The first chapter of the final season of the Roy saga takes its name from another television clan. It’s clearly meant to convey the image of a grotesquerie masquerading as a family unit. However, for the most part, the cadre of monsters led by Fred Gwynne’s Herman Munster generally got along. They were weird. But however much Papa Roy wants to cite the Munsters as an example of his family’s cray-ness, the ridiculous Roys are no comparison. The Munsters were fairly functional. The Munsters also said “fuck” a whole lot less.
At the end of season three, the Roy children (well, 75% of them anyway) were utterly defeated. Their attempted coup of RoyCo/Waystar was thwarted, leaving them cast adrift in the cold void. OK, it’s a cold void of a Scrooge McDuck Olympic pool level of riches. Still, it would be a sad swim through the gold coin waters as their father’s love — or at least approval — is about as far from their grasp as a semblance of a joke was when needed from Frank & Karl. We’ll get to that one.
At the start of this season, it’s a slight role reversal as we hone in on the recently victorious Papa Roy. He’s utterly miserable walking around his birthday party. As his erstwhile mistress Kerry wisely deduces, much of his troubles — well, behind the man’s resting ornery face — stems from his lack of birthday calls from his children. Awww, poor Logan Roy… is what we would say if it his shunning was not so documentedly of his own doing.
Meanwhile, his three children are filled with hope at new prospects, mainly their revolutionary new television idea “The Hundred.” It turns out to be a fake Macguffin. We’re to be denied the glory of “The Hundred” quickly when Shiv and Kendall realize that they could steal their father’s prize from under his nose. With that notion, Team Nepo Kids heads for their private jet, affecting the Reservoir Dogs stride.
They are off to Nan Pierce’s estate where, after a power move of a fake headache that no one falls for, not even Coke doll Kendall, the battle is on. The Roy thrupple proposes re-opening the deal for MSNBC… I mean PGM. And Cherry Jones shines in portraying a Nan Pierce who so so hates these wicked, capitalist proceedings. They’re just awful. But she’s clearly loving every. single. minute of it.
For all her deceit about not wanting to negotiate and caring for the legacy of her liberal empire, Nan Pierce is pretty transparent about what will win her network. It’s all about the Benjamins, or more aptly, the Wilsons, or whoever would be printed on a billion dollar bill. If Logan Roy has the highest bid, she doesn’t really care if he ruins her legacy. But she truly enjoys being the belle of the ball at her billion dollar auction.
Cherry Jones has always been one of those actors who elevates everything she’s in. Yes, sure, that’s a cliche, but look through her filmography and tell me her characters weren’t highlights of every show she’s been on, from 24 to Poker Face. And, by the way, while you’re here, be sure to read Mike Vago’s write-ups of that latter show, right here on sUBject. My point is Jones deserves an Emmy for Guest Appearance right this moment. Stop the voting… in 10 months or so. The award is hers.
The craziest thing about the new look Roys is that after all the ups and downs and alliances and betrayals, Roman Roy has emerged as perhaps the slyest, smartest of all the players. Maybe it’s just the two sweetest words in the English language (“de fault”), but he’s come a long way from his accidentally blowing up astronauts phase.
During the negotiations to swipe PGM from under Papa’s nose, Roman catches all the absurdity. While whatever The Hundred is appears to be dumb and unoriginal, he gets that playing billion dollar games with their father in the midst of spite might not be the most brilliant ideas. While Shiv chalks it up to his cowardice, he’s pretty consistent in his seeing through the bullshit. He even calls them out on their Birdemic-level need to toss the undeniably round “10 billion” out. 9.5 billion would have done just swell. Again, Roman sees this. Then again, he also proves he is a bit of a coward anyway by bowing to Shiv & Kendall’s will.
By the way, in James Nguyen’s so-bad-its-good movie Birdemic: Shock and Awe, one of its silliest moments comes when its deadpan “hero” Rod is making a million-dollar software sale. As he’s closing the deal, he absolutely unnecessarily gives his unseen client half off. That’s half of a million dollars. It’s one of the most easily mockable moments in an eminently mockable film. However, that’s exactly what happens here. And in this case it’s a B that comes after the 10, as Roman astutely points out. Way to out-silly one of the worst movies of all time, Succession!
We all know the comedy of the super rich throwing out their money is a central tenet of Succession. That said, this episode amps it up to 11. Which the Roys would then pointlessly round off to 10. That is, before bidding it up to 12 for no reason. These people are ludicrous. At one point, Connor Roy has a crisis of conscience about pouring 100 million dollars into his quixotic presidential campaign. That’s before fiancee Willa reminds him he’ll still be rich. Just 100 million dollars less rich.
Which is in turn another great subplot: the contrast of people like Willa and Cousin Greg’s plus one Bridget. Cousin Greg’s date is just from another universe. Roy scoffs at her entrance, and Tom uses it as a chance to needle the son he never had but loves to mentally abuse (and deep down in a psychological crevasse he’ll never see, he just loves).
