‘Succession’ Recap, S2E5: Money Wins
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 fifth episode of the new season: double doctors, right-wing ogres, and Richard II. (You can read last week’s recap here.)
“Eight straight quarters of losses is a hard truth,” laments Nan Pierce. The matriarch of the Pierce media dynasty is under no illusions about Logan Roy and his family; they’re the proverbial barbarians at the gate, yet Nan (Cherry Jones) and her clan have welcomed them into their city on a hill with open arms anyway.
This weird summit between the blue-blooded Pierces and the tabloid-peddling Roys—akin to the Sulzbergers or the Grahams hosting the Murdochs for a sleepover—is one of Succession’s trademark set pieces, whereby the show manages to get all of its main characters in one place at the same time. It’s a clever tactic that grounds the show and its sprawling ensemble cast, mitigating the need to bounce around disjointedly between various characters and plot lines.
It also opens up myriad possibilities for both conflict and hijinks between all who are onsite—and that’s exactly what we get when the Pierces invite the Roys to their Tern Haven compound for a weekend of food, drink, and inter-media dynasty bonding. The purpose of this flirtation is clear to all concerned; Logan wants the Pierces’ PMG media conglomerate, and the Pierces may just be willing to sell given the eye-watering sums of money being floated by Logan—but not before they look the Roys in the teeth and find out just who they’re dealing with.
Logan briefs his family on what he expects from each of them in advance of the summit: be nice, talk up your East Coast elitist credentials and interests, and try to sway the Pierces in favor of a deal. But it doesn’t take long for those best-laid plans to falter in comical fashion, whether it’s Shiv and Tom making fun of Mark Pierce’s designs on two doctorate degrees or Connor (the newly dubbed “Don Quixote of Iowa”) getting into it with D.C. insider Maxim Pierce over politics.
The Roys really appear to mess things up at dinner, when the conversation tilts toward business and there are questions over what their stewardship of the Pierce media empire would look like. That raises questions about Tom—who, as head of global news, is sacrificed as the fall guy for ATN’s right-wing, sensationalist proclivities—and, of course, about Logan’s successor.
When the Pierces ask just who that successor would be, Logan demurs. As usual, he loathes being put into any uncompromising position, and his stubbornness (and wariness over his own mortality) means he’s not going to place the crown on someone else’s head at will. But Shiv has had enough; she’s seen how her father has manipulated her brothers’ expectations time and again, and she senses that she’s being played with in a similar manner. So she blurts out that she, in fact, is the anointed successor—an ill-advised power play that breaks the family’s ranks, and makes it all too obvious (via the looks of shock and awe around the table) that the Roys clearly don’t have their affairs in order.
That appears to stick a fork in the entire thing. But as Succession has shown us time and again, there is no clear dividing line between what’s business and what’s personal; these are only flawed, deeply imperfect human beings, after all, and it is a drug-fueled rendezvous—and subsequent meditation on the pressures of money and privilege—between Kendall Roy and Naomi Pierce that ends up tilting things in favor of Waystar Royco.
Naomi, having fully intended to scupper the Roys’ bid in the first place, ends up recommending a deal to her cousin Nan. At a meeting the next morning, Nan gives Logan the lay of the land; a little more money (just an extra $1 billion or so) and some assurances over board seats and editorial protections, and they have a deal. Oh, and Logan has to publicly announce Siobhan as his successor.
It doesn’t matter that Shiv is probably the best person for the job, or that she’s young, intelligent, female, and aligned with the Pierces’ political values. Whether he genuinely has reservations about Shiv, simply refuses to be strong-armed, or is low-key terrified of his own demise (or some combination of the three), Logan would rather walk away than acquiesce to Nan’s final offer. “You don’t have an offer; I have an offer,” he strikes back.
And so the Roys depart, and it’s an awkward helicopter ride back to Manhattan. But by the time they land, we get news of a startling about-face; the Pierces have relented, and Waystar has a deal. Whatever his motives, Logan’s tactics worked—his own daughter’s feelings (and his son-in-law’s job) be damned.
“Money wins,” he tells the family over celebratory drinks at their home. But, really, Logan Roy wins.
—The Don Quixote of Iowa may be tilting at straw polls in his bid for the presidency, but at least Connor is able to talk out his differences with Maxim over a bottle of port. Before long, Connor’s offering him the State Department gig in his future administration—a testament to what civil political discourse in this country can look like.
—Just when Willa starts picking up steam as a character, they leave her behind from the ensemble gathering at Tern Haven. That’s a shame for our favorite theatre nerd, seeing how the Pierces have taken to quoting Shakespeare as a means of saying grace.
—The Artist Formerly Known as Cousin Greg is now to be known as Gregory, he informs the clan after showing up at the tail end of the episode to toast their triumphant deal. Greg’s gonna end up succeeding Logan, isn’t he?
More ‘Succession’ content from Fortune
Fortune’s ‘Succession’ Season 2 Recaps
—Succession S2E4: The Gold Rush
—Succession S2E3: Takeover Defense
—Succession S2E2: Media Matters
—Succession S2E1: Blood in the Water
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