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‘Succession’ Recap: Vaulter Elevates the Game and Lands Hard

Will Tom recover from his first Roy family roast?

Succession: Season 2, Episode 2: Kendall Peter Kramer/HBO
Kendall has a vest on and he is definitely not kidding around.

You know what must be nice about being Roy rich? Sure, the houses and the vacations and that really good eye cream, but also you can shut down an amusement park to the public in order to celebrate a little girl’s birthday.

It’s for Kendall’s sweet daughter and he is still entrenched in his pod person thing (he can’t even bring himself to hug his daughter back when she throws her arms around him) as he and his family amble about in divine woolen outfits casually insulting each other. We learn a few things rather quickly: that the Ghost Train is the site of sexual experimentation; that Tom refers to a certain sexual act as a “Handy Job”; and that Cousin Greg is apartment hunting in Staten Island—guess which of these things delights Tom the most? Meanwhile, Logan summons his sons (“Beavis and Crackhead,” thank you for that, Roman!) and Shiv pretends to be surprised that she’s being asked for as well. Logan is watching Stewie on the rival network, PGM. Kendall’s face doesn’t change when Stewie announces on TV what seems to be true: Kendall Roy is no longer relevant.

Succession: Season 2, Episode 2: Kendall and his daughter

Kendall doesn’t understand how hugging works.  Screengrab

Gerri counsels for cool heads and to wait before responding. But Shiv—either comfortable in giving immediate direction or wanting to make an impression or both—disagrees. She tells them exactly what they should say for public consumption and Logan backs her. Believe me, her brothers take note. On TV Stewie says that buying Vaulter (remember that Buzzfeed-y kind of operation from season one?) was a huge mistake and Logan, watching, seems to agree. Kendall’s impassive face stirs somewhat to life: This was his baby, after all, and he hurriedly assures his father it was the right call. Logan sends both the brothers to see what’s what at Vaulter.

Roman and Kendall tour the Vaulter offices, which are probably supposed to be some sort of Buzzfeed-like place. They have their own hive on the roof, an open-seating plan, and all the pale-faced bloggers have faces with a resigned expression that any of us who have held any kind of media job will surely recognize. Kendall advises Roman to keep cool and not spook Lawrence and together they try to present an easy breezy front but Lawrence is no dummy and cuts right to the heart of the matter by pointedly asking just who, exactly, is in charge. Um, nothing to see here dude, look over there, la la la la la. Roman decides to play it straight, and tells Lawrence that Logan is worried he got suckered in the Vaulter deal and has sent them in to figure things out. Kendall requests an office and a massive load of paperwork.

Succession, Season 2, Episode 2: Roman at the Vauler

Hats off to the writer that came up with the Vaulter headlines.  Screengrab

Meanwhile, Tom is about to start his new job and is nervous about how he’ll get along with “Peach,” who runs the newsroom. He’s taking his jitters as usual out on Cousin Greg (does everyone realize that actor Nicholas Braun is actually 6’7” tall? Doesn’t that make everyone sort of giggle? Or is it just me and the Succession writers and crew?) Greg is feeling a little worried about working at ATN because it’s against his principles. “Your principles? Greg, don’t be an ass–le, you don’t have principles.” As usual, the Tom and Greg show continues to be a never-ending source of delight. I really hope that one day these two can go on a road trip and we can watch a whole hour of them going back and forth about principles and if, you know, the news should tell the truth. (Hard to imagine which news network this show might be basing ATN on!)

“Peach” turns out to be played by the wonderful Jeannie Berlin. Here’s something I wasted a good few minutes thinking about: Berlin is the daughter of Elaine May and she’s now on the same show as J. Smith-Cameron, who is married to Kenneth Lonergan, who just directed May to a Tony for her role in The Waverly Gallery and directed Berlin in Margaret. What does any of this really mean? Nothing except it’s always a good sign when New York actors of this caliber start showing up in supporting parts.

Shiv is being dismissive to super handsome ex-paramour Nate, who continues to remind me of Zodiac-era Jake Gyllenhaal. He is nervous about her telling people that they had an affair. Shiv is characteristically unsympathetic. Gil is already thinking about White House appointments and tells Shiv he’s thinking about her for chief of staff. That seems insane, but ok, so is the real world so why the hell not.

