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Jayson Buford will never trust a plate of buffalo mozzarella again.
Abe Beame is a good person and better than you.
“You’ve won, because you’re corrupt and so is the world” is a phrase we have heard said – or alluded to – by Kendall Roy many times over the course of Succession. But in the penultimate episode of the third season, he says it with a twinge of resignation. Ken has all but realized that his father won’t be held accountable for the cruises scandal at Waystar Royco, and he doesn’t have the spark, zeal, nor a realistic path (did he ever?) to try to become CEO of the company.
After the birthday party from hell (and his Dad’s offer to buy him out), Ken has bottomed out, even sporting a new shaved Navy Seal buzzcut that screams Full Metal Jacket. He shows up in Italy for his mother’s wedding, and is told that his Dad doesn’t want to sit near him at the wedding. He isn’t important like Logan is, and his mother, Lady Caroline Collingwood (Harriet Walker, bitingly great), does not want their bad blood interfering on her precious day. He’s out of the company, and now he’s out of his own family.
Motivated by a desire to put it all behind him, the lack of control he has over his life, and the magnetic attract/repulsion of his father, Kendall asks to meet with Logan. It’s the kind of actor showdown that makes Succession such a a uniquely filmed show. The meadow scene in episode four was solid, but it was in the least great episode of the season [Co- Author note: cap], and one that won’t be remembered like this one will be – accented by a true “Oh Shit” moment that was stunning and heartbreaking even if you saw it coming. It’ll be quite possibly the signature moment of this entire series when the book is finally closed in season four or five.
Kendall and Logan are finally having the conversation that Kendall should have had with him since he was able to live on his own. It’s been about twenty years in the making. Strong and Cox are both Emmy-winning good in this scene, with Strong using the sad intensity, the belief that he can be better than the imprisoning circumstances that he was born into, the desire to make something of himself and the world, that made Kendall Roy the show’s most compelling character. Ken finally wants out. Despite his offer last episode, Logan doesn’t budge on it. Ken was right, it was a mindfuck. Logan would prefer if Ken works for him, a broken mail clerk, where he can keep his eyes on him and so he can use Ken’s capabilities in his way.
Logan is sinister: trash talking Ken by bringing up the death of waiter Andrew Dobbs (‘’Are you a queer, son? Or, was it just the drugs?’’). Comfrey says that an investigative podcast is looking at what happened that night. After a final ‘’fuck off, kiddo,’’ Logan leaves Kendall alone, taking that last, long, prophetic sip of wine. More alone than he has ever been.
Criticism of this season of Succession centered around the plot being stagnant. On some level, this has truth to it. There aren’t any scenes where Kendall guts Vaulter, Roman gets held captive in Turkey, or where Tom is being forced to eat sausages in a dehumanizing game in Hungary. But that’s because the Roy family is isolated. The walls are almost closed in. Logan wanted to know what everyone was doing. The family literally stuck close this season while being isolated in their moral compass and within the outside world. It’s been claustrophobic. A reason where it’s rare when Roman and Shiv aren’t beefing and scheming together and against one another.
The setting of Italy gives the characters room for dynamic performances. The Tuscan streets and grass at La Foce is the backdrop for the backstabbing. This is a call to the fall of the Roman empire, and it works. After Logan and Roman announce the company’s intention to go after Lukas Mattson’s GoJo to a confused Sandi and Stewy (Shiv is at home, depressed and checked out), the family heads to Italy. (A hilarious scene finds Logan staring everyone down during the roll call meeting to vote on what is happening. A callback to the infamous no confidence vote in season one’s “Which Side Are You On?”)
When they get there, Gerri tells a displeased Roman to stop sending her pictures of his dick. For all the talk about Kendall’s problems with self-control, this scene, and prior scenes of Roman barking about sex in conversation with Shiv, show that he has crossed the line between having issues he needs to work on to being a full-on creep. Although Gerri has certainly consented to their psycho-sexual sexcapades in past scenes, Gerri is firm in her demand that he stop now. (This is also aided by Gerri bringing DOJ man Laurie to the wedding, which clearly irritates Roman).
