Boardrooms are not the only venue to hold important negotiations that could determine the future of a multi-billion dollar corporation. A hotel room in Sarajevo and a Manhattan tween bedroom in a plush apartment sound a world apart but they are connected by a father and son vying for control in Succession. Directly following on from the premiere, “Mass in Time of War” sees both Logan (Brian Cox) and Kendall (Jeremy Strong) trying to shore up allies but hitting roadblocks in their quest for power.
After failing to secure Lisa Arthur (Sanaa Lathan) as her dad’s lawyer and losing the CEO position in the process, Shiv (Sarah Snook) seems like a viable option for heading over to Team Kendall. Not only is she ignoring her father’s phone calls — yes, that is a photo of Saddam Hussein assigned to her father’s phone number — she is also the first of the siblings to head into enemy territory. Her arrival at Rava’s (Natalie Gold) is coincidentally timed to the on-the-nose Trojan Horse gift from Stewy (Arian Moayed), which adds another level of chaos to the revolving door of comings and goings in the Kendall camp.
Shiv’s arrival isn’t as covert as she might hope, as Greg (Nicholas Braun) spots her entering the apartment building while he is leaving. Moments later, Greg is getting berated by Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and the mention of Shiv’s location is news to her husband. Information is worth its weight in gold (and loyalty) and trust is hard to come by when everyone is protecting their own self-interests. One wrong choice could leave a Roy sibling out in the cold, while there is also the simple fact that they do all love (and fear) Logan. The complicated power dynamics at play are put under the microscope and no one is buying Kendall’s altruistic excuse for what he did. Shiv refers to the press conference as Kendall’s “peacock f*** show” and thus begins a stream of back and forth insults and passive-aggressive digs. “The little man who started this big war,” is how Shiv greets her older brother and she doesn’t attempt to hide her disdain at his antics.
The competitive atmosphere is dialed up further when Roman (Kieran Culkin) joins the party and another sparring match quickly follows. Kendall’s whole pitch is focused on transforming the dying empire Logan is the face of.
“Can we clean slate this?” he asks not only about their personal history but also daring to alter the bones of their company. “It’s our time,” Kendall says sounding like he is accidentally quoting The Goonies while having little self-awareness about how he is the status quo.
Regardless of the good intentions he claims to have, Kendall’s spiel sounds like empty promises and buzzwords meant to appeal to a large demo (“unsubscribe” quips Shiv). Before anyone else has arrived, Kendall tells his sister she is not a good person — no matter what image she hopes to project — and he later calls her out when she claims she had no idea what was going on with the laundry list of scandals. The notion of responsibility is an interesting one and sees Roman side with Shiv in his accountability whereas Connor (Alan Ruck) somewhat surprisingly lands on the side of “we knew.”
Kendall’s daughter’s girlish bedroom with its fairy lights and egg chair provides the safe space to have this debate, which is a hilarious contrast to the harsh words traded and the serious matters being discussed. While Roman nails his impressions of his siblings, Shiv takes things too far when she targets Roman’s sexual hangups. It is rare for Roman to get upset, but Shiv knows exactly what buttons to press to get a rise. First pancake Connor ends up being the voice of reason — which again feels strange but he is the oldest after all — and when the petty digs are put aside they reach another impasse. Shiv has already stated that she thinks Kendall should back down and there is a genuine concern regarding their dad’s health if they do form a squad. “It might actually kill him,” Roman says with zero hints of his usual irreverent tone. Kendall’s response to Roman’s prediction is that Logan was willing to send him to jail and he would do the same to the rest of them; well, maybe not Shiv.
To obtain the support of his siblings, Kendall is faced with a dilemma that has plagued the adult Roy offspring throughout Succession — who gets to be in charge. They all want the top title and Kendall is unwilling to negotiate when it comes to the coveted CEO role of the new and improved Waystar Royco. An alliance is impossible when everyone wants the head seat at the table and it doesn’t matter how Kendall tries to spin it as them all having an equal say.
When they all ultimately reject his proposal, he turns nasty calling Connor “irrelevant;” but I have a sneaking suspicion that Connor might prove to be a secret weapon this season. Connor earns the title of being Logan’s number one, a title he wistfully smiles at but can’t quite believe is true. Another humbling experience is having to fly back scheduled (aka how most of us fly) and he has some positive things to say about the selection of movies and refrigerated cheeses. Somehow Connor is both extremely out of touch and has his finger on the pulse this week.
