“Succession”: Frank, Gerri and Karl are still a very important trio
The former court jesters and clever, reliable advisers still have a big place in the final season of the series.
(Editor’s note: Included in the following review spoilers for “Succession” Season 4, Episode 4, “Honeymoon States”.)
Much talk of “succession” revolves around the idea of replacements. Whether it’s because of the richness of the show’s endless roster of characters or because it’s a show that’s analyzed as a driver of Sunday night conversations, “The Successor” has embraced the simple idea of ”Who’s taking over?” and transformed this into a question that works on an existential level as much as a logistical one.
It’s gotten to the point where people can make pretty convincing arguments that someone can die and still be in control. As one of TV’s last Good Shows prepares to come to an end, this week’s “Honeymoon States” reframed the struggle that comes with it. Yes, Kendall and Roman ended up co-piloting the Waystar, adding another wave to the never-ending Roy rivalry. He also emphasized that perhaps the biggest conflict of “succession” was not between the branches of the family tree all along, but a larger generational tug-of-war for the heart of the business.
It was easy to miss the real-time grief during “Connor’s Wedding,” but it was just as compelling as the Roy kids coming to terms with Logan’s end, the “senior group” to figure out the company’s future. Suddenly, old jokes Frank (Peter Friedman) and Karl (David Rasche) seemed to be in nominal control. A decent chunk of the “Honeymoon States” shows that after decades of biding time and trying to stay in the Old One’s good graces, it’s time to strike.
For a while they existed as a confused signifier of the old guard, the kind of people the new-blood Roys see as jays and hangers-on. If anything, they’re most memorable for their failures, namely the lack of any actionable answers during Logan’s “Retired Janitors of Idaho” saga. Part of the reason they didn’t get the storefronts they needed for strong business sense was because they didn’t need it. They have a decent amount of job security no matter what. Frank, who helped spearhead Kendall’s failed Season 1 takeover bid, went on a bit of a rampage and made it far enough back into the inner circle to ride Logan’s plane at the end. And how many people who watched “Honeymoon States” completely forgot (or didn’t realize at all) that Karl was the CFO? Chief Financial Officer “Full Baskin Robbins – 31 Flavors of Fuck” Karl Muller.
Part of the brilliance of this Season 4 showdown is that Frank, Karl, and Gerri suddenly became even better stand-ins for Logan than his kids. Karl’s file on Tom (as a “friend” of course) is so pretentious that he could have called Mr. Wambsgans a frivolous person. Frank “He was an old bastard and he loved you” is a bear hug in its own way. It’s comforting, but like everything else on this show, it’s also a bit of sympathy that just happens to do emotional favor for the heir-presumptive. And Gerri does her usual Gerri thing and turns the post-Logan game board in her favor.
J. Smith-Cameron has always been one of those genius ‘succession’ wild cards and he’s let Gerri do whatever he needs from his self-preservation. From reading the tea leaves in Season 1’s boardroom coup and maintaining her neutrality, she’s not afraid to act in ways that minimize backlash and maintain her position. Shaking off the suggestion that Logan wanted to leave her, she shot back quickly, which was not in writing? This is not someone you can shake easily, even if one of the new VPs decides he doesn’t want to be reminded that he made the biggest mistake in the history of cell phone blunders.
At heart, Frank and Karl are still the “Veep” characters they’ve always been. The conversation about what to do with Logan’s edited (drafted?) makeshift will is the kind of small-scale absurdity that “Succession” thrives on. Only now, all the hypothetical banter about blurring is intensifying when either of them could end up with a vacant throne or even more riches. (Rasche’s wide-eyed “humorous vein” is a frightening twist as you watch him go from punchline to legitimate threat in seconds.) Gerri has long been established as the killer of Waystar’s upper management, but now the show has opened up. Karl’s retirement ambitions aside, the possibility is that this sub-group can come together and have a much greater influence in the endgame than most would have expected just a few weeks ago.
Just like business in general, without Logan, the Roys aren’t necessarily the most important thing in keeping the show afloat. The show is already “What happens if Logan really leaves?” going through a big thought experiment. Even with Kendall and Roman nominally in charge, the mere presence of Gerri, Frank, and Karl provides an unexpected safety net. Putting together a scenario, even if a formal plan is in place, where a trio other than the businessman-kids are steering the ship would be a curveball that “succession” tends to like to throw.
As much as nepotism is in the show, the way these 11-figure companies are passed down like legacy furniture carries as much weight as the kitchen conversation before the “honeymoon states” begin: the risk-averse corners of the big guys. business love is nothing but the least possible change. Kendall’s small smile may indicate that she wants to clean up, but if she underestimates the experience and knowledge of her elders over the past six episodes, she may be making the same mistake she made with her father for so many years.
“Succession” airs new episodes Sundays at 9:00 p.m. on HBO.
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