For a show about billion-dollar deals, corporate backstabbing, and three power-hungry siblings’ fight to inherit their father’s vast media empire (and a fourth sibling’s fight to … decant wine quickly), an awful lot of Succession — HBO’s bitingly funny series about the machinations and misdeeds of a fictional, Murdoch-like family — takes place around the dinner table. In the world that the Roy family occupies, wining and dining and power lunches are as commonplace as doomed media outlets being unceremoniously shut down and stripped for parts by profit-hungry vultures. While the setting may vary — from a fine dining tasting menu to an executive retreat at a remote European hunting lodge — the role meals play remains constant: They’re battlefields on which to negotiate power, money, and daddy Logan Roy’s love, the three things that the characters desire most.
There are so many meals in Succession, in fact, that I rewatched every episode, reviewed each meal, and ranked the best ones according to a strict set of self-imposed rules: a “meal” must involve two or more people seated and eating at a table; “best,” while subjective, consists of all the usual criteria by which a normal human being may rate a meal — food, ambiance, company — in addition to the Succession-required metric of power plays and money moves. These are not the meals that I, personally, would wish on myself, as I do not enjoy partaking in betrayal and four-dimensional chess with my bread and butter, but within the ambition-gilded world of Succession, they are the lunches and dinners that are worth remembering.
8. Mom’s home cooking, Season 2, Episode 7, “Return”
Facing a possible shareholder rebellion, patriarch Logan (Brian Cox) dispatches Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Shiv (Sarah Snook) to England to convince their mother — and major shareholder of Waystar Royco — Caroline (Harriet Walker) not to side with opponents Stewy Hosseini (Arian Moayed) and Sandy Furness (Larry Pine), who are waging a proxy war against Logan. The two youngest Roys dutifully cross the Atlantic to visit their mother, who we last saw asking guests at Shiv’s and Tom’s wedding how long they predicted the marriage would last.
Food: Instead of a 48-ounce T-bone steak with truffle fries, Caroline dishes up that classic combination of pigeon, potatoes, and wine. ★☆☆☆
Ambiance: Honestly, as transparently transactional as this exchange is, it’s pretty par for the course for this family, so there’s a comforting kind of casualness to the meal. Almost homey, one could say. Love to be raised in a household where love and affection are withheld until they can be divvied out in thimblefuls as paltry rewards or bribes! ★★☆☆
Company: Caroline, in case it wasn’t clear from her behavior at Shiv’s wedding, does not seem like a particularly caring mom or decent human being. No wonder she and Logan were once a match, and no wonder they later got divorced. ★★☆☆
Power plays and money moves: Mother and children bat around the offer of tens of millions of dollars so casually that their conversation could incite class warfare. Ultimately, Caroline comes out on top, offering to accept either Logan’s summer palace in the Hamptons (a place that she loathes, but that she knows Logan loves), or $20 million and the Roy children for Christmas. Not only is this a win-win for her, but she gets the added pleasure of callously treating her children like bargaining chips that they all know Logan will discard in favor of the Hamptons estate. “I think we have to hear which he’d prefer,” she says. “Let’s make him choose.” Holy shit, that is a barbed maneuver! ★★★☆
7. Cold butter, Season 1, Episode 4, “Sad Sack Wasp Trap”
The Roys’ annual charity gala is a black-tie affair attended by New York’s wealthiest. This year, it’s overseen by Connor (Alan Ruck), the eldest Roy child — and a half-brother to Kendall, Shiv, and Roman — who otherwise keeps himself busy with voluntary unemployment, weird politics, and a girlfriend who may be a sex worker he once hired. The event, a clashing of money, performative philanthropy, and misunderstandings, sets off a chain of events that shapes the rest of the season.
Food: Some of the food served includes lasagna, salad, and bread with butter too cold to spread. “The butter’s all fucked! You fuckwads, there’s dinner rolls out there ripping as we speak!” Connor screams at the kitchen staff before attempting to fire them all en masse, demonstrating that all it takes is a hint of supervisory power — and some pressure from dear dad — to turn someone into even more of an asshole. ★☆☆☆
Ambiance: Ostensibly classy. Dully fancy. You know. ★★☆☆
Company: Just a big roomful of rich people! Choose your players! ★★☆☆
Power plays and money moves: Due to a mix up with teleprompter and the underhanded tattletale instincts of snitch Connor, Logan takes this public event as an opportunity to fuck over his heir apparent Kendall. “I see you,” Logan hisses privately to his son after announcing in a speech that he would not be retiring. “I spied you fucking out, son, don’t ever do that to me again.” This particular battle may have been waged just in Logan’s head, but it kicks off a struggle between father and son that impacts the entire arc of Succession. ★★★★
6. Tom displays character growth, Season 2, Episode 10, “This Is Not for Tears”
Tom (Matthew Macfayden) — on the heels of a potentially marriage-ending talk on the beach with Shiv, prompted by her not defending him against a possible ouster — marches right up to Logan for what is quite possibly one of the most exciting minute-long encounters in television history.
