Succession recap: ‘Lifeboats’ focuses on high-rise deviancy and shark-infested waters


By Succession’s 3rd episode, “Lifeboats,” media conglomerate Waystar Royco is in over its head. Can Kendall Roy save it? Also, should it be saved?

So far in the HBO series, little attention has been paid to the actual content of Waystar Royco’s media empire. Now, this could be seen as a drawback for Succession or an accurate demonstration of how media empires function.

So much attention is paid to the corporate dynamics involved — including stock market-impacting family drama — that questions of product quality almost become an aside.

Waystar Royco perfectly represents this. As media corporations merge, the capacity for unique, quality content is sometimes “merged” out of it, and people are left with the lowest common denominator.

If a company takes too many risks, it can start losing profit, which is the crisis facing the Roys. Their family is their business, and the business is gross!

Related Story: Succession episode 2 recap: ‘S*** Show at the F*** Factory’

More from HBO

Hulk or Bruce Banner?

One of the funniest lines of Lifeboats comes from Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong), who asks if he should behave more like the Hulk or Bruce Banner. Poor Kendall comes off as someone struggling for direction and paints his strategic behavior in outlandish comic books terms.

Why? It’s not that Kendall’s just a man-child (though that’s close). No, it’s because his high-powered family is not particularly natural or normal. Things can best be understood in ridiculous, childish and unsophisticated ways. Hence, it’s either “Hulk smash!” or, “I’ll actually behave normally and intelligently.”

The Roy Ascendancy and High-Rise Deviancy

Like his brother Kendall, Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) shows signs of being a normal human. However, it’s clear that his ego’s getting the best of him.

During one point, Roman pulls down the shades in his office, looks out of his window at the world below, and engages in some — well, let’s just say “frenzied activity” with himself. It’s a memorable moment, but something a normal person might turn away from in disgust.

Obviously, though, this is something critics of power suspect all along. It’s easy to imagine men in high offices looking down on all the man-sized ants.

Still, an interesting question is, if you were in Roman’s shoes, would you feel any differently? Would you not look down from your high tower and say, “I could crush you all!”? If not, why would you want so much power to begin with?

When Roman calls himself an “agent of change,” it’s not in a cheerful, uplifting way. He immediately cites his ability to fire people!

He jokes about firing his personal trainer, and when business consultant Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) mentions layoffs, Roman says, “Yum yum, blood! Shirts off sh**!” (NOTE: The “shirts off” comment refers to Roman’s idea of loosening up — removing one’s shirt — and getting primal.)

In fact, Roman’s not alone in demonstrating lust for power on Succession. Kendall cites his power as “The Man” to get back with his wife, Rava Roy (Natalie Gold) — while making love, he asserts they’re getting back together, while she insists they are not.

Then, of course, you have the episode’s most disturbing moment, when bed-ridden Logan Roy (Brian Cox) tells his daughter Shiv (Sarah Snook) that he loves her, then guides her hand lower toward his no-no place. It’s definitely one of Succession‘s darkest moments yet, and it’s unclear that Logan isn’t in his right mind after his stroke.

Circling Sharks, Kendall The Incredible Hulk & The Unbreakable Debt Covenant

What exactly is the problem facing Waystar Royco? They owe over 3 billion dollars to a bank, who they’ve established a “debt covenant” with. If their stock price drops below a certain percentage, the bank will demand debt repayment in full.

This is where Kendall drops his Banner and picks up his Hulk! So, how can I put this while keeping it semi-PG? Kendall tells the bank guy to self-gratify himself and go away. The banker hangs up on him and things look pretty dire. At one point, Shiv says, “Call me if you go to Lehman. I might want some of these chairs.”

Rather than completely withdrawing or panicking, Kendall offers an inspiring speech at a company meeting. He refers to each arm of Royco as a lifeboat or a way of fleeing their sinking ship before it strikes the proverbial iceberg. He refers to competition as “monopolistic disrupters” and calls those watching Waystar Royco programs as their “armada of eyeballs.”

In other words, he pressures all these lifeboats to provide quality, engaging entertainment, so the company can forge ahead under a changed scenario. The meeting is a success, but it hardly changes everything. In fact, it’s mostly done to keep up appearances.

As the lifeboats analogy suggests, it’s still sink-or-swim, and sharks are beginning to circle — and they’re not Royco brand sharks. When one corporate shark is spotted,

Gerri tells Kendall, “Your father would have shot him on sight!” Although Kendall shakes fins with this shark, named Sandy Furness (Larry Pine), it’s only to conceal the blood in the water.

Stewy — Kendall’s Coked Up Private Equity Life Preserver

To avoid drowning and to fend off corporate predators, Kendall calls upon his college buddy, Stewy (Arian Moayed). While doing so, Kendall almost merges his Hulk with his Bruce Banner.

He unabashedly refers to Stewy as a private equity “parasite,” but he becomes amicable with his coked-up ally, assuring him that a 3 billion-or-so deal is beneficial for both parties. So yes, Kendall strikes a deal with someone who snorted a bunch of coke, but he’s a last-option coke fiend for such troubled waters.

Unfortunately, toward the episode’s finish, Greg (Nicholas Braun) — who is a Roy in all but his name — sees Stewy speaking with Sandy Furness. The obvious implication?

Stewy may be an extension of Sandy, and Sandy is a shark that Logan Roy would have shot on sight. Stewy may bring Sandy into Royco’s lifeboats, so he can devour them one by one. This may be why, toward the episode’s very end, Kendall’s disgusting father calls him a “****ing idiot.”

Will a Rising Greg Lift All Boats?

I’ve seen it suggested that Greg may become the leader of Waystar Royco, simply because he is incredibly persistent in getting Royco’s attention. His witnessing Sandy and Stewy may be his big key to get in. While his trustworthiness could be seen as weakness, it may just be his vital strength — and injection of purity into otherwise impure waters.

In contrast to Greg’s apparent trusting nature, Shiv meets a P.I. to do a background check on her stepmother (Hiam Abbass), who is being highly protective of the recovering Logan. Someone like Greg could take things down a notch.

Next: Succession season 1, episode 4 recap: ‘Sad Sack Wasp Trap’

Also, Greg knows what it’s like to be poor. Not only isn’t he a billionaire, but his poverty is made clear every time we see him. In Lifeboats, Greg uses unused dog poo bags to store food, assuring a disgusted Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) that the bag makers don’t “pre-poop” them, so they’re safe.

In other words, Greg can tap into experiences the other Roys can’t. It may give him a unique perspective and edge on Succession.

What are your thoughts on this episode of Succession? Let us know in the comments!