Succession: Season 2, Episode 2: Nate

Here’s hoping this isn’t the last we’ll see of the handsome Nate.  Screengrab

Peach is talking about how the news “shapes the debate” and Tom jokes about how the news seems to be shaped like a burning cross and wow, this is off to a good start. Peach insists Logan doesn’t run the network but Tom doesn’t buy it. She advises him he’d be happier in the entertainment division, but come on, Peach, Tom just wants to be where the action is. She says Logan sends one of him down every four years. He retorts it’s the first time he’s sent his son-in-law. You can pretty much see Peach full body eyeroll at that one. Tom dispatches Greg to do the real work, per usual.

Kendall is getting buried in paperwork, per Lawrence’s request. But here’s the thing: Turns out Kendall is great at reading information and—get this!—understanding it! Roman doesn’t know what he’s supposed to be doing. He’s less worried about this probably than the fact that Kendall does. So he calls Gerri who tells him to pull it together. He takes her advice and leans into his social strengths and asks some Vaulter employees out for drinks.

Shiv goes to see Logan. He raises the idea of buying the Pierce family-owned news network, PGM. She dismisses this quickly and moves on to her own agenda. Namely, when can they start talking about next steps in her succession? (Drink!) But here’s an interesting thing: Marcia comes in and Logan hastily constructs a cover story as to what he and Shiv are discussing. Marcia’s face registers that she’s out the cold and leaves. Logan lays out a three-year plan and Shiv is all wtf? So he calls her bluff and tells her to come in tomorrow and she’s like, um, I haven’t told either my husband or boss yet? It’s hard to know who is playing whom at this point. (But, let’s face the facts and guess that it’s Logan, cause it’s always Logan.)

Later, Logan listens to Kendall and Roman’s findings at Vaulter. Kendall says, yes, it’s a mess but a fixable one and still a great investment for the company. Roman says no way. He took the staffers out and found out there’s talk of unionizing. He advises shutting it down. Kendall is like, wait, are you listening to this guy? But Logan is. He’s intrigued by Roman’s suggestion they keep the domain names and gut the rest. (For everyone from media properties reading this that, like me, shuddered with PTSD, I’m sorry.) Kendall counters that argument with a more macro approach that Vaulter could be their lodestar into the future. Both brothers are surprised when Logan sides with Roman. But Kendall cannot refuse his father when he’s put in charge of gutting the company and the deal he worked so hard for in season one. He soothes himself with a bump of coke.

Succession: Season 2, Episode 2: Logan

Another stunning cardigan from the Logan Roy collection.  Peter Kramer/HBO

Connor and Willa are hosting people at their…hotel suite? It’s weird but the family has gathered. Con is still talking about running for president. Roman points out that he’s never had a job ever. Conner is unfazed. (There’s, surely, a lot more to say about Conner and Willa and that craziness but there’s plenty of time, people. Buckle up.)

Greg reports to Tom that the whole of ATN needs to be digitized. Tom is delighted at the idea of firing a lot of people. No one takes a moment to think that the source of this idea is…Greg the Egg.

Roman fills in Shiv (read: brags) that he convinced Logan to gut Vaulter. She seems unconvinced this is a good idea, but is distracted by Roman playing adult and inviting her and Tom over to dinner. She has managed to insert doubt into Roman’s brain: He asks Tabitha if he’s making a mistake. He’s thrown by the idea that the company is doing something he suggested. Tabitha suggests that maybe he IS smart. (Crickets)

Kendall smokes moodily on the terrace. Shiv joins him. She tells him she thinks the Vaulter decision is a bad one. Kendall robotically says, “Dad is right. He sees everything.” She points out that Kendall sure has a hard time finding the middle ground between worshiping their father and wanting to kill him. They split a smoke and are briefly united siblings.

Shiv tells Tom they need to talk and takes him home. She is like, uh, guess what? However she paints it as more of a power play, rather than her actually wanting the top job. Tom is like when did this happen and quickly recovers from the fact that she didn’t tell him to congratulating her. Oh, Tom. He was like, oh I thought we wanted me to have it? But to his credit he tells her it is okay for her to want it. He keeps a slightly maniacal look on his face and agrees that yes, it is hilarious. She throws some sex at him on the counter to either show dominance or to distract him or both.

