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In the fifth episode of the second season, ‘Tern Haven,’ the Roys go to meet the Pierces, a moment so couched in significance that Jesse Armstrong could’ve just left it as is, and the episode would have been phenomenal. But nothing is ever so straightforward with Succession,and the episode ends up taking on a whole new level of messed up than viewers could have possibly expected.
As a set-up the Roys, the bloodthirsty, greedy, power-hungry, relentless, conservatives, are going to meet the Pierces, who we have not met but are portrayed as the consummate American News family, as steadfast in their journalistic integrity as they are in their duty to each other. Their meeting is set up to be a collision of moral and political disparity that can’t be missed. But there’s more. The Roys’ collective back is against the wall facing a proxy battle for control of the family company, making the acquisition of PGM (The Pierce’s news company) seemingly their only avenue of escape. The get together is not merely a meeting on two ends of the worldview spectrum, but also the Roys must now be on their best behavior, and if you have made it to season two episode five, you are burning with an intense desire to see what the Roys on their best behavior even looks like, even the sentence seems unutterable. We also learned that Nan, the person ultimately in charge of the sale, won’t make the decision on her own, she will only sell if her family is in agreement. Therefore, every interaction and every conversation between a Roy and a Pierce feels like a one-on-one duel to the death.
Also, by zooming into the characters just a little, each character has their own complexity that is sure to make this liaison a failure. For one, the Roys have to bring back Frank, the oft-beaten stray dog of the Waystar Royco, in order to make contact with the family. He informs the Roys that the Pierces do not drink, causing Logan Roy to put a two-drink limit on the family, an amount that, through casual observation, the family consumes before the before dinner drinks commence. Roman says it best while staring at Kendall, “Well that’s okay. Nobody here has any glaring substance abuse issues that almost brought down the company.” Meanwhile, Conner is running for President of the United States based on a desire for one flat-rate tax for all, a platform I am sure the liberal Pierces would find less than convincing. On top of that, Shiv is a paranoid mess, completely thrown off her game in her desire and pursuit to be CEO and hoping that this will be the perfect time for Logan to announce her as successor. And lastly, and leastly in everyone’s eyes, Tom has been made head of ATN (the Roy’s news network) and was prepped for the evening by being told the Pierces hate ATN and they might have to “cane his haunches a little bit” to appease the masses.
The upcoming episode feels spectacular, significant, and unmissable. But in true Succession form the waters get even muddier. As viewers watch the meeting of the Pierces and the Roys, the before dinner drinks, the dinner, the star gazing etc… it dawns on you. My God! The Pierces are full of shit too. Thus, the episode becomes an homage to all that is good about the storytelling of Succession. A tit-for-tat war between two families with money coming out of all orifices to see who could seem more…familial. One to prove that they should be allowed to buy the other for…24 billion dollars. The other to prove that they didn’t care about the…24 billion dollars. So, to analyze this great episode of Succession and to glimpse the greatness of the show in general, I am going to try and decide who is more full of shit. The Pierces or the Roys.
The means of deciding will be quite simple. I am going to tally the top ten most shit-filled moments, and then I am going to tally the top ten most authentic moments. I will subtract the number of authentic moments for each family from their number of shit-filled moments and the family with the highest total is more full of shit.
I will go in order of least full of shit or authentic to the most full of shit or authentic. But there is one moment that is so completely full of shit that it would probably take the top slot (maybe), but we can’t include it for good reason. At one point during before dinner drinks, Logan Roy brings his family into a side room for a pep talk (read: ass chewing) to refocus them on why they were there and what their assignments were. It is the ultimate in bullshit. It shows us just how organized and strategic Logan is being. But we can’t include it on the list because we only get this glimpse of the Roy family doing this because the narrative follows them (an argument could be made it is a super authentic moment seeing as they are doing it while no one is watching, but I digress). In fact, the more I watch this episode, I more I like to image Nan in another room across Tern Haven, giving a pep talk of her own to her family. Although it would look very different from Logan’s but probably just as full of shit. So, it’s a wash and removes Logan’s speech from contention.
Part 1: Most full of shit moments…
- “You, me, and a martini.”
This was maybe the earliest sign of how this dinner with the Pierces was going to go. The one where it dawns on you that this is going to be awful… Because, as usual, the set-up is perfect. Logan and Rhea are having a real moment (more on that in Part 2) where Rhea is informing Logan that Naomi has unexpectedly joined the families’ get together. She also informs him that this is not good for the Roys and their much-needed sale because Naomi is in opposition to it and has a lot of sway with Nan, which prompts Logan to ask if he can do the deal without Nan, as important a question as has been asked on the show. To which, Rhea… hop-skips over to a member of the Pierce family and says in a voice that couldn’t be farther from the serious and devious one she had just been using, “You, me, and a martini, now,” and locks arms with her. It was like she had an internal shot clock for how long she could be seen talking to Logan, and right after he asked the most important question of the day, the clock was at one and she needed to shoot evem with a defender in her face.
