While the employees of Dunder Mifflin and Waystar Royco couldn’t be more different, The Office and Succession share something remarkable in common: an affinity for long, painfully awkward silences.
If you’re a fan of the off-air NBC workplace comedy, one silence in particular will likely spring to mind. In Season 2, Episode 11 of the series, titled “Booze Cruise,” Jim and Pam let a whopping 27 seconds of silence hover between them on the deck of a ship as they reflected on Pam’s relationship with Roy. In those 27 seconds — though you don’t hear a word — you can see a journey play out on the character’s faces. Jim’s clearly processing the fact that Pam finally complained about her fiancé and is fighting the urge to confess his own romantic feelings for her. Meanwhile, Pam’s waiting to see how Jim will react and wondering if she overstepped.
Credit: SCREENSHOT: THE OFFICE / NBC / PEACOCK
When the episode aired in January 2006, a silence that long on network television was essentially unheard of. On an episode of the Office Ladies podcast, The Office showrunner Greg Daniels explained, “There was a lot of urge to trim that up. That’s an awful long time to not have people talk.” Ultimately, he wanted to keep all 27 seconds in the final episode cut, because he felt it set the show apart. “That was part of, I think, what made the show so special and so different from what was on TV,” he said. “[Those] moments of behavior were really important, more so than jokes and setups and punchlines and lines and stuff.”
Credit: SCREENSHOT: THE OFFICE / NBC / PEACOCK
The scene reaffirmed that The Office wasn’t afraid to take bold risks on TV, and more than a decade later, the cast, crew, and writers of the show still proudly celebrate those 27 seconds of silence. It remains unclear if the series actually set a record for longest TV silence in “Booze Cruise,” or how many other shows have out-silenced them since 2006, but I do know one thing for sure: A recent episode of Succession featured a stretch of silence nearly twice as long as the one in “Booze Cruise.”
In the fourth episode of Succession Season 3, “Lion in the Meadow,” Kendall and Logan Roy reunite at a major investor’s house mid-blood feud in hopes of salvaging the family hold on their company. The investor briefly leaves the two alone at the start of the meeting, which results in a respectable 23 seconds of silence. But those stubborn men were just getting warmed up. When left alone again later in the day, the father and son let an uncomfortably long 48-second silence linger between them. 48 freaking seconds! I’m shifting in my seat just thinking about it.
The scene, which could give any onlooker secondhand anxiety, shows Kendall and Logan sitting side by side at a lavish table on the beach. Surrounded by a feast of uneaten shellfish, they restlessly adjust their posture, blink, inhale, exhale, flex their facial muscles, and steal glances at one another from underneath the brims of their unmarked black baseball caps while nothing but faint beach noises can be heard. As the seconds pass (and keep on passing) you can almost feel the air between them grow thick with tension. After those 48 agonizing seconds, Logan finally caves and grumpily asks, “What?!” The investor returns before they have a chance to converse, but it’s a scene that will go down in television history.
Credit: MACALL B. POLAY / HBO
As Greg Daniels said of The Office’s 27-second silence, the fact that Succession can successfully pull off a 48-second verbal pause is part of what makes the show so special, so different from the rest of what’s on TV. Logan and Kendall’s behavior — their refusal to engage with each other for that long — spoke volumes about their emotions and was likely more effective than any dialogue-heavy blowout would have been.
In Welcome to Dunder Mifflin, an oral history of The Office by Brian Baumgartner (aka Kevin Malone) and Ben Silverman (an Office executive producer), director Ken Kwapis explained that the length of The Office’s memorable silence was never planned.
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“John and Jenna both knew there were no rules about pace. They’re not doing a scene, we’re observing them. We’re observing two people having a moment. So it was not objectionable to let the moment linger,” he said. “I don’t remember, when we shot it, feeling like, ‘Oh my God, this is it. We’ve broken the record for longest moment of not talking.'”
Was the length of Succession’s silences planned in advance? We may never know. But scripted or not, I can’t imagine anyone shooting that second Logan/Kendall exchange cut without feeling like they’d just broken the record for longest moment of not talking.