Kendall tells Lawrence what’s up: Logan wants to shut the company down but luckily Kendall can try to figure out a way to still save it. To do so he needs full transparency. Lawrence, rattled, agrees. He also tells Lawrence he needs their workers to chill on the union thing. He gives a speech to the worker bees. He assures them he thinks Vaulter is the future. He tells them the only way to get through everything is to keep them from unionizing. He asks them to consider a different way. He asks them for new ideas. The staff is dubious but like all media staffers everywhere, clinging to the idea of light at the end of the tunnel.

Succession: Season 2, Episode 2: Lawrence

Lawrence: a man who has no idea what’s about to hit him.  Peter Kramer/HBO

And now, some comic relief—Greg is apartment hunting. The show is having great fun at poor Nicholas Braun’s expense, having him try to fit his giant frame into a tiny little loft. “The thing I need storage for most urgently is me?” He is saved from signing a crappy lease when he gets a call from Kendall.

Now imagine the next scene from Greg’s perspective. He walks into a gorgeous loft, all windows and sleek furnishings. Kendall owns it, you see. He owns five units and he will eventually flip them but until then… he throws the keys to Greg, who doesn’t seem to quite believe it. “You live here now.” Greg’s voice gets higher as he realizes it’s not a joke. He races around the apartment like a puppy just let out of his crate. Kendall suggests a party that night. At Greg’s new place of course and how could he ever say no?

Over at Roman’s first adult dinner party. Tom has a cold and Shiv is being mean. This sure is a rough dinner for Tom. After all, let’s not forget his and Tabitha’s history from his bachelor party—she sure hasn’t. “You should try swallowing something.” (If you haven’t watched the Tom bachelor party episode from season one I highly suggest you do so now.)

Roman has heard that Kendall is making promises to Vaulter and wonders if he should tell Logan about it. Shiv says if Kendall is going rogue, he should let him. Roman is all, I totes got this succession thing. (Drink!) I’m the best he’s got. Shiv, who has clearly been underestimated her entire life, manages to not spit out her champagne when Roman asks if he has to be worried about Tom.

At dinner Tom brags he’s got some good things cooking at ATN. Roman starts needling him for fun—I swear this is how Roys think fun works—and he starts in on Tom about his suits. Shiv jumps in on the teasing about how terrible they are. (See aforementioned Roy fun.) They move on to Tom’s agricultural walk and Tom basically has to interrupt to tell her to F-off. Shiv manages to smile, eyeroll, and convey that no, Tom is not like them and can’t play rough, all with a couple of quick facial movements.

Succession: Season 2, Episode 2: Dinner

Do we think Tom is wearing a scarf to the dinner table because he has a cold or because he knows the Roys like to go for the jugular over food?  Peter Kramer/HBO

Tom tries to go sleep in the guest room with his hurt feelings. She calls him out on it. She tells him he’s the only one she can talk to and cajoles him back. She tells him that she has to choose between Gil and her father. Is she really asking him for advice or is she just playing him yet again? It’s very hard to know. Tom breaks it down with her and basically just tells her what she already knows, to continue to play all sides and spin plates. Put that on your family crest!

Speaking of double crossing and treachery, Kendall is at the Vaulter offices and gathers the staff. He tells them he just wants to give them an update on “developments.” What developments might those be? Oh yeah, he’s mass firing them all. Like, yeah man, right now and no, vacation days will not be reimbursed. (Again, my fellow media soldiers: I’m sorry.) Turns out that Kendall has a little more ruthless Roy in him then we previously knew. (But does he really think this is the best course of action or is he just trying to impress Daddy?)

He gets spit on and is unfazed. He reminds Lawrence that he’s a Roy, damn it: “Find some other chickencoop, c–t.” Dang, a season one callback and a rough end for Lawrence. He numbs the pain at a party at Cousin Greg’s “apartment” even though Cousin Greg really wants to go to sleep. Kendall is Techno Gatsby! He doesn’t care there are people humping in Greg’s room.

The next day Shiv goes Full Roy on Gil. She pushes and pushes and goes colder and colder and even hot Gyllen-Nate is all, wtf? She quits at the same time he fires her.

Kendall brings the dead Vaulter mouse to Logan’s doorstep. Meanwhile, Shiv calls in to do the same, her dead mouse being that she’s free of Gil and ready to come in. Then Roman shows up just in time to hear that Kendall is being rewarded and told to make himself at home in Logan’s office.

Later—in a quest to feel alive or in control or just to be a jerk—Kendall casually shoplifts batteries at a local bodega, only to then toss them in the trash so yeah, things are definitely going great.

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