Succession Recap: The Roys Meet Their Match in “Tern Haven”

Logan’s acquisition of Pierce reaches a turning point in a tense, but enlightening meeting of the minds.

“Watching your people melt down is the most satisfying activity on the planet,” says Naomi Pierce (Annabelle Dexter-Jones) outsider analogue to Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) in tonight’s episode of Succession. And really, isn’t that why we’re all watching, too? Luckily, as Succession‘s latest episode “Tern Haven” shoves the Roys into an uncomfortable weekend get-together with their mortal enemies, the blue-blood Pierces, the show twists the knife into the Roy family’s respective guts in delightfully unexpected ways, highlighting just how damaged the Roys are both on an individual and collective level – and how much they can buy the cooperation of better people. 

Following the events of “Safe Room,” in which the tragic suicide of a Waystar employee served as a convenient smokescreen to get Rhea (a delightfully calculating Holly Hunter), the CEO of PGM, into a room to open up feelers to acquisition by Waystar, the Roys are invited by Nan Pierce (Cherry Jones) to spend a weekend with her family at their palatial Connecticut estate of Tern Haven. “They are inquiring about your moral character,” says Frank (Peter Friedman) prior to any negotiation; Logan (Brian Cox), in typical fashion, has more devious plans. Instead, he’s tasking each member of the family to stick to talking points, and work each member of the goody-two-shoes old money Pierces to secure their votes for an acquisition. And, of course, Shiv (Sarah Snook) is invited along, leading her and Tom (Matthew Macfayden) to wonder whether this is the moment that Logan will formally announce her as his successor. 

Yes, this is another episode of Succession in which tense inter-family dynamics are played out amongst the pastoral opulence of a ornately-decorated townhouse. But it never gets old, really; these are the battlegrounds by which such enormous decisions are made, and where upper-crust power dynamics play out to delightfully farcical results. This time, though, we get another set of players to bounce off — the Pierces, the preening, self-satisfied WASPs who position themselves as the moral superiors of the crass Roys. Naturally, this inspires the Roys to put on a happy face, as evidenced by their all-too-sunny greeting of the Pierces in an open field (the image looks like the L.L. Bean version of Midsommar). 

Photo: Peter Kramer/HBO

It’s tempting to view the Pierces sympathetically compared to the Roys — polite, doe-eyed defenders of honest journalism pushing back against the hypercapitalist pigs whose indignities we’ve followed for a season and a half now. But it’s hard not to sneer at their bourgeois smugness right along with the Roys, from their ‘brake bumper’ whiskey they distill at the family estate to the family’s tradition of quoting Shakespeare before every meal. Theirs is an old money kind of wealth, one closely tied to an imperialist sense of high culture; the Roys are just business bros who don’t know Impressionist art from Flesh Gordon. As Succession explores the different ways wealth affects the human ego, the Pierces offer an interesting counterpoint to the amorality of wealth presented by the Roys. They buy their own press (so to speak); as Nan says proudly of their coverage of Cold War-era Russia, “We helped bring down that wall.” Snide as they may be, it’s hard not to sympathize with a group of rich assholes who at least believe they’re doing the world some good, especially in an age where the press are vilified on a daily basis.

In between these larger discussions of the malleability of values in the face of extravagant wealth, “Tern Haven” finds plenty of ways to put the Roys through the psychological wringer. Take Kendall and his late-night heart to heart with fellow black sheep Naomi: they’re both trapped in their family’s legacies in their own ways, and find a bit of solidarity in booze, coke, and a childlike dash through the hill into the Roy family helicopter. There, they bare their souls (and at the very least make out), but Kendall doesn’t find the absolution he’s looking for. “Don’t block your own escape,” he tells Naomi, a grim reflection on his own crippling hostage situation. But Naomi is unmoved, especially after revealing that some of Waystar’s tabloid coverage of her private life spurred her to a suicide attempt. “Fuck you, fuck your people, and fuck your peace pipe.” For the Roys, and especially Kendall, there may be no forgiveness for the things they’ve done.

Kendall’s not the only one who feels the sting of Logan Roy’s emotional manipulation, though, as Shiv forces her father’s hand at a packed dinner table when Nan pushes him to name a successor. “Oh for fuck’s sake, Dad, just tell them it’s gonna be me!” The palpable silence is beautiful; in case it wasn’t clear to us before, it is now that he was just dangling Shiv as a possibility because Nan “likes her politics.” Shiv’s always been one of Succession‘s biggest assets, the Roy child both most diametrically opposed to her family’s politics and the most cravenly power-hungry. Watching her get tugged every which way by her father’s manipulation is downright addicting (especially given how much Tom gets hurled into their wake). 

For the Roys, and especially Kendall, there may be no forgiveness for the things they’ve done.

All this is well and good, but do they get the acquisition? At first glance, they don’t: Nan pulls the Roy security council aside and admits that they would be willing to let Waystar’s deep pockets fund their continued quest for principled journalism on two conditions — Tom goes, and Shiv is officially named as CEO. “Here’s my favorite line from Shakespeare: Take the fucking money,” growls an incensed Logan, as he storms out with the rest of the family in tow. 

But something changes in “Tern Haven”‘s final moments, over an unheard phone call; we don’t know what made them change their mind, but Pierce is ready to sell. The only indicator we get about their reversal is Logan’s final two words to close out the episode: “Money wins.” We’ll have to wait till next week to find out exactly what this means for Waystar, for Pierce, and especially for Shiv.

Random Thoughts:

  • Tom muttering “…. what a weird family” in the helicopter after a long, pregnant pause is just peak Tom. That whole helicopter ride back, complete with Logan’s dangerous outburst (“DRIVE YOUR FUCKING WHIRLYBIRD!”) demonstrates that, for all of Jesse Armstrong‘s talent for insanely-specific, writerly dialogue, some of Succession‘s most gripping moments need hardly a word.
  • Speaking of which, it’s always so scrumptious to see how much Tom is willing to cuck himself to be a team player, as evidenced by his reluctantly falling on his sword to blame ATN’s ideological toxicity (especially their far-right news anchor, Ravenhead) on Tom’s management. He doesn’t like it, to be sure (and this episode sees him pulling Shiv aside to ask her to go easy on him), but the fact he’s willing to go along with it just to hover near power goes a long way to explaining why he relates so deeply to Greg. 
  • Roman (Kieran Culkin) has had his own parallel story going on all season, but it’s reaching some really interesting places these past couple of episodes, now that his desperate phone-night stand with Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) has escalated into full-on humiliation fetish. His “eunuch buddy” Tabitha (Caitlin Fitzgerald) can’t give him the specific flavor of ‘wrong’ he needs — he’s too broken and unable to let his guard down to actually experience true, loving intimacy — but all it takes is Gerri to hurl verbal abuse at him to get him masturbating furiously in her bathroom. 
  • In perhaps the most telling background indicator of how much the Roys and Pierces secretly have in common, Presidential wannabe Conner (Alan Ruck) manages to get the vote of raging blue-dog Dem Max (Mark Linn-Baker, Cousin Larry from Perfect Strangers!) in the most rich-dude way possible: “I cracked open a bottle of port, got tipsy, and offered him the State Department.”
  • Remember everyone, Greg (Nicholas Braun) goes by Gregory now. He’s a big boy.

Succession, “Tern Haven” Trailer:

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