Just like that, the, up to this point, straight-shooter Rhea reveals herself to be full of shit, and the direction of where we think this afternoon will go shifts. The interaction ends with her looking back from her arm-in-arm embrace and mouthing to Logan, in response to his question, “No.” To which I responded by digging into my couch. This is going to be good.
Full of Shit
9. “Break Bumper!”
The first field of war for the Roys and the Pierces is during before dinner drinks. Everyone is drinking a cocktail when Nan interrupts to welcome all to their home. While doing so she randomly announces, “the Break Bumper!” and thrusts her drink into the air. A call immediately echoed (in cult like fashion) by the rest of her family, also with glasses in the air, leaving the Roys awkwardly out of the loop and maybe a bit freaked out. A break bumper in normal parlance is a brief commercial break between a television or radio program, a fitting name for a drink break from the alcohol sipping news family. Nan goes on to explain that they are all drinking a cocktail recipe that (“no one believes,” yeah right…) was found in the wallet of Teddy Roosevelt’s valet, which is maybe the height of American snobbery. Plus, I imagine Teddy would be throwing more than two drinks back with Logan Roy rather than quoting Shakespeare with Nan Pierce.
Full of Shit
8. Connor and Maxim Spar in the Political Ideas Primary
This is a tough call as to who, in this interaction, is more full of shit. Connor Roy is running for President of the United States, which is absurd for more reasons than can be enumerated or should be said. Just bask in its ridiculousness, because only Succession could have a character run for President as a joking side story and have everyone buy into it. But equally as absurd is Maxim Pierce for picking a fight with the crazy candidate. It’s the ultimate liberal-idea elitism that can’t resist any opportunity to pick a righteous fight. But the interaction ultimately ends in a tie, not because those two faults are equal, but because during the entire interaction they both pretend to be having a healthy and fun discussion when in reality they are both seething at each other’s stances. Which, for the next President of the United States and someone who works for the Brookings Institute is pretty full of shit.
After further review, I am going to break the tie by pointing out that, after a bottle of wine, Con offers Maxim the role of future Secretary of State, which is the ultimate sign of how little any of this actually matters to him. This moment goes to the Roys.
Full of Shit
7. The Electric Circus
Roman almost makes it through the whole day being his most authentic asshole self. But he slips in his own shit when he gets glib with a Pierce family member who explains how he likes to be reading two fiction books and a memoir at all times. Roman snarkily agrees, to which he is asked to recommend a book (not in Oprah’s book club however *snooty chortle*). Roman, who probably couldn’t name any book, Oprah’s book club be damned (in season one he told Vaulter he thought the world was going paperless and was going to run on “tasty morsels,” pointing out that in the future people would be laughing at the absurdity of books) recommends the painfully obviously non-existent book “The Electric Circus.” The Pierces go on to ask him questions about who wrote it and what the plot was like, one member of the Pierce family even Googled the title on her phone. Throughout it all, Roman didn’t back but doubled down and took a bath in the bullshit, making up a plot and an author and wondering to himself if he got the title wrong when it wasn’t on the internet. The look of dismay on Logan’s face says it all.
Full of Shit
6. Logan walking hand-in-hand with wife and daughter
When the Roys get off the helicopter upon arrival at Tern Haven, Logan Roy gives them a quick pep talk, tells them to smile, and then walks towards the Pierces, hand-in-hand with Marcia and Shiv. The moment is such a tone-setter for the Roys. Even with all the build towards this meeting, even with how important this acquisition is for Logan, never, in a million years, did anyone imagine he would walk hand-in-hand with anyone. Con voices the shock well, “Jesus, this is too fucking weird already.” And later, “I like this dad, why couldn’t this be dad.”
Full of Shit
5. “Welcome…to our funny little house.”
Moments after the familial stroll to meet the Pierces, Nan greets them by welcoming them to “Tern Haven [their] city on a hill.” Later, during her Break Bumper Speech, she welcomes the Roys to their “Funny little house.” I threw up in my mouth. No one holds it against them to be blindingly rich in this scenario, and they could even probably get away with false modesty (although at the point of considering a 24 billion dollar sale, that might be a bit much) but calling their 42-acre property both ‘funny’ and ‘little’ is a bit much for even the most capitalist of Americans. This was the first moment of the Pierces (it came right away) that rang false. It was the warning shot across the bow that something might be up with this family.
