Succession is a show about family. But the HBO series is also very much a show about business: money, power, influence, ego, and the machinations of corporate America.
As such, it’s the perfect show for us at Fortune to recap as the saga of the Roy family and their Waystar Royco media empire unfolds over the weeks to come. In the fourth episode of the new season: human footstools, peace offerings and weeping ATMs. (You can read last week’s recap here.)
The business of negotiation can be a complex and nuanced affair, but it can also be witty and revealing. These are, after all, only people who are seated around a table, dueling out their egos over massive, market-moving sums of money.
A show like Succession—bound above all to the all-too-human nature of its subjects—is brilliantly positioned to capture this dynamic, and its enormously entertaining possibilities. The centerpiece of the fourth (and, to date, best) episode of the second season is a showdown between the Roy clan and Rhea Jarrell (Holly Hunter), CEO of the rival Pierce Media conglomerate.
The Roys summon Jarrell to their Lower Manhattan headquarters for lunch, under the would-be guise of a meeting about protecting journalists in hostile environments. But the Pierces are already onto Logan Roy and his designs to acquire their media company, and Jarrell tells Logan she has a message from them: a “typically balanced, nuanced, and objective” no.
Jarrell is well aware of Logan’s plan to make Waystar Royco too big to swallow for the private equity raiders attempting a hostile takeover of his company, with an acquisition of Pierce his chosen method. “I take it some genius banker has convinced you that the only way to keep the jackals out is to leverage yourself until you’re too big to take down,” she notes over lunch.
Logan—a cruel, Shakespearan monster the last time we saw him at his corporate retreat in Hungary—treats Rhea with the respect one would provide a formidable adversary. He knows he’s not getting a hard no from Jarrell; she can praise the Pierces' custodianship of their media institutions and brag about eating Pulitzers for lunch all she wants, but at the end of the day, everyone has a price.
It is an unexpected, supposed active-shooter incident at Waystar HQ that sees negotiations inadvertently extended—in the executive leadership’s “safe room,” of all places, where Jarrell finds herself locked down with Logan, Kendall, and Shiv. There, a fascinating pseudo-philosophical conversation breaks out about the merits of a Waystar-Pierce merger. Shiv, the closet CEO-in-waiting, says that it “doesn’t feel right” to her from a business perspective, despite the fact that Pierce’s prestige outlets are “exactly what we lack in the portfolio”—to which Jarrell rebuts that the business synergies are obvious, but “it’s the incompatible cultures that stink up the deal.”
But Logan and Kendall stick to their game plan; Kendall mentions that there is one thing that could assuage any concerns over incompatible cultures, that being a $21 billion offer for the Pierces’ company. That creeps up to $21.5 billion, and then $22 billion, and before long Jarrell has to warn them to “be careful, or I’ll take you seriously.” Shiv looks on in bewilderment (“Is he allowed to just say numbers?”) as it becomes clear that the numbers matter far more than any reservations about editorial integrity or cultural values that she’s willing to work out with Rhea.
In the end, it’s Logan’s offer of $24 billion—and his word the Pierces’ can “trust” that he’s the type of media baron who will invest in, and maintain the integrity of, their beloved institutions—that leaves everyone with the sense that a deal can be done. Of course, a peace offering would help; maybe Logan can give the boot to Mark Ravenhead, that “Walmart Mussolini” flooding ATN’s airwaves with alt-right rhetoric, Jarrell suggests before she leaves. That would see Logan reverse his earlier pledge to “back talent” in the wake of a firestorm of criticism against the talking head.
But Logan knows that when it comes to negotiation, quid pro quo is the universal law of the marketplace. And if one has to sacrifice a Nazi-empathizing ratings juggernaut to get their hands on the $24 billion rival media behemoth that they desire, then so be it.
—Holly Hunter finally made her highly anticipated debut as Rhea Jarrell, and she definitely delivered. As others have floated, it's amusing to think of Jarrell as an alternate-universe version of Broadcast News' Jane Craig—one that made it to the top of the corporate ladder and now finds herself running the joint.
—Roman’s first day in management training was a beauty. The show absolutely had to dress him up as the eponymous protagonist of The Biggest Turkey in the World and trot him out in the amusement park—and, of course, Roman had to insult the paying customers in the crudest manner possible.
But the experience ends up being worthwhile. Roman and his new pal Brian’s pitch for a thrill ride idea ends up winning their class competition, which Roman initially can’t believe (he’s certain that, like most things in his life, he won not on merit but because of his last name). Brian, meanwhile, proved a gem with lines like: “No one’s ever gone bust overestimating the American public’s interest in violence.”
—Poor Tom. His frustrations and insecurities over his unsatisfactory home life clearly spilled over into his treatment of Greg, who asked him for a reassignment—a “business open relationship,” as he put it—that would see him work in another division of the company.
This is too much for Tom, who kicks up a tantrum, throws water bottles at Greg and refuses to let him go. Greg, who has leverage via some of the unsavory deeds he was told to perform last season, resorts to blackmailing Tom in the clumsiest manner possible. But Tom, if anything, is actually proud of Greg for pulling out all the stops to get what he wants—and earning his “slimeball” credentials in the process. (“Look at you!” Tom exclaims with a delirious cackle. “Attaboy!”)
—Willa saves the day, capping her transformation from a somewhat staid and awkward character in the first season into a genuinely likable player with a formidable deadpan. She and Connor attend the funeral of a recently departed, unfortunately nicknamed family friend—an outing motivated as much by Connor’s desire to bolster his old-money donor base for his run at the White House.
But the ruthlessly tenacious journalist Michelle Pantsil, who’s working on a tell-all biography of Logan, shows up as well. Connor makes sure that nothing he says to Michelle can be misconstrued or exploited, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s about to glowingly eulogize a man whose dark proclivities were something of an open secret.
That could easily come back to derail his hopes for the presidency. Yet Willa swoops in to save the day—rewriting Connor’s speech on the fly and devising a hilariously dry, matter-of-fact series of observations that Connor, for his part, delivers poignantly. She’s gradually proving herself a character capable of hanging with this nest of vipers.
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—Read our Succession season two episode two recap
—Read our Succession season two premiere recap
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