This post contains spoilers for Succession 3.05, “Retired Janitors of Idaho.” Read our latest review here.
Succession is categorized as a drama even if the comedic elements are just as intrinsic to its acclaim. “Retired Janitors of Idaho” is a prime example of how deftly the show walks the farce line.
The day of the much-discussed annual shareholders meeting has arrived and the power structure has never been more precarious. Negotiations with Sandy (Larry Pine) and Stewie (Arian Moayed) have stalled at the eleventh hour, and if the matter goes to a shareholders vote, analysts are suggesting it is too close to call. It means that “retired janitors of Idaho” could decide whether Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is ousted from the board of Waystar Royco as faith in the Roy patriarch is low thanks to the FBI raid and his blood feud with Kendall (Jeremy Strong).
The proxy battle with Sandy and Stewie took on a new twist last week when Kendall and Logan failed to shore up investor Josh Aaronson (played with aplomb by guest star Adrian Brody) in a battle of the egos that saw both sides capitulate. Logan’s declining health is what Josh cited as a reason for his lack of confidence — or so Roman recounted to Kendall when he called to berate him — but the cheery manner in which Josh greeted Stewie suggests his reasons are more nuanced. The very first episode of season 1 ended with Logan in hospital, so it isn’t surprising that with his age and the stress of the job that more problems are racking up, which includes the UTI that almost leads to the downfall of the company this week.
When Logan mentions in passing that he needs the bathroom at the start of the episode it is this seemingly inconsequential line that becomes the driving force. His assistant Kerry (Zoë Winters) knows about the medication he should be taking, however, she is sent to keep an eye on the meeting. Kerry reminds Logan to take his pills but his bodyguard Colin (Scott Nicholson) hasn’t been informed and instead gives him Advil and then Tylenol when his state worsens. It is only when he asks Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) to take him to the bathroom for a second time that it becomes apparent his altered state is linked to his bladder issues. Tom is playing the dutiful son-in-law and along with offering to go to prison for the family he also volunteers to hold Logan’s “scepter” — if required. “Thanks, son” is Logan’s response and it would be a tender moment if his mind wasn’t clouded.
The first time they return from the bathroom is when Logan says no to the deal with Sandy and Stewie — or rather he answers “f*** ‘em” — and his belligerence levels are already high. When Tom leaves to take him once more, Logan chews Greg (Nicholas Braun) out for asking a simple question; the distance to the nearest bathroom is not helping his mood.
Another seed planted early on is when Logan is told the closest facilities are out of order and every time he returns a chair gets brought to him. When they return after a particularly painful “comfort break,” Logan mistakes Shiv (Sarah Snook) for his wife; a quick call to Kerry reveals the UTI diagnosis. No one gets why this is such an issue until Connor (Alan Ruck) quips that “Reagan had one and nearly nuked Belgium.” In older people, a UTI can lead to cognitive impairment and this explains a whole lot about Logan’s quick descent.
Calm minds do not initially prevail with Shiv quickly coining the term “piss mad” that everyone runs with — Roman (Kieran Culkin) turns this into poetry when he says “the demented f***ing piss mad king of England.” Logan is meant to be giving a speech but in this current state that will only lead to more headlines against the company patriarch. There is talk of “get the body up there” but don’t have him speak but this plan is quashed when Logan becomes convinced there is a dead cat under his chair.
In a triumph of bad timing, Kendall arrives to berate everyone about the negotiations with Sandy and Stewie at the exact moment the invisible dead cat is being removed. Scenes like this crank up the farce levels to the heights of Frasier’s “The Ski Lodge.” The look on Gerri’s (J. Smith-Cameron) face when Kendall yells at all of them for ruining everything — “I have fought and bled for” — is priceless.
While the majority of the action occurs in the Team Logan area, Kendall is trying to assert his power as the go-between, or rather the “puppet master” as he refers to himself. Yes, his cringe levels remain at an all-time high. Shiv’s disdain is palpable when she speaks to him. Kendall also tries to make a statement at the end of the meeting by listing the cruises victims and announcing a charity foundation, but it reads as self-serving and more material for late-night host Sophie Iwobi (Ziwe).
