Have you gathered your friends and family to play the hot new game Boar on the Floor yet? Get your sausages ready, so that you can give it a whirl at your Labor Day cookouts and whatnot.
Since the end of Succession’s first season, Logan Roy has really regained his strength — if not his sanity — and “Hunting” is a masterclass in how to be a terrifying business asshole who can make large groups of people go along with a plan they know is ill-advised. It’s a very important skill for powerful capitalists to have, which is how you know capitalism is a great system that works.
The episode’s centerpiece finds Logan locking his “top minds” in the dining room of a Hungarian castle for some morale-boosting and psychological torture, culminating in an improvised game that forces adult men to act like pigs and wrestle for hot dogs. In the logic of the game, Logan’s employees are eating themselves.
What’s most impressive about this horrible display is the sheer control that Logan has over the people around him. Everyone believes — but pointedly won’t agree — that Logan’s determination to buy rival media corporation PGM (a vague combination of MSNBC and the New York Times) is an ego-driven folly, like the kind of folly the world “folly” was invented for, but absolutely no one who works at Waystar-Royco will stand behind that opinion for more than 15 seconds.
While it should theoretically be easy for 13 or so people to convince one man to abandon a nakedly horrible idea, Logan is very, very loud when he wants to be. And so, a room full of people who actually want the same thing can be reduced not only to silence and lying but to complete and total debasement by the power of a little corporate yelling. Intimidation! It works!
Below, Vox critic at large Emily VanDerWerff and The Goods senior editor Meredith Haggerty discuss the six winners and five losers of “Hunting.”
Winner: Shiv Roy and her wonderful hair
Emily: Shiv remains confident that Logan really meant all that stuff he said about naming her as his successor, even though she stars on a show whose literal premise is “this guy can’t choose a successor, and everybody loses it as a result.” But because he is still keeping her at arm’s length, she is one of the few characters who doesn’t have to take part in Boar on the Floor.
Instead, while almost every other member of the Roy family attends the Waystar-Royco corporate retreat, she hangs out with Connor’s girlfriend/future first lady Willa then gets laid by a very hot, very dumb man. Good work, Shiv!
If you are a Shiv fan (as I believe we both are, Meredith), “Hunting” is such a good episode for her and for the incomparable Sarah Snook. But it has left me terrified of whatever the rest of the season holds for Shiv, because you can’t be a TV character and have a hot streak like this one without some terrifying karmic justice waiting just up ahead. So, in that sense, Shiv may have lost by winning so much.
But in another sense, Shiv is awesome. She rejects Connor’s offer to run his campaign with, like, 15 different variations on the word “no,” each somehow funnier than the last. And in expressing her concern over the thought of Waystar-Royco gobbling up PGM, she makes the best defense of the news media I’ve heard in a while: “At some point, someone actually has to keep track of what’s going on in the world, who went where, and who wore a hat.”
As you noted, Meredith, before we started working on this recap — and as I hope you’ll talk about more — Shiv’s occasional, very slight stabs at morality are fascinating. It’s clear that Logan would name her as a successor precisely because she’s not a completely horrible person, but now that she thinks she might take over Waystar-Royco she’s becoming the sort of striver her brothers are, which is to say one who believes morals are strictly optional, when you have the luxury of choosing.
Like, yes, she has an open marriage, theoretically, because she demanded one, but she also doesn’t bother telling Tom she slept with someone else, sort of a core tenet of an open marriage. She’s just as bad as the rest of ‘em, and if you think otherwise (and oh I do sometimes), Succession is always ready to remind you of her fundamental Roy-ness.
Shiv’s hair update: It’s still great.
Meredith: Oh I sure will be talking about Shiv’s slight stabs at morality!
I should admit that I have suffered tragically in the past from what is sometimes known as “you go girl” syndrome, which causes me to ascribe positive intentions to gal television characters’ normal behavior, cheer their bad actions as a form of uh, feminism?, and lose my goddamn mind with praise when they do something actually good.
Because Shiv is young and a woman and has a sort of liberal aesthetic, she sort of backs into what I consider ethical positions a lot of the time. They benefit her! (Other times, she leans into morality because she wants to piss off her dad, a familiar animating force to many daughters of fathers.) She has good takes, often, but that doesn’t make her an authentically good person.
But her concern for “where [she’ll] get [her] fucking news” if Logan buys PGM is both terrifying (as she says, it’s down to “the Times, the Post, editors at Pierce, and a couple hundred angry young women on Twitter, and that’s about it”) and heartening (from a Shiv-loving perspective). I felt like she meant it, like she might actually believe in, eek, truth.
We know (we know we know we know) that Shiv will abandon all principle if Logan so much as delays a phone call, but she did manage to be the only person firm in her conviction that the PGM acquisition is a bad idea. Not that she said as much to Logan, but hey, that’s what that “guy who works for her” is for. (See, I know when she’s bad!)
