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.
Succession has a knack for deploying bombs that, on any other show, would make for a season finale. Season two has been building up to one big deal. In the latest episode, “Tern Haven,” the big showdown comes to a head quickly and unexpectedly in what’s essentially a bottle episode.
The Roys decamp for the home of their liberal doppelgängers, the Pierce family, to spend the weekend trying to make a good impression and seal the deal for an acquisition of their rival’s family’s own media empire. Predictably, very little goes as planned — both in public and private.
[Ed. note: Spoilers for Succession season 2, episode 5, “Tern Haven,” follow.]
Waystar Royco acquires Pierce
Karen Han, entertainment reporter: We’ll start at the end. Though there’s a lot of hemming and hawing that goes on, Logan ultimately gets what he wants. (When does he not?) Royco is made safe from acquisition by, in turn, acquiring Pierce.
But that macro win leaves a lot of micro unhappiness in its wake.
Logan’s team tactics in trying to woo the Pierces are hysterical, as he marshals his whole family into one room and tries to strategize who should be sweet-talking who. His own family’s happiness isn’t considered. Marcia has been left out of the inner circle all season and it looks like, in this moment, it’s finally getting to her.
Shiv is increasingly skeptical her father will actually hand over the company. Her attempt at pressuring Logan into telling the Pierces she’s next in line fails miserably and, as she says to Tom, may have putting her out of the running completely. And when Nan (Cherry Jones) tries to include naming Shiv as the Roy heir as part of the deal to acquire Pierce, Logan refuses on the grounds that he’ll name his heir on his own time — but he also says “if” with regards to naming Shiv, not “when.”
Emily Heller, staff writer: That Logan/Shiv dynamic is kind of the lynchpin of these first five episodes of season 2, if not the whole series. Just compare the betrayed look on Shiv’s face when her dad fails to publicly confirm her spot as successor to the hopeful one in the season 2 premiere when Logan tells her she’s next in line. Has he really been manipulating her this whole time or was he playing things close to the vest to keep the Pierces on their toes? It’s a testament to just how good the storytelling on this show is that I’d believe either path.
That said, we’ve already seen that Logan’s failure to let anyone in on his plans could have catastrophic consequences when he’s gone, like in season 1 when he was in a coma and Kendall bought out the company’s massive debt with Stewie’s investment.
So yes, Logan gets what he wants for now, but, as everyone keeps pointing out, he’s old and sick. This episode really solidifies the idea that Logan represents a kind of old guard that’s dying out. Just that image of the Pierce women sitting across from Logan to negotiate is so striking, especially since he’s straight up admitted that part of the reason he won’t just name Shiv as successor is because she’s a woman.
Karen: The end of the episode, where they’re celebrating the Pierce acquisition in Logan’s apartment, is also shot in a way that differentiates it from the rest of the series — it’s almost more romantic, with a really distinct focus on Logan as he makes a toast, and a sort of fade as he ascends the stairs, leaving the room, in the last shot. It feels a lot like the Logan Death Clock is ticking, which would have huge consequences if it actually comes to that.
Does Kendall want to be free?
Karen: Every Roy family member has to go toe-to-toe with a Pierce, and arguably the most interesting tête-à-tête is between Kendall and Naomi (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), who turns out to also be a recovering addict and something of a kindred spirit. They get a little frisky, sure, but what has stuck with me, more than seeing her as a potential romantic partner, is the way Kendall seems to see her as a version of himself pre-car accident. He tells her that she can take the money and run, and be free of her family, which I think he now realizes is what he should have done and what he ultimately wanted, even if he didn’t see that clearly at the time.
