Bird Of Prey director Cathy Yan tempers Succession’s frenzied style in “The Disruption” – The A.V. Club

Jeremy Strong, Fisher Stevens, and Dagmara Dominczyk star in Succession

Jeremy Strong, Fisher Stevens, and Dagmara Dominczyk star in Succession
Photo: Macall B. Polay/HBO

No one hurts you like the people who say they love you. But does the Roy family actually love each other? “The Disruption” makes you wonder. The Roys have always tried to present a unified front, with the children having a duty to uphold. If Logan needs them, they’re there—before Congress, at the Pierces’ estate, on the yacht, in Dundee, at the summer house—and the impression has always been one of captives equally driven by affection, responsibility, and fear. There is some commonality in how Connor, Kendall, Shiv, and Roman feel about Logan. But how they feel about each other—well, that’s trickier, and “The Disruption” ends with a line drawn in the sand that is really more like a schism.

Over two-plus seasons, we’ve gotten a better sense of how the Roys might genuinely feel each other, and it’s competitive and commiserating, but it’s always private. They talk a big game to each other and about each other, but it doesn’t leak outward. Last season, Roman and Kendall laughed at Shiv’s memo, everyone made fun of Connor for bankrolling Willa’s play, and Roman’s sex stuff was an open secret—but the Roy children didn’t really use the press against each other.

So far in this season, until “The Disruption,” that continued to be the case. Roman tells Logan to throw Kendall under the bus, but in a private brainstorming session. Kendall yells at Shiv about her teats, but in another private brainstorming session. The media and the public know that the Roys are fighting, and know that the Roys are a mess, and know that Kendall and Logan are on opposing sides. But Kendall vs. Shiv? That is an all-new wrinkle, and it is dark.

“The Disruption” is directed by Cathy Yan with a slight, but effective, tempering of the series’ house style. Less-aggressive zooms, fewer round-robin-style edits to capture everyone’s reactions, and a longer hold on certain compositions that purposefully mirrored their subjects helped slow down the episode in scenes that needed a certain sense of melancholy. I’m thinking particularly of the Committee for the Protection and Welfare of Journalists awards dinner, and that steady mid-range closeup first on Shiv as she challenged Kendall, then on Kendall when he told her she was the new him, and then a step back to show them together, with Shiv’s shock and Kendall’s weariness. Or how Yan tracked Kendall as he made his way into one of the server rooms of The Disruption With Sophie Iwobi show, slid down the wall, and sat in his own misery—ghosting the late-night host (played winkingly by Ziwe Fumudoh) with whom he had become so obsessed.

“The Disruption” both visually and narratively builds on the intimacy and familiarity between the siblings in “Mass In Time Of War,” and then explodes it all outward. How much longer can this feud really last when two of four siblings are already throwing bombs? Is Roman going to come out on top of this thing?

Honestly, Roman does seem the most reasonable right now. He’s working overtime to learn more about what Gerri does, to Logan’s slight surprise. He’s subtly sticking up for her against new President of Domestic Operations Shiv. When Shiv refuses to go on the record sharing some positive memories of her childhood with Daddy Roy, Roman steps up. Did it break my heart a little bit that the story he told about going fishing was something Connor actually did for him? Of course! The Roman/Logan dynamic is so toxic and sad and strange, with Logan using homophobic mocking against his own son who did him a favor by saying he loved him. I know that Jesse Armstrong has said seasons aren’t built around specific characters, but I don’t entirely buy that, and I would want a Roman-centered season very badly! Give it to us!

Until then, we’re caught in Kendall’s spiral of ego, narcissism, martyrdom, the whole bit. Is Kendall doing anything to, say, change Waystar Royco culture right now? Or help the FBI? Or even help Lisa, his lawyer? No, no, and not really, no. Instead, Kendall is interested only in a press war, and most primarily, what the press thinks of him. “You’re quite concerned with how you’re gonna come across,” says the reporter with whom he has lunch, and for all that Kendall insists otherwise (“I’m just really happy in my headspace and I hope they’re happy in theirs”), of course he is.

That’s why he’s back with Naomi, with the two of them bringing out the worst in each other, and that’s why he’s making a different nightclub or restaurant appearance each night, and that’s why he’s pandering to photographers with “Fuck the patriarchy!”, and that’s why he’s playing Good Tweet, Bad Tweet, and that’s why he’s watching The Disruption With Sophie Iwobi every night to see whether she tore him a new one about his Caucasian rich brain.

