’ve been butting heads this entire episode as Logan tries to lock down at least negotiations to acquire Pierce (and he’s been pitting his kids against each other, as always), which comes to a boiling point when Shiv asks exactly what it is that Logan has over Kendall. Kendall can’t say, but — in his most honest moment yet — he tells Shiv that he won’t be the successor to the Roy throne.

Jeremy Strong is arguably playing the least showy character in the series, but his performance may just be the most impressive; I actually did cry watching his talk with Shiv, especially as he breaks into tears when asking her for a hug. “I would just ask that you take care of me, because if Dad didn’t need me right now, I don’t exactly know what I would be for.” Oof.

Emily: I think Strong is doing more without words than anyone else on this show. (Though special shout-out to the face Logan makes at Shiv after telling Kendall good job for negotiating with Pierce.) Just from the way his physicality changes throughout the series, from a chest-out blowhard to that head-down Charlie Brown walk he’s doing now, we can tell how broken he is. And the bookends to this episode are wordless: When the episode begins, Kendall is up on the roof, looking down on the city. But at the end of the episode, there are glass walls preventing him from looking over (and, it’s implied, from jumping off). It makes sense, given that the shooting at the office turned out to be a suicide, but could also be another indication that Logan is watching Kendall, worried about him, and taking care of him in his own twisted way.

Karen: Logan is also allowing Kendall to get away with stealing “candy and vape fluid,” taking care of it privately instead of calling Kendall out. (Kendall is also, notably, now in charge of making sure Logan is taking his medication.)

The big question is, of course, whether or not anyone will find out what happened at the end of the last season, especially as people start to notice that Kendall is acting more and more strangely.

Connor (Ruck) holds onto Willa’s (Lupe) arm amidst a crowd of mourners.
Willa (Justine Lupe) and Connor (Alan Ruck) attend a funeral.
Peter Kramer/HBO

Episode 4 power rankings

1. Gerri

There is no one on this Earth more powerful than J. Smith-Cameron, as clearly evidenced by this episode. When Gerri texts Roman back with a thumbs-up emoji after he says “I am going to kill myself”? Gerri, run me over with a truck. —Karen

2. Roman

Sure, Roman’s marooned in executive training for the entirety of this episode, but if the power rankings are based on how close characters are to getting what they want, Roman has made it clear that all he wants is for Gerri to yell at him while he jerks off. So he wins this one. —Emily

3. Rhea

Holly fucking Hunter, y’all. —Emily

4. Logan

The shooter scare honestly seems to put Logan a little off. He’s not particularly interested in making sure he’s on top of his medication — even if his kids are — and he kind of seems to be in a daze right up until the conversation in the safe room turns to business. Although, really, who am I to say that Logan Roy might be losing his edge? He’s so mean to all of his kids the whole way through! —Karen

5. Willa

Willa does surprisingly well in this episode, making sure that Connor doesn’t make a total fool out of himself at Mo’s funeral. But even she can’t save the eulogy Connor has to deliver for a man who turns out to maybe have been a molester: “When a man dies, it is sad. All of us will die one day. In this case, it is Lester who has done so.” —Karen

6. Shiv

Shiv is finally brought into Royco, only to be belittled and ignored. Even her well-meaning husband implies a weird Ivanka Trump-y thing: “You and your dad have finally admitted how much you’re into each other.” She’s clearly born for this, though. Her instincts are sharp, and she’s able to get Rhea to start negotiating despite her dad and brother undercutting everything she says. —Emily

7. Brian

Every line that Brian, Roman’s partner at the executive training program, says is golden. Introducing himself:

I’m an enigma. You can’t pigeonhole me. I’m there and then I’m gone. Intellectually promiscuous but culturally conservative. I work hard but I do not play hard. I play easy. Why would you play hard?

And “no one’s ever gone bust overestimating the American public’s interest in violence” is just true! I hope Roman does bring him to the city, if only to get more Zach Cherry. —Emily

8. Greg

There is nothing more devastating than the grin on Greg’s face after Tom tells him, “You’re a fucking slimeball!” I am worried about Greg — advancing at ATN will inevitably lead to trouble — but I’m proud of him for asking for what he wants and sticking up for himself. —Emily

9. Tom

I don’t know how many times I need to say this, but I would die for Tom Wamsgans, even though he does use another man as a human footrest. —Karen

10. Probably a Nazi ATN guy

One of the anchors at ATN is accused of being a fascist, leading to an investigation that reveals that he got married at the Eagle’s Nest, to an increasingly incredulous Tom’s concern.

Tom: Have you ever read Mein Kampf?
Mark: Yeah, a couple times, I guess.
Tom: ... ‘A couple times?’ Are there Easter eggs in there you didn’t get the first time?

Karen