‘Succession’ 3.02 Review: Wartime Mass

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This post contains spoilers for Succession 3.02, “Wartime Mass.” Read our latest review here.

Boardrooms aren’t the only place to hold important negotiations that could determine the future of a multi-billion dollar company. A hotel room in Sarajevo and a teenage Manhattan bedroom in a lavish apartment seem worlds apart, but they’re connected by a father and son vying for control in Succession. Directly after the premiere, “Mass in Time of War” sees both Logan (Brian Cox) and Kendall (Jeremy Strong) trying to solidify their allies but encounter obstacles in their quest for power.

After failing to land Lisa Arthur (Sanaa Lathan) as her father’s attorney and losing the CEO job in the process, Shiv (Sarah Snook) seems like a viable option to head to Team Kendall. Not only does she ignore phone calls from her father — yes, it’s a photo of Saddam Hussein attributed to her father’s phone number — but she’s also the first of the siblings to head into enemy territory. Her arrival at Rava’s (Natalie Gold) coincides with the gift of the Trojan horse on Stewy’s (Arian Moayed) nose, which adds another level of chaos to the revolving door of comings and goings in Kendall’s camp.

Shiv’s arrival isn’t as secret as she might hope, as Greg (Nicholas Braun) sees her enter the building as he leaves. Moments later, Greg gets scolded by Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and the mention of Shiv’s location is new to her husband. Information is worth its weight in gold (and loyalty) and trust is hard to come by when everyone is protecting their own interests. One wrong choice could leave a Roy brother out in the cold, while there’s also the simple fact that they all love (and fear) Logan. The complex power dynamics at play are put under the microscope, and no one accepts Kendall’s selfless excuse for what he’s done. Shiv calls the press conference Kendall’s “peacock f*** show” and thus begins a stream of back-and-forth insults and passive-aggressive digs. “The little man who started this big war” is how Shiv greets her older brother and she doesn’t try to hide her disdain for his antics.

Kieran Culkin in Succession

Kieran Culkin in “Succession” (Image credit: Macall B. Polay/HBO)

The competitive atmosphere intensifies when Roman (Kieran Culkin) joins the party and another practice match quickly follows. All of Kendall’s talk revolves around transforming the dying empire of which Logan is the face.

“Can we wipe the slate clean? he asks questions not only about their personal history, but also about the audacity to alter the bones of their business. “It’s our time,” Kendall says, as if accidentally quoting The Goonies while being unaware of how he is the status quo.

Regardless of the good intentions he claims to have, Kendall’s pitch sounds like empty promises and buzzwords meant to please a big demo (“unsubscribe,” Shiv jokes). Before anyone else arrives, Kendall tells her sister she’s not a good person — whatever image she hopes to project — and he calls her later when she claims she had no idea what was going on with the long list of scandals. The notion of responsibility is interesting and sees the Roman side with Shiv in his responsibility while Connor (Alan Ruck) somewhat surprisingly lands on the “we knew” side.

Kendall’s daughter’s girl’s bedroom with its fairy lights and egg chair provides a safe space to have that debate, which contrasts hilariously with the harsh words exchanged and serious issues discussed. As Roman nails her impressions of her siblings, Shiv goes overboard when she targets Roman’s sexual complexes. It’s rare for Roman to get upset, but Shiv knows exactly which buttons to push to get a raise. First Pancake Connor ends up being the voice of reason – which again seems odd but he’s the oldest after all – and when the little digs are put aside, they come to another dead end. Shiv has previously said she thinks Kendall should back down and that there is real concern over their dad’s health if they make a team. “It might actually kill him,” Roman said without a trace of his usual irreverent tone. Kendall’s response to Roman’s prediction is that Logan was ready to send her to prison and he would do the same with the others; Well, maybe not Shiv.

To gain the support of her siblings, Kendall faces a dilemma that has plagued Roy’s adult offspring throughout Succession – who becomes responsible. They all want the highest title and Kendall is unwilling to negotiate when it comes to the coveted role of CEO of the new and improved Waystar Royco. An alliance is impossible when everyone wants the main seat at the table and no matter how Kendall tries to spin it because they all have a say.

When they all finally reject his proposal, he gets mean by calling Connor “irrelevant”; but I have a sneaky suspicion that Connor might turn out to be a secret weapon this season. Connor earns Logan’s number one title, a title he smiles wistfully at but can’t believe is true. Another humbling experience is having to fly back (which is how most of us fly) and it has positive things to say about the selection of movies and chilled cheese. Somehow, Connor is both extremely out of touch and has his finger on the pulse this week.

Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin and Alan Ruck successively

Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin and Alan Ruck in “Succession” (Image credit: Macall B. Polay/HBO)

Shiv is the one Kendall really wanted, so he reserves his cruelest beard for her: “It’s only your pacifiers that make you valuable.” The latter once again proves just how bad he is at insults while raising cringe levels to new heights. The spiral of rage comes after their father sends a selection of donuts and he thinks they were all scared off by this reminder of Logan’s all-knowing eye. Connor points out that Logan would never send poison donuts to his grandkids’ house and yet no one can bring themselves to have one – they look delicious and I’m now craving donuts.

Trust is a precious and hard to find commodity in this world. There’s a very funny moment that sees Shiv immediately go against his pact to keep it between them, talking about the fluidity of their plans. After lying to her husband about his whereabouts, Shiv calls Tom to give him an update and ask his opinion on the potential alliance. Meanwhile, Roman calls Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) to give him some insight into the conversation. Gerri tells Roman that the siblings will become known as “snake linguine” and get burned if they stay with Kendall; it is on her that we can count. If only Gerri knew that by appointing her CEO, Logan strategically puts her in a position to become a scapegoat, then she might offer some different words of wisdom. However, she’s been at this game long enough to recognize the vulnerable position she finds herself in. Logan barely recognizes Gerri at the airport and he’s already keeping her at bay.

Meanwhile, Shiv and Tom form a united front when it comes to work shenanigans and yet Tom is still reluctant to forgive his wife. A tense conversation takes place earlier in the episode when he only says “thank you” after Shiv tells him she loves him. She wants to know they’re on the same page and after a few hemmings, he agrees that he loves her too and they don’t have an “unbalanced love wallet”. At the end of “Wartime Mass,” they are reunited and will be co-workers, which could strengthen (or destroy) their out of sync marriage.

James Cromwell and Nicholas Braun successively

James Cromwell and Nicholas Braun in “Succession” (Image credit: Macall B. Polay/HBO)

It’s Shiv’s role that remains the most fluid and in-demand as Kendall degrades; Roman knows that despite his inexperience, they should try to stay aligned. By leaving Logan hanging, Shiv is also gaining ground with him and every time he brings out the nickname Pinky, you know he’s trying to soften it. When Logan returns, she’s the only one who doesn’t get out of the car for a photo hug and he lets her know how unhappy he is with the choice. Shiv asserts her dominance, however, and is rewarded with a fancy new title of President, in which she will be Logan’s “eyes and ears.” Patriarch Roy hasn’t lost touch and he knows how to get the rest of his kids back on his team, while Kendall ends the episode with just his lawyer. It doesn’t even look like Kendall has Greg on her side anymore, because her cousin has found another lawyer.

Greg’s desire for a conflict-free life hits another snag when his grandfather, Ewan (James Cromwell), sets him up with a lawyer who has an ulterior motive. Ewan hates everything his brother stands for, but also finds Kendall’s recent stagings distasteful. He disagrees with her choice to air the family’s dirty laundry publicly and can’t get on with the “self-respecting popinjay” – the way Cromwell says this line is like poetry. He agrees to help Greg, but he uses his grandson as a wedge to raid the business to bring it down from the inside. Cousin Greg is stuck in a no-win position and he will actually have to choose a side because now is not the time to turn around or act like an innocent bystander. It’s great fun to watch him navigate these extremely choppy waters, but hopefully we can see who Greg is beyond a pawn with no semblance of identity and out of his depth.

One person who knows exactly what she wants is Marcia (Hiam Abbass), and after the humiliation of the entire Rhea Jarrell (Holly Hunter) saga, she’s going to make her ex-husband pay for his loyalty. “Those fucking kids of yours,” is how she greets Logan before reminding him of what he did to her. Of course Marcia. And while Logan tells her she “can’t eat shit,” it’s only fair that she gets something out of this show of support.

Kendall thinks he’s saving the family and the business, but arrogance fuels his plan. Spread over a very short period of time, the first two installments of Season 3 do a good job of building a solid foundation for how this battle will play out, giving it an air of table setting. No one does this kind of back-and-forth better than Jesse Armstrong, but I’m ready to get down to the meat of the show. By the end of the episode, Logan has pretty much all of his ducks lined up and now the real battle for shareholders can begin.

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