HBO’s rich-family drama returns just as good, if not better, in a strong second season opener that sees the Roy clan planning an expansion.
This recap of Succession Season 2, Episode 1, “The Summer Palace”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous season finale by clicking these words.
When it began, HBO’s Succession was in many ways quite a humble thing; a bleak, intensely funny satirization of the rich and powerful generally and Rupert Murdoch specifically. But like the insatiable appetites of its power-hungry subjects, it wanted more — and it got more. It became a melodramatic family tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, a broad and brutal skewering of media dynasties, and a stinging character study that picked apart and rigorously analyzed the DNA of moneyed beneficiaries who aren’t equipped to deal with the power and privilege they’ve been given or the love and affection that they haven’t.
The Succession Season 2 premiere, “The Summer Palace”, finds the show more in-tune with what it is now, as the events of the prior season’s calamitous finale are laid out on the boardroom table. Kendall, after trying and failing at least twice to forcibly snatch his father’s empire, has become a ghoul, haunted by his own cocaine addiction, the young waiter who died at his sister’s wedding because of it, and the prospect of the man he might be without it. Kendall’s deep-seated insecurities were held in check when he was high; his addiction italicized the personality traits he mimicked in his more unscrupulous father.
Now his father, who spent much of the previous season on death’s door, seems well — and the better he feels, the worse everyone else around him does. Brian Cox is selling his parental disapproval even more forcefully than he intends to sell the portions of his media conglomerate that are being left behind by the development of technology. Much of “The Summer Palace” concerns his plans to expand the Waystar Royco empire, and whether that must include the shuttering of divisions like news and print-media that reflect the world he grew up in — the world that most of society has grown out of.
Siobhan, his only daughter, seems the right fit for succession because she understands liberal goodwill and is willing to earn it in ways that Logan and his idiotic son Roman aren’t; the latter is perfectly at home bullying Kendall for his waxen appearance and his many personal catastrophes, but in the spotlight he flounders, his destructive, trollish inclinations as subject to ridicule as Kendall’s silly media-approved excuses. The Roy clan’s public identities are facsimiles, but Roman isn’t intelligent or mature enough to have developed a convincing one.
Of course, the secret of Succession is in how it makes all these detestable play-actors occasionally sympathetic, lifting a curtain that reveals who they really are beyond the privileged playthings of a meanspirited tycoon whose worst qualities are his most genuine. “The Summer Palace” reminds us that at the root of Kendall’s drug dependence and Roman’s smug impishness and Siobhan’s sham marriage is a desperate desire for approval they’ll never get. As much as these people are punishingly unpleasant, they’re also deeply pathetic.
- There were, as ever, many instances of beautiful writing in the Succession Season 2 premiere, but the many varied descriptions of Kendall’s current role and appearance produced some real zingers.
- Greg delivering Kendall “park coke” was great fun.
- That “The Summer Palace” was befouled by the stench of dead racoons seems like a totally fitting metaphor for the Roy empire in general. And it was funny.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.