Kendall’s Already Back on Top in the 'Succession' Game of Thrones

Julie Kosin
Photo credit: HBO

From Harper's BAZAAR

As Season 2 of Succession chronicles the renewed battle for control of fictional media superpower Waystar Royco, the comparisons between the cutthroat musical chairs of corporate America and Game of Thrones’ Westeros are more striking than ever. That's why every week, BAZAAR.com is watching the throne and naming the winners and losers in the battle for Waystar Royco. Here's the verdict for Season 2 Episode 2, "Vaulter."

The Winner: Kendall

This week’s episode of Succession depicts a massacre more gruesome than Daenerys’s sacking of King’s Landing: Kendall, once more proving fealty to his father, sacrifices his prized plaything, the hipster news website Vaulter, with an execution so inhuman, it could only come from a man completely reengineered by the Logan Roy School of Corporate Sabotage.

It all starts when Stewy appears on TV to promote his “bearhug” attack on Waystar. Mid-interview, he calls Vaulter—the trendy website Kendall acquired in the series premiere—a “huge disappointment.” Antagonized, Logan sends Kendall and Roman to investigate and pitch solutions. The winner, he tells them, “gets a cookie.” Kendall dives into the company’s analytics to find they’ve been fudging their numbers, and reports back with a plan to save the floundering site. Roman, eager to undermine his brother, recommends “gutting” it. Logan relishes nothing more than a corporate bloodbath (unless it’s a bloodbath between his children), sides with Roman, and tasks Kendall with disembowling his own baby. Kendall meets with owner Lawrence Yee and the Vaulter editorial team with promises of salvation—if they cool their plans to unionize and pitch him ideas to make the company more profitable. He’s so convincing, even Roman thinks his brother is about to double-cross their father yet again. But in fact, Kendall just needed time to transfer ownership, mine the staffer’s ideas, consolidate the site’s profitable verticals, then fire everyone else en masse. “I’m afraid I have to inform you, you are all dismissed,” he announces in a robotic staccato to 476 shocked Vaulter employees and an unsuspecting Yee.

Kendall’s behavior is monstrous, a stark reminder that we’re not rooting for heroes on this show. Despite their hijinks and the creative ways they slip “fuck” into a bon mot, the Roys and their retinue are morally bankrupt overlords who possess no regard for the real-world consequences of their decisions. As Kendall begins to exit the Vaulter offices—“You piece of shit,” cry the staff behind him—a now ex-employee walks up and spits in his face. “Is that all you got?” he asks dully. Back in Logan’s office, he arrives a conquering hero, though an affectless one. He met his father’s expectations, so he, not Roman, gets the proverbial cookie: a spot in Logan’s office, like a good lapdog. Logan even offers up some PR spin. “We’ll say you tried to keep it alive. Valiant efforts, etc,” he suggests. Kendall turns him down: “I’m good, I’ll wear it.”

And just like that, Kendall’s back on top. Or at least, at the foot of his father’s throne. “You did good son,” says Logan. “Make yourself at home.” He obediently takes a seat. Yet outside the Waystar offices, he’s resorting to petty theft to get his thrills, proving to himself that, like every good Roy, he can get what he wants—even if he doesn’t need it. Heck, even if he doesn’t want it anymore.

The Loser: Tom

The least likely candidate for the Waystar throne this side of Cousin Greg still managed to take the biggest fall this week. Tom starts the episode on top of his own little fantasy world, boasting about his new gig at ATN during a family trip to one of the Roys’ amusement parks. “Three months ago, I was at a meeting about how to stop kids giving each other handy jobs on the Runaway Ghost Train,” he brags to Shiv. “And now I’m about to start managing a billion-dollar news budget.” He has a new job and a palatial new apartment that make him feel “incredibly potent.” But when he needles Shiv for a quickie, she turns him down: “I’m just in a different mental place than you right now.”

From there, Tom is emasculated in every scene he appears opposite a woman. First up: the news chief at ATN, Cyd Peach (Jeannie Berlin). A chilly meeting in her office escalates into a cold war when she warns him not to interfere with her news agenda. “You know,” she tells Tom, “he sends me one of you every four years.” In retaliation, Tom vows to trim the fat from her team, and recruits Cousin Greg to “body shame” the division until Tom has found enough staffers to fire under the guise of streamlining. (Greg reluctantly agrees—he protests that he doesn’t want anything to do with ATN’s “toxic” news coverage.) Then Shiv finally breaks the news to Tom that Logan offered her the company. “If I were CEO of Waystar,” she says, then “you, honey, are gonna be huge.” The reaction on Tom’s face is no longer that of an “incredibly potent” man. Later, at a dinner party with Roman and Tabitha, Tom sullenly complains he has a cold. As soon as Shiv and Roman exit the room, Tabitha mockingly tells Tom to “swallow something.” (A reference to her sexual history with Tom that we’ll leave you to Google.) Over dinner, Shiv and Roman more openly mock Tom for his “agricultural walk” and his fondness for suits that look like they belong to a “divorce attorney from the Twin Cities.” He finally snaps: “Hey Shiv? Fuck off.” But the fact that he’s still wearing his scarf indoors while sipping soup somewhat softens the triumph.

But when Shiv makes herself vulnerable to Tom—“I need you,” she whines. “You’re the only one I can talk to about this stuff.”—he is once more rendered helpless, and he knows it. When she asks Tom if she should stay with Gil and thus, her political career, or join her father at Waystar, Tom dutifully gives her advice. And it’s actually good, even if a little self-serving: “You saw what your dad did to Kendall. There’s gotta be a chance he’ll do the same to you,” he says. He tells her to play both sides, keep the plates spinning until the better option emerges. Instead, Shiv self-sabotages her chief-of-staff gig with Gil. She chooses Logan, not only over Gil, but over Tom too. But the truth is that Tom is screwed either way. If Shiv gets the top job, he’s professionally cuckolded; if she doesn’t, his star falls with hers. His tiny clutch of influence is rapidly losing its grip.

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