‘Succession’ Season 4 Ep 2 Recap: Roman’s Decision Explained


Spoilers below.

There are few, if any, serious people in Succession. That’s what makes it such a difficult series to define as either comedy or drama, and what makes the second episode of its fourth season such a searing portrait of mislaid desires. The emotional climax of the episode takes place under the neon-pink throbbing of a Manhattan karaoke bar, arguably one of the most unserious settings of our modern era—unless you consider scream-singing covers of Shania Twain serious business, which I most certainly do. But the three younger Roy siblings, Kendall, Shiv, and Roman, do not, because they like to think they are serious people, even when every one of their actions indicate the opposite. They yearn for seriousness because they yearn for legitimacy because they yearn for love. And as the karaoke room so perfectly illustrates, they will achieve none of the above.

The episode opens with Logan plucking a feather from the cap of his children—taking away their private helicopter privileges—as they strategize how to reinvigorate their new prize pony, Pierce Global Media. (Kendall’s pitch: A daily news show exploring “What is happening in Africa?” Roman’s: During primetime, “go full Clockwork Orange.”) Shiv’s distracted because Tom’s already snapped up all of New York’s snazziest divorce lawyers, immediately triggering that ancient fear of the trust fund baby: losing it all to their ex. She decides she needs to shore up some extra capital in the event of all-out financial war between her and her dad’s “little bitch boy.” To get that, she needs more cash from the upcoming WayStar sale, and to get that she needs board members Sandi (Hope Davis) and Stewy (Arian Moayed) to prolong the deal and squeeze more money from billionaire buyer Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård).

 

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But it’s not Shiv alone that the WayStar deal looms over. On the ATN floor, Logan himself prepares to make his remaining business—his right-wing news network—into an all-absorbing plaything. He stands atop a stack of printer paper to address his crowd of worker drones, Brian Cox’s Colonel Sanders mustache quivering with gravitas as he implores them to “knuckle down for me.” He plans to spend “a lot more time” amongst his ATN stooges, and he wants them “killing the competition,” “cutting their throats,” building with him something “faster, lighter, meaner, wilder.” In other words, ATN will double-down on the extremism-as-entertainment model that has become their brand, and they’ll do it not only to make Logan money, but to try and smother his kids’ hopes of building their own legitimate news network. The employees applaud.

a photo of sarah snook from the production of episode 402 of “succession”

David M. Russell

As Kendall, Roman, and Shiv attempt to get to Connor’s rehearsal dinner sans helicopter, Shiv subtly plants the idea of Sandi and Stewy helping squeeze the Waystar-GoJo deal. Neither of her brothers bite initially, but Shiv is persistent, and she knows their weaknesses. She helps Sandi and Stewy—we’ll call them S Squared—ambush the trio on the steps outside the rehearsal dinner, and the wheels in Kendall and Roman’s brains start turning just a notch faster. They run into Connor’s fiancé, Willa, in the entryway, looking like a cornered animal as she skitters out into the night, and then Connor, sipping his wine with the resolution of the permanently dejected. (Apparently, his bride told the audience she “couldn’t do this” before escaping to the bathroom for 40 minutes.) Shiv is ruthless, outright ignoring Connor’s emotional turmoil as she pleads with Roman and Kendall to consider S Squared’s proposition. They side-step her long enough to indulge Connor’s blue-collar roleplay; he wants to go to a “real bar,” where the men “work with their hands and grease, and sweat from their hands, and have blood in their hair.”

At “Billy Ray Cyrus’s Kentucky Fried Shit Shack,” as Roman coins it, Kendall fields a call from Matsson, who warns him off siding with S Squared: “Back off, or I’m gonna walk.” Something in the threat ignites Kendall’s nascent savior complex—or, perhaps, his “watch the world burn” complex, which isn’t really so different—and he texts Stewie to send him the business comparables. Suddenly, he’s on Shiv’s side, and the two of them team up to convince Roman, who—lo and behold—has been texting with their father. Not much, he swears! Just a little birthday well-wishing, that’s all. Roman and Shiv feel betrayed, and for good reason. But Shiv uses this guilt to steer Roman, always the most malleable of the Roy kids, with a bit of bona fide honesty: She admits that Logan’s advised Tom to gobble up all the good divorce attorneys, and Roman actually says he’s sorry to hear it.

Still, it doesn’t take long for the sibling infighting to reveal its messy core. Shiv accuses Roman of acting on “Dad feelings,” and Roman spins it back in their direction: “If anyone here has fucking Dad feelings, it’s—” he points at Kendall and Shiv. But he insists, “I’m genuine about us three.” The heartbreaking thing is, in the moment, I think he means it.

