Succession Season-Finale Recap: Killer Instinct


All the Bells Say
Season 3 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating 5 stars


All the Bells Say
Season 3 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating 5 stars
Photo: Graeme Hunter/HBO

There’s a scene late in the first season of Succession where Kendall, Roman, and Shiv get together in the boathouse on the evening before Shiv’s wedding. (No one remembered to ask Connor, of course.) They smoke pot. They crack a few jokes. They muse about old times when perhaps they weren’t hurting each other at their father’s behest. Then Ken asks them to come together for a hug. He knows this may be the last time they’ll ever get the chance because he’s cut a deal with Sandy and Stewy for the “bear hug” that will wrest control of Waystar from the family — and on the day of Shiv’s wedding, no less.

“All the Bells Say” includes a crushing mirror image of that moment, with the same three again in Europe for a wedding and, for the first time, seeing each other as human again. The ambiguous ending to last week’s episode was indeed something to be concerned about, and not just the artful homage to the drowned waiter. Kendall slipped into the pool, which may or may not have been a conscious suicide attempt but was certainly an indicator of his deteriorated mental state. For once, the Roy siblings aren’t stepping on each other’s backs in the mad scramble to the top of their father’s business but are finally accessing the atrophied parts of their souls where they felt genuine brotherly and sisterly love. We have seen them in those vulnerable places before as individuals, but never together. There’s no angle in that.

In this masterfully orchestrated finale, written by creator Jesse Armstrong, their relationship as siblings and their fate at the company coalesce in one devastating scene. And we learn — as they also learn — that business does not ultimately transcend family for them. Not like it does for Logan. Not like it does for Caroline. What Kendall, Roman, and Shiv have in common — and apologies again to poor Connor, who will tell you repeatedly that he’s the eldest son — is the recognition that they’ve all suffered immensely at their father’s hand and can finally hold him responsible together. There’s a cynical way of looking at this, of course: If Logan weren’t about to sell out the company to GoJo, thus screwing them all over, maybe nothing changes between them. But Kendall’s breakdown in the driveway outside the Tuscan reception has a more elemental quality.

Over the past few days, there’s been a huge brouhaha over Michael Schulman’s excellent profile of Jeremy Strong in The New Yorker. The piece digs into Strong’s unusually intense process, which may yield the best performance from the best cast of the best television show, but also causes some friction with his co-stars, whose own processes are affected by his. Celebrities like Jessica Chastain, Aaron Sorkin, and Adam McKay (who executive-produces Succession and directed the first episode) weighed in to defend Strong from attack as if it were some kind of hit piece, but the profile remains a fascinating and unusually intimate look at how Strong goes about playing a character like Kendall, who may be at the center of a very funny show but doesn’t see the role as anything like a joke.

In actuality, Schulman’s piece sets the table beautifully for what Strong accomplishes here as Kendall falls apart in the dirt. “Shiv, I’m not here,” he says. “I’m not feeling very connected to my children or my endeavors right now.” And what’s more, this last desperate bid to turn the tables on his father by exposing the cruises scandal — an operation he had known about full well — has failed, and he cannot realize this screwed-up fantasy of being a Me Too hero, whistleblowing his father into prison. “I’m not a good person,” he tells them before confessing that he’d “killed” the waiter who drowned on Shiv’s wedding day. It all comes out in a torrent of raw emotion, courtesy of a serious actor who does not believe himself to be the star of a comedy.

The way that powerful scene dovetails with a GoJo deal that stands to cut them all off from the company is as gripping a sequence of events as the show has ever staged. It turns out that Kendall, Roman, and Shiv have a means to unravel the deal, thanks to an obscure (and, okay, very writerly) stipulation in Logan’s divorce agreement with Caroline, which basically allows them to overrule via supermajority. The hastily thought-through plan — God bless these precious fail-children — has them killing the GoJo sale, pushing their dad out of the company, and installing themselves as Waystar’s idiot leaders. We want it to work too, because the siblings are finally united against a common enemy. And maybe, just maybe, if they’re competent, they could serve in complementary roles.

