Let’s Talk About the Last 30 Seconds of This Week’s Succession

Despite Succession’s long history of bleak Kendall imagery, there is no unambiguous way to read what’s happening in the ending scene of “Chiantishire.” Photo: Graeme Hunter/Graeme Hunter

Note: This essay considers, in great detail, the end of Succession 308 “Chiantishire.”

The second-to-last episode of Succession’s third season ends with an infuriatingly ambiguous scene. Earlier in the episode, the show’s No. 1 son Kendall (Jeremy Strong) — sorry, Connor, but we all know it’s true — has confronted his father Logan once again, and this time he’s given up. After three seasons of wrestling for the top spot, Kendall can’t take it anymore. He asks Logan to let him leave the company, to cease his endless battle for the future control of Waystar Royco. He waves a white flag and hopes Logan will just let him disappear with some measure of dignity. But even that is too much grace for Logan Roy. Logan refuses, leaving Kendall in an even more humiliating position than he was in before: He’s declared himself the loser, but he doesn’t get to stop playing the game. He has to stay in and be the family punching bag forever.

So when the episode ends with Kendall lying prone on an inflatable pool float, with his face submerging into the water, it’s very clear that this is not a good thing. The precise nature of what it is, though — that’s much harder to read. (Note: Discussion of self-harm and suicidal ideation lies ahead.)

It’s part of a long history of Kendall imagery, stories and scenes Succession has been touching on since the show’s first season. As Logan reminds Kendall in excruciating detail during that dinner conversation, Kendall has already been involved in a drowning. At the end of season one, his inebriated and overwrought search for drugs at Shiv’s wedding ends in Kendall killing a hotel employee. He is chastened, guilty, longing for some kind of absolution; the best he can get is Logan’s assurance that the problem will get taken care of. Still, Logan gets to keep it as a gruesome piece of leverage over his son.

It eats at Kendall. In season two, Logan takes a trip to visit the employee’s family and demands that Kendall come along. He can’t even bring himself to look at them sitting in the living room, and ends up in the kitchen, washing out a glass in an effort to find something to do with his hands. Even before that point in season two, there’s some oblique suggestion that Kendall might be considering harming himself, or at least that Logan thinks it’s possible. In the fourth episode of season two, “Safe Room,” Kendall stands on the roof of the Waystar building, looking out over the city. It’s unclear what he’s thinking, but when he returns to that same rooftop at the end of the episode, someone has installed massive clear barrier walls — safety measures to prevent anyone from jumping.

Kendall’s also often depicted around imagery of submersion. At the start of season two, he’s soaking in a tub at an Icelandic spa, trying to escape what he’s just done. In the first episode of season three, he has a panic attack and hides in the bathroom, eventually sitting fully clothed in the empty tub. By this penultimate episode of season three, Logan is insisting Kendall remember exactly what happened to that hotel kid. “How long was that kid alive before he started sucking the water?” Logan asks Kendall. “Couple minutes? Three, four, five? A long time, two minutes.”

So by the end of the episode, as Kendall floats in the pool and appears to let his head fall into the water, it’s hard not to look at what Succession has laid out over the last three seasons and not come to the conclusion that Kendall may be drowning. The beer bottle he’s been holding slips out of his grasp and falls into the pool. From below, where the camera watches from under the water, we can see air leaving his lungs as a stream of bubbles surrounds his face.

Despite Succession’s long history of bleak Kendall imagery, there is no unambiguous way to read exactly what’s happening in this ending scene. Kendall may be fully awake, holding his face underwater as he has done in past scenes in the show. He may be imagining the moment Logan has laid out for him, the young hotel employee’s slow and excruciating death. The final shot could be a form of suicidal ideation, with Kendall considering ending his own life. Or, as the beer bottle suggests, he may no longer be conscious and is on the verge of drowning.

Whatever ends up being the case, the episode’s closing scene is masterfully enigmatic. It is impossible to say what’s happening with any certainty, but it’s equally impossible to leave that scene without an overwhelming sense that it is bad. (The fact that The New Yorker dropped an extensive, in-depth profile of Jeremy Strong several hours before the episode was released doesn’t make things feel any less dire, either.) Which means … see everyone back here for the finale? In the meantime, thank you to Succession for this unimpeachable feeling of doom that will hang over us for the next week. Just what we all needed for the end of 2021.

Let’s Talk About the Last 30 Seconds of Succession