Throughout the show, Roman has always had a twisted mind. It’s anyone’s right to get to have an interesting sex life, but he’s used a waiter to aide in his sexual dynamic, told Tabitha he wanted her to play dead, and has increased his level of sexist language to Shiv. Like Kendall, success in his business prospects seems to bring out the worst in Roman; his steady blue and gross sexual patter elevates to Caligulan levels; he’s sending dick pics in a conference room, he’s high off his own gas and all the shackles are off. As it turns out, he’s a monster (we’ve known that since the pilot, it’s just the magic of this show to make you forget over and over again).
When Shiv meets up with her mother, things turn ugly quickly. There is an underlying trauma in the air when they speak to one another. There’s a biting history, a daughter disappointed in her mom – a mom that feels abandoned by her daughter. After her mom says he shouldn’t have been a parent – a statement that shows just how little love the Roy kids had growing up, Shiv tells Tom that she wants a kid, a reactionary, typically spoiled and wildly irresponsible reflex. Snook is fantastic again in this scene, bringing a desperate cadence to every sentence and body movement. It’s a fever dream with Matthew McFayden, who does melancholy more than locomotion, but matches her step by step as they engage in dirty sex talk about Tom not being good enough for her, articulating his worst nightmares.
The next morning, Tom wonders out loud at the veracity of Shiv’s trash talk towards him. While walking in Tuscany with the camera facing directly at them, there’s awkward talk about freezing eggs and whether Shiv would have Tom’s kids if they die. The Before Sunset-like filmmaking is great on this. You see Wambsgans rip away the seams when Shiv all but admits to him that their relationship is a sham and that she loves him, but in a superficial sense. It’s the conversation that Wambsgans knew was always going to take place but never wanted to admit it.
Dealing with the Gojo problem after Mattson uses social media to manipulate the market (in a satire of Elon Musk), Roman returns for a meeting. He nails it, once again showing the business instincts he has, and his confidence as a pitch man. Whether it’s celebratory arrogance or defiance, Roman sends a dick pic to Gerri after she told him to stop. Except – as he sends it – his Dad texts him ‘’Good job, son,’’ and Roman re-directs the picture to Logan. It’s a bad and hilarious moment, but somehow more visceral than the rocket launch, another phallic Roman disaster where he does something goofy and reacts with quiet shame.
When Shiv follows Logan into another room, she sees the pic and tells Logan all the sex issues she and us, the viewer, know Roman to have. Shiv talks to Gerri, suddenly in a leglock, torn between betraying her mentee and protecting her own interests, and goes for blood, seemingly comfortable with claiming either Gerri or her brother’s scalp. Shiv no doubts doing this because the shit talking and career advancement by her brother has made her jealous, but his eerie behavior towards Shiv this season makes it acceptable. She is re-dedicated, no longer on the sidelines in sweats, and ready to fight her way out of the dog cage her father has built for her – intent on gaining the throne.
When the dust settles, Kendall is in the pool, given a final farewell from his son Iverson as he nods off facedown on an inflatable body float. It’s reminiscent of the ending of Sunset Boulevard and it’s ominous. It remains to be seen whether he is dead, but to discuss this, as well as Connor’s proposal, the GoJo merger, and the birth of fuckboi cousin Greg, it’s the nothing man who may be more responsible for the death of this planet than any other single human being, my partner, Abe Beame. How you holding up brother?
