Bursting out of the gate from the first minute, the season premiere of Succession found urgency by charting the various members of the Roy family’s desperate bids for survival. The family at the heart of the stellar HBO comedy-drama, the Roys found themselves at the heart of a heated public reckoning, passengers on a sinking ship of a once-successful media conglomerate. This week’s episode, titled “Mass in Time of War,” is a more deliberately-paced affair, taking a much-needed halt in the middle of pure chaos to evaluate the individuals and relationships at the heart of the Roy family and Waystar Royco.
Series creator and writer Jesse Armstrong skillfully subverts the audience’s expectations following the wide-ranging season premiere, confining the episode’s primary action to a single location and allowing the children of Logan Roy to battle it out. While it’s clear from the get-go that Logan himself will win this round, “Mass in Time of War” shines when the Roys reckon with their own failures and inabilities, as well as the omnipresence of their father.
“He’s not infallible, Rome.”
“Yeah, sure, I just don’t think he ever fails or ever will.”
In one of the show’s many memorable back-and-forth exchanges, Roy siblings Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) succinctly outline the moral dilemma that defines this episode. It’s a testament to the influence of Logan on his children that, in the face of company-wide corruption, they still shoot down sibling Kendall’s (Jeremy Strong) proposal of a coup against their father.
This week’s episode sees Logan in a state of weakness, stuck in a hotel in Sarajevo amid talks of a DOJ investigation into Waystar Royco’s sexual misconduct allegations. He meets with anybody and everybody who will listen, drumming up support from his children and allies. Wielding what he claims is hard-evidence of Logan’s involvement in the allegations, Kendall envisions the end of his father’s reign as head of Waystar Royco, as well as an end to the psychological terror he has inflicted upon the Roys their entire lives. All Kendall needs is a united front made up of his siblings and himself, the children taking down the father. It’s a proposal that should be an obvious win for Kendall, but the Roys’ own individual personal failings shift the course of Kendall’s plan. The oldest sibling, Connor (Alan Ruck), is clearly only interested in Logan’s financial support, while Shiv and Roman are opportunists, willing to go with whoever will end up on top.
Locked in Kendall’s daughter’s bedroom, the Roys hash out the power struggle at the heart of Waystar Royco. Difficult conversations occur, piercing at the heart of each member of the family. Perhaps most difficult of all, however, is when the subject turns to the sexual misconduct claims that started the conflict at hand. Asking if anybody present knew about the harassment claims in the past, Kendall is met with evasive comments and mumbled half-answers. Excuses are made and questions are dodged. While Kendall rattles off lengthy speeches about revolution and reform, in the end every member of the Roy family is just as corrupt as Logan, operating in their own interests with little to no interest in those hurt by their actions. It’s a sobering reminder that no one in the family is innocent, and all are complicit.
“Mass in Time of War,” while an outstanding hour of television on its own, functions as a mirror image of a previous episode, season one’s “Austerlitz.” Another episode gathering the Roys under a single roof, “Austerlitz” saw Logan and his children undergoing a family therapy session at Connor’s ranch. While the Roys clearly could use a good therapist, the purpose of the gathering is clearly to present a unified picture of the Roys, far from the reality of the ever-dysfunctional family. From the get-go, Logan is antagonistic as usual, snarling the challenge, “Go on, does no one want to take a pop at the champ?” And it’s a challenge that goes unanswered, as Logan’s children meekly complain about their father, while denying any further therapy.
As the Roy children leave Kendall’s ambitious meeting, a similar air of dejection and failure hangs over everyone. Nothing has changed for the Roys, as even their private meetings are infiltrated by a clever metaphor for their father’s gaze: a box of donuts he sends to the meeting. The seemingly innocuous pastries shatter Kendall’s illusions of secrecy, as well as scare the other Roy children into submission and instill paranoia. The box of donuts, an ingenious writing choice on the part of Armstrong, perfectly encapsulates the relationship between Logan and his children in all of its mind games and infantilizing. Nothing ever changes for the Roy children, from season one to season three, as time and time again Logan wields his influence over his children in increasingly distressing ways.
Succession airs on Sundays 9:00 p.m. EST on HBO and also on HBOMax.