One of Kendall’s issues is he doesn’t know when to hold back and it doesn’t help that all of his leverage is slipping away. All he does, in the end, is alienate his family further. When he is summoned by his father for a meeting it is a cruel prank. Logan has already left the building and has no interest in talking to him — he goes so far as get Kerry to block Kendall’s number — and his cognitive function has returned.
Kendall isn’t the only one to experience his father’s wrath. While he gets the silent version, Shiv endures his temper in front of everyone. After saving the day by striking a deal with Sandy’s daughter Sandy (Hope Davis), Shiv’s superiority is cranked all the way up. Sure they had to give away a number of seats on the board — which they refused on the initial round of negotiations — and will have to eat the private jet usage, but this all pales in comparison to what they would’ve lost. Shiv attempts to flout the success while Logan is discussing the next moves with Gerri and he screams at her to “Stop buzzing in my f***ing ear!” Shiv makes a joke about him feeling better to break the tension, although she cannot hide the sting of rejection.
When Tom pulls her in for an embrace she initially shrugs him off and it reads as her not wanting to look bothered. Tom reads it as her still being annoyed by his horny approaches earlier and the fact he knows her fertility cycle. The hug is the act of a caring husband and yet it is hard to forget how at odds they continue to be on the fundamentals. It is inappropriate when he brings up the idea of her being pregnant if/when he goes to prison, which speaks to the deeper fault that they are never on the same page.
Seeing Logan’s warm gesture to Roman is another kick in the gut for Shiv, and he is currently in pole position for the favorite child. He fumbled a little with the call from the president while his dad was out of action, but this was never going to be a conversation he could win as the Raisin simply wants to tell them he isn’t going to run again. Their former ally is blaming Team Logan for portraying his neurological condition as worse than it is on ATN — we don’t know exactly what the issue is. They are losing their guaranteed access and this will likely dominate the forthcoming episodes.
Connor is thrilled by the news from the Raisin and his desire to get experience at the company takes a step forward even if it is unclear whether Logan was “piss mad” when he told his oldest son he could have control over European interests. During that earlier conversation, there was back and forth about why Connor hasn’t been considered and I think it falls somewhere between “never interested” and “never encouraged.” Both men have different perspectives and one thing Logan doesn’t do is “ancient history,” so Connor makes it about the present calling his siblings a knucklehead (Roman), a fake (Shiv) and “screwy” (Kendall). Alan Ruck’s increased presence this season is only making the whole Roy dynamic more competitive. I might even call myself a Conhead now.
The oldest Roy sibling is one of the only characters who get a win in “Retired Janitors of Idaho.” On the opposite end of the spectrum is Greg (Nicholas Braun). He is told by Kendall that he might have to burn him to get a bigger piece of “red meat” (like Tom) to flip. The emphasis on “might” sends Greg into a tailspin and he has gone from feeling protected to a target again. When he sees his grandfather it goes from bad to terrible as Ewan (James Cromwell) is giving all of his money to Greenpeace (starting with Greg’s chunk). This is what happens when Greg joins a “gang of crapulous shills” and Ewan advises that he needs “to take yourself seriously.”
The constant flip-flopping has left him exposed from all corners and his desire to sue his grandfather in “an affectionate way” emphasizes his lack of backbone that has landed him in this position. He wants to remain neutral but in a family this scrupulous there is no middle ground. In trying to do the right thing, Greg ends up doing nothing and is tossed out in the process.
Hitting the halfway point of the season with an episode placing the major players in the same location ups the tension of the pivotal shareholders meeting further. The meeting itself plays out in the background and the constantly moving goalposts of the negotiations add to the farce levels and suspense. Stewie jokes about the “complicated coalition” he is part of and refers to Sandy as the “angriest vegetable” and a “belligerent zucchini” and this reflects his lack of empathy for his partner. It is also notable that three very powerful men are experiencing health issues while attempting to keep an iron grip on a fading empire.
By the end of the episode, it is only the Raisin who has relinquished control and both Sandy and Logan have made some concessions through their daughters. It is unlikely that it was ever going to go to a vote, but creator Jesse Armstrong is particularly adept at zigging when it appears the story will zag. One crisis is over and a new one fills its place and the thrilling cycle continues.