6 winners and 5 losers from a Succession where the unthinkable happens

Argestes — the Davos-esque media and banking retreat our Succession pals fly out to, and the title of this week’s episode — is like the business version of your high school senior ski trip, I assume. It’s held in a scenic lodge, there are a lot of cozy sweaters and puffy vests and stress about social hierarchy, and everyone pretends they’re there for one reason (in the case of the kids, to ski; in the case of the adults, to attend panels and innovation-themed nature walks) when they are really there for another (to touch each other/ do world-changing corporate mergers).

When Kendall scans the crowd “like a yuppie Robocop” for important people, just about everyone is present and accounted for: Sandy Furness and Stewie, Rhea Jarrell, even Lawrence from Vaulter, may it rest. All casually chatting in one big room, drinking hot toddies, probably! But one person is expectedly but inconveniently missing: Nan Pierce, with whom Logan wants to sign the deal he just orchestrated as soon as possible, like, no really, now, just do it.

The reason for Logan’s hurry turns out to be an about-to-break New York magazine story detailing the sexual harassment on Waystar’s cruise ships — complete with a beyond-the-grave appearance from Uncle (Mo)Lester — that stands to ruin everything. The threat brings us an appearance by Fisher Stevens as the parks and cruises division’s buck-passing SVP of communications, as well as some seriously inverted dynamics. Logan: rattled and flailing. Shiv: right but thwarted but vindicated but in trouble, whew! Tom: in the dark and doing pretty okay???

Can the team sign the PGM deal before the story breaks? (No.) Will Nan Pierce roll with the #MeToo punches? (Of course not.) Is is a good idea to perform roast comedy to billionaires’ faces? (Probably a no there also!) Here’s a full rundown, as Vox critic-at-large Emily VanDerWerff and I (The Goods editor Meredith Haggerty) break down six winners and five losers of “Argestes.”

Loser: Logan

Logan grows more and more upset that his plane hasn’t landed.
Logan?? A common loser???
HBO

Meredith: From the jump, Logan’s in a bad way, suggesting in the private plane circling a crowded Argestes airspace that Waystar-Royco give the Pierces what they want. Excuse? And he ends the episode chasing after Nan Pierce’s town car, pounding the window and hollering like a common jilted boyfriend! Marcia, come get your man!

Logan is a mess throughout: He’s weirdly terrible at spreading culturally relevant rumors (Tom calls Sandy Furness’s supposed syphilis the “MySpace of STDs”), needy with his wife, paranoid about the media he basically runs (“they don’t give a flying fuck for these poor bitches, they hate me!” he wails when confronted with reports of employee victims), and physically sick in public, throwing up in the retreat dining room in front of God and Bill Gates, like a regular old Kendall.

Speaking of, worst of all, Logan incorrectly chooses his son’s dad-tested MO of bigfooting New York magazine over Shiv’s media-savvy delay tactics, prompting the scary story to publish even sooner than they feared. Whoops!

But clearly Logan is worried about a much, much worse set of facts than the ones New York is preparing to publish. His warning to Marcia that it’s possible that “nasty things” will come out about him and his raving about the “poor bitches” seem to indicate something way worse than what the Roy family would likely consider a normal yachting trip. Yes, the immediate disaster is the dissolution of the PGM merger, but it feels like there’s something much more personal buried beneath the floorboards

Emily: We’ll talk more about this in a few blurbs (scroll down to “Loser: Roman” if you just can’t wait), but I’m always impressed that Succession sees the toxicity at the heart of Logan Roy as clearly as it does. TV shows usually can’t help but normalize their characters, simply because we spend so much time with them. But Succession keeps normalizing Logan, then revealing that he has so far still to fall. He’s a bad man, but he has a lot of money. What a deadly combination.

You’re right, though, about how he’s way, way off his game “Argestes,” which has seemed all but unthinkable since he all but cheated death early in season one. “Argestes’” opening scene on the plane encapsulates so much of what happens going forward: Logan genuinely believes he can just yell about something and make it happen. And that’s true 99 percent of the time, but it’s not true the remaining 1 percent of the time — and it’s that remaining 1 percent that drives him further and further into his incapacitating rage.

So Logan’s anger at his plane circling endlessly filters down to his kids, and then Kendall filters it down to the team working on the Pierce deal, and so it goes. Shit rolls downhill, as they say.

Winner (thinks she’s a loser): Shiv

Emily: If you put yourself in Shiv’s (surely marvelous) shoes for a second, what happened to her in this episode sure looks like a loss. She got upbraided by Marcia, for God’s sakes! If Shiv still longs to become her father’s successor (and she’s smart enough to know the title of the show she’s on, so probably she still does), then her experience at Argestes sure feels like yet another step backward, away from that long-term goal.

But if you look at this week’s episode from the perspective of anybody in the world of Succession who isn’t a Roy, then what Shiv did — just casually dismantling her father by implication when she said it’s time for the end of “dinosaurs,” then not at all convincingly insisting those dinosaurs don’t include her father — probably seems pretty savvy. It’s not hard to imagine the headlines that cast Shiv as the bold new thinker her family needs. Can you picture, like, the “most read” sidebar on Vox.com praising Shiv as a visionary truth-teller or something? (“Shiv Roy’s greatness, explained in 1 haircut,” by Emily VanDerWerff.)

