Succession 'The Summer Palace' Recap: Like Napoleon, Kendall's Manhood Is All Shriveled Up


*Spoilers from season two, episode one of Succession ahead*

Logan Roy didn’t last all these years atop a food chain that eats its own by having poor instincts. Yet there he was in the closing episodes of Succession‘s premiere season, up against it, outmaneuvered by a team of young guns executing a bear hug for control of Waystar Royco. Two of those arms belonged to his son, Kendall, though it would be the patriarch who offered the most meaningful embrace. One Ted Kennedy treatment later, and the prodigal son is back in the fold, though Stewy and Sandy’s hostile takeover is very much in play.

The patriarch of this One Percenter dynasty couldn’t smell it coming. It’s a mistake he won’t make again. He has his eye on the Number One Boy, Number Two Boy, or Shiv, the Number Three Choice who may survive this all to sit upon the iron throne.

The stench of rotting raccoons at the family compound was overwhelming. But with so much on the to-do list in The Summer Palace, getting to the bottom of stink took precedent. The payoff was a grotesque and very dead sack of lifeless meat.

And it still had more personality, more fight, than Kendall. Escaping to Iceland to clear one’s head and clean one’s system works better on Instagram than it does on HBO. He’s nothing but a husk of a man now, a tool for his father to use to achieve an end: a Swiss Army knife of shameless pull-string punditry and errand boy existence, so disrespected that he can’t even be given the requisite time to get sober.

Kendall Roy isn’t a rat. He’s more of a Benedict Arnold type — not to be confused with Napoleon, whose shriveled manhood could be a key ingredient in a hostile takeover of Europe. He saw the plan and he liked his father’s plan better, if you haven’t heard. But he’s very much like someone who has turned state’s witness, and gone against the family.

His television act isn’t an act at all. This is who he is in real life. In the Roy family, the heartbeat is measured by fighting back. Roman and Shiv pepper him with zingers but get nothing back. For all his warts at least he had spirit and aspirations. Had being the operative word.

Even a rare moment of badassness is immediately neutered with the reveal that he’ll be riding on the back of those motorcycles on the way to a meeting where he holds the door a beat too long and seeks desperately to find value in his father’s eye or — worse — to embrace the fact that his ultimate value is his expendability.

In short, he could use Hitler’s testicles a hell of a lot more right now than Connor, who is continuing apace with outside endeavors destined to have no impact at all.

So one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand why Roman, who is catlike and quick and would love to toy with a rat before eating it, is so flummoxed by being elevated to a co-equal with the frozen-out mouse of brother. Little do they — or Tom for that matter — have any idea what the smartest of them all has agreed to behind closed doors.

Shiv is principled in that she’s principally interested in the same win-at-any-cost game the rest of her family plays, just that she cloaks it better. It’s a cynical existence and perhaps this is why it takes many fits and starts before she realizes that this is really happening. But once she does, she’s all in. This is a woman who wanted to abandon her honeymoon on a paper tiger of a marriage so she could get back into the thick of it. This is a woman who fights for that new husband to take a bigger role in global broadcast news knowing full well the long-term plan is to trash that side of the business.

As is always the case with Succession, it’s unclear whom is setting the trap for whom. One could see this season following a clear arc of a father-daughter team playing secret politics to execute a silent coup. Or it could end with Logan on top and Shiv holding the bag.

OK, All This Is Great But What About Greg?

We were given precious little of television’s best character in the opener: a single season in which he’s playing delivery boy for Kendall, who has gone from Park Avenue cocaine to actual park cocaine. The scene is predictably magic with Greg dutifully apologetic in a way that makes one think he’ll actually be checking his pockets for a receipt.

It’s Actually About Ethics in (Legacy) Media

The Roys are cartoonish and unabashedly evil, stand-ins for the Murdochs or any other soulless dynasty that values money over people and informed masses. It’s an old archetype yet works so well at this moment in time because — for all the twists and turns — everything they do is believable. More than that, though, they represent a ruling class that feels its power threatened by the march of time and technology.

Logan & Co. should, logically, sell and screw off out of the casino. The odds that they, even with deep pockets and political influence, will be the one legacy media company that makes it, is a murkier bet. It’s not really about the media, of course. It’s about the legacy. This family would as cutthroat and dysfunctional of they were steel magnates, or widget billionaires, or anything else.

When It Hits

Forgive the sappiness here, but after waiting so long for a new installment, the opening notes of that unforgettable theme and intro reached a special place of joy deep in my soul. Play this song at my funeral, go back in time and play it at my wedding, all of it. I want it to seep into all of my cells through permanent osmosis.