planet Roy, all the colors are neutral, with luxurious fabrics
standing in for personality. | HBO
No amount of decor can cover the truth in Succession: It’s not
the furniture, it’s the humiliation
In Season 2, Episode 4 of the HBO series Succession,
someone fires a gun.
This is far from the first gunshot (in the previous episode, for
example, the top managers at Waystar Royco, the fictional
Murdoch-esque media-and-entertainment company, were flown to a
castle in Hungary for a team-building retreat which involved
hunting wild boar). But this gunshot, fired in the offices of
ATN—the company’s Fox News-y cable network—sends members of
the inner circle into a different sort of panic.
“I’m in the wrong panic room,” says the venal, hapless
Minnesotan Tom Wambsgans (played by Matthew Macfadyen). Tom, you
see, is an executive married to Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook),
Titian-haired princess of Waystar Royco. No one, including Tom,
thinks he is good enough for her, and here is physical proof: a
white-walled breakroom with snacks and a laminate countertop
that’s neither sealed nor secure. Tom recognizes that his wife
and her father, company founder Logan Roy (Brian Cox), aren’t in
his room. They are in a better one.
Panic room hierarchy serves as a neat shortcut into the Roy
family’s architectural psychology. This is not a show that merits
deep reading of throw pillow choices or
kitchen island family dynamics. What matters most is: Who’s
in the room?
In the Roys’ world, there is no time for personal taste.
Personal taste won’t get you anywhere. God forbid you feel
sentimental about your ancestral home. God forbid you like
something. God forbid you express a genuine opinion. Keeping decor
liquid means you can break up, get fired, get married, get
divorced, or get promoted without having to carry more than an
The yacht on which Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Tom (Matthew Macfadyen)
honeymoon epitomizes the Shiv look: sandy hues, touches of gold,
and a sleeker, more modern style than that of her family members.
Shiv typically tries to keep something—a pedestal table, a throw
pillow—between her and Tom.
If I had to describe Roy decor, it would be through textures
that read visually: velvet, leather, shot silk. Every room has
those fancy layered drapes.
Shiv’s extravagant trousers, which have their own fan club,
have the same effect as the drapes: fabric as armor, fabric as
cocoon. She decides who gets in her pants.
Within a decidedly neutral color wheel, each Roy has their own
color scheme. Shiv is shifting sand. Kendall (Jeremy Strong)
charcoal. Roman (Kieran Culkin) quicksilver. Connor Roy (Alan
Ruck), the useless eldest son now running for president, terra
cotta (he owns a ranch). Logan Roy’s townhouse
is a gilded cage. My kingdom for a primary color! Even the
family’s amusement parks are shot as dingy off-brand spectacles,
with unrecognizable animal mascots, log rides too slow to thrill,
and a 1970s palette of brown and red and mustard.
Logan and Marcia Roy’s living room is the townhouse version of a
The soulless luxury of the Roy family décor comes into sharpest
relief in “Tern Haven,” Season 2’s fifth episode, in which we
are introduced to the Pierce family, a through-the-looking-glass
version of the Roys but with old money, PhDs, and homes rather than
corporate investments. The Pierces (themselves stand-ins for the
Sulzbergers, the Binghams, and every other old, liberal American
news dynasty), purchased their possessions themselves, more than
five minutes ago. Ladderback chairs, Chinoiserie panels, charcoal
sketches, quilts, toile.
Nan Pierce, the matriarch of the family, even makes a show of
serving her own dinner, taking the leg of lamb from her housekeeper
and carrying it into the wood-paneled dining room to applause.
In the first episode of the second season, “The Summer
Palace,” we saw how the Roys sweep into their own beachfront
mansion. An armada of cooks, maids, and housekeepers is deployed,
seemingly on hours’ notice, to remove dust cloths, make beds,
vacuum, sweep, and prepare étagères of shellfish, platters of
lobster, slabs of steak. I loved the choreography of it, the rare
admission—within the confines of filmed richness—about how much
work it takes to make it work. Not one of the Roys would even
pretend to cook; in fact, it is not clear if they even like to eat.
After the Tern Haven dinner each member of the family is just on
the hunt for booze.
In “The Summer Palace,” we catch a rare glimpse of the labor
required to keep multiple mansions looking plumped-up and perfect.
Which is not to say the Roys don’t understand the power of
real estate. They want their boxes expensively wrapped. They want
their summer house pristine. The dance of service that I admired
is, in fact, an elaborate setup. While the house and food look
great with our noses pressed to our iPad screens, the house is
infected with a horrific stink. It is literally rotting from the
What really matters to them is not the trimmings (as long as
they are expensive) but the space. Space is where you assert
control and dominance.
Do you have your bodyguard manhandle your nephew in the lobby?
Yes, if he is Cousin Greg.
Do you masturbate to your master-of-the-universe office view?
Yes, if you are Roman.