Kendall is simultaneously treating everything with deathly seriousness and trying to dampen his detractors by acting like all of this is a joke, and that dichotomy is untenable. He has never been the cool guy, as much as he attempts to project that over and over. The guy in the basement of Waystar Royco doesn’t understand why Kendall is talking to him; the writers on The Disruption are turned off by his faux “come at me, bro” insistence; that security guy unnerves him with his “I know you”; Iwobi is relentless in her mockery of Kendall’s try-hard tweets and gang signs. And maybe I would feel more sympathetic toward him if he hadn’t walked back on buying Greg that $40,000 watch or if he hadn’t pulled that “Rape Me” stunt at Waystar Royco, sabotaging Shiv’s first major appearance with Nirvana’s 1993 single.

Kendall really thinks he is the good guy, but is this what a good guy does to a sibling that he recognizes as being the new version of him? And as newly returned Nate (hello, Ashley Zukerman!) knows, scorched-earth Shiv is no joke. The fact that she goes ahead with releasing that statement attacking Kendall (“Our hopes for his recovery were misplaced”) even though Roman and Connor refused to sign it (“This would be out there, like, forever”) alongside her is a real turning point, I think, and an alignment from Shiv toward Logan that I’m not sure is entirely the right move.

I guess she must really believe Logan when he says he didn’t know what was going on at cruises, and that she “will not find a piece of paper that makes you ashamed of me.” Is it easier for Shiv to trust Logan because Tom offers to go to his prison in his stead? And why is Tom doing this? I really thought Tom was going to pull out a recording device after making that offer to a pleasantly surprised Logan, but I guess calling a law firm to get representation outside of Waystar Royco is a deliberate move of its own. Is there a world in which Kendall and Tom team up? Could “Another life is possible, brother” work?

Maybe, because the FBI raid of Waystar Royco is no joke. Gerri had told Logan to tread carefully around senior White House aide Michelle-Anne Vanderhoven (Linda Emond), with whom Gerri had spoken during this season’s premiere episode. But instead, the conversation Logan and Michelle-Anne had, which was very much a quid pro quo, tipped off the Department of Justice, and Kendall had been pushing Lisa to encourage the DOJ to act anyway. So while everyone but Shiv is working late, and while Tom is hosting a dinner for ATN advertisers, the FBI knocks, and Logan acquiesces.

The relieved reactions from Gerri, Roman, Frank, et al. to “We’re cooperating” were quite telling—I’m not sure how many of these people think Logan could survive this. “Trust and reconciliation,” Shiv had asked of Kendall, but that might be a tall order now. Not when he’s hiding in closets and smiling at his family’s misfortune, and not when President Shiv isn’t in the Waystar Royco building when it matters. So once again, I ask: Is Roman going to come out on top of this?

Stray observations 

  • Despite what Iwobi says, I guess Shiv is no longer “the fucking nice one.”
  • I simply do not understand how Kendall’s guy was able to procure that shopping list of audio equipment and surreptitiously set it up around the area where Shiv was giving her speech. At first I thought maybe they had just hacked into the sound system, but then we saw Kendall’s office full of discarded speaker boxes. I think the former option would have made more sense, because wouldn’t someone have noticed Kendall’s guy hustling in all this stuff and distributing it? Wouldn’t Kendall, and anyone affiliated with him, have had security on them at all times?
  • I have increasingly come to believe that Connor has the best gig of any of the Roys. Everyone else thinks he’s a moron, so he has no responsibility at Waystar Royco. The media isn’t really interested in him, so he could just chill in the desert doing his own thing. His presidential run and inflated sense of self are obviously both bad, but maybe being the sibling no one takes seriously is sort of freeing!
  • Kendall claiming to care about the safety and wellbeing of all the women negatively affected at cruises, but then casually using the phrase “Open the kimono”… not great.
  • Was the “I know you” security guy involved in covering up either Kendall’s Shiv’s-wedding-night catastrophe or his bodega shoplifting? The screener episode HBO provided did not have end credits, so I couldn’t determine whether the actor has appeared on Succession before, but that would be a good nod to past bad behavior from Kendall.
  • Something else that is untenable: Greg, leggy princeling of ATN, playing all three sides of every situation! Partying with Kendall, spilling to Tom that Kendall is coming into the office, and retaining his personal lawyer as hired by Uncle Ewan. Per usual, impossible to tell if Greg is foolish or a genius.
  • J. Smith-Cameron was absolutely great in every scene with Brian Cox this episode, in particular her increasingly pointed “Everybody cooperates” argument. But do I think Gerri single-handedly persuaded Logan to finally play ball with the FBI? No, I think Tom offering his head up for the chopping block was the key motivator there, and we’ll see how that goes.
  • “He’s bootleg Ross with a Daddy complex” is a perfect tweet.
  • Marcia’s exuberant hello to Shiv, so different from her normal frostiness, was a perfect little reminder that Marcia is getting paid, and the irritations caused by the Roy children no longer really matter to her.
  • Logan’s insults for Kendall include “rat” and “a fucking hamburger.” Not his best work, IMHO. Same goes for Shiv spitting in what I assume is Kendall’s notepad/journal. Spit in his face if you really want to mean it!

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