But fucking Tom! Waiting in the weeds! (I can’t be the only one who yelped with excitement when he turned up at the end, right?) Tom, that ineffectual rube from Minnesota who swallowed his own semen at his bachelor party. Tom, whose marriage has been a ceaseless misery of infidelity and indifference, if not outright cruelty, from his partner. Tom, whose neck was so far out on the chopping block that he spent much of the season looking at federal prisons like a travel agent assesses vacation spots. Shiv would not have thought that Tom had it in him to pull off a betrayal of this magnitude, but she has reaped what she has sown. As Logan announces gleefully to his children, their “guns have been turned into sausages.”

The payoff is richly satisfying because it was both unexpected and carefully mapped out. “Hello, Mister Police,” says Armstrong. “I gave you all the clues.” Tom surprised Logan by offering himself as the fall guy on the cruises scandal — an offer made more delicious here by the fact that Shiv herself had suggested it! While glasses were being raised over DOJ’s reported disinterest in more than issuing a hefty fine, Logan quietly patted Tom on the shoulder, saying he wouldn’t forget what he’d done. And now Tom has catapulted himself to a very big seat at the table.

What will that look like? We’ll see next season. There was much speculation over who might die on the finale — including this delightful piece by Vulture’s Jackson McHenry — because it seemed like a death was needed to shake things up a little. If Logan had died, as I confess to have believed would be likely, the fourth season would have been a mad scramble to fill the vacuum. If Kendall had died, it would have felt like the inevitable conclusion to a tragic arc. Now everyone will be back for the fourth season, and the time in between is all question marks about the future of the Roy family and the company and the changing dynamic between the siblings and their relationship with Logan.

Who knows? Maybe this is a blessing in disguise for all of them.

(It isn’t.)

Sad-Sack Wasp Traps

• Having the Roy family play Monopoly together is perhaps a bit on the nose, though Tom’s multiple “Get Out of Jail Free” cards retroactively count as an omen.

• Given Kendall’s state of mind, it’s hard to think about anyone suffering more at the hands of his father, but there’s a good argument to be made for Roman, who gets lashed about his aberrant sexuality (“Is it all screens and up the ass with you?”) and legitimately quakes when his siblings ask him to turn against Logan in the end. His reward for refusing, this one time, to peel off with his father is being chopped up right along with Kendall and Shiv.

• A fine Mark Zuckerberg story about the Romans and the slaves, particularly Logan’s punch line: “Does he have a kid in Malaysia reading history for him?” Probably so.

• Telling exchange between Matsson and Logan, who share an honest, respectful connection as two ruthless businessmen. Matsson questions whether Logan, an old man on death’s door, can really get excited about the future. “That’s something you say, isn’t it?” Logan admits.

• Great to see Connor finally stand up for himself, albeit in a semi-embarrassing fashion. In fact, his tempest of self-pity turns out to be the magical elixir that persuades Willa to accept his marriage proposal, in part because she feels so sorry for him. “Con, you’re a nice man,” she admits. “And you know what? Fuck it. Come on. How bad can it be?” She said yes!

• Greg’s slow heel-turn into a status-obsessed Roy finally concludes with him dumping Comfry to pursue a princess eighth in line to the Luxembourg throne, which is surely a reference to Kind Hearts and Coronets, the classic Ealing comedy starring Alec Guinness as a man eight heirs from dukedom. (“Eighth in line?” Tom exclaims. “If you marry her, you’re a plane crash away from becoming Europe’s weirdest king!”)

• Brutal end to Roman and Gerri’s relationship. Gerri is a company woman at heart, and indulging the kids had been part of the job for her.

• It took some time for the first season of Succession to take hold with the public, including TV writers here at Vulture, which did not recap the first season. But starting tonight, I’m filling in the gap for fans by recapping all of season one, pretending that I stepped into a time machine and am seeing every episode for the first time. We’re releasing two recaps for the next four Sundays. First up: the series premiere, “Celebration,” and “Sh*t Show at the F**k Factory.” See if you can fill in those asterisks.

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Succession Season-Finale Recap: Killer Instinct