Do you use your employee as a footstool? Yes, if you are
What matters in RoyWorld is not the nature of the furniture (or
human equivalent)—it’s how you can use it to humiliate.
One of the elements that makes Succession great is the
helplessness it induces in the viewer. How, I keep asking myself,
can I feel sympathy for Kendall, the drug-addicted,
double-crossing, empty-suit oldest son? Yet every time he ends up
on the roof of the skyscraper Waystar Royco calls home (this
it is SOM’s 1960 Chase Manhattan Bank building) I am afraid
that he might be about to jump. His isolation, his position at the
top of the world and, simultaneously, as the loneliest man in the
world, underline the architectural similarity between the glassy
penthouse and the transparent suicide barrier.
The rental Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) settles for because,
“It’s fashion week; all the good penthouses are gone.”
In the first season Kendall had a house and an ex-wife and
children, but all of those tethers have now disappeared. One night,
Greg finds him in a rental apartment (“It’s fashion week; all
the good penthouses are gone”) and wonders what happened to his
previous house. “It smelt of Rava,” his ex-wife, Kendall
Kendall is literally floating through his own life. We see him
first, in Season 2, floating in the healing waters of a
Zumthor-esque spa. His peace is short-lived. He is hauled out,
dripping, and puppeteered first into defending his father on
television, and then into shutting down Vaulter, the new-media
venture that was Kendall’s Season 1 baby. He’s saying all the
right businessy things but his eyes are empty. Papa is proud, but
not proud enough to give Kendall his own office. Instead, he is
installed in the dining area of his father’s vast workspace.
He’s close to power, but also under constant surveillance.
The ambiguity of this arrangement becomes more apparent when
Shiv, who has been fired—“I walked out”—from her job as
chief of staff on a liberal politician’s campaign, comes in to
take a look around. She thinks she’ll have one-on-one time with
her father, but there’s Kendall blocking her. “Lucy, can you
find Shiv somewhere?” Logan says to his assistant. As she flits
through her day at the office, she’s always perched on the edge
of someone else’s trappings of power, a physical manifestation of
her father’s inability to hand her the power he’s promised.
My Succession fanfiction includes only this: Me and Cousin Greg
shopping for furnishings for his new apartment at the Red Hook
Ikea. Surely I’m not the only woman watching who just wants to
take care of this “beautiful Ichabod Crane.” Greg, played by
6-foot-5-inch Nicholas Braun, is the poor cousin to the ruling Roy
family, the literal overgrown manchild in a cluster of figurative
ones. In Season 2 we watch him look for an apartment like the rest
of us, a hapless pawn of real estate brokers who try to sell him on
Staten Island and mezzanine bedrooms.
When Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) looks for an apartment, the
audiences sees the Manhattan we know, all mezzanines and
It feels good to laugh at a 6-foot-5-inch man trying to fit
himself into a mezzanine. It feels good to see an apartment we, the
viewers, recognize from our own Village Voice or Craigslist
disasters, depending on your era. No penthouses for the likes of
us! The place has good storage, the broker says. “The thing I
need storage for most urgently of all, Stanley, is me.” Greg
At the last minute, Kendall swoops in, sparing us the Working
Girl-inspired ferry montage. He will let Greg use one of the five
empty apartments he’s bought. But there’s a catch: It’s a
party pad. Greg can live there, but he has no say over who comes
over and when, who’s using the bedroom or what drugs they are
scoring. Is that mezzanine starting to look cozy? This might be the
best example of the Roy family’s attitude about architecture:
What matters most is location and control.
After touring the many Roy mansions, one can always return to
Succession’s alluring opening credits, which feature, yes, more
real estate. Over the plinky-piano-dramatic-strings
theme by Nicholas Britell, we see images of the Roy offspring
as children and then teens, leading a pony, playing tennis, riding
an elephant, and all dressed up for photos on a succession of
sprawling, sunny country mansions. The interchangeable symmetrical
mansions, columns without, staircases within, look a lot like the
Manhattan townhouse, the Hamptons mansion, and the Hungarian castle
we will visit with the present-day Roys. Their pastoral charms are
interspersed with the engines of that gilded existence: newspapers,
skyscrapers, TV stations.
Succession’s opening credits feature, yes, more real estate,
along with the trappings of rich, unhappy childhoods (ponies) and
rich, unhappy adulthood (skyscrapers).
The kids may have been plied with sunshine and fun, but I
don’t think it is a coincidence that both seasons set some of
their darkest scenes at the family’s shabby chain of amusement
parks. Neither Cousin Greg nor Roman Roy can successfully inhabit
the off-brand character suits, just as no number of posed
photographs can successfully create a happy family. When Logan is
driven by his childhood home in Dundee, Scotland, he doesn’t even
want to go in; when Shiv gives him a photo album of the houses he
owns, he doesn’t recognize them. If you are a Roy, you are always
moving on. To another country, another wife, another football
Caring about things will only slow you down.
Source: FS – All – Architecture 10
State rooms for shitty behavior