We’ve barely talked about Tom Wambsgans up to this point, which is crazy as it may be the Tommiest of the Tom episodes yet. Between his patented pseudo-parental cruelty to Cousin Greg and his oddly tender divorce pillow talk to Shiv, Michael MacFayden’s uniquely slippery character has himself a day. And let’s end this here and leave some for the divorce honeymoon. Perhaps the path to an ending has sharpened the writers, but this episode is as good as its been in a while.
- It’s been said before, but Cousin Greg is clearly going to win Succession, right? He’s just so much the perfect avatar for this show’s themes. It’s the same manner that let you know by the beginning of the final season Sam Richardson’s Aspberger’s-fueled political savant Richard Splett was clearly en route to be the prez and win the Veep games.
- Cousin Greg is going to make Disgusting Brothers happen as desperately as Tom thinks he has hand in this weird, weird, disturbing, lovely relationship.
- Meanwhile, Tom’s chemistry with Shiv is outstanding even as they hit the corporate stabbing stage of their relationship. As ill-suited a couple as they are, we’re still sorta rooting for them.
- There’s a brilliant moment where Karl, Frank, and Gerri play a Marx Brothers routine of trying to express why each of the others is the best to deliver bad news to Papa Roy. However, it’s played for zero laughs. Which in turn makes it about 10x funnier than it otherwise would be. Gods of TV bless Karl because he’s the one who ultimately takes the hit.
- By the way, it’s great to see David Rasche going strong as the dopey operative Karl. I still recall how much my dad loved Sledge Hammer, starring Rasche in the titular role. The 1980s slapstick comedy set the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker Police Squad joke-a-minute style against the Mickey Spillane/Dashiell Hammett pulp detective motif. It was ultimately hit-or-miss, but should have made Rasche a household name.
- The highest legal tender in U.S. history was the 100k bill. President Woodrow Wilson graced the never circulated bill. In fact, it is currently illegal for private citizens to possess. I just learned that while writing this. Don’t ever say this column never taught me anything!
- What the heck is the Roy siblings’ creation “The Hundred” supposed to even be? In the opening of their first scene, the trio wax rhapsodically about how innovative their new planned product is. It’s a whole new paradigm. “Is it literally too good? How has no one done this before?” cocaine-fully riffs Kendall. However, the show purposely keeps vague just what this game changer actually does. It’s probably for the best. All but Roman cast the greatest invention ever away in a heartbeat for the chance to purchase old media to spite their dad on his birthday.
- While I could be misunderstanding the game to a John Williamson timeshare blocking Ricky Roma degree, doesn’t the Roy siblings’ plan count on money they receive from the Waystar/Gojo deal, a plan that could theoretically be manipulated, even scuttled, by their mark, their father? Could that be the trio’s episode two comeuppance?
- On a similar note, Tom telegraphs some sort of Papa Roy play when he flouts his dinner with Nan Pierce’s daughter Naomi to Shiv. It’s worth mentioning, she’s also Kendall’s ex. While ostensibly it’s just Tom playing Tom games to make Shiv jealous, it’s hard to overlook how unnecessary the call is. And his next move is to sit down next to Daddy Roy with a come hither, the game is afoot look about him. There’s got to be some 24th dimensional chess going on here.
- I need to remark one more time about how Kendall Roy is radiating Donald Trump Jr. steals Scarface’s stash of cocaine energy. Especially when he David Carusos his dark sunglasses.
- The Munsters‘ Fred Gwynne is mostly forgotten today, but he was a fascinating figure through to the 1990s. In addition to playing Herman Munster, the lanky, emotive Gwynne also excelled as the competent cop Francis Muldoon in one of the funniest comedies from the early days of TV, Car 54, Where Are You? He was also the cranky judge who would not put up with any of Joe Pesci’s shit in My Cousin Vinny. Gwynne’s judge also didn’t have time for his Brooklyn accent. What an underrated classic film that holds up after 30 years.
- In additon, Gwynne introduced my generation to the joys of punnery with a series of books he penned with lines like “Chocolate Moose for Dinner” which would feature an awesome illustration of a dapper wild creature perched at a table, presumably awaiting a multi-course meal. Gwynne drew all the images.
- Oh yeah, Gwynne also had two off-camera lines in that classic-est of classic films On the Waterfront in 1954. One of them was the memorable non-sequitir “and that’s why I never married.”
- Another great character actor John McGinley (Scrubs, etc.) played Francis Muldoon in an abysmal movie version of Car 54 in the 1990s. New York Dolls lead singer David Johanssen (aka Buster “Hot Hot Hot” Poindexter) took on the role of Muldoon’s clueless partner Gunther Toody.
- Joe E. Ross starred in a bunch of soft-core pornos in the later portion of his career, but as comic relief
- “Did you say ‘two yutes’? What is a ‘yute’?” Gwynne was a national treasure.
- Where were we? Oh yeah, Succession. Not a bad first episode back for the rollercoaster of the better show about the excess of the absurdly rich (sorry, Billions).
- “Congratulations on saying the highest number”… 24?