She had a great episode! She got to bang it out with the 18th lead from that Netflix show What/If, and as you said, Emily, her conversation with Connor was devastatingly perfect, and another instance where she was sharply correct (even Connor had to admit she was right that there was a logistical flaw in his posture of looking down at elites). Of course, her machinations are more about not embarrassing the family than saving the country from a disastrous president, but when you’re right, you’re right. The angry young women of Twitter salute you.
Loser: Roman, the boar on the floor
Meredith: Oh my, did Roman have a tough episode. As he said himself, he’s doing “pretty awful.” Logan called him a moron!
The baby Roy boy screwed up dad’s big deal, continues to be the only person who hasn’t screwed Tabitha, and got screwed by Kendall, of all people. Tricked! Plus, his enemy Frank is back as his “fucking babysitter,” and he might have to do management training and learn what milk costs to make his dad like him again. Which, how could he be expected to know what milk costs? (“You know who drinks milk? Kittens and perverts.”)
Of course, he had amazing lines in this episode (i.e. calling Logan a “human Saudi Arabia”), but his funniest moments concerned the recurring theme of “basic person shit Roman doesn’t know or care about,” including the plot of Hamlet. While normally he’s proud of his ignorance, it’s becoming a liability.
Roman is an evil favorite, but it’s fun to see him down after a run of episodes where he got to whale on Kendall. For once, the daddy issues are on the other foot. He’s never known what his place at the company is or what a job actually is, but he’s rarely been the actual reason for a huge mistake (well, if you don’t count that bungled rocket launch. I don’t think he does). I for one hope he stays the black sheep a little longer.
Emily: I really think Roman believed he could sort of coast along on saying what he thought his dad wanted him to say, then wait for all his other siblings to implode.
Perhaps the most telling moment of this whole show to date came when Roman backed off of voting for Kendall’s ploy to oust Logan as the head of Waystar-Royco, back in the sixth episode of season one. He started to support his brother, but then his dad (who shouldn’t even have been in the meeting) barked at him, and he backed off.
Put another way: Roman knows he’s a loser, but he also thinks he can win the whole game by losing the least. And, like, maybe? But “Hunting” reveals the limits of that approach, as his snide dismissals of basically everything, but whatever his dad might start to haunt him.
I’m actually not the biggest fan of the Boar on the Floor scene. Like, it’s great, because everything on this show is great, but it also feels slightly unbelievable to me — these people will really do all of this because Logan told them to? I mean, yeah. That’s how wealth works. But it’s a scene that goes from zero to 60 when it maybe could have tapered off at 50.
Still: Getting outsmarted by Kendall has to sting. Roman has had way better weeks. Fortunately for him, there’s nowhere to go but up.
Loser: Tom, bad at oinking
Emily: When several folks earnestly doubt the necessity of Waystar-Royco buying PGM, who do they take their concerns to? Good ol’ Tom Wambsgans, who promptly starts freaking out both at the prospect of having to prove he has a spine and the possibility that, by not doing so, he will effectively be outing himself as someone without a spine. Also, ultimately, he doesn’t really care about whether Waystar buys PGM; he just wants to keep rising through the ranks of the company. But he also knows that by only caring about that, he really is being spineless. And everybody else knows it, too.
So he does the worst possible thing and tells Logan he’s going to say a thing that Logan will disagree with, but Tom doesn’t, like, actually mean it. Things deteriorate from there, and the dark comic climax of “Hunting” sees Tom plaintively whining that he’s just not very good at oinking.
And then he gets home, and Shiv is lying to him, and you can sort of tell he knows she’s not telling him everything that happened, but he just has to roll with it. He’s had a taste of power. He will never be the boar on the floor again*!
*Tom will absolutely be the boar on the floor again.
Winner: Cousin Greg, vs. good at oinking
Meredith: Greg has some extremely close calls in “Hunting” but, a little light pig play aside, he comes out of the retreat shockingly unscathed. Which is basically a miracle! After all, Greg believes he is the (semi-accidentalish) source for Logan’s unauthorized biographer — the source that Logan has vowed to demolish in violent and horrifying ways. And he shares that information with his best buddy Tom Wambsgans (“of course, you can trust me, to a point”), who then immediately finds himself in a position where turning on Greg seems like a smart move. For a while there, it seemed like our angel might end the episode with his head on a spike.
But in the kindest act in all of Succession, Tom doesn’t give Greg up (at least not yet) and even gives him a little hand squeeze! It’s so sweet?? And a (dead) mole is found, giving Greg some breathing room on that whole “betrayal” thing.
Plus, he gets to ride on a private plane, which makes him feel like he’s a very “white, wealthy band” like U2, and he is by far the best at the hog sounds portion of Boar on the Floor. (Karl, you can’t just SAY “oink!”)
Meredith: Gerri literally wins this episode: She is the only Boar on the Floor player to not end up on the floor.