Food: Chicken so good, Tom just had to steal a bite. ★★☆☆
Ambiance: On the one hand, they’re aboard a mega-yacht on the beautiful Mediterranean. On the other, the question of who will be deemed the “blood sacrifice” forced to take the fall for Waystar Royco’s crimes looms over them like a grim reaper. A mixed bag, one could say. ★★☆☆
Company: Tom and Logan, one of the least naturally occurring pairings in the series, have an established dynamic: Tom kowtows, Logan barely tolerates. While that would normally be a gut-roiling duo to be in the company of, the change in their dynamic in this scene kind of makes you want to stick around. ★★☆☆
Power plays and money moves: Everyone loves an underdog story, and in the world of Succession, Minnesota-raised Tom is one of the underdoggiest of them all. Fueled by a reckless surge of desperate rage, he confronts his CEO and father-in-law by grabbing a piece of chicken from Logan’s plate, taking a big bite, and throwing the breast back onto the plate. Tom’s muffled “Thank you for the chicken,” delivered through a mouthful of meat to a shocked Logan, is somehow the most dignified he has ever appeared. We also get what’s maybe the most Logan Roy line of all time, when he wonders aloud to Shiv what Tom has planned next, “Stick his cock into my potato salad?” ★★★★
5. Pizza in the Hamptons, Season 2, Episode 1, “The Summer Palace”
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Roys have a mansion known as the “summer palace” in the Hamptons (which, in real life, was an estate built for Henry Ford’s grandson in the 1960s). Confronted with the threat of the “bear hug” hostile buyout that Kendall, Stewy, and Sandy initiated at the end of the first season, Logan decides to hold court at the summer palace in an attempt to seek clarity and a new successor.
Food: Enraged and disgusted by rotting, raccoon carcasses that have been stuck in the chimney long enough to invite maggots, Logan yells at his house staff to get rid of the lobster and shrimp they had prepared and to order pizza. What must be hundreds of dollars worth of seafood is unceremoniously dumped in the trash outside. (The pizza, to be fair, looks very appetizing.) ★★★★
Ambiance: Reminder that Logan and the staff have just unearthed rotting, maggot-infested raccoon carcasses in the chimney. It’s not a sexy environment. ★☆☆☆
Company: After a break, the gang is back together again! ★★☆☆
Power plays and money moves: To stick or sell: that is the question Logan is mulling over. Too bad no one dares speak their mind freely; Shiv even laughs at that invitation. A cowed, sycophantic court of an authoritarian’s own making — what a neat foreshadowing of dinner scenes to come! ★★★☆
4. How to eat like you have money, Season 1, Episode 6, “Which Side Are You On?”
By sheer, bumbling force of will and the power of his bloodline, newcomer Greg (Nicholas Braun) — the grandson of Logan’s brother — finds himself on the periphery of the Roys’ inner circle. Tom, recognizing another outsider (who is also the one family member he outranks and can therefore bully), quickly takes Cousin Greg under his wing and to a nice tasting-menu restaurant after they commit some casual white collar crimes. While the whole episode is nothing but a series of strategic dinners, this meal stands out, not least because it gives us the enduring image of these two idiots sitting in a trendy restaurant, heads shrouded in napkins.
Food: Monkfish and ortolan, a delicate songbird deep-fried and eaten whole with a napkin over one’s head because it’s so controversial — and, in some places, illegal — to eat. “That’s so good,” Tom sighs, while Greg, choking on the small bones and brain of the bird, comments: “It’s a rather … unique flavor.” Bet you anything he was thinking about how much he’d rather be eating California Pizza Kitchen’s Cajun chicken linguini. ★★☆☆
Ambiance: Chic surroundings befitting of one of the “most exclusive pop-ups of the city,” in Tom’s words. ★★★☆
Company: Of all the messed-up relationships on Succession, Greg and Tom’s remains one of the strangest — and yet, oddly, the most touching. “We have a bond,” Tom tells Greg during dinner (reminder: they just did crimes together!) “I was an outsider once … It was hard, and you create this kind of protective shell, but underneath we’re all just little nudie turtles.” Don’t you mean ... inside every Gregg is a vulnerable Tomlette waiting to be cracked free? ★★★☆
Power plays and money moves: What Tom wants to teach Greg (apart from how to do crimes), is how to live like a rich person, and this dinner is a foundational lesson. “Here’s the thing about being rich: it’s fucking great. It’s like being a superhero, only better. You get to do what you want, the authorities can’t really touch you, you get to wear a costume, but it’s designed by Armani, and it doesn’t make you look like a prick,” says the guy who comes off as a prick 97 percent of the time. ★★☆☆
3. Dinner with the Pierces, Season 2, Episode 5, “Tern Haven”
On a mission to woo the Pierces, the family that owns a rival media group known for its dedication to chasing the truth and winning Pulitzers (the Succession-verse Sulzbergers to the Roys’ Murdochs?), the Roy clan helicopter out to the Pierces’ WASP-y estate for a weekend of smarming and charming. Dinner, a feast made by a staff of at least three is served with a side of awkward small talk (Roman’s girlfriend Tabitha: “We’re not planning to have a baby because that would require us having sex.”) and the implicit sense of purpose driving the entire visit. The Roys want to acquire the Pierces’ PGM, and the Pierces want the billions that the Roys are offering, but neither side wants to come off as too desperate.