Meanwhile, Logan’s delegating the messy business of disappointing his assistant (and, according to which Succession theories you subscribe to, his baby mama), Kerry. She wants to be an ATN anchor, which shouldn’t be a problem in a business of transactions masquerading as relationships. Problem is, she’s a complete mess in her submission tape, grinning and fluttering her arms as she delivers news of missing children and storm warnings. Logan would like to avoid delivering the bad news of Kerry’s rejection himself—he apparently needs to keep this situationship humming—and so he leaves the task to Tom, who promptly round-kicks it into Greg’s court. Greg, paragon of delicate handlings that he is, takes all of two minutes and eleven seconds to trigger Kerry’s defenses, alert her to Tom and Logan’s true feelings, and glue himself directly in the path of her laser beam should things go awry. “I did the job,” he tells himself by way of reassurance.

zoe winters and nicholas braun in episode 402 of succession

Macall Polay/HBO

The kids migrate to the last wish of Connor’s bachelorhood: a night at the karaoke bar. That’s where the eldest Roy child decides to drop the news that “Dad’s on his way,” eager to convince his foolish siblings that taking up arms with S Squared will ruin them (and, well, him). “Just be water, my friend,” Kendall advises a nail-biting Roman, who shoots Shiv a look: “What happens if I kill a Buddhist?”

Logan oozes into the bar with his downsized posse in tow—of course, Kerry is included—and so follows one of Succession’s most fascinating scenes in four seasons. Sitting before his children in their pleather booths, he puts on the face of the weary, even remorseful, old man. “Look, I don’t do apologies,” he tells them, “but if it means so much to you. Sorry.”

The kids each have different reactions, perfectly attuned to their personalities and positions within the family. Kendall tries to speak his father’s own language with simple business acumen: “This deal push could be worth $100 mil to us, Dad.” Shiv opts for vitriol: “There’s nothing you could say to me now that I would ever believe.” Roman is the only one visibly moved by the apology, but he wants clarity: “What are you actually sorry for, Dad? Are we actually doing this, Dad? Because, seriously, what fucked all this was with Mom in Italy.”

They all want—no, need—something different from this exchange. Kendall brings up how Logan ignored Connor “his entire life,” but Connor isn’t interested in what can’t be changed in the here and now, ideally with cash. Kendall moves his attention to Roman, mentioning how Logan hit Roman when he was a kid. (Roman instantly shies away from this spotlight on his traumas: “Oh, no, I mean—everyone hit me, I’m fucking annoying.”) Shiv needs to hash out the pain of her divorce, and so she pulls the conversation away from her brothers and back onto her: “What about advising Tom on my divorce? I mean, that one—that took effort.” Logan only addresses this final pain point, gently laying the blame back at Shiv’s feet. If she’d been around, well, then maybe he would’ve helped her instead of Tom.

Shiv can no longer maintain any semblance of calm. She blows up, furious at her “human fucking gaslight” of a father, at the way he purports to know exactly how Matsson will respond if they delay the deal. The horrible thing is that he does know, not because he has some gift of foresight, but because he would do the exact same thing in Matsson’s position.

Logan then leaves his children with the only declaration that could wound them more than what’s already passed between them. He sighs. “I love you,” he says, “but you are not serious people.” The implication being, of course, that he might love them better—or, at least, in the manner that they need to be loved—if they were. But they aren’t. And they won’t be. And so they—and he—will always be left wanting.

The children disperse, each to their own devices. Connor leaves his “needy love sponge” siblings to discover Willa waiting in his bed; they’re at peace with what they’re able to offer each other, even if it’s not love. Shiv glances at her phone, eyeing Tom’s contact information like it might sting her. Kendall, hauntingly, smiles. And finally, Roman does what Roman cannot resist doing: He crawls back to his father, eager for one last attempt at becoming the serious person Logan claims he is not.

“We know what they’re like,” Logan tells Roman, meaning his siblings, instantly placing Logan and Roman on the same team—despite the fact that Roman has made no such commitments himself. Logan asks his youngest son to come with him to talk to Matsson the next day. Roman is hesitant, so Logan turns up the gas. He needs someone new at ATN. “I need a fire-breather, a ruthless fuck who’ll do whatever it takes,” he says, which, ironically, is the exact opposite of the supposedly unserious person he just insulted earlier that evening. “You’re not Pierce. Smart people know what they are.”

“You really want me at ATN?” Roman asks.

Roman needs to hear it. He thinks, perhaps, it is the only thing he’s ever needed to hear. And so Logan says it, not because he means it, but because it is what a serious person would say to make the deal he needs made. “More, Romulus. More. I need you.”

And so the siblings will once again go to war. But if that cycle is happening again, then the ending of Succession’s fourth and final season just grew even hazier. The show can’t end in the same manner as preceding seasons, lest it be accused of predictability. And yet it must end. Perhaps Roman will become the successor the series has teased from its pilot episode. But if that’s the case, might he soon realize this supposed “seriousness” is a raw deal?

<< Read last week’s recap

Headshot of Lauren Puckett-Pope

Culture Writer

Lauren Puckett-Pope is a staff culture writer at ELLE, where she primarily covers film, television and books. She was previously an associate editor at ELLE. 



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