Kendall fires the Vaulter staff (season two, episode two)
What I adore about Succession is the deeply felt belief that there are no heroes in the media. That’s not my worldview, but it’s crucial to the show’s luxuriant misanthropy that those who put themselves about as the most high-minded (Pierce) are just as greedy and somehow more obnoxious than the Roys, who at least are exactly who they appear to be.
The whole Vaulter storyline is an easily forgotten version of this, and also a beautifully rendered miniature of the dance of modern venture capital and investment. Vaulter is a cool online media company, a standin for Vice, led by Lawrence Yee (Rob Yang), who initially wields his cultural and talismanic power over Kendall Roy in a savagely contemptuous style. Eventually, as it almost always does, the number gets too big, and a deal gets done – Vaulter becomes a trinket to convince the world that Waystar-Royco is not a sunset business but really gets digital.
A while later, searching for a symbol of fiscal discipline to placate investors, Logan Roy lights upon Vaulter. He asks Kendall to nuke it, as both a loyalty test, and a way of admitting that father was right (even when wrong). Kendall, hollow but with a glint of pleasure, announces that the company just doesn’t exist any more, to scenes of disbelief curdling quickly to anger, everyone in it a different type of very specific and modern asshole. It works because, as with so much of Succession, it feels entirely plausible – a fictional version of the Ozy meltdown last week, to the continual write-downs and shrinkings at the real-life Vice.
– Duncan Greive, publisher
Vote of no confidence (season one, episode six)
This is the moment when I knew Succession was the real deal. The first five episodes are great, but slightly meandering in that typical HBO drama way. I didn’t quite get the hype. Then came the vote of no confidence. It’s the episode I tell everyone starting the show for the first time about: “wait ‘til the vote of no confidence episode before you decide whether you like the show.”
While the start of season one is both funny and dramatic, episode six amps that amp and throws in a fair dose of pure anxiety too. It’s almost uncomfortable viewing; the moment Kendall is forced to run through the traffic jam, frantically trying to dial into the meeting he helped organise to overthrow his father. The moment Logan decides to sit in on that meeting, despite it very much going against protocol. Watching Roman toy with the idea of going against his father while being stared down by him. It’s terrifying, hilarious, addictive: everything Succession has continued to be across its subsequent 14 episodes.
– Stewart Sowman-Lund, live updates editor
‘Tiny attack babies!’ (season two, episode four)
I thought Greg’s anxiety about a “small attack child” breaking into his panic room was the moment that elevated Succession to the greatest show on television. When Tom Wambsgans and Cousin Greg are holed up together after an incident in the Waystar Royco offices, emotions run high, with water bottles being thrown over Greg’s attempts to switch roles. Ouch. But, during a recent rewatch of season two, I realised it was what happens next that really sends HBO’s corporate Game of Thrones into the stratosphere. In a small office alcove, Greg attempts to threaten Tom with incriminating cruise papers that he saved from destruction. Instead of being appalled, Wamsgans is like a proud father, offering him a promotion and praise for finally acting like he’s really part of conniving Roy family. “Look at you,” he tells Greg, cheerfully rubbing his shoulders. “You’re a fucking slimeball.”
– Chris Schulz, features editor
The whole damn final episode (season two, episode ten)
It’s a stretch, no doubt, to describe an entire episode as a moment, but the last hour of the second series transcends such petty definitions. Like so much of Succession, the drama plays out in a weird, rarefied setting. This time it’s a boat, where King Logan stalks the deck to determine which of his guests will be the “blood sacrifice” to save the Waystar Royco. It’s Agamemnon. It’s Lear. It’s Ubu Roi. Not kidding: it’s that good. Sinuous, vicious, funny; and more than once, especially in the Tom vs Shiv scene on some Venetian beach, actually tender.
And it manages to deliver a cliff-hanger without that really annoying tendency these days to confuse a cliffhanger with parking the bus a mile before the actual cliff. As Kendall glides in to face the press in Manhattan, it doesn’t just stick the landing, it swoops down, mixes you a drink then disappears chuckling into the night. I’ve watched it three times, and I will watch it again before cracking into series 3, and I’m fine, thank you.
– Toby Manhire, editor
Kendall’s rap (season two, episode eight)
Like numerous other masterpieces, Succession is populated almost universally by unlikeable characters, yet in spite of this, or perhaps because of it, it’s hard not to become deeply invested in them.
