Season 3, Episode 5: ‘Retired Janitors of Idaho’
There was a moment in last week’s episode of “Succession” when Kendall was standing on Josh Aaronson’s patio, reminding Josh of their longtime friendship and boasting about his upcoming birthday party — acting like a big shot, in other words. Kendall had come to the meeting to show he could be the commanding, charismatic figure to lead Waystar into the future. And for a few seconds at least, he had his host’s undivided attention.
Then Logan walked through the door, and Josh literally pushed Kendall aside to greet the old man. Point made: Logan is still Waystar’s star.
This week’s episode is titled “Retired Janitors of Idaho.” It refers to the faction Roman fears will determine the fate of the Roy family if the Waystar shareholders get the chance to vote on the company’s leadership. Nearly all the action takes place in a luxury hotel and conference center, where the powerful people are sequestered in stew-rooms, scarfing down snacks and strategizing. The general feeling among the Roy loyalists is that Logan needs to address the assembly, calming their nerves with his star power.
“Just get the body up there,” Karl says.
But just as Logan broke down physically in front of Josh last week, this week his body failed him again. He has a urinary tract infection; and when his assistant isn’t around to remind him to take his pills, Logan becomes disoriented. He calls Shiv “Marcia.” He asks to go the bathroom seemingly every few minutes. He does not appear to know where he is or why he is there. And he is convinced there is a dead cat under his chair.
So no, there will be no Logan Roy wow factor at this shareholders’ meeting. But the Roys have an even bigger problem. Before Logan loses his wits, he gives the order that they should reject the big peacemaking deal their opponents have offered them. But did he really know what he was saying at the time, or was he already slipping? (Roman: “Can we just give him some cranberry juice and then ask him about the deal again?”)
This of course is the problem with staking everything on one imposing figurehead. Leaders can flag. They age, they weaken. While the Roys are making multibillion-dollar decisions based on their patriarch’s mumbling about imaginary cats, Sandi Furness (Hope Davis) is in a suite nearby, consulting with her own father, Sandy (Larry Pine). He has chronic medical problems, too, leaving him mostly immobile and inaudible. When Sandi meets with Shiv to try to find what Gerri likes to call “a deal-space,” each of these two highly intelligent, highly capable women claim, “I just do what my dad tells me.”
Instead of bringing their own fresh ideas to the family business, Sandi and Shiv are left defending the decisions their clearly diminished dads are making, even when those choices seem driven more by spite and paranoia than by sound business sense. Sandy, for one, seems motivated primarily by a desire to make a deal that robs the Roys of any of the trappings of power. First, he asks to be granted the right to veto any decision to make a Roy family member a future chief executive. Then, when he gets a begrudging “yes” to that, he comes back with a demand that the Roys give up their private jets. (Roman: “First they came for the P.J.s, and I said nothing. …”)
As for Logan, even though he is under criminal investigation and in danger of losing control of everything he has built, he still refuses to believe that he is not holding all the trump cards. Any time the Sandy and Stewy side offers a concession — just to avoid the uncertainty of a vote — Logan sees it as a sign they are scared. Before he lapses into incoherence, he suggests either calling their bluff or leaking to the press that they’re wavering, to show the shareholders who is really the boss.
One of those shareholders is Logan’s own brother Ewan: another old man stifling a youngster. In Ewan’s case, he is making life difficult for Greg, who has disappointed his grandfather by signing onto the Waystar joint defense agreement, throwing his lot in with the people Ewan calls, “My brother and his gang of crapulous shills.” He informs Greg that he has changed his will, giving all of his money to Greenpeace. (“Even my part?” Greg asks. “That was the first part,” Ewan replies.) Trying to shake his grandson up, he says, earnestly, “Your life is not a bagatelle,” adding: “You need to take yourself seriously, kid.” Greg nods, then later asks someone else, “Do you think it’s possible to sue a person … a grandparent, for example … in a way which is, like … in an affectionate way?”
The last old man playing a major role in this story is the president of the United States — “the Raisin” — who has been feeling real pressure ever since ATN pivoted from backing him unconditionally to questioning his mental fitness. The Raisin calls the Roys, asking to speak directly to Logan, who is still indisposed. So they pass him off to Roman, who is the closest thing to “bootleg Logan.” After Roman bumbles through the small talk and is sworn at by the commander in chief, he gets the news that the president is withdrawing his re-election bid.
This is not really how the Roys wanted their whole “Is the President secretly senile?” maneuver to work out. Their access to the Oval Office gives them crucial leverage in their business deals — and, they had hoped, in the Justice Department’s Brightstar investigation. They have outsmarted themselves and are losing a major asset. (Roman, with maximum irony, looks on the bright side: “It’s kind of nice to know we can puppet-master the whole American republic project.”)
The outcome isn’t much better with the agreement Sandi and Shiv hurriedly hammer out: The Roys will eat the P.J.s, the Sandy and Stewy side will get four seats on the board (including one for Sandi), and Waystar will grab another seat as well (possibly for Shiv). When Logan regains his faculties, he is peeved, certain that any agreement that satisfies Sandy must be a dud. He can’t say what he would have done differently. He just knows it would have been better.
But the real loser from all the frantic deal making is — as it so often seems to be — Kendall, who never gets to be in any room where a final decision is made. Early on, he boasts to Stewy that his suite is “the real annual meeting,” insisting he has back channels to everyone who matters. But Shiv ignores him when calls to offer insights and gossip, Roman screams at him when he pops by the main Roy room, and even Stewy busts his chops a little, saying, “Shouldn’t you be standing on a rainbow soapbox somewhere screaming, ‘Time’s up!’?” In danger of being left out of the day’s narrative altogether, Kendall makes a sad, desperate final showboating move, storming the stage in front of the shareholders to speak up for the Brightstar victims.
In one last twist of the knife, Logan asks for a quick end-of-the-day meeting with Kendall but then ghosts him, leaving his son sitting completely alone in a tiny room. Kendall tries to call his dad, but Logan blocks his number — permanently.
So just as Logan has no access to the Raisin, Kendall now has no access to Logan. And both men are about to find out whether their power has more to do with who they are or who they know.
Kendall must still have the Beatles on the brain because when he gets a phone call from one of his kids, he answers with, “What’s goin’ on, wild honey pie?” (That call has to do with whether or not his daughter’s pet rabbit should be allowed to eat a bagel. Kendall says it is probably OK. He is wrong.)
Kendall insists to Greg that he’s not mad about his cousin’s signing the joint defense agreement. But “as a pal,” he says, he feels obliged to warn Greg that “I may have to burn you.” Greg briefly wonders, “How bad will the burning be?” but then immediately says, “Even as I ask that, I can tell.”
Speaking of old men outstaying their welcome, while all the back room negotiations are raging — and while Logan remains incapable of making a public appearance — Frank is left to vamp onstage for the shareholders, spouting banalities for what must’ve felt like an eternity.
I confess to having a moderate obsession with what people eat (or are served and then don’t eat) in movies and TV shows. For me the most poignant moment in this episode came toward the end, as the cater-waiters disposed of all the uneaten nibbles on the various buffets. So many squandered pastries.