The Spool / TV
Succession Recap: “Vaulter” Reveals Shaky Foundations of Online Media
The Roys slash and burn old and new media alike as they contemplate their uncertain futures.
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The Roys slash and burn old and new media alike as they contemplate their uncertain futures.

“How long’s it been since you touched a prole?” asks Shiv (Sarah Snook) late in the second episode of Succession‘s sophomore season, “Vaulter.” It’s the kind of acid-tongued barb Shiv often trades with the rest of her snide, rich family, but it rankles progressive Senator Gil Eavis (Eric Bogosian) who just wants to reach out to the working man. It almost doesn’t even matter that the exchange results in her quitting/being fired from Gil’s campaign, or how much of it was a self-sabotage so she can ethically free herself of the job so she can run back to daddy Logan’s (Brian Cox) arms: the question alone burns at the heart of the show’s contempt for its characters’ contempt of anything outside their little bubble. In “Vaulter,” we get to see the various ways that bubble affects our 1-percenter antiheroes.

This week, the media earns the focus of the Roys’ attention/ire: Kendall (Jeremy Strong), still thoroughly cucked by Logan’s relentless grinding of the boot on his face, and Roman (Kieran Culkin), now co-chairs of the company, are tasked by their father to do a “routine health check” on new acquisition Vaulter, a BuzzFeed-y media outlet Waystar bought in season one — which they see as an opportunity to curry favor with Daddy.

Meanwhile, Tom (Matthew Macfayden), having leveraged his way from Parks and Cruises (and all the ticking-time-bomb humiliation that entails) to divisive media outlet ATN, finds himself in way over his head with “Peach” (Jeannie Berlin — fun fact: she’s Elaine May’s daughter!), the take-no-prisoners head of the newsroom. “They send me one of you boys every four years,” she says to Tom, which rattles him. Fortunately, he gets little assistance from Greg (Nicholas Braun), who resents being forced to work at ATN’s fake news outlet. “I have principles,” Greg whines, to which Tom scoffs, “Greg, don’t be an asshole, you don’t have principles.” Tom and Greg are shaping up to be one of the greatest dynamic duos the show has to offer; never change, you two.

Peter Kramer/HBO

From here, much of “Vaulter” flits between Kendall and Shiv’s respective journeys, which tellingly ask them to burn major bridges to their own sense of independence, all for daddy’s approval. For Kendall, it’s Vaulter and Lawrence (Rob Yang, who we haven’t seen in awhile), which represented yet another way Ken could step out from behind his father’s shadow. Now deep in Logan’s thrall, he’s being clearly tasked with finding a reason to gut the place — a move which Roman, who wants to jab another needle in Ken’s eye, visibly relishes.

But Kendall, hoping to eke out a sliver of independence, argues that Vaulter’s problems are vast, but fixable. It doesn’t work; Logan wants to just keep the domain names and gut everything else, especially after they get a whiff of unionizing ambition from Vaulter’s workers. (Watching these kinds of convos happen from the other side of the table makes me happier than ever that The Spool remains a small, independently-owned media site. Please donate to our Patreon!)

As for Shiv, Logan’s promise of making her CEO still rings around in her head, but it requires her killing every last bit of her old life, from shutting down handsome ex Nate (Ashley Zukerman) to the aforementioned bridge-burning with Gil. This being Succession, her gambit to follow her father into the family business is sure to backfire at some point — Logan treats his children as assets to be exploited, after all — but for now, she’s excited about the possibility.

“Your principles? Greg, don’t be an asshole, you don’t have principles.”

Tom to Greg, who complains about the unethical nature of ATN

But as Shiv’s star is rising, Kendall’s dignity falls even further this episode, after he alienates Lawrence and the rest of the Vaulter staff with a half-hearted team meeting about “developments” that results in him getting spit on. And yet, at the end of the day, he’s a Roy through and through: “Find some other chicken coop, cunt,” he tells Lawrence, having fully surrendered his independence to the Roy family brand. To numb the pain, he throws a party at the tiny apartment he gifts Greg earlier in the episode (“The thing I need storage for most urgently is me,” he tells Kendall about his needs), and even steals some batteries from a local bodega, just to throw them away. One wonders if this is just Kendall’s life now, or if circumstances will conspire to let him escape the suffocating leash of Logan Roy.

Random Thoughts:

  • “Vaulter”‘s cold open, in which Logan buys out an amusement park for the day so Kendall’s daughter can have the run of the place for her birthday, is a beautiful study in contrasts: happy kids playing, Roman twisting the knife, Jeremy Strong’s hangdog expression that he’s had all season as he shuffles from ride to ride. Being Roy rich doesn’t necessarily make you happy.
  • Vaulter, with its honeybees on the roof and silly headlines like “5 Reasons Why Drinking Milk on the Toilet is Kind of a Game-Changer,” is a delightful jab at the frivolousness of “hip” media outlets like BuzzFeed. (We keep it real over at The Spool, we promise. No honeybees.)
  • Shiv and Tom’s marriage shows more signs of distress, especially after she joins Ken and Roman in making fun of Tom’s suits and scarves, and he eventually snaps at her to “Fuck off.” The little eye-roll Snook gives speaks volumes; it’s an apology to the boys for Tom not being able to hack the Roy family shit-talking. Add to that the way they both weaponize sex, and it’s clearer that never that Tom is getting the shit end of the deal.
  • Still, Tom gets plenty of moments to salivate with sociopathic glee at the prospect of fucking over the little guy to raise his capital at Waystar. After Greg suggests they digitize ATN’s entire process, Tom just has one question: “How many skulls?” His eyes are wide as saucers, like a starving wolf imagining that his companion has just turned into a turkey leg.
  • Nicholas Braun is SO TALL. That is all.

Succession, “Vaulter” Promo: