Season 3, Episode 2: ‘Mass in Time of War’
There’s a mad genius to the way Kendall Roy uses language. Here’s a guy who essentially learned to communicate by listening to cable TV panelists, leadership conference speakers and the macho bluster of his venture capitalist college bros. Now, in an ever-intensifying national spotlight, Ken is tossing around jargon with a frenzied, improvisational flair, like a jazz singer scatting in double-time.
In this week’s episode, “Mass in Time of War,” he drops words like “epiphenomenal” and phrases like “let’s clean-slate this” and “detoxify our brand and we can go supersonic.” Even when his siblings ask how he’s doing, Ken answers with a studied earnestness, like a guest on “Power Lunch.” (“Certain amount of regret, but y’know … pretty cleansed.”)
“Mass in Time of War” feels more like the second part of last week’s installment than it does a typical “Succession” episode. The Roys don’t travel anywhere special or gather for any major event; they’re just continuing in the same crisis mode they were in when the season began. Logan is still in Sarajevo, fretting over his inability to get any of his progeny on the phone. And the kids? Well, they actually do get together someplace unusual: the bedroom of Kendall’s daughter, Sophie. (Roman, feigning shock after Ken calls his siblings to her room: “He remembered his kid’s name.”)
Once Roman, Siobhan and (surprisingly) Connor are huddled up, Kendall makes his pitch, with buzzwords flying around the room. His argument is a mix of the self-righteous and the pragmatic. On the one hand, he tries to hold himself up as the family’s noble truth-teller, finally calling for an end to decades of privileged, exploitative, chauvinist “vibes” at Waystar. He applies the most pressure to Shiv, getting under her skin by saying he’s doing what she failed to do as the Roy’s “token woman wonk woke snowflake.” “Right now, I’m the real you,” he needles.
But Kendall also makes a persuasive case that the only way for the Roy children to save Waystar and to hold onto to any kind of sociopolitical clout is to oust Logan, who is weak enough right now that a unified front from his sons and daughter could finish him.
Indeed, we see signs of Logan struggling throughout this episode. Last week, he was ordering his team to retain three “white shoe” law firms and to get a bunch of the other top attorneys tied up with conflicts of interest. This week, Logan has trouble getting anyone from his family to check in — with the exception of his wife, Marcia (Hiam Abbass), who comes back in part because she hates his kids and would love to help destroy Ken.
And then there’s this: On their own, the younger Roys appear to be flailing. Although Siobhan pretends to keep her husband in the loop, he has to hear from Greg that she has sneaked away to Kendall’s ex’s apartment. She unconvincingly reminds Tom that she loves him — and he responds in kind, adding, “Good to know we don’t have an unbalanced love portfolio” — but she hesitates to tell him anything about who’s in line to become Waystar’s new “King Potato.” And when she finally does return to Logan, he promises to give her a fancy corporate title of “president” that can mean “whatever you want it to mean” … which, in Logan-speak, means it’ll probably be meaningless.
Even more pathetically, Roman gets a similar runaround from Gerri. When he shows up at her new Waystar chief executive office, cracking his usual bad-boy jokes about how she chained herself “to a fire hydrant that spews out cultural insensitivity and sperms,” she quickly hustles him right back out the door. She offers him vague assurances that she plans to start working him into the quarterly earning calls “as a signal,” though it seems fairly obvious that the newly empowered Gerri is in no hurry to cede anything to Roman, of all people.
Kendall certainly sounds sure of himself. But as we’re reminded in a couple of key scenes while he is away from his siblings, he is still beholden to Waystar’s insurgent board members, Stewy (Arian Moayed) and Sandy, who poke at him by sending a model of a Trojan horse to his wife’s apartment. And as Ken is urgently trying to chart a bold course for Waystar’s future, his lawyer is trying to get him to focus on the Brightstar scandal and his potential legal liabilities.
As for Connor … well, he’s Connor. He seems to answer Kendall’s request for a meeting in part because he is happy to be included and in part because Logan made him fly home on a disappointing international flight with “a selection of heavily refrigerated cheeses.” Why did Ken want Connor to be a part of this? It may be because he’s less interested in securing Waystar’s legacy than he is in humiliating his father in their big game by taking all of his pieces of the board.
Still, there are two problems with Kendall’s “we’re all in this together” plan. For one, he still thinks it makes the most sense for him to be the one sitting at the head of the table after the coup, and neither Siobhan nor Roman agree. Two, they’re all terrified of Logan — who rattles them when he sends a box of doughnuts to their “secret” meeting. “I don’t think he ever fails or ever will,” Roman admits.
One by one, the siblings file out, each taking an insult from Ken with them. First Connor is out (“You’re irrelevant”), then Roman (“You’re a moron”) and then Shiv, who is told she has gotten this far only because “girls count double now” … thus revealing just how committed Kendall really is to “changing the cultural climate.”
Yet during all of this running around behind other people’s backs — “Judasing,” as Kendall calls it — the person who may ultimately hold the key to everyone’s future is absent. Greg, who confesses to Ken his wariness, saying “I’m kind of too young to be in congress so much,” rejects Waystar’s chosen lawyer and takes advice from his moralizing grandfather, Ewan Roy (James Cromwell), a man who considers Ken to be “a self-regarding popinjay.” They end up in the office of an old left-wing lawyer (played by Peter Riegert), who tells Greg that his two priorities will be his client’s well-being and to “expose the structural contradictions of capitalism as reified in the architecture of corporate America.”
In a way, this is exactly what Kendall wants to do. That is, if he actually believes all the words that keep tumbling, endlessly, out of his mouth.
Logan is insistent on having familiar faces around him and all but demands that his inner circle bring Marcia back into the fold. As Hugo eventually explains to her, “We would love to get back, visually, to the Logan we all know.” Marcia’s lawyer, though, lets Hugo know this will be a costly return — albeit less expensive or embarrassing than a divorce and a corporate board breakup.
Perhaps in reaction to his humiliating phone call with Logan last week, Roman goes full brat in this episode, making inappropriate comments to Gerri (“How are your daughters? You got pictures?”) and responding to Kendall’s request that he not touch anything in Sophie’s room by immediately putting his hands near various objects on her dresser.
Something about Roman’s presence brings out the brat in Shiv, too. As Kendall pontificates about how Waystar is “a declining empire inside of a declining empire,” she interjects with, “Unsubscribe.” Then she hits Roman where he lives, suggesting that he can’t keep preening around like a stud unless he’s willing to, y’know, consummate. (When he storms out, Shiv shrugs. “It’s not my fault he has a sex thing.”)
File this away for later: Marcia reminds Logan that he has damaging dirt on Kendall. He waves off that advice, saying, “You drop some bombs, you get burnt too.” But if Logan starts to lose, badly? It could be time for the nuclear option.