Ken’s character arc comes full circle in a surprising, shocking, dynamite finale to a stunning season of television.
To paraphrase the Queen’s English of many of Succession‘s greatest characters, holy fuckity-fuck, that finale. All throughout season two, Jesse Armstrong‘s garish descent into the sociopathy of the uber-wealthy has just solidified the show’s reputation as one of the best shows on TV right now, but it’s hard to imagine how much better they could have stuck that landing. “This Is Not for Tears” is a ball-buster of an episode in a season full of ball-busters, which saw the Roys rip at each other’s throats like never before, tensions boil to a fever pitch in a gilded aquatic prison, and the saddest Roy boy grows an unexpected spine for maximum dramatic punch.
Okay, let’s backtrack a little bit. After the PR disaster that was the Senate hearings, Waystar shareholders are spooked: one tells Logan (Brian Cox) that someone has to go, and, in classic mealy-mouthed Succession fashion, signs point to him. What does he do with this information? Why, he invites the entire extended family — including Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron), Karl (David Rasche) and Frank (Peter Friedman) — onto his massive, opulent yacht for a quick family get-together before they have to talk turkey about Waystar’s next steps. Knowing the show, and Logan, as we do, this whole boat trip stinks of a bait-and-switch; all that’s left is to wait and see where the switch happens.
But at first, it’s a whole new Logan: smiling, supercilious, warm to his children. He still holds out hope that the sovereign wealth money (money Rome (Kieran Culkin), Laird (Danny Huston) and Karl literally got held hostage to secure) will save the company by taking it private. But Rome, in an uncharacteristic moment of business savvy, recognizes that the deal will probably fold and advises not to lean on them too heavily. Even getting Ken (Jeremy Strong) to take him to Stewy (Arian Moyed) to roll out a generous offer to end the proxy deal doesn’t work; Stewy smells chum in the water, and well, in one of the most telling critiques of capitalism in the show’s run so far, the shareholders think he gives them a “slightly bigger chance to make a little more money on their dollar… and that’s all this is.”
Which leads to yet another emotionally- and tactically-loaded row around the dinner table the following day, another masterpiece where Logan floats the idea of “one meaningful skull” taking the fall for Cruises before the shareholder meeting. He floats himself (the real answer), which of course everyone rejects. Then, of course, fingers start to fly: Gerri, Frank, Karl, even Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), albeit with “some Greg (Nicholas Braun) sprinkles” to polish him off. (Conner (Alan Ruck) even tries to throw in his name so he can get an easy golden parachute after he sinks his savings into Willa’s terrible play; no dice, though.) It’s a beautiful showcase for this ensemble, who’ve distilled their passive-aggressive snipes to a fine science by now as they do what they do best: cut each other off at the knees with a smile and a half-hearted apology. But it’s also a quintessential worm-turning by Logan, who finally makes plain that he doesn’ t plan to go down with the ship, and he doesn’t care who hands him their life jacket.
Of course, that’s not the only fire a-brewing on the Roy yacht: beaten down by Senate hearings and months’ worth of a loveless marriage where he feels bullied into an open relationship, Tom finally opens up to Shiv (Sarah Snook) about his feelings. “I’m not a hippie, Shiv,” he says, after backing out of a threesome Shiv arranged on the boat and confronting her at a nearby cove. When he thinks about it, he’s really quite unhappy: “Sometimes I wonder if the sad I’d be from being without you would be less than the sad I’d be from being with you.” It takes a lot to move someone as heartless as a Roy, but it moves Shiv enough to convince Logan to spare him the axe. “Just not Tom… Please. For me.”
Which leaves only one option: Kendall, already shaken up by the destabilizing ousting of off-again girlfriend (and fellow druggie) Naomi Pierce from the boat after claiming that Logan “was never consulted.” Their conversation, like so many others this episode, is deeply emotional but couched through clinical, businesslike terms: he “works” for the role, unlike Tom or Greg or (lying) Logan. “Did you ever think I could do it?” Kendall asks pleadingly. “You have to be a killer,” Logan admits. Even here, in this last moment, Ken tries desperately to win some kind of approval from his father — approval he’s pathologically incapable of dispensing. Still, based on his complex feelings towards his dad, and the lingering guilt from the death of the caterer last season, he agrees.
What could you possibly kill that you love so much it would make the sun rise again?Logan Roy
Honestly, it wasn’t that huge a surprise: I guessed it at the end of last week’s recap, and all signs have pointed to ultimate daddy’s-boy Ken, the kid with all the leverage in the world against him, taking on the sins of his father. But what happened next, in the final five minutes to close out the season, truly wasn’t: at a press conference to announce his culpability, Ken instead turns the tables. “My father is a malignant presence… a bully and a liar,” Ken asserts to a shocked audience, “and was fully personally aware of [the Cruises controversy] for many years.” What’s more, he’s got proof, thanks to Greg, who does some sprinkling of his own with the few papers he was able to save from Tom’s bonfire a few weeks back. “This is the day his reign ends,” Ken says, before walking off to questions and (presumably) more than a few fist-pumps from viewers.
And so ends Succession season two, with a million questions moving forward. How will Ken’s announcement affect the shareholder meeting, much less his relationship with his family and the rest of his father? Where does Waystar go from here? There are a dozen loose threads to tie up, and a final series of moments that shake up the fabric of TV’s richest, most fucked-up family. But until we see how these reveals play themselves out, we’ll just have to content ourselves with the executive-level ride we’ve been on all season.
- The cold open, in which we see Greg the Egg’s turn at bat, is just beautiful in his shaky desire to “answer in the affirmative fashion.” “If it is to be said, so be — so it is.” Only thing that would’ve been better are Greg’s Monday-morning quarterback suggestions for how he should have answered: “No woman, no cry.”
- While we’re on the subject of Greg: first mites, then midges, then “benign fungus”? Poor guy’s crumbling right before our eyes.
- There’s something oddly romantic about Roman defending Gerri from the blood sacrifice; it might be one of the most magnanimous things he’s ever done. In the world of Roman Roy, that’s practically a proposal.
- “Thank you for the chicken.” Tom’s baller food-stealing move on Logan is a perfectly Tom way to push back against the Roys’ abuse, and Logan’s befuddled reaction is totally worth it.
- It’s also notable that, not only is Rhea out, it’s likely that Marcia (Hiam Abbass) is no longer in the picture as well, as evidenced by Mark Mylod’s camera notably focusing on her empty half of his bed, and the wistful way he talks about her as if in the past with Shiv.
- What was Logan’s sly smile at the end all about? Pride that his son finally became the ‘killer’ he always wanted him to be? Or was this somehow a double-fakeout way to fall on his own sword by manipulating Ken to oust him while doing the company as little damage as possible? (Sure, that interpretation is probably overly generous, but it was in the back of my mind ever since I saw the shareholders wanted Logan specifically gone.)
- I hope everyone else clocked the early visual signpost that Ken would be the sacrifice – his Christlike post in the yacht’s infinity pool.
- Also, of course Ken listens to LCD Soundsystem with big-ass Beats headphones while he works on a treadmill.
- Shiv’s big floppy hat is gorgeous. That’s the tweet.