What’s more, her “dinosaurs” statement was a poor read of the room she was speaking in, but an excellent read of the culture that Waystar-Royco exists in. Succession is more than aware that Shiv is no better than her brothers, beyond the fact that she’s definitely smarter than Roman and Connor and possibly smarter than Kendall. But the people who live in the Succession universe don’t know that, and Shiv has now successfully positioned herself as the non-Roy Roy, which is sure to win plaudits from the mainstream papers her dad loves so much (if not, like, Jacobin).

Meanwhile, Shiv is slowly adapting to the spaces she’s moving in. More and more, the plans that she comes up with off the top of her head are plans that could work. She’s learning quickly, and even if she’s maybe a bit too brash, the combination of outsider and insider that she represents is still a potent contender for the ultimate job of Waystar-Royco CEO.

And most importantly…

Shiv’s hair update: Still terrific! Honestly, is her hairdresser a witch?

Meredith: Emily, I don’t know how to say this, but there was one scene — in the coffee shop bathroom — where I thought Shiv’s hair, flipped over its owner’s head, looked a little … stressed out? Not bad, never bad, but almost, nearly, maybe showing the wear and tear of being shut out of the fancy business vacation, and still better than mine after a professional blowout. Every other frame it was flawless! But, ever on hairwatch, I was briefly spooked.

Shiv definitely felt like a loser setting off the hand-dryer in a graffitied public toilet while some dink named Hugo was hanging out with Dad and Kendall at Argestes, but, as you explained above, she did well for herself on the panel stage. And perhaps even more importantly, I think Kendall and Logan both know she would have done well by Waystar, if only they’d listened to her about NYMag in the first place.

Shiv also tangles beautifully with Rhea in this episode, correctly reading that Rhea pushed the deal even knowing the story was going to break, and suggesting slyly that they seek “other forms of investment.” When Rhea tells her, “I like your dad,” it sounds to me like “I like you.”

Loser: Kendall

Meredith: On the plus side, Kendall didn’t literally shit the bed this week. But that’s not quite enough for a win.

Kendall felt like a winner at certain moments during “Argestes” — bragging vaguely to Stewie about the impending Pierce deal under the bizarro guise of friendship, having Logan choose his dick-swinging game plan over Shiv’s warnings of caution — but by the end of the episode, he’d looked like a fool a few times over.

Stewie knows his deal is “dead in the water now, like some of the women who went on those cruises.” Shiv was not only proven correct but steals his show out from under him, landing jokes while he appears petty and mealy mouthed.

Barnstorming Kendall is actually the Roy who displays the most empathetic reaction to the cruise ship scandal, saying “this is not okay,” that it shouldn’t be minimized, pushing for a full investigation and disavowal. But that’s not the way the wind is blowing, and that’s Kendall’s fatal flaw; his instincts, even the good ones, are always wrong place, wrong time.

Loser: Roman

Roman just wants to be center stage, and he’s always shunted off to the side.
Roman listens to his sister and brother squabble.
HBO

Emily: On a very practical level, Roman lost a tooth after his father struck him. But that’s far too jokey a way to introduce a blurb about a moment so grave that “Argestes” uses multiple reaction shots to underline how grave it is. Still, he lost a tooth.

The greatest feat Succession pulls in every episode is making Roman loathsome but not unsympathetic. Both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness when it comes to being a Roy are his inclination to follow whatever his dad is doing at the time, which leads to him piling on to his sister, which leads to his father hitting him. The way Kieran Culkin cowers in that moment — and then immediately insists it’s fine — is so true to the way someone who grew up under that kind of abuse, around a father with that sort of hair-trigger temper, would react.

(Sidebar: I don’t know how far Succession intends to trace this idea of Logan Roy’s abusive tendencies warping his children in certain ways, but if you understand him as an abuser, then so much of the characterization of Kendall and Roman, especially, makes even more sense. Honestly, Shiv makes more sense, too, if you assume that the predominant dynamic in the family is Logan striking one of his sons to “protect” his only daughter.)

Roman’s tendency to just try to fall in line behind his father is also why Roman seems unable to come up with any ideas worth their salt whenever a crisis faces the family. He likes to try to see who’s going to come out ahead and then start huffing and puffing in the same general direction, leaving him conviction-less. His contribution to the very public discussion on how the Roy family should handle the cruise ship article — “We’ll do whatever anyone wants” — is this character in a nutshell.

Winner: Gerrman

Meredith: While Roman did have a pretty harrowing week, there was one bright spot for him, and it was, as always, Gerri.

America’s favorite couple is moving fast! Already, mere weeks after their consummation(ish), Romulus is proposing business marriage to his mother-figure love. I squealed so much! Roman’s overtures — that he and Gerri team up to be CEO and Chair or Chair and CEO, an arrangement he names “The Rockstar and the Molewoman” — don’t seem like a great deal for Waystar-Royco’s General Counsel, but his sweet nothings were to die for. He called her “a competent, kind of clever filing cabinet that everyone seems content to have around.” Okay, it’s insulting but it’s true, and what in this world is more romantic than being known?

