“Safe House” was Succession at its most squirm-inducing, hysterical, and deeply tragic.
This recap of Succession Season 2, Episode 4, “Safe House”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
There’s a lot going on in “Safe House” — so much that it’s almost an exercise in showing off. It’s full of creative put-downs and hysterical one-liners, as ever, but it also begins to peel away the plastic public faces of the Roy clan and reveal how truly rotten they are underneath. It’s an episode in which an extremely rich and successful grown man sobs over the question of what he might be “for” if he can no longer be his psychotic father’s plaything, and it’s also an episode in which another extremely rich and successful grown man tells a couple to f*** themselves while dressed as a giant turkey.
Major plots in “Safe House” include Logan (Brian Cox) and Kendall (Jeremy Strong) trying to negotiate the acquisition of a rival news network from its ball-busting CEO Rhea Jarrell (Holly Hunter), a meeting complicated by the presence of Shiv (Sarah Snook), who is floating around the Waystar Royco offices to “observe”, and by an errant gunshot that is presumed to be a gunman attempting to kill the Roys. Roman (Kieran Culkin), meanwhile, is sent undercover to management training, while Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) is tasked with investigating a news anchor who may or may not be a white supremacist.
Each of these parallel storylines is packed with nuance. During the shooting scare, Logan, Rhea, Kendall, Shiv and Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) are bundled into a safe room, where Shiv is able to lower Rhea’s defenses with ideas of how two news organizations can symbiotically exist while Logan and Kendall tease her with increasingly absurd financial offers. Eventually, she relents, for which Kendall receives all the praise and Shiv receives barely a smile. As the heir-apparent of Waystar, this doesn’t sit well with her, as she assumes — not unreasonably — that Kendall is making another attempt at the throne. But in a thoroughly haunting moment that might have been “Safe House” at its absolute best, Kendall breaks down when confronted by his sister, completely unable to imagine a life for himself in which he isn’t an autonomous husk whose only function is to do his father’s bidding.
The deep-seated dysfunction of the Roy family has always made for a troubling undercurrent of Succession, bubbling away beneath the show’s satirical surface. But it usually manifests as displays of ridiculous opulence or extreme callousness. Here, and elsewhere in “Safe House”, we get to see the true, withered humanity of these people blessed with all the advantages they could possibly need — except, of course, genuine love and affection, and healthy human relationships.
Case in point: Roman. Whisked away to management training, he’s able to make a friend and win a pitch competition, thus proving he isn’t totally useless, but he immediately assumes the latter is a consolation prize since everyone found out he was really the co-COO of the company they’re training to work for and treats the former in his usual childlike manner by demanding his new buddy be fast-tracked up the corporate ladder. “Safe House” also provides a glimpse into his sexless relationship with Tabitha (Caitlin FitzGerald) when they awkwardly attempt — and fail at — phone sex, and we discover that Roman can only get off sexually when Gerri calls him a “revolting little worm” and various other colorfully demeaning things. Gerri’s little yelp of glee when she realizes what Roman is up to is one of the best moments of the episode, but there were several more.
One of them was Tom interviewing the potential Nazi-sympathizing news anchor who married at Hitler’s Bavarian hideaway and has read Mein Kampf more than once. The whole sequence is full of brilliant double-takes and snippets of questing dialogue as it becomes increasingly obvious that the guy is a Nazi fetishist, but he’s also integral to certain key demographics; this endless battle between professional advancement and moral decline is key to Tom’s character at the moment. It’s further reinforced during the active-shooter lockdown when Tom, Greg (Nicholas Braun), a rent-a-cop and some employees are bundled into an entirely unsafe office and told its the safe room, where Greg has a minor breakdown — “How is this safe? It’s just a room!” — and decides now is the time to tell Tom that he wants to leave his bizarre new life of Nazis and human furniture. Tom, in response, has a minor breakdown of his own. The two aren’t able to reconcile until Greg politely inquires how Tom might feel if Greg were to blackmail him with evidence of the cruise-ship cover-up last season.
Somewhat incredibly, this wasn’t even the most bizarre thing that happened in “Safe House”. Connor (Alan Ruck) continued his Presidential campaign by attending the funeral of an old friend, “Mo”, hoping to drum up support while there by schmoozing the wealthy attendees. But it quickly becomes apparent that Mo’s real name was Lester — Mo-Lester, so-called because he might well have been a sexual predator. Willa (Justine Lupe), in damage control mode, hastily rewrites Connor’s eulogy — “What do you think about ‘Lester touched all of us?'” — so that it reads like a robot programmed to explain the basic concepts of grief, thus protecting him from another potential calamity. Magical stuff.