“Tern Haven” was Succession operating at its absolute peak; a masterclass of dysfunction, deviance and deplorability.
This recap of Succession Season 2, Episode 5, “Tern Haven”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
“Tern Haven”, the latest and perhaps best episode of HBO’s Succession, is like a bizarre social experiment, the kind of thing that might be conducted with unassuming mice. What’s being tested are the potential outcomes of America’s two richest and most bizarre families, divided along political lines but united by their obscene wealth and complete detachment from reality, being locked in the same room together. Will they learn to co-exist? Will they eat each other? The reality, as it turns out, is much more entertaining than either of those things.
At the center of all this is Logan Roy (Brian Cox), the capricious buyer-God whose insecurities are so deeply embedded in his waning humanoid exoskeleton that he can only see the world in terms of which parts of it he can buy and control. That includes his children, all of whom are ones and zeroes in his investment portfolio. To Logan, people are resources to be mined for their usefulness and cast aside once they become surplus to requirements.
Logan’s true madness is that he increasingly doesn’t care about the usefulness of his acquisitions; the Pierce family news network isn’t profitable and is ideologically opposed to him and his company, but he’s still willing to grossly overpay for it just because. He needs to know that there is no amount of integrity, no array of principles, that money can’t topple.
The Roy children recognize this, which is why almost all of them disagreed with the acquisition in the first place. As “Tern Haven” goes on, all of them come to believe it more strongly than ever, especially once Logan refuses to acquiesce to any of the Pierces’ demands. His money and his money alone must be enough, even if the entire deal is threatened by his refusal to make no compromises. For Shiv (Sarah Snook), who has already been promised stewardship of Waystar Royco only to have it wrested away from her now, when there will likely never be a better time for Logan to announce her as his successor, this is proof of what, on some level, she has always known: She’s just her father’s plaything.
And so is everyone. Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), who spends his life being cuckolded by Shiv and grovelling under the boardroom table for scraps, is here forced to shoulder the burden of ATN’s right-wing viewpoint; once it becomes non-negotiable that he be removed as head of news, Logan is all too eager to cast him aside. He has outstayed his welcome; fulfilled his usefulness. That Nazi anchor, meanwhile, is left unmolested, because to fire him at the behest of the Pierce clan would be, in Logan’s eyes, a defeat.
So small and insignificant does Logan make his family feel that in “Tern Haven” Roman (Kieran Culkin) asks Tabitha (Caitlin FitzGerald) to imitate a corpse so he can have sex with her, dead people presumably being the only ones he can exert any influence over. Later, he once again gets his kicks by being aggressively demeaned by Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron). His sexual peccadilloes aren’t played for laughs, though everything else about him is; all his zingers — “My concern is that they’ll find Kendall too cool and likable” — take on another, more tragic context, as they’re just desperate attempts to convince himself and other people that he isn’t as pathetic as he needs to be told he is in order to achieve arousal.
Kendall (Jeremy Strong), in having lost himself to self-loathing and substance abuse, is the only one who sees the pointlessness of worshipping at Logan’s feet — he just continues to do it anyway because it defined him for so long that without it he’d have nowhere else to go and nothing else to be. In “Tern Haven” he finds a kindred spirit in Naomi Pierce, who continues to circle the same drain, though in the opposite direction. Their double-helix of decline is the only path that their parents can’t control — the problem is it only leads down.
This was a tremendous episode of television, by all accounts. Succession often delivers a masterclass in deep dysfunction, sexual deviance, and squirm-inducing humiliation, but rarely does it do so to quite the extent seen in “Tern Haven”, which was loaded with the best lines, the most extreme personal humiliations, and the best examples of how rotten Logan Roy and his family really are. An effortlessly brilliant hour.