[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Succession” Season 3, Episode 5, “Retired Janitors of Idaho.”]
What do the Roys have against janitors? A few episodes back, when Greg (Nicholas Braun) thought he was picking out a gift from Kendall (Jeremy Strong), the watch salesman told his prospective client, “Your phone is a widget — every janitor in America has one.” Long before that demeaning reference, Roman (Kieran Culkin) tortured a janitor and his family, dangling a check for $1 million if his young son could hit a home run during a “fun” family softball game. Then this week, everyone’s favorite Slime Puppy bemoaned entrusting a leadership vote to the company’s shareholders, aka “the retired janitors of Idaho.”
From the beginning, “Succession” has painted the Roys as out of touch, but Jesse Armstrong’s ruthless family portrait always goes beyond that rather obvious (if necessary) reminder, to illustrate how their bubbled lives create havoc and suffering for anyone outside. Their wealth protects them, but it also blinds them. Roman doesn’t realize his insane incentive turned a playful at-bat into a life-changing opportunity because Roman doesn’t think $1 million is that much money. He only knows it sounds like a lot of money (to the nameless masses, that is), which is why it’s his go-to opening bid. (See: last week, when Roman made an offer to the man who tattooed Kendall’s initials on his forehead.) Not only does Roman not know the price of milk, he insists that no one knows — meaning he doesn’t even talk to people who would buy their own groceries, let alone do it himself.
It’s doubtful everyone who attends Waystar Royco’s annual shareholders meeting has a Ralph’s card. These investors have money, or at least more money than your average Midwestern custodian. But that’s also the point. Whether Royco is just one part of your wealth portfolio or you’re betting your retirement on Waystar stock, you’re the same to Roman, Kendall, Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Connor (Alan Ruck). You’re just a janitor from Idaho — an idea of a person they’ve never had to see, let alone consider. Indistinguishable faces sitting in darkness, distracted by the bright lights and rambling videos, while the real players make decisions on their behalf in private, well-catered meeting rooms.
Episode 5 emphasizes this disconnect by sending the Roy family scurrying around a convention center, trying anything they can think of to avoid having to cede their power to the whims of the people they supposedly serve. The kids, along with Gerri (J. Smith Cameron), Karl (David Rasche), Frank (Peter Friedman), and the rest of the executives, are all desperate to make a deal with Sandy (Larry Pine) and Stewie (Arian Moayed), while the true puppet-masters (ha ha, no, not Kendall) are either a “meat puppet” being operated by his daughter (Hope Davis), or a man so “piss mad” he’s ordering the removal of an imaginary cat corpse one minute and scuttling a company-saving deal the next.
“Retired Janitors of Idaho” is a classic “Succession” episode — part ticking-clock thriller, part tragedy of the common man, part black-comic laugh riot. When the 60 magnificent minutes are up, power dynamics have shifted once more, but very little has changed. Despite the champagne toasts and visible relief, Logan (Brian Cox) makes sure no one feels like they’ve won anything. The Roys still have to deal with the Department of Justice investigation, Kendall’s attempted power grab, and a plan for long-term control of the company. They’ve survived this week’s crisis, while next week’s awaits. They destroyed a president and barely blinked; they vanquished their faceless foes and sent them scurrying back to their supply closets. The kids want to celebrate, but the man who came from nothing won’t let them, even going so far as to rain on Kendall’s already gloomy day.
Macall Polay / HBO
Part of what makes the hour so riveting is the simple choice to gather all of the players into one space. Even with Kendall isolated away from his family and various parties spread throughout the giant event space, Episode 5 has the electricity of a bottle episode. Writers Tony Roche and Susan Soon He Stanton layer in so many insults, some have to be lobbed in from offscreen. (I loved hearing Roman mutter: “Great, Karl vamping.”) Director Kevin Bray orchestrates informative blocking (like when Shiv and Gerri close the frame around Logan’s confused, panicked face while he tries to decide on a deal he doesn’t remember) and captures an incredible array of outstanding reactions. (Shout-out to the assistants! Karolina (Dagmara Dominczyk), for her excellent eavesdropping on Connor’s pitch for European cable; Jess (Juliana Canfield), for her head-shaking, forehead-rubbing response to Kendall learning “the rabbit is sick”; Colin (Scott Nicholson), for successfully hedging when asked for advice by a discombobulated Logan; and Kerry (Zoë Winters), for whispering that Logan has a UTI to the man’s daughter.)
But that absence of viable progress also speaks to the episode’s broader point. The shareholders’ time is wasted. Some may have clapped when a deal was finally announced, but they all come rushing out of the conference like prisoners escaping a hostage situation. They had to be there, in case it did come to a vote, but the powers that be refuse to allow for such a challenge. They will not be taken down by people they don’t even consider to be real, and when you don’t see people as real, it’s much easier to stomp all over them.
