Sam Adams: Hi Nitish, and thank you for joining me for as we determine, with scientific accuracy, which of Succession’s characters is the Worst this week. “Mass in Time of War”—shoutout to Joseph Haydn—is maybe the closest thing to a bottle episode the show has ever done, confining most of its action to Kendall’s former Manhattan apartment, which he’s temporarily commandeered from his ex-wife as a command post. (Rava and the kids seem to have smartly made themselves scarce.) One by one, Kendall’s siblings filter in, an impromptu family reunion in which they’re all feeling each other out, trying to get a sense of which way the others are leaning without revealing their own positions. With Kendall, who Logan now refers to as “the snake,” estranged from his father, it’s not clear how many opportunities we’ll have to get the gang back together this season, so this episode leans heavily into laying out the dynamics between the Roy siblings, which, unsurprisingly, leaves them all looking pretty bad. Still, the Worst is like the Highlander: There can be only one. Who’s your first candidate?
Nitish Pahwa: Hi Sam! Thanks for having me. This was definitely one of the more fascinating Succession episodes to date—really, more a keen character study with heavy consequence instead of an action-driven thriller. It was fun not only to see all the Roy siblings together in one room again, but also to see them undergo some of the biggest pressures (maybe the single biggest one?) they’ve ever experienced. I found myself, in classic form, souring on Connor, who remains as smarmy (“Can we just be nice?”) and opportunistic as ever. This manifests especially when the four talk about the assault and murder allegations surrounding the Waystar cruises, and the putative presidential candidate is fine with mentioning what he knew about everything. And yet, there’s also that moment in the car, when Logan calls Connor his “No. 1,” which, even when Connor dismisses it as bullshit, clearly gets to him. It was another reminder, to me, of how deeply this particular parental trauma is embedded into all four Roy kids, and how it affects their actions in so many different ways.
Adams: Connor is such a doofus that it’s hard to see him ranking first under any circumstances, even when it comes to crowning the Worst. He’s an entitled fuckwit to the core, breaking off from the sibling tête-à-tête to yell at some poor sap about the geological conditions near his vintage wine repository, and moaning to his dad that he and Willa had to fly back to New York “scheduled.” (“They had movies and a selection of heavily refrigerated cheeses” is such a perfectly pithy reminder of the world the Roys and their ilk inhabit.) If we were crowning the schmuckiest, he’d walk off with the crown. Let me suggest looking at Logan’s youngest son instead of his eldest. Is Roman the Worst? He’s definitely the sleaziest, with no pretense that he’s in Kendall’s apartment for any reason other than to spy for their father—that is, unless he feels like there’s a better chance in betraying him, which you sense he’d do in a heartbreak. Roman is both terrified of Logan and idolizes him. It’s also made clear in this episode that Roman was at least partly aware of the pattern of sexual abuse at Waystar—“the parade of sad dancers who got used and abused,” as Kendall puts it. Or at the very least, if he didn’t know, it was because he tried his hardest not to. Kendall may be a snake, but at least snakes have spines. Roman’s a poisonous jellyfish.
Pahwa: That’s an excellent way of putting it—Roman is too slimy a coward to truly be the Worst of the lot. He’ll visit Gerri and make fun of her for taking a photo of her name on a TV screen (ostensibly for her daughters), and in the next second try to latch onto her power for his own gain. Gerri will advise Roman because she does care for him—but also, she and Roman both know he could never bring himself to take on Logan. (Speaking of, it seems like everyone knows about him and Gerri? Shiv threw some low blows there.) The boy is a weasel, and a weak one, no matter his jabs. The key thing here, I think, is his self-interest. Roman just wants to make sure he’ll be in a position of comfort and power, and Gerri dissuades him from betraying his dad because she thinks—correctly, I’d say—that even if the four kids ousted Logan, none of them would end up on his throne. But even before Gerri’s prediction, there’s a pivotal scene between Roman and Shiv, in which they sidebar to discuss Kendall’s proposal for overthrowing their dad. Roman, as mentioned before, was explicitly there to spy for his father, and to keep track of Shiv on Logan’s behalf. Siobhan, who’s probably been hurt most by Logan out of any of the four, is almost ready to take up Kendall’s offer, provided all four siblings really do form a dedicated opposition. But Roman craves his dad’s approval, and the dangling of an offer of power, too much to turn on him. And here we see Shiv in her most vulnerable form: She calls her dejected husband for advice, she publicly lays out her decision-making struggles in front of her brothers, and when she does, she’s told by Kendall she could never win because she’s a woman, as the “market” says. Shiv’s done some pretty horrible, devious things throughout this show, but she is also one of the people who’s been most damaged by Logan, and I have to say, I couldn’t help but feel some sympathy for her.
Adams: I think the decision of whether Shiv qualifies as the Worst here has to do with how much you believe her when she says she didn’t know what was going on at Waystar. As she points out, being warned when you’re 15 not to get in the pool with your dad’s skeevy friend is not the same as knowing he’s fomenting a culture of sexual abuse. But she’s not 15 now, and not only does she know what happened, she’s actively participated in covering it up. When Kendall says she wants to act like her shit doesn’t stink, he’s … not wrong. But it’s also not clear that he’s got a leg to stand on, morally speaking. So is it Shiv, or has Kendall finally gotten what he wants? He’s the CEO of Worst.
Pahwa: We should obviously not forget that Shiv also single-handedly talked a whistleblower out of testifying against her dad’s company. But Kendall! My god was he a shithead in this episode. There’s such an interesting dramatic irony here, where we know of what he did (accidentally kill an employee and then work to cover it up) but his siblings don’t. Thus, when Kendall goes on his rants about how this is a chance for them to become “cleansed” of Logan’s rot, it reads as so self-serving and manipulative. I don’t think Kendall doesn’t buy into his wannabe-redemptive bullshit, but no matter how you spin it, he’s clearly the most cynical, craven one in the room. His siblings may be standing by their father, but they do realize his is an evil empire, not that they deserve credit for that. Kendall wants power, he wants to wash his hands of all his crimes, and he wants to project himself as an Adrian Veidt–like figure, a Great Man on a quest to save the dying world, all at once. I liked Shiv’s characterization of his press conference as “a peacock fuckshow,” though she doesn’t know just how true that is.
Adams: The choice descriptors for Kendall just keep coming this episode. I am fond of the one from Cousin Greg’s gramps, who calls him “a self-regarding popinjay.” Although Ewan Roy mostly seems offended by Kendall airing the family’s dirty laundry in public, he’s right that Kendall is doing this all for himself. There may be some level on which he’s fooled himself into thinking he’s on the side of the angels, that exposing his father for his own gain has left him “cleansed.” But it’s not even clear that Kendall believes his own bullshit, and there’s no reason for anyone else to. When he tells Shiv, “You think you’re a good person, but you’re not a good person,” he might as well be looking in the mirror. Lest we harbor any doubts, Kendall has barely told his siblings that he wants to “move forward from a position of truth” when he lies to their faces, pretending he needs to go tuck in his kids when he’s really sneaking out to meet with Stewy and Sandi. He spouts b-school jargon and nonsensical aphorisms—“What I eat don’t make you shit”—but his ideas boil down to soft-headed truisms like information is power and all business is global. He’s a fraud, and I’m pretty sure he knows it.
Pahwa: I think you’ve just made the decisive case for Kendall being the Worst at Waystar Royco this week.
Adams: In an uncontested shareholder vote.
For more on Season 3, Episode 2 of Succession, listen to the hosts of Slate Money discuss the episode with special guest Kurt Andersen.