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With one act of violence, Succession reveals nasty truths about the Roy family

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“Playground bullshit” in the midst of scandal

Logan Roy (Brian Cox) stands between Nan Pierce (Cherry Jones) and Rhea Jarrell (Holly Hunter) in a promotional still from Succession season 2, episode 6
Logan, post slap
Peter Kramer/HBO

Do you remember those melodramatic promos for The Slap on NBC? From what I understand, based on the viral clips I watched on Twitter, the entire plot of the miniseries (and the Australian show and novel on which it’s based) is that Zachary Qunto slaps a stranger’s child at his cousin’s birthday party.

That titular slap, which warranted a 483-page book, sixteen episodes of television, and a very good meme, was somehow less dramatic than the backhand Logan lays on Roman in the latest episode of Succession, “Argestes.” (Coincidentally, Brian Cox also starred in The Slap, though he wasn’t the one doing the slapping on that show.)

Set at a VIP “media and banking retreat,” episode six of Succession season two brings Logan to his breaking point, leading him to hit his son in a moment of helplessness and rage. What got him to that point, how his inner circle reacts to it, and what that one moment of violence reveals about the Roy family dynamic feels both so tragic and so true.

Shiv (Sarah Snook), Kendall (Jeremy Strong), and Roman (Kieran Culkin) onstage at a media conference in a screenshot from Succession season 2, episode 6, “Argestes”
Onstage at Argestes, the Roy siblings clash over responses to the cruises scandal
Peter Kramer/HBO

A good old fashioned dinosaur cull

Since the first moments of Succession, Logan Roy has existed in contradictions: he’s a doddering old man who gets lost on the way to the bathroom and a ruthless tyrant who comes up with humiliations like “Boar on the Floor.” This episode pulls Logan’s extremes into their tightest tension yet, revealing him to be an overgrown schoolyard bully, albeit a bully with the power to pen $25 billion acquisition deals.

“Argestes” opens on the Waystar Royco jet, which has been waiting to land “for a fucking hour,” according to Logan. He’s visibly frustrated — with the air tower, sure, but mainly at the Pierce acquisition deal which is stuck in a holding pattern of its own. He’s hoping that they’re able to sign an agreement to buy Pierce at the Argestes retreat, but soon learns that a New York Magazine article is about to be published blowing the whistle on the cruises scandal that Greg and Tom tried to cover up.

Logan’s reaction to the curveballs he’s thrown this episode are simultaneously juvenile and geriatric. He pouts when he doesn’t get priority landing at the airport. He lashes out with the tone of an angry toddler when asking for someone to print out an article for him to read. Entering the green room following a panel in which Shiv calls for “a good old fashioned dinosaur cull” at Royco, his body language is that of a kid being called into the principal’s office.

So when he slaps Roman (who is himself acting rather childishly), it’s upsetting, but not entirely surprising. When backed into a corner, with no emotional, psychological, or financial weapons at his disposal, his response is primal violence.

Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Gerri (J. Smith Cameron) look over a balcony in a screenshot from Succession season 2, episode 6, “Argestes”
The Gerri/Roman ship refuses to sink
Peter Kramer/HBO

Gerri adds insult to Roman’s injury

While the slap is itself a harrowing moment, the reactions from the rest of the Roys are truly heartbreaking. Roman himself, in his typical roguish fashion, plays it off as no big deal. “It’s just a tooth,” he says in response to his dad knocking a molar out of his mouth. “I’ll get another one.” This certainly isn’t the first time we’ve seen Roman hurt and humiliated by his dad. Based on his response it doesn’t really seem like this is the first time it’s gotten physical, either.

To make things worse, Roman’s mommy-girlfriend Gerri actually soothes Logan after he hits his son. She reassures him that the moment “played well,” with the soft, pleading voice I’ve heard parents use to placate their screaming children on the subway. Earlier in the episode Gerri had been advocating for Roman, suggesting that he kick off negotiations with a Qatari investor, but this response makes it clear that her priority is still keeping Logan happy — or at least calm.

And Shiv, whose incendiary comment led to the incident, just looks kind of vaguely concerned, and barely manages to throw out a, “Bro, are you o...kay?”

Logan (Brian Cox) pouts on his private jet in a screenshot from Succession season 2, episode 6, “Argestes”
Logan needs a nap
Peter Kramer/HBO

Kendall steps up

Notably, the only person to stand up to Logan is Kendall, who has been trudging through this season like a zombie that exists only to execute Logan’s plans. But watching his dad hit his brother seems to jolt something in Kendall, pulling him out of that stupor. He sticks his finger in Logan’s face, yelling, “Don’t fucking touch him,” and scolding, “Dad, no.” Again it’s as if Logan is a misbehaving child.

Throughout this episode, actually, Kendall has been acting like a stern parent. On the plane he tells his employees — who have been crunching to get the Pierce deal finalized — that he’s disappointed in them, and chastises them for the crime of...eating snacks. Later, when Shiv and Roman are taunting each other before they go onstage at Argestes, he doesn’t join in the sibling rivalry, instead telling them to focus in what can only be described as a Dad voice.

Watching those moments before the slap, I assumed Kendall was just emulating Logan. Now it’s clear he’s toning Logan’s parenting style way down. Perhaps, in a warped way, he’s trying to be a better dad to his siblings than their own father has been, but these are the only tools he knows.

With Waystar Royco in the midst of a #MeToo scandal, a proxy battle, and an imploding acquisition deal, Logan assured his family that the sidelong glances and cancelled meetings from fellow Argestes attendees is just “playground bullshit.” This episode made it clear that “playground bullshit” is all Logan knows; it’s no wonder he raised a class clown, a mean girl, and a teacher’s pet.