This post contains major spoilers for Season 2, Episode 9 of Succession.
Would an Atlantic article really refer to a media exec as “a smirking block of domestic feta” due to his dodgy congressional testimony, as we were portrayed to have done to poor Tom Wambsgans in the latest episode of Succession? Hmm. I, at least, have reached for cheese comparisons before. Maybe our editors would nix the suggestion of food that has a face to smirk with. But some mixed metaphors are too fun to block, as the writers of Succession’s deliciously nonsensical banter know well.
Certainly the imaginary Atlantic description fits Tom’s (Matthew Macfadyen) congressional performance. He crumbles crappily. Responding to a federal inquiry into sexual exploitation and cover-ups at Brightstar Cruises, he over-prepares and yet still acts like he’s been ambushed. When Senator Gil Eavis (Eric Bogosian) asks about the nickname for the late pervy cruise boss (“Mo” Lester), Tom explains that, well, Lester just seemed like a molester. He commits flagrant perjury on the topic of whether he actually knows his own deputy, Greg (Nicholas Braun). He responds to the question of whether he used underlings as furniture like this: “Senator, I use a variety of target-oriented incentives to enhance optimal performance.”
After that cringey interrogation, Tom accuses his colleagues—and his wife, Siobhan (Sarah Snook)—of having set him up as a patsy. Maybe they did do that. Maybe they didn’t but will now. It seems possible that Tom could be the “blood sacrifice” that the family patriarch Logan (Brian Cox) says he’ll need to end this scandal. In any case, Tom’s problems fundamentally are created by Tom. He’s a horrible person but also a horrible con man: the kind of guy who, to take one example that made him vulnerable to prosecution, commits harassment by email. “Just remember it is not a courthouse, it is a stage,” Waystar’s strategist Hugo counsels him before the hearing. “Anything goes.” Tom’s useless nib of conscience, his wavering fealty to the big lie, and his undisciplined cowardice ruin the act.
The actual Roy kids have screwed up for similar reasons before. But in this episode, as Waystar-Royco faced its greatest existential threat, they make a surprising display of mettle—sparring with lawmakers, securing a financial bailout, and neutralizing a whistle-blower. The realm of politics pushes Succession’s kids to grok what Tom doesn’t yet grasp: how great BS works.
Logan, of course, is the master. In private he screams that the scandal over cruises was “nonsense.” At the hearing, he dons his reading glasses and soberly reports that learning of internal malfeasance made for “the worst day of [his] life,” adding, “Frankly I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive myself.” He vows a full investigation and thorough prosecution of wrongdoers—and does this so convincingly that Connor Roy (Alan Ruck) whispers “Fuck yeah” in the audience. When specific questions come from senators, Logan mumbles, speaks in vagaries, and redirects to his son: a fully committed filibuster.
Next up is Kendall Roy, the troubled and oft-bumbling eldest. The actor Jeremy Strong affects a perfectly blank look throughout Logan’s testimony—which makes it all the more electrifying when Kendall livens up into a cable-news counterpuncher. Back at the Argestes conference earlier in the season, when the cruise scandal was just breaking, he’d insisted that the company take responsibility for its abuses. Now, he aggressively reroutes the hearing’s topic from Warstar-Royco’s wrongdoing to the supposed witch-hunting of the liberal Eavis, who Kendall suggests wanted a state-run media. Kendall’s bluster is as irrelevant to the hearing’s goals as it is advantageous for his own: A hack on the Fox News–like ATN hails it as “a takedown for the ages.”
Roman Roy’s (Kieran Culkin) task: to convince the Azerbaijani heir Edward (Babak Tafti) to sink royal money into Waystar. When Logan puts this assignment to him, Roman calls the ask “a stretch” and offers, “If it’s really important, I can say I’ll do it, like a fireman in a movie.” Translation: I don’t think I can do it. Yet when pitching Edward’s team in Turkey, Roman puts on a striking display of seriousness and straight talk while outlining the upside of investing in Waystar. Unfortunately the presentation is interrupted by a team of polite kidnappers; fortunately, while being held hostage as part of some sort of sectarian power grab, Roman is still able to move the deal along. The would-be investors ask all the right questions: Might the government block the deal? Might the takeover bid against Waystar interfere? But Roman, so often indecisive and mealymouthed, calmly insists that there’s no need to worry about those things.
Negotiating under gunpoint might still be a less daunting job than the one Shiv finds herself saddled with: convincing a woman who worked for Lester to stay quiet about what she saw. The prospect of bullying a mega #MeToo witness is so gross that the incoming Waystar CEO Rhea (Holly Hunter) bails on it at the last moment, leaving Shiv to act alone. As Kira (Sally Murphy) watches her kid play on the jungle gym, Shiv chats her up using a fire-ice mix—sympathy and innuendo, real talk and manipulation—that gradually wears down the former cruise employee’s caginess. In part, Shiv builds trust by seeming to break trust: calling Logan a serial liar and even admitting that she herself only had her own interests, not Kira’s, at heart. But she also employs fear (spelling out all the public abuse Kira would receive for testifying), bribery (casually offering millions), and an appeal to virtue (a vow to clear out Waystar’s creeps). The multifront approach works. Kira goes quiet.
What’s remarkable about the Roys’ performances is that while they were symphonies of spin, they weren’t necessarily full of lies. Logan does wish there wasn’t a mess to clean up; Kendall does disdain Gil’s politics; Roman does believe in the company; Shiv does want to clean it up. If there is a secret to Logan’s dominance, it’s in his ability to state a seemingly impossible goal and then convince himself—and eventually the world—of its realness. “When I say something will happen, that thing will happen,” he said earlier this season to Rhea. Now, in the course of quitting her job, Rhea tells him, “I don’t know if you care about anything, and that scares me.” The truth may well be that he doesn’t care about anything other than self-preservation—and finally his kids are understanding there’s power in that.