Kendall – poor, sad, broken Kendall – is a case in point. Logan’s middle son and would-be heir, Kendall is a bit of a fuck-up, a cokehead who just can’t seem to do anything right, at least in the eyes of his disapproving dad. He’s also spectacularly self-centred and sick-makingly earnest, and I kind of love him.
At Logan’s surprise 50th business anniversary party, Kendall makes the mind-blowingly bad decision to perform a rap of his own composition – a glowing tribute to his pop entitled ‘L to the OG’. As Logan sits there stony-faced, Kendall goes for it, removing his tuxedo jacket to reveal a custom baseball shirt emblazoned with LOG50 as he spits rhymes like “Bro, don’t get it twisted, I’ve been through hell / But since I stan Dad, I’m alive and well / Shaper of views, creator of news / Father of many, paid all his dues.”
The audience can’t look away, with the camera panning to Kendall’s siblings and assorted Waystar executives displaying various emotions on the spectrum from horrified to hysterical, as the viewer watches through the gaps in their fingers. It’s honestly excruciating, yet Kendall isn’t a terrible rapper and it’s a catchy tune, which all makes for two minutes of utterly brilliant television that I have rewatched on YouTube many, many times.
– Alice Neville, deputy editor
The Waystar Royco hearing (season two, episodes nine and ten)
The Roy family have been called anti-heroes, but that’s not really what they are. An anti-hero is someone you want to win, despite their flaws. With the despicable Roys, the real pleasure is seeing them lose, and lose hard.
And rarely have the Roys lost as badly as they do in their appearances before the congressional subcommittee investigating the Waystar Royco cruise line scandal. It’s a disaster in three acts. First to run the gauntlet is Tom – accompanied by a helpless, near-silent Gerri – who tells laughably obvious lies (he denies knowing Greg, his own personal assistant, for god’s sake), is asked if he’s aware of the term “footstooling”, and is forced to admit that “Uncle Mo”, the high-level executive at the centre of the scandal, was called that because he did indeed “seem a bit like” a molester. All cringe-comedy gold, but the highlight is undoubtedly one simple, pure and true statement of fact, the subject line of an email that was, the hearing heard, sent 67 times in a single night: You can’t make a Tomelette without breaking some Greggs.
Next up are Logan and his son Kendall, in a scene that shares more than a few similarities with Rupert Murdoch’s real-life appearance before a parliamentary subcommittee alongside his son, James. While Logan flounders, Kendall goes on the attack, delivering a blistering speech that almost turns things around – until a cornered Logan throws him under the bus, live on camera. But don’t worry, I’m sure Kendall isn’t the sort to hold a grudge…
And then, in a delightful little epilogue, Cousin Greg. “Yes, if it is to be said,” he nervously responds when asked to confirm his own name. “If it is to be said, so it be, so it is.” The scene cuts away and, as always with Succession’s stealth MVP, we’re left wanting more. Ah well, so it be, so it is. We haven’t got long to wait now.
– Catherine McGregor, deputy editor
Shiv convincing Kira not to testify (season two, episode six)
It tends to be Succession’s dudes who get the bulk of the praise (and the memes), which makes sense because the men aren’t just the most clearly morally bankrupt characters, but also the most bumbling. They’re impotent bulls through china shops, surrounded by their own screw-ups. But Succession’s secret weapon has always been the women: Gerri, Rhea, Cyd, Lady Caroline and, towering above them all, Shiv, played with sickening ruthlessness and precision by Sarah Snook.
Nowhere is Shiv’s power more obvious than in a scene late in season two. Shiv visits Kira, a victim of sexual harassment in Waystar Royco’s cruise division, and convinces her not to testify before Congress. The first remarkable thing about the scene is that Shiv doesn’t feel insulted that her family assigned her the ethically outrageous task solely because she’s a woman. As Shiv herself puts it, the assignment is “lady duty, soft skills, shit work”. The actual conversation between Shiv and Kira is among the most uncomfortable (and thus sublime) scenes in Succession’s entire two seasons because it ditches what makes the rest of the show so great – it’s not funny, at all. We’re watching pure, unadulterated evil as Shiv pulls out every trick in the book to convince Kira not to testify. It’s the scene that makes us stop laughing at these mythically rich hedonists and realise the actual cost of what they’re doing: the trampling of everybody else in the world.
– Sam Brooks, staff feature writer
The third season of Succession starts tonight on Neon, with new episodes arriving weekly on Mondays.