Succession Invents a Terrifying New Game

The latest episode lays bare how Logan Roy always wins.

Logan Roy (Brian Cox) on "Succession."
A man uninterested in compromise is a frightening man. (Peter Kramer/HBO)

This post contains major spoilers for Season 2, Episode 3 of Succession.

The most recent episode of HBO’s Succession, “Hunting,” will be most remembered for one phrase: “boar on the floor.” That’s the catchy name of the “game” that the Waystar Royco mogul Logan Roy (played by Brian Cox) inflicts on his potentially traitorous underlings, forcing some of them to oink like piggies and scuffle for sausages. A hilarious and awful spectacle with no rules other than Logan’s whims, boar on the floor transforms a dining room full of polished executives into a fraternity hazing basement. “It’s fun!” Logan shouts, and to viewers, it is that—while also being disturbing.

But the key to understanding this particularly genius episode of this genius TV comedy is in a more commonplace phrase than “boar on the floor.” It’s in the word okay. No show’s writers are better at capturing the fumbling, pseudo-jocular, not-all-that-witty way that real people actually talk. Most of Sunday’s episode amounted to a symphony of people saying “okay” to one another, which subtly underscored Succession’s big insights about fear and power.

Okay is a versatile word. There’s the yes-like version, which is how Frank (Peter Friedman) replies to being asked to give a toast by the CEO who will soon roast him as “a creep.” There’s the time-stalling, doubtful “okay …” that Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) issues when Logan announces his plan to buy Pierce (the Warner Media to Waystar Royco’s Fox Corporation). And there are the similar versions of okay that Gerri, Karl (David Rasche), and Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) use when trying to flatter one another into being the one to stand up to Logan about that plan. Connor (Alan Ruck), rebuffing his sister’s attempt to stop him from releasing a tax-protesting campaign video, is like a pull-string doll who mostly says—blankly, placatingly—“okay.” (Well, that and, “You don’t hyperdecant?”).

Then there are all the implied, unstated “okays that meet Logan’s preposterous demands: to pee in a bucket, to get on all fours, to try to buy a $20 billion competitor possibly just to fulfill a long-held grudge.

Logan, however, only says “okay” once. It’s after he orders Siobhan (Sarah Snook) on a mission she doesn’t want to go on, and hangs up the phone without getting her answer. Otherwise, he has no use for bland affirmations and conversational truces. At both the beginning and end of the episode, he is directly informed of his team’s doubts about his vision to acquire another huge company. He notes their dissent with an “uh-huh” or a “well”—and then declares that the bid is happening anyway. There is no negotiation, no softening, to be seen.

A man uninterested in compromise is a frightening man, and it’s a given that Logan “can be scary, vindictive, paranoid, violent,” as Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) reveals to a journalist at the beginning of the episode. Waystar Royco unmistakably operates on a “culture of fear,” a term that sociologists have applied to myriad real-life cultures and companies. But Succession is less interested in what happens in corporate America than how. The Roy family, it’s plenty clear by now, is replete with incompetence. The media properties they own are rapidly becoming obsolete. The CEO’s health is faltering. How does Logan still hold steel-wire leashes on his minions and his investors? How does he get everyone around him to meet his every dictate with “okay”?

The first way is through the blunt-force power of threats. We haven’t seen Logan kill anyone. But we’ve seen him cover up a death, and the briefing on that matter that his security manager gave in the Season 2 premiere was all-too-businesslike. So the macho and gruesome language thrown around in the Waystar offices has a certain unsettling credibility. In “Hunting,” one underling says he’s burned villages and overthrown governments on Logan’s behalf—is he kidding? When Logan hears news that an associate talked with the CEO’s would-be biographer, he erupts, saying that person is dead to him, and Kendall (Jeremy Strong) elaborates that they’ll be chopped up and thrown in the Danube. As to the question of why there’s a corporate retreat in Hungary: Gerri says, unblinkingly, that it’s because you can shoot whatever you want and get away with it. “Here’s the safety briefing,” Logan barks on the way to the hog hunt. “If you move against me, I’ll put a hole in the back of your fucking head!”

Logan’s rampage against traitors doesn’t quite come to the point of murder. But it’s clear that another kind of threat he often issues is very real: blackmail. All season long, the once-rebellious Kendall has played Logan’s dead-eyed servant, a conversion that happened because of the dirt that his father has on him. Now, in front of a room full of colleagues, Logan not-so-subtly implies that Waystar’s CFO Karl has a habit of visiting prostitutes. “Does your old lady know about that?” Logan asks, to which Karl replies, “She knows I’m something of a libertine.” Logan: “Is that a yes?” Karl closes his eyes and issues a surrender, a plea of uncle: “Okay.”

The grilling of Karl is part of Logan’s larger tactic for dominance—humiliation. Boar on the floor morphs professionals into pigs, and the hooting and jeering from onlookers is a clear demonstration of how easily civilization can collapse into something more animalistic; see the infamous dinner-party scene from 2017’s The Square for a yet-starker depiction of this dynamic. What’s excellent about Succession’s version is that you witness, via nervous laughter and stammered refusals, the incremental way that collegiality crumbles and a tyrant’s ability to rule through fear is recognized. “Logan, what the fuck?” Karl asks, early in the belittling process. Later, Cousin Greg protests that the rules say he doesn’t deserve to be sent into the boar pit, but Logan corrects him: There are no rules.

The particularities of Logan’s mind games are telling. Boar on the floor is quite clearly something Logan made up, inspired by the boar they’d hunted that day and were eating that night. You can see him inventing it in real time, blurting out the name—Karl seems to think it’s an insult toward him at first—and only later filling in the details. It’s also the sort of “game” Logan used as a father to create a dominance hierarchy among his kids: Last season, we learned of Roman (Kieran Culkin) being locked in a dog cage by his brothers at the goading of their dad. By definition, these tactics are dehumanizing. That they have mythic resonance—Logan is Circe, turning sailors to swine—speaks to their power.

Shame has been called the “master emotion” by psychologists, and its effects are palpable in the breakfast scene after the chaotic dinner party. Tom pretends he drank too much to remember what he did, but his chief rival, Cyd Peach (Jeannie Berlin), lets him know she remembers by asking whether he wants a sausage. It’s obvious she’ll never treat him the same. Meanwhile, Frank—viciously insulted by Logan just after being brought back into the fold—shrugs his shoulders when telling Gerri that he’s considering taking a job offer at Waystar. He also all-too-willingly nods when Logan writes off the night before as a product of drinking and jet lag. That BS explanation is as close to an apology as Logan will ever give for his monstrousness, and his employees have essentially said “okay” to being treated, forevermore, like livestock.