Shiv is the one Kendall really wanted, and so he saves his cruelest barb for her: “It’s only your teats that give you any value.” The latter once again proves how bad he is at insults while also escalating the cringe levels to new heights. The rage spiral comes after their dad has sent a selection of donuts and he thinks they have all been spooked by this reminder of Logan’s all-knowing eye. Connor points out that Logan would never send poisoned donuts to the home of his grandchildren and yet no one can bring themselves to have one — they look delicious and I am now craving donuts.
Trust is a precious commodity and hard to come by in this world. There is a very funny moment that sees Shiv immediately going against her pact to keep it between them, speaking to the fluidity of their schemes. After she has lied to her husband about her whereabouts, Shiv rings Tom to give him an update and to ask his opinion about the potential alliance. Meanwhile, Roman calls Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) to give her a rundown of the conversation. Gerri tells Roman the siblings will become known as a “snake linguine” and will get burned if they stick with Kendall; she is the one that can be counted on. If only Gerri knew that by naming her CEO Logan is strategically putting her in a position to get scapegoated then she might offer some different words of wisdom. However, she has been at this game long enough to recognize the vulnerable position she is in. Logan barely acknowledges Gerri at the airport and he is already keeping her at a distance.
Meanwhile, Shiv and Tom are a united front when it comes to work shenanigans and yet Tom is still reluctant to forgive his wife. A strained conversation takes place earlier in the episode when he only says “thank you” after Shiv has told him she loves him. She wants to know they are on the same page and after some hemming and hawing he agrees that he does love her too and they don’t have an “unbalanced love portfolio.” By the end of the “Mass in Time of War,” they are reunited and will be co-workers, which could strengthen (or destroy) their out-of-sync marriage.
It is Shiv’s role that remains the most fluid and in demand while Kendall debases himself; Roman knows that despite her inexperience they should try to stay aligned. By leaving Logan hanging, Shiv also gains some ground with him and whenever he pulls out the Pinky nickname you know he is trying to soften her up. When Logan makes his return she is the only one that doesn’t get out of the car for a photo op hug and he lets her know how displeased he is by this choice. Shiv is asserting her dominance though and is rewarded with a fancy new title as president, in which she will be Logan’s “eyes and ears.” The Roy patriarch hasn’t lost his touch and he knows how to get the rest of his kids back on his team, while Kendall ends the episode with just his hotshot lawyer. It doesn’t even look like Kendall has Greg on his side anymore, as his cousin has found an alternate lawyer.
Greg’s desire for a conflict-free life hits another roadblock when his grandfather, Ewan (James Cromwell), sets him up with a lawyer who has an ulterior motive. Ewan loathes everything his brother stands for but also finds Kendall’s recent theatrics to be distasteful. He doesn’t agree with his choice to air the family dirty laundry out publicly and cannot get on board with the “self-regarding popinjay” — the way Cromwell says this line is like poetry. He agrees to help Greg, but he is using his grandson as the wedge to poke around at the company to bring it down from the inside. Cousin Greg is stuck in a no-win position and he will actually have to pick a side because this is no time for flip-flopping or acting like an innocent observer. It is very funny watching him navigate these extremely choppy waters, but I do hope we get to see who Greg is beyond a pawn without a semblance of identity and being out of his depth.
One person who knows exactly what they want is Marcia (Hiam Abbass), and after the humiliation of the whole Rhea Jarrell (Holly Hunter) saga, she is going to make her estranged husband pay for her loyalty. “Those f***ing kids of yours,” is how she greets Logan before reminding him of what he did to her. Good on Marcia. And while Logan tells her she “can’t eat s***,” it is only fair that she gets something out of this show of support.
Kendall thinks he is saving the family and company, but arrogance fuels his plan. Set over a very short time frame, the first two installments of season 3 do a good job of building a solid foundation for how this battle will play out, and this gives it an air of table-setting. No one does this kind of back-and-forth better than Jesse Armstrong, but I am ready to move on to the meat of the series. By the end of the episode, Logan has pretty much all of his ducks lined up and now the real battle for the shareholders can begin.