7:00pm PT by Katie Kilkenny
How 'Succession's' Love Affairs Mirror the Ephemeral Partnerships of Real-Life Media Moguls
[This story contains spoilers from the "Return" episode of HBO's Succession.]
All's fair in love and war in the latest episode of Succession.
In the aftermath of Waystar Royco's failure to acquire rival media company PGM, Logan Roy's (Brian Cox) ally in the latter company, former CEO Rhea Jarrell (Holly Hunter), has stuck around in a big way. In the seventh episode of the HBO one-percent drama, "Return," the ousted PGM exec shows up on Logan's private jet nominally to offer him advice but, as his children suspect, her guidance soon transitions into a romance and deeper professional partnership. If Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roy (Kieran Culkin) and Shiv (Sarah Snook) are at first amused by Logan's new flame, by the end of the episode Shiv sounds the alarm that Rhea may be undermining the children's claim to succeed Logan at Waystar — and she isn't wrong.
While Succession has refracted the lives of several high-powered moguls and their children — primarily the Murdochs and Redstones, though with echoes of the Trumps and Maxwells, among others — since its premiere, "Return" tackles, in particular, these titans' significant others: how they insert themselves into dynasties, the threats they pose to their children and their own ephemerality as contingent power brokers.
"Return" focuses on three women who have flitted in and out of Logan's life over the past few decades, including his second wife Caroline Collingwood (Harriet Walter), third wife Marcia Roy (Hiam Abbass) and new fling Rhea. While Marcia and Logan have seemingly patched up their relationship since a spat in front of the Pierce family in the season's fifth episode, Logan, having doubts about all of his children's viability as successors, seeks Rhea's company for advice and seemingly to enjoy the company of an equal in business acumen and savagery. "Logan, particularly with the Holly Hunter character, likes strong women," Cox explained in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter about the sixth episode.
Almost immediately, Rhea begins seeding doubt about all of his children's suitability: "Shiv thinks she's smarter than she is. Roman could actually be good but nowhere near right now," she starts. "Kendall, I don't know, it's like you put him in a big-kid diaper and he can shit himself whenever he likes. He has all the shots but he doesn't know when to play them." Rhea particularly savages Shiv, to whom Logan has, most recently, promised his CEO seat: Rhea participates in a group mocking of a memo the younger Roy wrote to her father and, later, suggests Shiv put herself forward for the PGM CEO job as leverage to use against her father. The move backfires and gives Logan a reason to block his daughter from succeeding him once and for all.
"[It'd be] like a rhino fucking a hummingbird," Roman Roy, speculating on what it would look like for his father to romance Rhea, says at one point in the episode — but throughout it, Rhea proves that her size belies a gargantuan ambition.
Logan's relationships have always vaguely resembled those of News Corp founder Rupert Murdoch, who had a daughter with his first wife (like Logan had Alan Ruck's Connor with his) and three children with his second wife (à la Caroline; odds are Logan won't be having two children, as Murdoch did with third wife Wendi Deng, with Marcia). "Return" deepens these connections: In order to secure his ex-wife's shares of Waystar for an upcoming, threatening shareholder vote, Logan reopens Caroline's divorce settlement, making it ever-richer and recalling the reported $1.7 billion fortune Murdoch's second wife, Anna Torv, received upon their divorce.
Caroline, ever-savvy, stirs up some filial resentment when she asks Logan to choose between a prized piece of real estate and losing his children for Christmas, or vice versa, in the ensuing negotiations; Logan chooses keeping his Hamptons estate. But if Caroline attempts to pull her children's heart strings by complaining that they are constantly spending time with their father and that they have come to "screw" money out of her, the episode also suggests she isn't a very enthusiastic mother to begin with. When Kendall seeks her advice and comfort after he visits the home of a man he killed in a drugged-driving incident, she cuts him off before he gets started, suggests they talk in the morning and then hightails it out of her house before he wakes.
The hackles raised by Rhea in "Return" also recall how a distrust of Deng, in particular, united Murdoch's often sparring children, as a New York Times Magazine story published earlier this year on Murdoch's succession struggles, reported. The final moments of "Return" set up a battle between the children and their father's new girlfriend when Shiv calls Kendall on the family's private jet to air her concerns about Rhea. "I think I just got fucked," Shiv tells Kendall of her latest dealings with Rhea, where she calls the former exec a "problem."
The brewing battle between Shiv and Rhea also echoes the battles between Shari Redstone and Sumner Redstone's live-in girlfriends, Sydney Holland and Manuela Herzer, following Redstone's divorce from his second wife. While it remains to be seen how Shiv responds to Rhea's sabotage of her succession prospects, Shari, finding herself and her family out of favor with her father due to the influence of his girlfriends, enlisted his nurses to monitor their influence over him and performed a background check on his girlfriends to "have them pegged," according to Keach Hagey's 2018 biography The King of Content.
Unlike Redstone, Logan, post-stroke, seems stronger and more determined to maintain his control over Waystar Royco than ever. And in "Return," he makes clear that his extramarital and marital relationships, as well as his relationships with family members, are subordinate to his need for control. He may feel love for his family, but he also has no problem manipulating the language of loyalty and love to get what he wants. Right after telling off Shiv for testing the waters of a potential CEO position with PGM, saying she can "fuck off" if she doesn't understand the importance of family, he asks Rhea to look "further afield" than his children for a successor candidate and thanks her for giving him "ammunition" against Shiv. "I think I got the noose [off] from around my neck," he says.