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The Taste of Betrayal On “Succession”

If the Roy family is sipping wine, get ready for some drama

Janice Williams By October 18, 2021
still photo from a scene in TV show Succession
"Succession" Season 3 premiered on HBO on October 17, 2021. Photo by Peter Kramer for HBO.

Running the world’s fifth-largest multi-media conglomerate doesn’t come without its stresses. There are scandals to cover up, enemies to take down, and backstabbing successors to worry about. No wonder Roy family members like to reach for a bottle to ease the tensions. That’s why Logan Roy, the CEO of multi-billion dollar Waystar Royco, and his children are often depicted with a glass of red, white, or sparkling in their hands. 

But HBO’s award-winning series “Succession” uses wine as something more than a way for the characters to relax. It’s often used to shine a spotlight on character dynamics. In one truly bizarre Season 2 scene, for example, Connor Roy, Logan’s eldest son played by Alan Ruck, shared the virtues of “hyperdecanting” Burgundy, by pouring wine into a blender to soften tannins and age the aromas; it’s a scene that showed how rich and clueless he is. 

Wine is also wielded as a weapon. Whenever it appears, it’s a signal that drama is about to ensue. 

Here’s our handy guide to using wine to rise up the ladder and take down enemies, the “Succession” way. After all, it works for them.

Drama and wine are expected in “Succession” Season 3. Photo by Graeme Hunter for HBO.

A toast to cutting ties

Need to fire a loyal employee? Your wine options are legion. Red wine, white wine, bubbly? 

On the first episode of the series, which premiered in June 2018, Logan celebrated his 80th birthday at a luncheon where glasses of red, white, and sparkling wine overflowed. Frank Vernon gave a sweet toast in honor of his boss. Logan seemed pleased. A quick helicopter ride to the family’s upstate manor and a game of softball later, Logan fired Frank.

Lesson: When the stakes are low because you’re in charge, use whatever wine is at hand.

Solving relationship dramas

Thinking about committing adultery? Then follow the lead of Shiv and reach for white wine. Siobhan, aka Shiv (Sarah Snook), the princess of the Roy family, often sucks down a glass of white wine before committing adulterous acts. Even before she tied the knot with her husband Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen), she was spotted clutching a glass of white wine while asking her ex, Nate Sofrelli (Ashley Zukerman), if they were going to hook up. They did. Cheers.

Lesson: White is your go-to wine for affairs, adultery, and hook-ups.

Always pay top dollar

If you need to pull yourself out of a financial or legal pickle, or you want to take someone down, make sure you undermine the resolve of your rivals by serving them the good stuff. That’s what Logan did when Waystar Royco found itself in dire straits early in Season 2.

It doesn’t even matter whether the other party picked up a glass or not — the extravagant gesture was enough.

Lesson: When the stakes are high, the label counts.

Don’t be dogmatic

When you need to wriggle out of misogyny and murder scandals, put some real thought into pleasing people. Take the time that Logan invited senior executives and family out to his multilevel private yacht and treated everyone to sumptuous luxury. There was sparkling rosé on hand for Cousin Greg, played by Nicholas Braun, and plenty of Burgundy for Conner to enjoy at breakfast. There were even martinis ready for Gerri, played by J. Smith-Cameron. Once they had a drink in hand, everybody fell in line like boars on the floor. Soon, they were sitting around a table discussing which one of them should go to jail.

Lesson: Don’t impose your preferences on other people. Give them what they want. And then you’ll get exactly what you want.

Don’t hesitate to take it back

Great wine comes at a cost. So if people don’t respect that, take it right back. Be like the hapless Tom Wambsgans, whose parents supplied his wedding with expensive wine. When Tom saw his new wife’s former lover at the wedding, cheerfully downing the wine, Tom called the waiter over and grabbed an open bottle of the wine. He then forced Nate Sofrelli to pour what was left of his wine back into the bottle.

Not only was Nate humiliated, but Tom inflicted Nate’s spit on all the other guests. That’s a boss move, right there.

Lesson: You can give, but you can also take. Especially when it’s the good stuff.

Actions speak louder than words

Speaking of the wine that Tom’s parents bought for the wedding, don’t make the same mistake they did. Every time someone remarked on how delicious the wine was, they responded by saying how expensive it was. This did not go unnoticed by Tom’s future mother-in-law, the acerbic Caroline (Harriet Walter). “So kind of your parents to have paid for all this delicious wine,” she told Tom. “So clever the way they’re letting every single person know.”

Lesson: Let the wine do the talking.

Taste matters

And at a very important yet chaotic dinner, set up to explore the possibility that Waystar Royco might buy rival network PMG, Logan’s wife Marcia (Hiam Abbass) bonded with PMG’s owner Nan Pierce (Cherry Jones) by revealing that she preferred the Pierces’ Old World wine over the New World wine that Logan stocks; the comment suggested that Logan Roy, played by Brian Cox, has taste as coarse as his behavior. It was also a signal that the purchase was not going to go ahead because the values of the two parties were too different. And it was the moment that Marcia asserted her independence against Logan; later, she left him.

Lesson: Watch what other people choose to drink. It’s an insight into their personality that you can use against them later.

White wine gets the job done

At a fabulous sunset dinner on the ship, where the whole gang was seated with full glasses of white wine, Logan announced that a head would soon be on the company’s legal spike. White wine was, once again, on the table. 

Of course it was. Unlike red, white wine doesn’t leave a stain.

Lesson: When you want to do something shady and not leave a trace, make white your go-to wine.