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Succession season 3, episode 2 recap: Who will end up king potato?

Shiv emerges as the key player in HBO's superrich family feud.

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Shiv (Sarah Snook) is vital to Logan (Brian Cox).

Hunter Graeme/HBO

It's a war of Succession. Or at least it will be, if the combatants can just pick a side. Succession season 3 continues as episode 2 picks up where episode 1 left off, with the superrich Roy family and their hangers-on desperate to choose between old patriarch Logan or young pretender Kendall, while also potentially betting on themselves. But as Logan prepares to return from exile in Sarajevo, Kendall's air of invincibility may slip, and it's all down to Shiv. "This is a moment…" 

Let's delve into the details and delights of Season 3, episode 2, titled Mass in Time of War, with spoilers. You've been warned...

spoiler alert

The episode begins with a bit of a nothing-y cold open, but it establishes that we're right back into the long night in which Logan and Kendall jockey for position. The most crucial thing in this pre-credit scene is Shiv ignoring Logan's call. She's the key player in all of this, the one both sides need.

Shiv's schemes

Real power slithers in the meeting between Kendall and Shiv. He makes his pitch, and it's a good one. Shiv always saw herself as the righteous one, removing herself from the palace intrigue and even decrying the insidious influence of her father's media operation while she worked for a liberal political candidate. But the sniff of a place on the throne brought her back.

Kendall seems to see right through her, telling her she's angry with herself for not doing the right thing. Ironically, she accuses Kendall of damaging the family, the very thing she nearly did during her dalliance with liberal politics. She suggests burning the incriminating papers, the sort of corrupt move that would've enraged season 1 Shiv. "You tell yourself you're a good person," says Kendall, "but you're not a good person."

Kendall's pitch

Kendall's council of war plays out in a kids' bedroom, which is the perfect setting for the juvenile bickering that ensues. The siblings just can't help needling each other, cutting at each other with surgically precise insults. Roman can't even give his brother a gift ("Oh shut up. Just eat 'em or don't").

As Roman, Shiv and finally Conor drift in, all four Roy kids are assembled to hear Kendall's pitch. His solution is to go global, dividing up the world among the siblings. He talks a good game, describing the family business as a declining empire inside a declining empire, their beloved father part of a rotten cabal at the wrong end of a long American century. 

Kendall confronts his siblings with uncomfortable questions about knowledge and culpability, questions faced by people in many industries during the reckoning of the #MeToo era: When you knew and you did nothing, are you responsible?

As the men admit they knew about the climate that enabled the abuse and horror now exposed, Shiv angrily refuses to acknowledge any culpability. As the only woman present, Shiv knew something different -- even as a teenager she knew not to get in the pool with those men. She also knows that as Logan's only daughter, she enjoys an extra weight to her narrative as a leader, but she doesn't like Kendall pointing it out.

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The Roy siblings hash things out.

HBO

Kendall speaks of washing hands, of absolution, of detoxifying. But he oversteps when he suggests he should lead. The others don't buy his insistence that he'd be a figurehead, and the shaky sibling alliance self-destructs before it even starts. They just can't help squabbling over the crown. It clouds their judgment, to the point that even when they're told over and over that they can win if they work together, they just can't do it. Such is the magnetism of their father, paradoxically, their desperate desire to claim the top position for themselves pulls them back into the orbit of the man who won't ever let them have it.

Logan is still in exile on the other side of the world, stuck in quicksand and losing power. But for all his politicking and scheming, his calls to shareholders and presidents, the key move is something much simpler. A box of donuts is all that's required to get into the heads of the people who matter.

Finally, alone, Kendall slips into his incognito ball cap and into his lawyer's office for the ass-covering chat he didn't think he needed. His air of invincibility has slipped. He still has the papers, but in his heart of hearts he knows what he really needs is his family. Shiv was right when she said this was a moment, but Kendall's moment may have gone…

Marsha's steel

Marsha returns, and she's as steely as ever. Her first words on arriving in Sarajevo put the boot into the kids, and more to the point, she knows how strong her leverage is. While in the throes of a sex scandal it's never a good time to be estranged, so even though Logan tells her he can't eat shit he knows his affair with Rhea (Holly Hunter) in season 2 is going to cost him.

There follows a priceless Succession send-up of the superrich, as a marriage is renegotiated between a lawyer and a PR flack. 

If you need any reminder of how ruthless Marsha can be, look out for her reminder of Kendall's secret (he, y'know, basically killed a guy). Even Logan thinks that's a bit much. 

Cousin Greg

Oh, Greg. He's a born pawn, used by all for their own ends. Tom really relishes the opportunity to punch down at the one guy he can bully, but Greg thinks he's found an ally in his grandfather, trusting the cantankerous Ewan to be nice and so on.

Except Ewan is every bit as contrary as his brother Logan, and he denounces Kendall's whistleblowing as "histrionic," "meretricious" and "self-regarding." At least he agrees to help Greg with a lawyer, but even that turns out to be no relief for the country cousin: Ewan and the lawyer see Greg as a tool to expose capitalism. That loincloth must be feeling pretty drafty...

Season 3, episode 3, The Disruption, airs next Sunday, Oct. 31. 

Successive thoughts

  • Kendall on Logan: "I don't know what I think about Dad. I love him. I hate him. I'm going to outsource it to my therapist, but he was going to send me to jail."
  • Greg-ism of the week: "I'm too young to be in Congress so much…"
  • Greg's supremely awkward moment with Oliver Noonan, who may or may not be his lawyer, plays out beneath a poster for Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera. The socialist-themed play features Mack the Knife, an amoral criminal whose political connections allow him to get away with his crimes, before ultimately cheating the hangman.
  • Once again Tom greets Shiv's declaration of love with studied thanks. He's still struggling with Shiv's apparently enthusiastic embrace of an open relationship, but he can't help framing his feelings and their relationship in business terms. Money is everything to these people, and everything is money.
  • Kendall's love-hate business buddy Stewy sends over a Trojan horse. What does that mean? How do you even get a Trojan horse? He must have had it made in the time it took Logan to fly to Sarajevo. How long does it take to fly to Sarajevo? I know the answers to none of these questions because I'm not rich.

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