Food: Roast beef, soup, rolls, salad, potatoes, haricots verts, spinach (or, as Tom likes to call it, “king of edible leaves, His Majesty the spinach”). Nothing too thrilling, but solid and traditional, just like the Pierces. ★★★☆
Ambiance: Take the strained civility of a Thanksgiving dinner and gradually turn the dial up until you hit the exact moment that Shiv destroys any remaining chance that she will be named Logan’s successor. “Oh for fucks sake, Dad, just tell them it’s going to be me,” she says in response to Nan’s inquiry and Logan’s hedging. Silence, almost echoing in the cavernous dining room. Stricken faces around the table. Logan, jaw clenched, barely concealing his fury. Try enjoying your roast in that icy tension. ★☆☆☆
Company: It’s hard to imagine a family more insufferable than the Roys, and yet the Pierces, with their smug sense of propriety and ritual of reciting Shakespeare instead of saying grace, are worthy rivals, indeed. ★★☆☆
Power plays and money moves: Well, it’s official: Shiv “fucked it,” as the youngest Roy tells Tom after the nightmare meal. ★★★★
2. Boar on the floor, Season 2, Episode 3, “Hunting”
It’s difficult to describe the disturbing, magnetic, can’t-look-away trainwreck of a masterpiece that is “boar on the floor.” You see, Waystar Royco executives fly to a Hungary hunting lodge for a corporate retreat. After a vigorous day of killing stuff, they retire for dinner, only to find themselves trapped in an ominous-looking banquet hall with Logan Roy, who is out for blood. You know what, just watch it:
Food: Sausage presumably made from the very boars these white-collar office ninnies slew during their literal hunt. Level of deliciousness unknown; the victims of the figurative hunt are too busy debasing themselves to comment, “Yummy!” ★★★☆
Ambiance: BOAR ON THE FLOOR! BOAR ON THE FLOOR! BOAR ON THE FLOOR! ★☆☆☆
Company: If the thought of being stuck on an overnight, overseas retreat with your coworkers sounds hellish, just imagine a paranoid and furious Logan Roy being one of those colleagues. ★☆☆☆
Power plays and money moves: There is no bigger display of dick-swinging power. ★★★★★★★★★★
1. Breakfast with a death sentence, Season 2, Episode 10, “This Is Not for Tears”
After years of covering up heinous acts like sexual harassment and coercion, Waystar Royco must finally pay for (some of) its crimes by sacrificing a “skull,” a.k.a. a member of senior management whose scapegoating will be enough to satisfy the shareholders and the American public. To decide who that skull will be, Logan gathers his loyal servants aboard an obscenely decked-out yacht for a breakfast discussion of which person should be hypothetically thrown off the ship to stop it from sinking. Logan, who knows that the shareholders think he should step down, opens the discussion with the martyrizing statement, “I think the obvious choice is me.” As undoubtedly planned by Logan, the group immediately begins protesting — and the circle jerk of betrayal begins.
Food: A decent-enough-looking array of breakfast foods like croissants and smoothies, but who can muster up an appetite when there are colleagues to throw under the bus? ★★☆☆
Ambiance: A gorgeous backdrop of sunshine, azure waters, and warm sunshine, but who can fully decompress when there are colleagues to throw under the bus? ★★☆☆
Company: Members of the work family and the actual family, such as Gerri (“daughters first class on the company coin”), Karl (“I just went for the sports massage, I had no idea it was that kind of establishment”; also, “sausage thief”), Roman (“widely known as a horrible person”), Greg (“Greg sprinkles are a fantastic garnish to anyone seated at this table”), and Shiv and Tom (“beauty and the beast”), but who can enjoy their kinship when there are colleagues to throw under the bus? ★☆☆☆
Power plays and money moves: In case it wasn’t obvious, this meal is all about throwing colleagues under the bus.
But in direct contrast with the dark-lit, primeval chaos of “boar on the floor,” this power breakfast, eaten in broad daylight on a fancy boat, is strategically, agonizingly restrained. Siblings and coworkers artfully deflect blame and offer each other up for slaughter under the cover of this all being a hypothetical thought experiment, stripped of emotions. In Kendall’s words: “I’m saying this but I don’t believe it, I’m just saying it because this is the time we’re all saying things.” The bullshitting is truly masterful, and, trapped by the inflated score I gave “boar on the floor,” I must hereby assign the same star rating here: ★★★★★★★★★★
Update: October 14, 2019, 2:54 p.m.: This article was updated to include scenes from Succession’s season 2 finale.