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Succession: Season 2, Episode 7 (Return) - Review

Succession

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

IT’S sometimes hard to find a character worth rooting for amid the back-stabbing and betrayals that regularly inform Succession. But in Jeremy Strong’s Kendall Roy, we are gradually finding the show’s most sympathetic person.

For most of season two, Kendall has been forced to live with the guilt of his part in the death of a young waiter who drowned in a freezing lake at the end of the first season. But in recent weeks, the green shoots of recovery had been starting to show. He seemed more confident, happy even, not least because of his fledgling relationship with Naomi Pierce (Annabelle Dexter-Jones).

Just one episode ago, he had stepped in to warn his dad against striking younger brother, Roman (Kieran Culkin) a second time. While at the start of Return, he was reluctantly snapping ‘dick’ pics of himself and sending them to Naomi.

Midway through, he had even dared to question his father, Logan (Brian Cox)’s relationship with former PGM CEO Rhea (Holly Hunter). But that’s where the good times ended. Mindful of Kendall’s relationship with Naomi, and possibly resentful of it in light of the collapsed takeover bid, Logan opted to put Ken in his place in the most humbling way possible.

Hence, the ‘return’ of the title became evident. This wasn’t just a trip home for the Roys, to mend bridges and continue to fend off the Waystar takeover bid. But for Kendall, it was a return to the scene of his crime… to the family of the deceased for a PR exercise in which Logan apologised for ‘bullying’ the family’s son to his death.

Kendall didn’t need to attend. The tabloids have, thus far, no idea that Kendall had any involvement in it. But rather than let Kendall go off to the zoo with Naomi, he has him be a lap-dog by his side. And it’s in these telling moments, we once more get to witness the depths of Kendall’s personal despair.

Left alone in the family kitchen, while his father does the PR bit, Kendall looks at photos of the man who died and looks shaken to his core. The guilt gnaws away at him. He even asks his father whether he should say something. And later, foolishly and pathetically, he returns to the family’s home to post a collection of £20 notes through their door (by way of recompense).

The bold, brave Kendall of the first half of the episode was once again cast back inside. By the episode’s end, Kendall was desperately in search of someone to talk to. But in an even more heart-breaking twist, the mother he had been sent to see by Logan, could also offer no support.

It turns out that Catherine is no kind of mother at all. She’s not interested or capable of offering the emotional support Kendall craves: first dissuading him from telling her over coffee that night, and then running away from their ‘egg’ breakfast and leaving him a note. Kendall, like his fellow siblings, was alone. And that underlining of his predicament, as well as his continued torment, was etched across his face in spectacularly painful fashion. Strong played it perfectly.

It’s moments such as this that make Succession so masterful. For while there’s undoubtedly a perverse delight in watching this mostly horrible family tearing itself apart, it’s trying to understand what makes them tick, and seeking out those brief glimpses of humanity, that makes them so fascinating (even gripping).

There was even a certain sympathy for Shiv (Sarah Snook) in this episode, still reeling from her mistakes in the previous episodes and still desperate to confirm that she was still going to be the one to succeed Logan atop Waystar. She pursued Logan to London.

But Logan turned the tables on her by employing a willing Rhea to drop in counter-measures. Hence, Rhea – mindful of the fact that Shiv is not as intelligent as she thinks she is – laid a trap: she baited Shiv into applying for a top job at PGM, to show Logan she still had options.

Shiv did as was suggested, only to see it backfire. Logan found out and accused her of betrayal, telling her to ‘fuck off’ if she couldn’t put family first. Shiv realised Rhea’s betrayal too late and seemed rocked herself; finally reaching out to Kendall in the episode’s final scene to warn him about Rhea’s threat, before adding: “I think I’ve just been fucked.” She had, royally.

Rhea, meanwhile, had made her own play for the top seat at Waystar, gleeful in the knowledge that she now has Logan’s ear (and perhaps also his bed) and is being tasked with finding potential successors beyond Logan’s own bloodline.

Amidst all of this inner family shenanigans, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) continued to find himself the possible scapegoat of the cruise line/sexual misconduct inquiry. He therefore pressed Greg (Nicholas Braun) into handing over the remaining incriminating papers, suggesting – comically – that he was safer without his insurance policy, because he was buying back Tom’s loyalty. As ever with these two, their interplay was a masterstroke of comic timing, albeit inadvertently so.

Tom got what he wanted and burned the evidence, but not before Greg was able to snatch back a couple of copies by stuffing them in his trousers. The battle between these two to save themselves is another of the show’s highlights.

But then no matter where you look, Succession delivers intriguing scenarios and first-rate characters, served up with wickedly barbed dialogue and razor-sharp business dealings. It’s endlessly addictive viewing, emotionally compelling, ferociously intelligent and highly relevant in the way that it exposes real-life media dynasties (from Murdoch to Trump).

Return may have been a slower burning episode, but once it’s hands had been revealed, the power plays were emotionally devastating. It has to rate as another classic in a series already packed with them.

Read our review of the previous episode

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