Emmy episode analysis: Jeremy Strong (‘Succession’) gets offered up as corporate sacrifice in ‘This is Not For Tears’

After getting skunked at last year’s Emmys for the first season of “Succession” (along with the rest of the cast), Jeremy Strong has broken through as a nominee for Drama Lead Actor. He earns this bid, the first of his career, for playing Kendall Roy, the co-COO of his family’s media conglomerate, Waystar Royco. He has chosen the season two finale, “This is Not For Tears,” as his submission to Emmy voters.

Kendall arrives with his girlfriend, Naomi (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), and Greg (Nicholas Braun) at the family’s huge yacht in the Mediterranean. Later, he and two of his other siblings, Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin), discuss his recent testimony in Washington. They compliment him on a good job and the three goof around with each other for a little bit. His father, Logan (Brian Cox), arrives and later talks with Kendall about how their potential deal with the Asgarov family has fallen through. Later on, Logan tells his son about deep concerns he has about Naomi being on the trip since she’s part of the Pierce family, but Kendall defends her, saying that she makes him feel better. Naomi gets wind of this and decides to leave and tells him that Logan will only love the part of him that’s broken and that he can control.

SEE Jeremy Strong interview: ‘Succession’

During breakfast, the family and several of the higher-ups at the company discuss who should have to publicly take the fall for the sexual misconduct scandal involving the company’s cruise line. Logan throws his own name out as a suggestion, which Kendall strikes down. The two jettison off to a Greek island to try and get Stewy (Arian Moayed) to help take Waystar Royco private, but he declines, even when Kendall initially threatens him. Back on the yacht, Logan informs Kendall that he will be the one to take the blame. He timidly agrees and asks his father if he ever thought he could run the empire. Logan replies that he believes his son lacks the the ability to be a “killer,” which he views as necessary to succeed.

Everyone is shocked when the news is broken at dinner, but Kendall assures them all that he’s fully on board with the decision. He departs the yacht with Greg to return to New York to make the public announcement and assures him he’s alright. Before going in front of the reporters, Kendall is given his statement to read from and is told that his father is watching back on the yacht. He begins his remarks by saying that the board felt it would be best if he took the blame for the scandal, but then deviates from his remarks and puts the blame squarely on Logan, calling him a malignant presence, a bully and a liar. He says that his father kept a close eye on everything at the company and that he knew of all the circumstances involving settlements, cover-ups and wrong-doings. He adds that he has records to prove this (provided by Greg) and that the reign of his father is ending.

Here are the pros and cons to what this episode selection could mean for Strong.

SEE Mark Mylod interview: ‘Succession’ director

PROS

Strong is a steady presence in the episode, but it’s the final five minutes that make his performance an absolute knockout. Watching him turn on a dime from being a nervous scapegoat to a double-crossing warrior against the family is incredible. Seeing his character arc come full-circle is immensely satisfying for viewers of the show, and from the way the actors branch showered it with nominations, they are probably among those fans. It doesn’t hurt that the show is the Best Drama Series frontrunner, and series winners tend to take at least one acting prize.

For a lot of the series, we’ve seen Kendall as being professionally competent but a mess in a personal sense, repeatedly haunted by personal struggles including addiction, promiscuity and even an accidental death. This past season saw him primarily dealing with the consequences of these actions, but his final moment forces us to see Kendall in a new light and re-evaluate everything we thought we knew about where this family and its empire are heading.

CONS

Strong deserves to be in the lead category but the ensemble nature of this episode could overshadow his individual performance, especially with strong moments from Cox, who is nominated in the same category.

Knowing the darkness and subservient nature his character has been in makes his ultimate betrayal so powerful. The impact of Kendall’s final act could be slightly diminished if voters haven’t watched the entire series.

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