Upon reflection, the statement is nonsensical. These are the liberal representatives, their politics is built around the poor and destitute and taxing the rich, and yet they live on 42-acres in a home that, if sold, could probably run the government for a few days, and are down-playing it upon introduction. What an awesome contrast as they face the Roys, who could give two shits about anyone who gets in the way of their bottom line, who are best summarized by Tom’s explanation of their lifestyle to Greg, “Here’s the thing about being rich…it’s fucking awesome.” It makes Nan’s introduction shift from tone-deaf to egregious. She’s fooling no one.
Full of Shit
4. Star Gazing
After the dinner blows up like Roman’s satellite launch, there is a moment of calm that contains all the awkwardness, anger, confusion, and fear that fuels Succession. But this time, the Pierces are also a part of that moment. The look on their faces as they sit in the aftermath of the explosion, the awkward lines as they try to overcome and move past the anger is all so perfect and real. It leaves the viewer feeling like a grizzled veteran of these affairs, chuckling to themselves and muttering, “Oh, you don’t know the Roys.” But in that vacuum of awkwardness where anything now goes, the true face of the Pierces emerges, and it is as fake as we had become accustomed to.
Nan, after trying to gain his attention and failing, prompts Mark of the two PhDs (I hear the second one is much harder, those five years are such a grind) to take them all… star gazing! Which is so perfect. It’s clearly what they had planned to do before the dinner turned into a clusterfuck, and by pressing onward we get one of the more full of shit moments in the episode.
This seems to be the Pierce way of operating, in wonderful contrast to the Roys ham-fisted, bull in china shop approach. They rub away all the dirt and grease in the dirty world they live and do business in, and when it doesn’t go away, they construct a façade to cover and hide it from view. When Mark of the two PhDs takes them outside, all of them hating each other and fearing for the future, and shows them “their corner of the sky” (as if they own it, entitled bastards) and couching his spiel by explaining he is “not what Whitman would call a ‘learned-astronomer’,” (which is one of the most underrated lines in all of Succession, why in the actual fuck would you need to quote Whitman to call yourself a novice astronomer, its maddening! It, all by itself, is an honorable mention full of shit moment), it becomes the thesis statement, the baseline, for how we understand all of the actions and comments and full of shit moments seen thus far and will continue to see. These aren’t the Roys who wallow in their shit like pigs in…shit. The Pierces could be eating shovelfuls of it and call it caviar.
Full of Shit
3. Shakespeare as Grace
Before dinner starts, setting up the most tense and awkward dinner in all of television, there are two moments that make the top three most full of shit moments in this episode. If we had a separate category for most nauseating, this would probably be the winner. Nan announces that the Pierce family has “given up on Jesus,” and, in lieu of a prayer, they prefer to quote Shakespeare as grace. To which she hands a ladle, a goddamn ladle for Christ’s sake, to Naomi, who pauses, thinks, smiles, and recites, in her best Shakespearian monologue voice, a text from Richard II about how reputation is the most important possession a man has. Which is simultaneously fitting and passive aggressive to the extreme (but also comical because I am guessing at least three of the Roys don’t understand what she said, so no harm no foul). Maybe the most unforgiveable part that launches this moment into the top three is, after a line or two, a close-up on Nan, who is listening intently, and as she recognizes the passage that Naomi is reading she casts her gaze downwards and gives a knowing smile that is equal parts, “I figured it out” and joy at the fact it is a dig at the Roys. It’s the worst.
But also, think about this scenario a bit deeper. It’s a terrific TV moment, tone setting, character developing, and it tells us more about the Pierces and how they are going to get along with the Roys over this dinner than seems possible for a moment only a minute or two long. But the real kicker is the implications for how Naomi, Nan, and ostensibly the rest of the Pierces spend their time. Because, based on this scene, one of two things is true. Either…
A. Naomi has read so much Shakespeare that when The Ladle of Bill is handed to her, she must peruse her mental compendium of Shakespeare’s plays to come up with a fitting quote.
As someone who reads a lot, that is SOOO much fucking reading. Like a gross amount. But also, reading with an intent to memorize. Nobody memorizes accidentally, at least not Shakespeare, so option A is that Naomi liked Richard II more than anyone else in human history, to the point where she knew it so well she could recite it when appropriate (like super appropriate given the quote’s meaning in this context), but also not just Richard II, she was clearly thinking about many options for recitation at the table and settled on that one, which to be safe, allows us to guess she knows a solid amount of quotes from at least five of Shakespeare’s plays in order to be that selective and on point with the quote used. Which is terrible and weird to think about, but option B is so much worse.