The Roys aren’t just rich assholes who’ve grown blindly accustomed to their posh lifestyles. They’re the richest assholes, pitted against each other by a Machiavellian father to wage an insular war for his approval over multiple decades. Their money gives them power, but their mentality makes them dangerous — not just to each other, but to the shareholders, employees, and world at large. People outside the family, outside their business, don’t really exist to them, and Episode 5 highlights why they don’t have to think about them — not really. There’s always a way around, whether it’s exerting political pressure, paying someone off, or rigging the game so most players don’t get a turn. NRPI: No Real Person Involved. It’s not just a shorthand used to cover-up cruise scandals; it’s a way of life.
Forgive me for going this long without addressing the crowning comedic achievement of Episode 5, if not Season 3 as a whole: Greg losing his inheritance and deciding to sue Greenpeace. Now, I’m not saying he will file a lawsuit against the world’s leading environmental activist organization, but my God, that he wants to — and how it came about — are memories I will cherish for a lifetime.
First off, James Cromwell is, in fact, the “best darn Gramper,” as Ewan’s lunchtime sit-down with Roger (Peter Riegert) is quick and brutal: He’s donating his entire estate to charitable endeavors, aka Greenpeace, starting with Greg’s portion of the money. “Even my part?” Greg asks. “That was the first part,” Ewan shoots back, sending Greg spiraling. “Why is that the first part? I mean, how can you tell?”
I kid you not, dear reader: Just remembering Greg asking “how can you tell” is enough to send me into conniptions. I teased this moment in my Season 3 review, and I can only hope you derive as much joy from recalling the line now as I have over the last four weeks. But I digress. This isn’t the only meeting that goes badly for Greg the Egg; before Ewan, he has to suffer through Kendall threatening to “burn him” if he doesn’t forego company counsel. It’s a promise we always knew Kenny couldn’t keep — but Greg believed him, and the one-two punch from Kendall and Ewan may have finally snapped our favorite tall little man. Like Tom said, “Who are you going to go after next? Save the Children?”
(Also, and this is pure speculation, but what is going on with Greg and Comfry, played by Dasha Nekrasova? They’ve had a number of awkward interactions, dating back to the Season 3 premiere when he handed over social media responsibilities to her, but their brief back-and-forth in Episode 5 is… suspicious. Greg sees her before meeting with Kendall and says, “Hey, yeah, I was wondering if you were going to be over here,” to which Comfry replies, “Yeah, I’m over here, just doing my job” — but not in a mocking way? Kind of a nice way? I don’t know. Greg’s greeting could just be Greg being awkward, but it implies he’s been thinking about her, which could mean he has a crush, or it could mean they’ve spent more time together than we’ve seen? Either way, I look forward to more.)
James Cromwell, Peter Riegert, and Nicholas Braun in “Succession”
Macall Polay / HBO
Shiv Show at the Fuck Factory
Tom is doomed. Shiv gets scolded. The one-time power couple seems to be spiraling. And I don’t like it.
The Roy-al Rumble
Last week I forgot to mention whether Logan or Kendall came out on top — let’s call it a draw. They both biffed the Josh conversation, and they both delivered scathing body blows during their walk back to town. Yes, Logan collapsed, but Josh also saw him as the man in charge.
Episode 5 has to go to Logan, though. Yes, he spends a good chunk of the day calling people by the wrong names, ranting about dead animals, and taking a mid-afternoon snooze, but hey, he doesn’t saunter onto stage like the world’s worst cat burglar and read off names of the cruise line victims to avoid looking like “a little bitch.” And he successfully punishes Kenny for trying to steal the spotlight, after reasserting his authority by tearing down his daughter. That last move may prove costly, but not yet. Midway through the fight, it’s three rounds for Logan, one for Kendall. The would-be successor is going to need a big finish.
(Also, how can Brian Cox not win the episode after his exuberant interpretation of an inhibited Logan Roy? In terms of the funniest moment of Episode 5, a close second to Greg’s “how can you tell” line is when Logan thinks someone is being “nasty” to Frank and says, “Who was nasty to Frank? I’m the only one who’s allowed to be nasty to Frank.” For a fleeting second, you’re tempted to “aww” at the ol’ sweetheart. Thus is the power of Cox’s portrayal.)
The A+ F-Bomb
“Fucking Hercule Poirot of fucking piss over here.” – Roman, after Tom “suspects” Logan has been “piss mad” for quite a while.
Best Line That Could Still Air on ATN
“You don’t need me to… hold the scepter?” – Tom, in the bathroom stall with Logan, when asked for help.
“Succession” debuts new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
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