As Kendall says, Gerri is playing both sides of the “buying PGM” debate (aka, Logan Roy vs. Everybody). Her propensity for doing so is what makes her so skilled at her job, which is evident by the fact she still has a job at all; she has hung on at this nightmare company.
Part of why Gerri has endured is that she looks like a voice of reason — for one thing, she wears shawls — and this perception is bolstered by her ability to state unpleasant-to-Logan facts without getting in too much trouble for it, like pointing out that PGM called Waystar-Royco “cultural vandals” who are “poison in the well of public discourse” and admitting that she has doubts about the acquisition. But these are moves of self-preservation, honesty deployed strategically to look like usefulness. She would never, ever consider doing something Logan didn’t want just because it’s “right” or “makes sense.” Gerri is amazing at creeping up to the line of dissent without ever actually crossing it, and she has possibly never expressed her actual opinion in words. Skills!
Also, Roman and a bunch of 90-year-old men still think she’s something to pounce at. I agree!
Meredith: My personal opinions about hunting aside, the sport of kings looks goofy as hell in this episode. If anyone is truly impressed by the virility of rich dudes in winter hats shooting corralled boars in a controlled environment, well, go off, I guess.
The care taken to ensure these hunters avoid harm or even disappointment is laughable; even Tom calls the outing “shooting pigs in a barrel.” You just know that ATN is the kind of network that goes on about participation trophies — sounds like a perfectly ironic Roman burn, actually — and these are basically participation corpses. The T-ball of animal murder.
And the post-hunt photoshoot gave me distinct Don Jr. vibes.
Winner: Animal metaphors
Emily: When those boars traipsed through the Roys’ shooting range, coaxed by the hunting guides, my wife joked, “How many TV critics’ recaps are going to have something about 30 to 50 feral hogs in them?” And, look, I’m trying to seem cool by hanging a neon sign on my reference to the feral hogs, but c’mon. It’s right there.
With that said, wild boars are a pretty neat way to underline much of this season’s commentary on how insulated the Roys are. Just eating regular old bacon or sausage wouldn’t be exotic enough for them. It has to be wild game. But they also don’t want to go to the trouble of hunting. They want the animals trotted right in front of them to shoot at. The boars exist only to play a subsidiary role in the story of the Roys, and they think that’s just dandy.
It’s not an experience. It’s a simulacrum of an experience designed to make this family think it’s badass. Sounds about right.
Meredith: Logan drags his former COO (and Kendall’s godfather) back into the Waystar-Royco fray to help woo the Pierce family, and all it takes to get him comfortable is an invitation to Hungary and a watch inscribed with a line from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses” (which is, as you pointed out to me, Emily, the same poem Frasier uses to end his final radio show — blowhards gonna blow hard).
But Frank’s loser status is confirmed when Logan turns on him instantly, setting him up to make a drunken toast about “old friends” and then asking him why he came. (“You invited me,” Frank says.) Going by the “last one in, first one out” standard, Frank is first on Logan’s verbal chopping block; he accuses Frank of being a spy, calls him a “creep,” reveals to the table that Frank failed to secure a series of post-Waystar jobs. His vineyard was “a write-off” and his “trophy girlfriend is sucking some waiter’s dick in Palermo.”
But that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is that after all that, and a pretty weak apology, Frank ends the episode still thinking about returning to his old job. After all, he needs money to kill a guy in Palermo.
Winner: The publishing industry
Emily: As Gerri points out, there is still not a way, in this country, to stop a book from being published just because Logan doesn’t want it to be published. And not only is that book being written, but character actress superstar Jessica Hecht is writing it. It might be unauthorized, and it might be salacious (it’ll probably be salacious, knowing this family), but at least some version of the truth will be making its way out there.
I love how rarely Succession pretends the Roys have any reason for wanting positive media coverage beyond “it would make them sad if they didn’t have it.” Logan Roy still has the most in common with Rupert Murdoch and other media moguls, but perhaps his most Trumpian element is just how much he likes reading people saying nice things about him in the newspaper.
Suffice to say, this book will not be that. The publishing industry! Pulling out a come-from-behind-win!
Loser: The news
Emily: Shiv’s date doesn’t pay attention to the news, he says. “Comedians are the real news,” he adds with great eagerness before she silences him by kissing him. In the world of Succession, as in our own, it’s time to pour one out for the news.
Meredith: Somebody’s getting something out of Connor Roy’s truly amazing campaign video, and those somebodies are the late-night talk show hosts of the Successionverse. From his use of “ranch” as a verb to the flawless line “ding dong, it’s Uncle Sam. Oh, and where’s his hand? In my pants,” Succession Stephen Colbert and Succession Hasan Minhaj and Succession people who are really fast on Twitter are in luck. Connor’s platform is all about eliminating taxes, a galling position from a man who has never done any work, and his invitation for the government to come to arrest him for non-payment is the stuff of political cartoons and SNL cold opens. Picture Succession Mikey Day playing him in the jumpsuit! You love to see it!