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‘Succession’ Recap: Greeks, Romans and the Battle of Tern Haven

The Roys meet the Pierces for a little pre-merger supper.

Succession: Season 2, Episode 5: Shiv, Tom, Marcia, Connor, Gerri Peter Kramer/HBO
Ask yourself if you’ve ever seen a group that looks less like celebrating.

Here’s something you should know about me, your friendly recapper. My favorite subgenre in all things—movies, TV, books, plays, real life—is a tense dinner table where there’s a lot of subtext and undercurrents of tension between family members. I also have always been intrigued by the clash that happens between old money and new money.

So you can only imagine my happiness with this episode, “Tern Haven.” A Tern, by the way, is a large seabird. Make of that what you will.

We open with Shiv, tightly wound, heading up to Logan’s palatial apartment. Tom greets her like a puppy, asking her if she thinks today may be the day she’s announced as successor. (Drink!) She agrees it would make sense: They’re all about to go see the Pierce family, and it would only follow that they’d want a name as to who will take over.

Roman comes in, chest puffed, returning from his time with people who know the cost of milk. There’s a definite air of waiting to find out something—and when Logan and Kendall come into the room, the patriarch saying he has some announcements to make, Tom sweetly takes Shiv’s hand, thinking: this is it. As if.

It’s much worse! Yes the Pierce family is entertaining the Roy offer, but they’re curious about the moral character of the Roy family. So yeah, no one seems to think this will be a walk in the park. This jaunt to the Pierce compound is an audition for the family as a whole—so that the blue-blooded Pierces can take the $24 billion but also be able to sleep at night knowing its stewardship is safe.

Gerri has prepared a list of dos and don’ts for the weekend: no talking of Ravenhead, ATN, Israel, Brightstar and cruises rumors, and instead they should steer talk towards cultural interests. Oh, and guess what—they don’t like people who drink a lot so everyone should keep themselves in check. (What kind of WASPs are these?) Logan lets Tom know that he’ll be there mostly to take the abuse from the Pierces, since they loathe ATN and all that it stands for. (Think the Murdochs going up to visit the Sulzbergers for a fun weekend of sobriety.)

Succession, Season 2, Episode 5: Pierce Estate

Just another helicopter visit to a media family “cottage.”  Screengrab

Things get tense almost immediately, especially since Shiv can’t say anything right around Logan these days, but eventually he dismisses them and off they head—but not before telling Kendall to arrive an hour late. (Shiv hears and takes note of this as well.) He also implores his elder son to, “keep clean.” Sure. But then he calls Shiv “Pinky” (and man, I love it when he calls her Pinky), and tells her he wants her on Nan Pierce herself. They like her politics and she’s a woman so… Shiv is not content to take this victory and plows ahead in regards to the company: “My baby, soon, right?” He non committal mmms her.

The family takes off in their fleet of helicopters. (Did you know that a consultant was hired to teach the actors how to get on and off like someone who actually owns a helicopter?) They land in a field where the Pierces are assembled to greet them. Logan growls at everyone to smile and actually holds hands with Shiv and Marcia as they cross the grass.

Succession: Season 2, Episode 5: Marcia, Logan, Shiv

Even Logan can’t believe he’s holding hands in public. The things you do with $24 billion on the line! 

The truly fantastic Cherry Jones plays Nan Pierce (of course her name is Nan!) and every single detail about her—natural gray hair held back in a tortoiseshell headband, subtle silk scarf around her neck, rich and gravelly voice (like Katherine Hepburn ate a martini glass—is high WASP perfection. Her family too, in their slightly worn clothes and Nantucket reds and etc. Logan pulls Rhea aside to ask how they’re looking: Naomi (Tabitha’s friend) has flown in and might make things more complicated. She has “major juice” with Nan and usually sits out these kinds of meetings.

Inside the house—which, incidentally was shot at JP Morgan’s 27,00-square-foot mansion called “Salutation”—we start to spy a few of the Pierce eccentricities: a hairless cat roams about, they love Latin phrases something fierce, they drink a drink that came from Teddy Roosevelt. Sure, they’re weird, but here’s the thing: The Roys are beginning to look vulgar in comparison. Take, for example, Shiv’s cutting remark to a Pierce son (played by the always amazing Jeremy Shamos) who is working on his second PhD. Or Connor’s reaction to another Pierce—played by Mark Lin-Baker!—who works at the Brookings Institute. Roman is introduced to Naomi Pierce as the sounds of the helicopter carrying Kendall arrives. He’s been volunteering, says Logan, and if he was wondering if Marcia was a keeper, the answer should come after watching her NOT laugh her face off about this, or when Logan declines another cocktail. (Nan Pierce also loves to do that rich person of a certain flavor thing when she tries to get Rosa, serving drinks, to have a drink with them. Rosa’s face speaks for us all.)

