This Succession review contains spoilers.
Succession Season 2 Episode 5
I ended up missing last week’s “Safe Room” due to the holiday nature of the Labor Day Weekend, but never fear, because the fourth episode of Succession’s second season actually serves as a fantastic first part of a two-part story. The second part is this weekend’s “Tern Haven,” the fifth episode of the season and, much like its immediate predecessor, another strong contender for one of the show’s best narrative offerings to date.
In “Safe Room,” Logan (Brian Cox), Shiv (Sarah Snook) and the rest of the principal Roy family members found themselves on lockdown while the authorities pursued reports of an active shooter in the Waystar Royco building. This “bottle episode” framing actually proved quite useful, as it not only forced the ever-squabbling Roy siblings to confront one another over their various demons, but it also introduced viewers to Rhea Jarrell (Holly Hunter), the CEO of PGM, the rival news publishing company that Logan is so eager to try to buy — again.
Rhea is as assertive and forthright as Logan is bullish and bullying, which makes for a great and not entirely subtle butting of heads during their initial meeting. Thanks to the active shooter reports, though, the head of the Pierce family’s media empire finds herself unable to leave the premises, a move that proves quite fruitful for Roy, who is able to squirm his way far enough past her defenses to make Waystar Royco’s buyout offer at least somewhat appealing.
As important as this moment is, though, the episode’s best scene comes courtesy of Shiv and Kendall’s (Jeremy Strong) rare moment of honesty with one another. Despite being siblings, they’re Roys, which means that lying, cheating and stealing matter more than pretty much anything else. Succession goes to great pains to make sure that its audience knows just how unrepentantly awful this family is. Every single one of them is rotten to the core, to varying degrees, and neither Shiv nor Kendall is immune from such criticism. But they’re almost never honest with each other, so when the brother briefly breaks the shell that masks just how hollow he has become to essentially confess to wanting to kill himself, the sister does something we’ve only really seen her do in this season’s premiere: she sympathizes with him.
“If dad didn’t need me right now,” Kendall says in a heartbreaking moment that all but confesses to what he did at the end of season one, “I don’t know what I would be for.” Instead of doing what Yellowstone’s Beth did in one of this season’s episodes — telling her similarly plagued brother Jamie to kill himself — Shiv sympathizes with Kendall’s pain and attempts, in the meager way that available to her, to comfort him.
Many, many other wild and crazy and depressing things happen in “Safe Room” — like the realization that the active shooter threat was actually an employee’s suicide, and the Roys’ generally nonplussed reaction to such news — but that was last week’s episode. Or, rather, last week’s first part to the brilliant two-parter that this weekend’s “Tern Haven” concludes. Writer Will Tracy adopts and continues “Safe Room” writer Georgia Pritchett’s use of the “bottle episode” format by placing a contingent of the Roys and Rhea and some of the Pierces at the latter’s estate, the titular Tern Haven, for another hour-long round of fighting, arguing and occasional compromise.
I’m probably not the first Succession viewer to think this, let alone the first critic to write it, but when I first read the title of this episode, I misread it as “Terd Haven.” That’s obviously not the episode’s name, and it is most definitely not the name of the Pierce family’s private setting, but with the arrival of some of the Roys and the show’s ever-present display of wealthy decadence and uncaring amorality on full display, it might as well be named that. These are, after all, some of the worst people that the show’s slightly altered version of America (though only slightly) has to offer, so if all or most of them were to ever gather in a single place whose name happened to include the word “Haven” in it, then “Terd” would undoubtedly be the best word to precede it.
As mean as he is, though, Logan knows full well what his family is and, knowing that the Pierces are only entertaining Waystar Royco’s offer of $24 billion if they can get to know the Roys’ character, orders those attending — Shiv, Kendall, Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Connor (Alan Ruck) — to behave. Everyone has a role to play, he reminds them. Even Shiv’s ass-kissing husband Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), whom Logan decides should play the part of the patsy to keep any negativity of the Roys’ back for the duration of their Tern Haven stay. Though, like all great and bad plans alike, practically nothing that the patriarch and media mogul wants happens precisely as ordered. Instead of ingratiating herself to Nan Pierce (Cherry Jones), the family’s matriarch, Shiv repeatedly screws the pooch. Roman, meanwhile, is so preoccupied with his and Tabitha’s (Caitlin Fitzgerald), um, “hangups” renders him utterly useless. As for Connor, he’s so hell-bent on turning his career political, despite his father’s wishes, that he talks shop with his Pierce equivalent instead of business.
So, as it so often as since the season two premiere, everything falls on Kendall, the rebel Roy turned dutiful son who is more than willing to do or say whatever his father says. After all, Logan and his team have effectively prevented his little “incident” at the end of season one from going public. They’ve also gone to extreme lengths to kick him off of his debilitating drug habits (well, mostly), so Kendall is putty in Logan’s hands. Which makes him the perfect, albeit most unorthodox, person to secure the PGM deal. And he accomplishes this by fraternizing with Naomi (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), the Pierce family’s Bizzaro version of him. They’re both their respective group’s drugged-out fuck-ups and they both have the eyes, ears and hearts of their powerful parents. It’s Kendall who convinces Naomi to convince Nana to accept Waystar Royco’s deal, even though her numerous binges and public troubles were continuously plastered all over the company’s numerous tabloid-y outlets.