Spoilers ahead for “All the Bells Say,” the season-three finale of Succession.
Mog was tired. She was dead tired … Mog thought, “I want to sleep for ever.” And so she did. But a little bit of her stayed awake to see what would happen next.”
Early in the fantastically tense season-three finale of Succession, Logan Roy reads a portion of these words from the children’s book Goodbye Mog to Kendall’s son, Iverson. Iverson is too old for a picture book like this but apparently takes comfort in this story about … a cat who dies?
In the context of this episode, Mog is an obvious stand-in for Kendall Roy, who, in keeping with much internet speculation during the past week, really did almost drown while floating on a raft in a pool at the end of last week’s episode. Was it an attempt to end his life? It looks that way to his family — he did have to be briefly hospitalized, after all — but in the finale, Kendall downplays it as just an accident. Still, it’s clear that even if he did not intend to actually kill himself, he didn’t necessarily care if he lived or died after his father refused to throw him the buyout cash that would allow him to disappear from the Waystar Royco family forever. Kendall was dead tired. But a little bit of him managed to stay awake. And what happened next, in the ninth and final episode of this terrific season of Succession, actually gave Kendall what he’s been wanting since the beginning of this season — really, since the beginning of this entire series: for he and his siblings to form an alliance and finally stage a coup on dear old Dad.
That coup ultimately didn’t succeed because someone tipped off Logan to their plans ahead of time, allowing their mom to reassume the supermajority shares that had been guaranteed to the Roy children in their parents’ divorce agreement. Still, the fact that they approached their dad as a united front altered the Succession dynamic significantly in that, finally, Shiv and Roman understand what Kendall has already grasped: No matter what they do, their father will never see them as worthy of being his successor. Their smartest move is to actually have one another’s backs and be prepared to throw a knife into Logan’s.
The formulation of a real union between Kendall, Shiv, and Roman began to take shape midway through the episode in one of the best scenes in the show’s history, as Shiv and Roman inform Kendall that Logan may be selling the company outright to Lukas Matsson and GoJo. Shiv and Roman, still jockeying to be Daddy’s fave, blurt out what’s going on and try to get Kendall’s take on where Logan’s head might be about a sale. But Kendall — who, again, almost died less than 24 hours earlier and seems blatantly broken — can only laugh when Shiv asks whether he’s been engaging in backdoor dealings with Matsson.
Then Kendall collapses and starts to completely unload his feelings. “I took a shot,” he says, a vague statement that could refer to his attempt to take down Logan, his attempt to get that buyout, or both. “But it’s like it didn’t matter.”
“I’m not a good person,” he adds, an extraordinarily self-aware thing for him to admit considering how completely unself-aware he’s been this season. Then he proceeds to tell his siblings about the death of the waiter from Shiv’s wedding, breaking down in tears.
There has been an absurd amount of conversation about the New Yorker profile of Jeremy Strong that describes his unique approach to playing Kendall. Whatever you may think about his methods, they certainly seem to work in his favor in this scene. His performance here just punches you right in the heart. After wanting to kick Kendall right in his Tiny Wu-Tang for much of the season, in this episode, I felt enormous sympathy for this formerly Twitter-obsessed man who has shattered into pieces and lets us see every single shard.
Succession has always been a series about terrible people acting terribly, but in this moment, Kendall demonstrates a sense of deep remorse, shame, and awareness of his own mistakes that turns that entire framework on its ear. Kendall has done very bad things. But after this episode, you can’t accurately say he’s an entirely bad person. Instead of making a deal with the devil (heyyyy, Greg), he’s facing his demons and trying to exorcize them. That’s worth something.
Ultimately, Shiv and Roman are on his side, a change that comes through in the brilliant way this sequence is blocked. When the three first retreat from the hubbub of the wedding to a small parking area, they form a triangle with each one firmly planted in his or her own corner. Kendall moves farther away from Shiv and Roman as they argue over what their father might do. Pointedly, he notices the staff from the wedding dumping trash into cans, an allusion to the waiter Kendall thinks he killed. After Kendall sinks to the ground, it is Shiv who moves close to him first, attempting — in her way — to comfort him, while Roman remains a good distance away.
As strategic and calculating as Shiv can be, she does seem to feel for her brother, kneeling down to his level and placing a hand on his back. At the same time, her first instinct is to flee. “Okay,” she says after Kendall’s “I’m blown into a million pieces” comment, “we’ve got to get you out of here.”
Roman is far less equipped to deal with actual feelings. Instead, he argues that Kendall isn’t really a killer because he did try to dive in the water and save the waiter — “You’re more of an irresponsibler” — and uses the best tools in his arsenal: snarky comments he hopes will make Kendall laugh instead of sobbing. “Who’s the real victim here?” Roman asks, referring to the poor service at Shiv’s wedding because of the waiter’s absence. “I waited three-quarters of an hour for a gin and tonic.” There’s something almost beautiful about watching this exchange between the two of them in light of that New Yorker profile, in which Kieran Culkin said he thinks Succession is a comedy and Strong does not. They’re both correct. For Roman, who copes with life via quips and sarcasm, it’s absolutely a comedy. For Kendall, a depressed soul who never gets what he wants, it’s a tragedy. Those two points of view are on active, effective display in this scene.
What’s also significant about this moment is that when Kendall confesses to his actions and his overwhelming sense of guilt, his siblings do the opposite of what their dad did back in the first season’s finale: They refuse to let him feel like it’s entirely his fault. And despite their cutthroat actions toward Kendall earlier in the season, neither Shiv nor Roman hints at using this information as leverage against Kendall. After this scene, they seem to be in one another’s corners instead of standing in separate ones, an idea conveyed visually when Roman places his hands on Kendall’s shoulders as he weeps and Shiv, a tad awkwardly, pats the top of Kendall’s head. It’s like they are playing a weird game of Twister, and they’re way worse at it than they are at Monopoly. But there’s a loving undercurrent to it nonetheless.
As they get up and prepare to head to a car waiting to take them to their father, Shiv asks Kendall where he’d like to wait. “Can I be with you guys?” he asks. It is a question that sounds like something a little boy would ask. With dust on the seats of their dress pants, Roman and Kendall even look like little boys. But the interaction they’ve just had, certainly by Roy family standards, is a mature one, and so is their decision to face their father as a unit instead of trying to undercut each other.
They may not emerge triumphant in their efforts to outmaneuver their father. But by the end of the finale, Kendall, Shiv, and Roman do not come across as babies. All three of them stand firm together against their dad, suggesting maybe they’ve developed some form of a moral code. Logan Roy, on the other hand — a man who can’t be bothered with reading children’s books, who always has to win, and who still has no idea what it means to be a decent father — is still the same as he’s always been. So who’s the real spoiled brat of Succession?
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