Gerri hopefully knows better than to get in bed with his “little dick,” but she pulled for him this week, convincing Logan to let Rome chase the big, vague, Middle Eastern oil trillionaire propaganda money (not the person I’d put on that, Ger, but love’ll do that to you!). Roman called this makeup sex, and Gerri’s barely masked delight didn’t seem remotely professional. “Goodnight Rockstar” indeed!

A side note: It’s inconceivable to me that Kieran Culkin and Robert Downey Jr. have never played brothers, or possibly time-traveling versions of one man who falls in love with himself (just an idea!). The slick, lovable fuckup being rudely genuine in Gerri’s hotel room felt extremely pre-Iron Man RDJ.

Roman and Gerri have a quick meeting.
Love blossoms at Argestes.
HBO

Loser: Rhea

Emily: Not Holly Hunter!!!!

It’s clear at this point that the Pierce drama is going to drive a lot of the rest of season, so it’s also clear we haven’t seen the last of American treasure Holly Hunter as Rhea Jarrell. But Rhea badly bungles everything that happens at Argestes, which leads not only to the deal between Waystar and Pierce falling apart but to Rhea losing her dang job as CEO.

Why did she push so hard on the deal in the first place? That’s never clear. Sure, the answer could just be that “she wants the money,” but everybody on Succession wants the money. There’s some other level here that we haven’t quite figured out yet. Perhaps she’s making her own play for Logan’s seat from the extreme outside. Or maybe she sees a way for Pierce to take over Waystar from the inside.

Or maybe she just wants the money. (That’s probably it.)

Winner: Tom????

Tom and Greg scheme to improve their position.
Tom tries to get in on some nature walks.
HBO

Meredith: I’ll say it again: Tom????? WINNING?????

Tom’s success still leaves plenty of dings in his armor (the fruit-and-nut gift basket instead of the champagne in his room; the loss of “we’re listening,” a slogan he really likes because “it sounds like, well, it sounds like we’re listening!”) but our big, meaty, mean, innocent boy is having a great week overall.

For one thing, he scores an invitation to the much-in-demand nature walk (good job Greg!!). His presentation goes well, or at least not notably badly, in so much as Argestes’s wrap-up roast comic doesn’t mention it (even though the nonsensical “We Hear For You” was misspelled as the similarly nothing “We Here For You”). And best of all, Shiv even admits that she felt possessive when she saw him flirting with a fellow Argestes attendee. His joy is uncontained and deeply sweet, until you remember everything else about him.

Winner: Marcia

Emily: Marcia has been back-burnered a bit this season, but her increasing disgust in “Tern Haven” added an intriguing wrinkle. And she stepped a little further into the spotlight in “Argestes,” telling off Shiv and just generally trying to support Logan while also seeming sick of him in general. (“Big mood,” say all of the Roy children.)

She’s a winner this week because even though she’s Logan’s wife, she mostly comes out of everything seeming very above it all. But she’s also a winner this week because every week I grow more and more excited to see some sort of Marcia-centric episode, exactly the sort of thing this show could pull off with aplomb. What’s her deal? I hope we find out!

Winner: Stewie

Meredith: On some level, Stewie is always going to beat Kendall, because he doesn’t have to go absolutely everywhere with his controlling dad (just his work dad, Sandy Furness, apparently).

But Stewie also beats Kendall this week on every other level: In each tête-à-tête, in each failed deal, in being taller. Kendall’s bragging quickly falls apart with the PGM deal, and Stewie is there to rub it in his face, not even playing around with the “BFF shit” Kendall wants to keep alive between them. Stew barely remembers the friendship Kendall still clings to, and that’s the biggest, saddest win of all.

Winner: this shot of Greg

Emily: Do you want to see Succession captured in a single shot? Well, here you go:

Greg is so proud of the new slogan on Succession.
Greg: Nailed it! The woman behind Greg: Oh my God.
HBO

Greg is so proud of himself for coming up with the slogan “We here for you” (which will presumably be corrected to “We hear for you” soon)! The woman behind him is so confused, amused, and mortified! Succession, everybody!

Loser (thinks it’s a winner): New York magazine

Meredith: As an editor, one of my biggest sadnesses is that I can’t actually assign a reporter to investigate Bright Star theme parks. You would read it! You know you would! So even though it’s fictional, I am extremely envious of New York magazine’s story “Lost at Sea.”

But!!! As Gerri points out, one woman 20 years ago isn’t too much. The cruise ship scandal from season one, if you’ll recall, involved dropping rapist and murderer passengers off in other countries and letting those governments handle them. And, hey, wait until people hear about the perpetual listening! What New York magazine doesn’t have on Waystar-Royco could fill, well, a blockbuster biography written by Susan from Friends.

Worst of all, fake New York magazine has tipped its investigative hand and won Logan’s unhinged ire. Future stories will likely be tied up in crazy litigation, depending on the Roys’ next moves.

TL;DR: The story is making waves (you get it), but it’s barely the tip of the iceberg (I’m not sorry!). And I’m still jealous!