Succesion, Season 2, Episode 5: Rhea and Nan

These women-in-white are just not kidding around.  Screengrab

Kendall arrives and Logan showily hugs him and sends him off to work on Peter, who is wearing a very nice cardigan of his own (but still nowhere near Roy level). Logan makes a toast: “Like Romans amongst you Greeks I’m sure you find us big, vulgar and boisterous.” Uh, yup, thanks for recapping this scene for me, Logan.

Logan gathers his brood into a small room. It’s not going well, basically. He’s pissed. First he yells at Shiv for making fun of double PhD-er. Then he tells Roman his laugh is too loud. After they all shuffle out we learn that Marcia is furious, quietly, at Logan, but he seems at a loss to deal with that too.

Succession: Season 2, Episode 5: Kendall and Shiv

Shiv’s side-eye game is very, very strong.  Peter Kramer/HBO

At dinner, Nan presents a roast with great ceremony, graciously accepting applause (though we saw it was her very busy kitchen staff that did all the work). She explains that in their family they give grace by reciting Shakespeare, not Jesus. I mean, of course. Naomi does a dramatic reading from Richard II (which is enough to write a whole term paper on). Kendall locks sad eyes with Naomi and within a few seconds she makes it clear that she’s in recovery and he’s all, omg me too. She’s like, no kidding, buster.  He asks if his reputation precedes him, and she ices him with a, “No, I can just tell.” Side note: does everyone have perfectly straight bob cuts on this show or what?

There’s some fun as Roman tries to pretend he reads books and gets busted by basically everyone; Shiv tries to make amends with the PhD-er. Nan focuses on her: Is she happy to be out of politics? Rhea stirs the pot: She wants to know about ATN’s ties with the fascists. Logan blames Tom. Tom takes it pretty well, all things considering. But then, Shiv starts to unravel. This feels so out of character! But maybe feeling so out of step with Logan has contributed to make her blunder and she…just keeps talking. Logan makes a face at Frank. She keeps trying. Logan keeps undercutting.

Shiv and Tom do that couple communication thing where they both came up with a cover story about their dog, Mondale, being sick, so they can whisper furiously in the hallway. Shiv is freaking out, fully, and is shocked when Tom asks her to stop beating up on him. She has no time for this—and admits to Tom: I really want this. Tom gives her a good pep talk because honestly, for all his buffoonery, Tom seems to actually love Shiv.

When they return to the table, Tabitha is regaling the room about how she and Roman don’t have sex, which definitely seems like it should be on the list of etiquette dinner table don’ts. Meanwhile, Nan asks Marcia what it was like to grow up in Beirut, and we get a glimpse into just how angry Marcia is with Logan. And she is mad. And thirsty for wine.

Succession, Season 2, Episode 5: Logan

You can send Logan Roy to a fancy country estate, but you cannot take away his knitware!  Peter Kramer/HBO

Nan keeps hammering Logan about the takeover, which Logan attempts to poo poo. She then asks the million (or $24 billion) dollar question: Who will be Logan’s successor? The table immediately quiets down for this. Logan hems and haws a bit more while Shiv looks pointedly at her father. “There is a name,” says Logan. “But I don’t like to deal in hypotheticals.”

The room is still tense—everyone is paying an awful lot of attention—but still, it seems like things can be smoothed over. Unfortunately, the camera starts to zoom in on Shiv and you can almost hear the lambs screaming in her head till she explodes. She says, “Just tell them it’s going to be me.” And this is such a misstep I had to hit pause and take a few deep breaths.

The reaction is as you would expect: Roman’s jaw is on the floor. Logan tries to deflate things somewhat but Shiv just plows on about time tables. Marcia asks Logan quietly if it’s true, and he bites her head off and the Pierce family is pretty much giddy at watching this meltdown happen.

In a great stroke of WASP behavior, Nan suggests the take in some night sky. (Don’t worry, they have rubber boots for everyone.) Shiv lingers and Logan doesn’t blow up at her. With an even more devastating, “shall we?” he leaves the room.