B. Naomi does not read Shakespeare all that much, she does not have multiple quotes memorized, but she knows that The Ladle of Bill gets passed around for grace before every dinner, and she should probably have a quote prepared just in case she is selected, so in-between snorts of cocaine as she recovers from her addiction, she Googles quotes from Shakespeare to find one that would work. Then she must pretend to be thinking of a quote before she recites it for the table. Honestly, this seems way more plausible to me, but then there are two implications for Nan as well because she recognized the passage Naomi was reciting. So either…
1. Nan does read that much goddamn Shakespeare, and her entire family knows she reads that much goddamn Shakespeare, so they all pretend to know Shakespeare in order to appease her.
2. She was a part of the set-up. This may have been in the pep talk we did not get to see that Nan held with her family while Logan held his. In this scenario, Naomi did not google Shakespeare quotes, she was told she was going to be given The Ladle of Bill and provided a quote to recite. And then she smiled knowingly to make it seem like she knows Richard II so well that she can recognize an entire passage from a line or two.
So, a seemingly odd tradition for the Pierces, upon further review, becomes one of the most full of shit moments in the episode.
Full of Shit
2. Kendall Arriving Late
A sign of a good show is when moments that seem forced and tone deaf get attributed to the characters rather than bad writing. Succession puts so much development into the characters that a moment like Kendall’s late arrival to the dinner party makes for a fake and ham-fisted moment, rather than poor writing like it could have seemed in a show that wasn’t top tier writing and acting.
I also appreciate the subtle anti-climax of this moment. In the Roy’s meeting before they leave for Tern Haven, Logan confirms with Kendall that he is going to show up “an hour late” and to “make no secret about where you’ve been,” which makes the viewer look forward to the reason Kendall will give for being late, and also sets up a pretty solid full of shit moment all by itself, with no further development.
Then the moment happens, Kendall shows up late, Logan makes a big deal about his son arriving (also full of shit, because that whole relationship is fucked), but before he ever walked in the door he made sure to let Nan know that he was late because he was *drum roll* doing charity. The most obvious choice of things that Kendall could be doing, that would make him late, that would also portray him and his family in a positive light. Logan goes on to explain what the charity is and why he does it, and the whole thing rings so false its painful. Once again, it could almost be considered bad writing if it wasn’t a moment among many moments of falseness and obvious ploys to win the opposing family’s affections. This moment ends up number two because, of all these full of shit moments, this one seems the most obvious and lacking in any genuine representation of truth, which is really saying something on this list.
Full of Shit
- The Roast
The winner of the most full of shit moment in this episode, is when Nan walks the roast that she had no part in making to the dinner table. Normal people with normal levels of money would assume that if for some reason they found themselves lucky enough to have another person cook a meal for them, that they would, in that scenario, sit at the table and wait for that person or those people to serve that food. It would be a package deal. But apparently, as the Pierces show us, when you have God-level money, you have other people cook for you and then walk the food into the room as if you cooked it, receive a round of applause, ACKNOWLEDGE THE APPLAUSE, and have people scamper to make room for your stolen roast, all while the person who actually did the work stands in the doorway and watches (the same woman you told earlier in the episode “you never treat yourself”). This would never even occur to me to do, because I barely have normal people money. But that’s the point. These people are not living on the same stratosphere as us, they don’t operate by the same rules, they do shitty things couched in familial love.
In the Roys’ case they seem aware and uninterested of and in their shittiness, but what makes the roast scene the number one most full of shit moment is that all of it was in the name of seeming like they were on the normal American stratosphere. They wanted it to seem like they could make their roast and eat it too (by the way, this is a direct comparison because earlier in the first season, the Roys have Thanksgiving together and the cook brings out the turkey for Logan to cut, he can’t because he is recovering from his stroke and that scene is also an awesome dinner scene, but the Roys in this case are provable-y less full of shit than the Pierces).
The Pierces lie to themselves and the Roys through the roast walkout in order to appear like the American family their news tries to represent, but the shittiest part is the blurred image of the cook in the background over Nan’s shoulder. She is there for one of two reasons by my estimation. Either she wants to hear and see the applause that Nan receives but was rightfully hers, or she wants to make sure Nan doesn’t mess up her work, by, I don’t know, dropping it or something. In this case, it is probably the first, but I hope it is the second, because that would mean Nan is even more of a fraud than we can prove, and we can prove a pretty high level of fraudulence at this point.
Full of shit
After Part 1, the Pierces hold the lead over the Roys. Return to Did you blank it? for Part 2 to see if they hold on to become the most full of shit family on television.
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