Emily: Oh, that’s a really interesting point. I agree that, despite making out a little, their dynamic didn’t seem especially romantic (though this show rarely depicts actual romance). Kendall is so interesting — and at times infuriating — because he’s so miserable while surrounded by obscene luxury. How many people’s benders include nearly accidentally piloting a private helicopter? Succession isn’t just saying “money doesn’t buy happiness,” it’s saying “wealth is a corrupting force.” We’ve talked before about how none of the Roys, apart from Cousin Greg, ever seem to notice their opulent surroundings. The Pierces, by contrast, do acknowledge their expensive artwork and lavish dinner spread. Though whether that’s to show off to Logan is debatable.
Karen: The Pierces are still kind of removed from “normal” life by virtue of being so old money, though — Nan tries to get one of her house staff to drink with her and gently chides her for never taking a break and treating herself, seemingly not realizing that that’s not really an option for anyone who doesn’t have as much money as the Pierces do.
The meeting of the Pierces and the Roys is also pretty striking as a visual representation of new vs. old money. The way they dress, the way they behave, everything serves as juxtaposition. Even the fake book that Roman comes up with to come off as sophisticated during dinner, “The Electric Circus,” signals he knows full well what kind of company he’s in.
Emily: This episode does a fantastic job of showing how these families are two sides of the same coin. The Pierces are, yes, a little more “presentable” and a little less crude than the Roys, but at the end of they day they’re both hugely influential empires. The uneasy alliance that they’ve been working towards is going to impact millions of lives, but that barely registers. What matters to them is money and prestige.
Episode 5 power rankings
1. Roman/Gerri shippers
My crops are thriving. My skin has never been clearer. I think my hair might have grown an inch or two. Jesse Armstrong has blessed us with another cursed Roman/Gerri scene and I may never stop screaming. Not only did Roman jerk off in Gerri’s bathroom while she berated him from behind the closed door, he then straight up told everyone about it at breakfast the next day. Gerri’s mixture of shock, delight, and lasciviousness is the only thing I care about now. —Emily
Sure, Logan gets what he wants, but he also wins Most Brutal Putdown of the Week with: “When you laugh, please do it at the same volume as everyone else.” —Karen
Rhea doesn’t have a Pierce or a Roy behind her name and she’s still out here getting shit done. She’s the reason everyone is here. She made this deal happen. And she pushes for even more money. Rhea Jarrell is a badass and Holly Hunter is perfect. —Emily
Cherry Jones is so incredibly good at playing women who will sweetly smile while stabbing you in the gut. As Pierce matriarch Nan, she’s the only person who seems to be able to match Logan, parrying his bullishness with a quiet dignity. Plus, she nails that effortlessly impeccable East Coast Old Money style. —Emily
Cousin Greg sits out the Pierce trip and arrives at Logan’s home at the end of the episode apparently refreshed and rejuvenated, telling everyone that, “I’m actually going by Gregory now,” and even trying to get Logan, who refers to him as Ichabod Crane, to call him Gregory. The probability that “Gregory” will stick seems low, but I’m rooting for him, anyway. —Karen
Logan continues to keep his wife in the dark about his plans, but Marcia is still asserting her power in subtle, interesting ways like when she gently chides Logan at dinner. (Logan leaning on both Shiv and Marcia as he gets out of the helicopter symbolizes their relationship: he needs both of them but doesn’t quite take them seriously.) —Emily
Jeremy Shamos excels in playing the specific kind of dingbat that Mark “I’m getting my second PhD in Africana Studies and will lead the stargazing tour later” is, and the character description there should pretty much say it all. —Karen
Brief tangent here: Sometimes I’m like, “Kendall ... he’s okay.” Would the chat-up line, “Are you an actress or a poetess or something, that was pretty legit,” work on me? Maybe? —Karen
God, poor Shiv. Sarah Snook’s face is doing so much work in that dinner scene, moving seamlessly from defiance to betrayal. Stop making me feel bad for terrible people, Jesse Armstrong!! —Emily
Tom has had to serve as the Roy family punching bag for pretty much five straight weeks, and, despite his mounting stress, is only getting more gracious, deflecting criticism of ATN at the dinner table by commenting on the food. “King of edible leaves, his majesty, the spinach.” Bless him. —Karen