Abe: Rough man. Very fucking rough. “We can’t do this forever”, indeed. Jay, it’s the holiday season, so it pains me to be the person to deliver the news that Santa Claus isn’t real, and Kendall Roy, one of, if not the, greatest creations in HBO history, arguably even television history, is dead. If they pump fake on this, if like, Tom comes out at the opening of episode 9, and pulls Ken out of the pool for last second CPR or some shit, it would be one of the cheapest and lamest moves I’ve ever seen a television show pull, an unforgivable sin to fuck with your audience in that manner. So I’ll take the chance of making an ass of myself and say that’s not happening (And I have a very dark, very bad feeling that Strong’s line delivery to Iverson, saying goodbye for the last time, that meek, tender, drunken, “ok buddy”, will haunt my nightmares and stick with me for a very long while. Just such a fucking sad, shitty miserable way to sign off. Drowning on a floaty, blacked out and facedown in a pool with the rest of his body out of water and his fucking sun glasses on his back. It’s so fucking poetic, so pathetic, so perfect. Seriously, fuck this show for doing this to him, and us, it’s a rack, a medieval torture device). Last week, in the recap, I told you I saw an ending coming for Ken, that in many ways the show had run out of narrative road for him, and after Logan kicked the dog to see if it would come back, this was the crushing, inevitable conclusion to his Greek tragedy.
So let’s live in a world where Ken is no more. We’ve spoken off mic, and I know you don’t want to believe it, and it’s really understandable. It’s hard to conceive of this show working without Jeremy Strong as its anchor. But shows – less nimble and intelligent shows – have dealt with pivots like this before. Succession appears to be a tightly casted, intimate series about a family with only a few enormous moving pieces, but has a deceptively deep bench. I have a feeling we’re being set up for a wild, explosive season finale, unless it’s just going to be a very deserving kind of heart wrenching tribute episode to Jeremy Strong and Kendall, and they keep their powder dry for the premier of season four. Either way, I think this show is smarter than we are, and has a hell of a final stretch ahead utilizing the pieces left on the board.
On that note, I want to discuss a development you brought up in passing with your conclusion. Up to this point, Cousin Greg has been an object of ridicule, but as we’ve discussed off and on throughout this season, he’s always been good for the occasional brilliant chess move when given leverage. With Ken gone, Roman in serious jeopardy, Gerri bleeding out, and Shiv with a lot of ground to make up, could season four be about the dark and gritty Cousin Greg reboot? With his almost immediate dismissal of his former dream girl Comfrey, I think we’ve seen him turn a corner as a character, taking a hard lean into being the same style of gaping asshole with a disregard for human life his family has. I was chilled by this somewhat subtle development in a way I never have been by Greg, sporting Chekov’s watch at last. What say you?
Jay: The problem with a dark and gritty Cousin Greg season is that it would be a huge character jump from a guy who has not shown that. I doubt he makes an interesting chess move but I am interested in seeing how his relationship with Comfrey plays out. It seems like there is some chemistry there, and if he could stop focusing on what Tom thinks about her, then he could have something with her. Naomi Fry of The New Yorker once wrote that Succession was the best sitcom on television and in many ways, a season about Greg would be the writers leaning into that. I don’t think it is going to happen. I’d rather see a season about Connor, who has yet to hear back from Willa on his marriage proposal.
If Kendall is dead, then I’ll concede to you. I’d be surprised if the writers had the audacity to write him out. It is hard not to be affected by the beer in the pool and Ken’s head in the water. He has been on a tragic arc from the beginning of the series. Logan’s last conversation was so cold, nihilistic, and dismissive. Maybe it left his grandkids without their father. Now, what did you think about Roman’s mishap this episode? A lot to talk about there.
Abe: Definitely your best call from last week. We suspected Roman’s victory wouldn’t be long lived, but dear God, sending your father a dick pic with Gerri tagged in the text, a little convenient, but just devastating. There’s this Nicolas Winding Refn movie I absolutely despise called Only God Forgives, and the film takes real pleasure in torturing its protagonist, and by extension its audience, and the point, so far as I can tell there is one, is that God is cold and random, and you keep losing and having more and more taken from you until there’s nothing left. It seems like that’s what this show is setting up in the cyclical nature Fry was referring to; it’s Russian in its philosophy…rolling boulders up steep hills and being crushed by them over and over again.
