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‘Succession’ Season 2, Episode 9 Recap: Culture of Exploitation

Given what’s been going on in Washington the past couple of weeks, this latest “Succession” episode isn’t just gripping, it’s fairly illuminating. When the pattern of sexual harassment and cover-ups at Waystar’s cruise division is exposed by a popular network TV news program, the United States Congress gets involved, with Shiv’s old boss Gil Eavis (Eric Bogosian) leading an inquiry. The Roy family sees a legacy-killing scandal expand beyond their capacity to contain it; and Roman’s first reaction — like those of a lot of people in power these days — is to wonder if they can just duck Congress. (But he doesn’t say “duck.”)

So the game begins. The traveling Waystar circus rolls into Washington, D.C., with a mission to stall, obfuscate, scapegoat and generally avoid accountability. It’s all high drama, with fresh fires popping up regularly. For a time, “Succession” becomes a kind of procedural, taking viewers inside the machinations of a congressional hearing from the point-of-view of the people being grilled. The hour reveals a lot about how seriously the megawealthy and the politically connected take government oversight.

Roman gets to skip the festivities because Logan sends him on a special mission overseas with Laird and Karl, in hopes of helping free Waystar from its shareholders’ demands by tapping Edouard’s family fortune. Roman hesitates because this assignment actually matters, and he knows he’s a goofus. But Logan reassures his son that he’s a likable fellow — which is true, in a perverse way — and so Roman eventually ends up in Turkey, where he does lock down the Azerbaijani money.

Sure, Roman also makes potentially dangerously non-fulfillable promises to Edouard’s people while being held at gunpoint in a luxury hotel by lackeys sent by “my president’s daughter’s husband” to seize certain “assets.” But while this deal is almost certain to blow up in the Roys’ faces eventually, for now Roman can take comfort in knowing that he did as he was asked, and he didn’t botch it.

Nearly all the Roy siblings acquit themselves well during this crisis — which is surprising, given how badly they’ve performed in recent weeks, at Tern Haven and Argestes. Siobhan, for one, really steps up, drawing on her resources and charm as she does whatever is needed to keep the scandal contained.

First, she tries to strike a deal with Gil, threatening to cancel his profile-boosting ATN appearances unless he follows their preferred course of action at the hearing — which is to blame everything on the former cruise division leader Bill Lockhart (Mark Blum) and then move on. Instead, he tips her off that one of “Uncle Mo” Lester McLintock’s victims is ready to go public.

Shiv meets with this woman in a public park and disarms her with a combination of empathy, honesty and cynicism. Shiv admits that it’s in the Roys’ best interest if this scheduled testimony gets canceled. But she also points out that Gil has an agenda too. Anyone who plays ball with the Roys can expect financial compensation and a commitment to crush their enemies. Those who don’t will be dragged through the mud.

As for Kendall, he’s all but forced to rally when his father stumbles through his appearance (and throws him briefly under the bus) before the congressional committee. Logan knows that “ten bad minutes on camera in D.C., that could be it, the end.” And everyone in the family has been coached that this is “a stage” not a courtroom, and that their goal is to eat up minutes, give up nothing and defend the brand. (“And maybe just try to enjoy it?” Gregory adds.)

But Logan comes across as exhausted and foggy, leaving Kendall to give a stirring speech pushing back against Gil’s characterization of Waystar as having “a culture of exploitation.” It’s Ken who speaks up for the freedom of the press, and who forcefully accuses Gil of “bias.”

The Roy family’s newcomers don’t come off nearly as well. Tom is completely unprepared for how much documentation the committee has. They raise the matter of his many emails calling Lester “Mo”; They have the logs showing that Greg signed out the boxes of the now-missing files; and they can see from their records that this happened during the one window of time when Tom wasn’t barraging him with emails reading, “You can’t make a Tom-lette without breaking some Gregs.” They even know about “human furniture.”

By the end of his testimony, Mr. Wambsgans is being referred to in the press as “a smirking blob of domestic feta.”

Rhea, meanwhile, finally realizes she has “agreed to be C.E.O. of a dumpster fire pirate death ship,” and she wants out. She tells Logan, “I don’t know if you believe in anything, and that scares me.” He icily counters, “You know who I am.”

And she probably does. The one major weakness of this episode — and perhaps this season — is that Rhea’s real motivations and ideals have never been made clear. (It’s not even absolutely certain that she was sleeping with Logan, even though every one of the Roy kids assumed she was.)

But when Rhea wonders what Logan believes, this does get to the meat of what this episode is about. Early on, the family has gathered to watch the big news report about their scandal, and they have fun booing and taunting the whistle-blower. All the while, Logan seethes, insisting that his biggest business rivals are behind this takedown.

Something terrible has happened at Waystar, but nobody in the company really wants to get to the bottom of what went wrong, or to own up to their mistakes. They only want to punish the people who are pointing it out.

The Rich Are Different From You and Me:

  • Who will be the “blood sacrifice” that Logan ominously demands at the end of this episode? Tom? Greg? Or — most likely, given the overall arc of this season — Kendall?

  • Connor is the one Roy child who doesn’t get the chance to do anything exceptional in this episode, though we do find out at the hearing that his maverick presidential campaign is stirring up a lot of excitement among the “Con-heads.” So that’s nice.

  • Cousin Greg is feeling the pressure this week. Congress has the receipts on his document-destruction, and his grandfather seems to be making good (for now) on his threat to cancel Greg’s $250 million inheritance. He tries to take solace in his mother’s promise that he will at least inherit $5 million, but Connor and Tom let him know that barely being a millionaire is “a nightmare.” He can’t retire, and it’s not worth it to work. This would be the very definition of “rich people problems.”

  • Sure, the prospects for the Roys are looking grim, but remember Roman’s inspiring words to the Heart of Midlothian football club: “When a team is a team, it can’t actually physically be beaten. It’s impossible.” Go Hibs! Um, Hearts.

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