As Kendall looks at the Pierce’s corner of the sky, Naomi approaches him. She (speaking for us all!) tells him that watching a Roy family meltdown is the most deeply satisfying thing on earth. She had come to wreck the deal but the Roys have done it for themselves. Kendall gives her a long look and waits for her to offer drugs, which she does. Oh does this not seem like a good plan.

They bond over some coke, talking about their wild days, getting the manic gleam that only certain chemicals provide as they both claim they’re in a much better place. Then they do more coke and run down a hill and take over a helicopter. Oh what a great idea when you are out of your mind! If you are thinking a messed up person can’t turn on a helicopter, you’d be wrong! For a terrifying moment, you think this is where things are going, but Naomi comes to her senses first and gets him to cut the engine. And then they make out for a minute. She tells him that she’s held a grudge against his family since when she had a major crackup and her mother died and ATN and the tabloids were all over it until she wrapped her car around a highway divider. Oof. Kendall, sensing a true kindred spirit, gives her some good advice. He tells her not to block her own escape. Imagine a world where she can take the money and be free.

Shiv runs to her room with Tom—even she can’t quite figure out what came over her. But she knows that Tom is right when he calls it a “sh-t pinata,” and we know he’s right when he calls it the “most Roy thing ever.”  She’s a wreck, looking for booze in the room (despite, as Tom also points out, it having nothing but low thread count sheets and Emily Dickenson) and admits she’s messed up. Panic abounds for them both.

In Roman and Tabitha’s room things aren’t going well either. He decides sex is the answer, but unfortunately, it seems as if sex with a consenting woman is not it for him. The thing is, I think Tabitha really is sympathetic and tries to give it her all. But, when he basically wants her to pretend to be dead, she chooses to go to the bathroom and turn to an “electric toothbrush.” Poor Roman is just as broken as the rest!

He goes running to Gerri, who doesn’t seem that surprised to see him. She invites him in, they have a drink, and then get right back to where that phone call left out. She stands outside the bathroom door and berates him and he gets off on that, and honestly, this whole relationship is worth 2,000 words on its own.

Morning comes and everyone is a little bit of a mess. None more than Kendall who quite literally sh-t the bed. That is some tough houseguest behavior—there is certainly not an Emily Post section on that.

Succession, Season 2, Episode 5: Logan and Roman

Just try to imagine Logan’s expression if he knew about Roman’s phone calls with Gerri.  Peter Kramer/HBO

At the breakfast buffet, Roman “jokes” about jerking off in Gerri’s bathroom which no one takes seriously. Kendall makes eye contact with Naomi who is whispering in the kitchen with Nan. Rhea tells Logan that Nan wants to meet with him and Marcia, Gerri, Shiv and Kendall (interesting, no Roman or Connor) after breakfast. At the meeting (which Marcia declines) Nan lays out her terms: Nan knows who the Roys are but she also knows that she knows that Pierce needs deep pockets. Plus Naomi (!) convinced her a sale was in the family’s best interest. Rhea, that sharp-haired turncoat, says the offer isn’t good enough. Logan says he can go to 25—everyone likes that. But there’s a catch: In addition to editorial independence, they want to dump Tom (no problem says Logan) and she wants to announce Shiv as the official successor. Great, right? Wrong. “That’s not how I do things,” Logan says, bristling. He and Nan lock steely gazes and he says, slowly, deliberately, that IF he announces Shiv it will be on his own dang timeline. Shiv pales a bit at this. Nan bristles back and they reach an impasse. Logan walks. But before he leaves he asks if they’d like to hear his favorite passage from Shakespeare: “Take the fu–ing money.”

The Roys get in their helicopters—Kendall and Naomi first share a loaded look—and they take flight. No one is saying anything. “What a weird family,” Tom says, trying to cut the tension, but the Roys all ignore him. Shiv asks Logan if he wants to talk, he grumbles nothing back. He gets an email that displeases him and, with what has to be my favorite line of the whole season, screams at the pilot DRIVE YOUR F-CKING WHIRLYBIRD. (Reader, I rewound it twice.)

But he gets a call from Rhea and seems triumphant. The family is gathered back at his townhouse—even Cousin Greg who informs us all he prefers to go by Gregory now. Logan gives a toast about how money wins, but everyone is deeply unhappy and he goes alone up to his room. Who needs a drink now?

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