The Roman thing was ghastly because his sex issues are Ken’s drinking, and Shiv’s arrogance. Each kid has an achilles heel, a fatal flaw, and Roman’s finally, uh, exploded, taking himself and potentially Gerri down with him in the exchange. In the wake of cruises, it’s hard to take his prospects seriously ever again. I like your note about how success only seemed to make his compulsions worse. He became bolder, both in his weird and gross fixation on his sister and Gerri, and it led to him serving as the architect of his own downfall.
I thought one of the most interesting moments of the episode (from a plot perspective not character), was when Logan pretty shockingly flips – suddenly amenable to the idea of a merger with GoJo. It’s probably the most intelligent, humble, and insightful decision Logan has made on the show thus far. The question is, what happens to the deal with Mattson now that its point person has badly compromised himself? Are we heading towards a sex scandal with Gerri? Are the writers going to kind of sweep it under the rug, as we’ve seen them do with plot inconveniences in the past?
Jay: Don’t speak too soon. We don’t know the extent of the trouble that Roman might be in. It is possible that nothing comes of this and only Gerri is harmed. What I found interesting is Logan’s disgust of what Roman did even though he has MoLester running an Epstein-like ring for many years. Old men liking girls is business to him. Roman and Gerri aren’t something that he can understand. It isn’t the cost of doing business. It’s far from his reach as a man, and Roman’s Anthony Weiner cosplays are now on the Summer Jam screen. My gut tells me that the writers handle it with little fanfare. They push Gerri out with the calculatedness of picking the next President. Shiv’s scene with Gerri was chilling. J. Smith Cameron’s face is still stuck in my head, utterly hopeless and trying to ease Shiv’s qualms at the same time.
Abe: I more or less agree with this; Logan’s objection seemed more aesthetic, but I also think that aesthetic objection puts Roman’s entire bid in question. With Logan it’s gut and instinct, and I think discovering the extent of Roman’s perversion has shaken his faith. But again, things are made and unmade on this show with such lightning speed, who knows.
Shiv’s revenge tour in this episode was interesting. At the outset, she’s in sweats at home, disinterested in what’s going on at the office as they close in on a deal that has huge implications on the future of the company. She doesn’t care about Lady Caroline’s sham marriage; like Ken, she’s ready to take herself out of the running.
After a Come to Jesus moment where she sees all the things she hates about her mother manifested in herself, she’s rededicated herself to having a kid with Tom, and wrestling back control of Waystar – not taking no for an answer or giving a fuck if her dad isn’t going to play fair or do what’s right. She’s going to win at all costs, which is all Logan has ever wanted to see. And you can see the viciousness back, or really perhaps for the first time as she nails Gerri to the cross. I think in the wake of Ken’s exit, we’re setting up what’s going to be a Royal Rumble in season four as the ship careens towards the iceberg.
Jay: It was bone chilling seeing Sarah Snook and Harriet Walter air out their grievances. We haven’t seen many Shiv and Tom domesticated scenes. One of those reasons is because the walls are closing in on the family, making them more insular. Another is because Shiv and Tom don’t like each other. It isn’t like the first season – which always showed the love Tom had for her. Shiv cheated, but there are moments where she defends Tom and has his back. To see them all but admit their marriage is a sham is another banner Snook and McFayden scene – two of the MVP’s for this season.
Abe: The Tom and Shiv relationship is a great example of yet another component I think is about to be jolted out of the cyclical “sitcom” model in the coming season. Something does feel like it’s about to shift if we’ve lost Ken. To quote Benedict Cumberbatch, in what I can’t quite remember but assume was from Power of the Dog or The Imitation Game or something, “We’re in the Endgame now.” I think next season will be about the dissolution of this family and this company, its devastation and ruination, because they sacrificed their number one boy.