‘Succession’ Season 2, Episode 7: London Calling

Season 2, Episode 7: ‘Return’

Logan Roy has an odd vocabulary tic, which pops up whenever he is faced with his company’s latest scandal. “What’s the protein?” he’ll ask. He used those words last week, while skimming through New York magazine’s Brightstar Cruises exposé. He says it again this week, during a flight to London, while he, Kendall, Roman and Rhea Jarrell rip apart a memo Siobhan wrote to clarify her “dinosaur purge” Argestes comments. Again, Logan asks if anyone can find “the protein.” Is anything Shiv wrote worthy of his attention?

Logan has a high bar for “protein.” He has already argued that the cruise scandal isn’t “real” because his enemies will latch onto any opportunity for performative outrage. He is also unconvinced that Shiv really cares about the culture at Waystar — perhaps because he thinks his daughter’s convictions, like his own, are more strategic than deeply held. (Later, when Shiv finally gets a face-to-face meeting with her dad, she says, “I know you haven’t always been happy with my words, but we can discuss it,” which is like a prelude to that old line, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them, I have others.”)

Because of his stubborn refusal to take blame for anything, Logan barely flinches when he wakes up in London to tabloid headlines that implicate him in the death of the young man Kendall drove into a lake. His rivals’ newspapers claim the kid was “Bullied to Death” while in the Roys’ employ. Logan won’t acknowledge fault, but he does let his lawyers talk him into visiting the young man’s family.

“I suppose everyone has to apologize for everything nowadays,” he grumbles.

In the end, he is glad he makes the trip because it reminds him that for all his billions, he is still — in his own mind — a man of the people. He can relate to the dead man’s parents because they’re the target audience for Waystar’s programming, which he describes as “some decent TV” and “news that doesn’t talk down to them.”

“There’s nothing be ashamed of, our stuff,” he says to Kendall, conclusively, as if that were the main lesson from his son’s having accidentally killed someone.

But Ken — poor Ken — has a different reaction to their visit. First, he’s not even supposed to be there. He is supposed to be spending a romantic, lighthearted, “Simon & Garfunkel song” kind of afternoon at the zoo with Naomi Pierce. Instead, his dad drags him into a home filled with heartbreakingly happy pictures of the person he is trying most to forget. Does Logan not understand how punishing this might be? Or is he just being casually cruel, part of his continuing policy of preventing his children from living their own lives?

This week’s episode of “Succession” is somewhat of a letdown in comparison to the previous three, all of which have been tightly constructed, genuinely tense and often explosively funny. This episode, titled “Return,” is more of a showcase for the series’s unique character dynamics than for its dramatic storytelling. The plotting feels more scattered, with the action in London spread across multiple locations. Even the reliable comic relief of Tom and Greg is removed from the main action, taking place in New York while nearly everyone else is overseas.

There are four major narrative developments this week: Tom harasses Greg into destroying (most of) the Brightstar Cruises paper-trail; Logan, we learn, is having an affair with Rhea; Rhea hatches a plan to rid Logan of his obligation to Shiv; and Logan decides to start looking outside the family for a successor. Only the Shiv-Rhea material generates that wonderfully queasy, “watching a disaster unfold in slow-motion” feeling common to the show’s best episodes.

The catastrophe happens so fast, too. The two women meet for coffee, during which Rhea disarms Siobhan by owning up to her romance with Logan before suggesting that Shiv regain some leverage at Waystar by pursuing a position at Pierce Global Media. Shiv gets thoroughly suckered by Rhea. When she confronts her father about her status, he berates her for her disloyalty in even considering moving to Pierce. The scene between the two of them is shocking, sickening … outstanding stuff.

For the most part, though, the memorable moments in this episode are more about what it’s like to be a Roy. Logan’s mood-swings this week are startling. One minute, he is utterly confused about where he is. The next, he is snarling threats. In one of the episode’s most painful scenes, he attempts to apologize to Roman for smacking him at Argestes, then questions whether it actually happened. (Roman, meanwhile, stares out the window, trying to change the subject, awkwardly muttering “cars, buildings, everywhere.”)

And Logan isn’t the only monster casting a shadow over the Roy siblings’ lives. Ken, Roman and Shiv are in London, in part, to persuade their mother, Caroline (Harriet Walter), to commit her Waystar voting shares to their cause in the proxy fight. Almost as soon as they arrive, she treats them to a line of self-pity and emotional manipulation before eventually agreeing to meet Logan’s terms in exchange for a $20 million payout and a promise that the kids will spend Christmases with her.

Does she even want to be with them? Apparently not, given that when Ken comes to her in deep emotional distress, intending to open up about the car accident, she waves him off. “Might be better to do it over an egg,” she says, before hustling off to bed … and then fleeing the house before breakfast.

There’s a good running joke throughout this episode about how the kids fill up on snacks before they visit Caroline, who can’t cook. She serves Roman and Shiv a sorry-looking dinner of freshly shot pigeon, and warns them there are still some buckshot and feathers in the birds.

That’s one powerful symbol for life as a Roy. One parent hollers for protein. The other serves inedible meat.

The Rich Are Different From You and Me:

As usual, Tom and Greg’s scenes produce the episode’s funniest moments, from Greg’s getting a haircut because “I think I just wanted someone to touch my head” to Tom’s maniacal grin when he sees that his underling stashed damning documents in an envelope marked “Secret.”

As Greg, Nicholas Braun does some of his best physical and verbal comedy this week, as Greg nervously tests out different strategies for trapping Tom into a recorded confession. (“Put on the disappearing sauce!” he shouts into his hidden cellphone, as his boss squirts lighter fluid onto the evidence.) Matthew Macfadyen is just as sharp, as Tom carefully explains why Greg’s “insurance policy” of the Brightstar Cruises paperwork puts him at risk. (“If you were uninsured you’d be a lot safer, ironically.”)

Roman looks positively giddy this week watching his sister get kicked around. He giggles with glee as the family skewers Siobhan’s memo, mocking its pictures of smiling children and its quotes from Thomas Aquinas and Amelia Earhart. Later, he teases her mercilessly about how little she is being kept up-to-date on the latest Waystar news. “Do you know nothing of the company you’re supposed to be taking over?” he asks Shiv. “We do hate speech and roller coasters.”

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