Succession Recap: A Weak Monarch


Season 4 Episode 6
Editor’s Rating 5 stars


Season 4 Episode 6
Editor’s Rating 5 stars
Photo: David M. Russell/HBO/David M. Russell

The important thing to remember about Theranos is that its core idea — that quick and comprehensive blood testing could be done with a pinprick-size sample — was never scientifically possible. This entire Silicon Valley apparatus with a $10 billion valuation and a board full of esteemed luminaries was all smoke and mirrors conjured by a self-styled tech visionary who ended up being a dangerous fraud. Elizabeth Holmes asked investors to imagine a future in which proprietary testing machines flood the market like toasters, stocking Walgreens “Wellness Centers,” military vehicles, and perhaps a discreet square of counter space at your home. The potential windfall of “disrupting” the health-care space was too seductive for the viability question to matter. Let the nerds figure out the details.

Living+ is an absolutely brilliant parody of the fanciful thinking that makes tech phenomena like Theranos possible. Kudos to Kendall. After failing to sabotage the deal with Lukas Matsson, his big Hail Mary play is an idea grand enough to drive Waystar’s value above the $192 per share Matsson was willing to pay for the company (as much out of spite as corporate expansion). And Kendall’s father bequeathed him with a product idea, Land Cruises, so utterly morose and deflating that it sounds conceived through a misbegotten session of refrigerator-magnet poetry. As Matsson puts it, “You know how shitty and heartbreaking it is to be locked up on a cruise? How about that but you also get to stay in the same fucking place the whole time?” In an investor pitch recorded before he died, even Logan couldn’t bring himself to make “I couldn’t be more excited” sound distant enough from sarcasm.

Alas, necessity is the mother of invention, and Kendall’s transformation into a tech guru is both diabolically clever and exquisitely stupid. His only mistake was not trading his Top Gun–“Mission Accomplished” CEO flak jacket for a Steve Jobs turtleneck and a pair of $500 distressed jeans. Kendall describes what Living+ actually is very well: an effort to “warehouse the elderly and keep them drunk on content while we suck them dollar-dry.” But his big idea, his “one more thing,” is that Waystar will double the earnings of its parks division by adding Living+ with the promise of eternal life — or at least the extension of life through Waystar’s access to the private technologies that are currently enhancing billionaires but can give Grandma and Grandpa a chance to spend more time with their families — and beloved Waystar IP, from Dirk the Turkey to Jeryd Mencken.

Kendall’s presentation is another dramatic masterstroke, as he shifts from another “L to the OG”–level catastrophe (“Big shoes. Big, big shoes”) to a transformative event in the history of humankind. It’s also, sneakily, an expression of grief in an episode in which the loss of Logan still weighs heavily on his children. At the end of his speech, Kendall starts to believe his own pitch: “If you ask me, would I take an extra year, right now, with my dad? Say the unsaid? That would be priceless.” The tears welling up in his eyes are not stagecraft but the sort of sincere wish that could make a dumb idea like Living+ “stand up” on wildly inflated projection numbers. Kendall’s interaction with his dad onstage is a chance to reclaim that relationship by literally controlling the words he wishes to hear. He’s not a “fucking idiot kid” but a genius who will double the growth of a fossilized division.

The other kids are still reeling from their father’s death too, though whatever Connor — the one closest to his dad in proximity, if not in spirit — may be doing in the embalming room this week is left to the imagination. For Roman, the role of CE-Bro isn’t about being the No. 1 son like Kendall but doing his best imitation of his father’s feisty impulsiveness — and expecting his new subordinates to afford him the same respect. When Joy, the Waystar Studios chief trying to manage the hibernating robot-movie debacle, doesn’t take him seriously enough, he fumbles into firing her. And when Gerri strongly questions the wisdom of firing Joy without alerting legal and PR, to say nothing of his caretaker role before the sale to Matsson (“You are a weak monarch in a dangerous interregnum, and I think you need to reconsider”), he fires her, too. It’s easier to do this time than on the day his dad died.

The utter recklessness of Roman and Kendall’s newfound power, as if they’re children gobbling themselves sick on a Halloween-candy haul, reaches its comic peak when Kendall delights in Roman’s fire-athon. He imagines the headlines: “Dynamic Waystar Duo Shake Up Their Senior Leadership Team. Grumble-quote, grumble-quote. Caveat: Some are saying these two young Turks might have what it takes to turn things around.” Meanwhile, Shiv can see the implosion happening plainly enough, so she’s seeking out her own position while quietly scheduling time to mourn her father. (Shades of Holly Hunter, our erstwhile Nan Pierce whisperer, in Broadcast News.) She’s insulted to play third wheel to her brothers and plots for a future where Matsson taps her as the savvy company insider while showing Roman and Kendall the door. (Step one: Take away his Twitter access.)

Then there’s her relationship with Tom, which exists in some confusing no-man’s-land between real and transactional, the embodiment of that heavily memed Benoit Blanc line in Knives Out: “It makes no damn sense. Compels me, though.” The two of them flirt with the stylized dialogue of a classic film noir like Double Indemnity, and there are strong indications here, beyond Shiv’s pregnancy, that they have an active, spicy sex life. The game of “bitey” they play with each other — a continuation of Tom’s flicking the “barnacle meat” of Shiv’s ear last week — may be perverse and startling, but it’s certainly a sign of intimacy. And when the two of them return to the bedroom, with Tom talking frankly about the entanglement of their relationship with his interests in money and a career, it feels like they’re communicating again.

The terms of Shiv and Tom’s relationship seem impossibly confusing yet up for constant renegotiation, which seems right for two people bonded in business and pleasure. Succession can punch hard and true at its satirical targets — like turning Living+ into a combination of WeWork, the Villages, and the spaceship of fools from Wall-E — but its writers can also live in the more nuanced, ambiguous space of a fucked-up relationship, one that’s sad, sexy, vicious, transactional, and confusing for both parties. All they know is that there’s something still between them — and in this screwed-up, destabilized time in their lives, that’s enough.

Sad-Sack Wasp Traps

• One major refrain of the show in general, and this episode in particular, is the use of the words excited or exciting to describe developments that are anything but. Adults don’t get authentically excited about things, especially these adults. They have to fake it. And Logan couldn’t even do that about Living+.

• “He’s a genius. Nobody minds a genius acting weird.” That’s Gerri on Lukas, but it could be said about a lot of walking-barefoot-on-the-tarmac types who have created a cult of personality around themselves in the tech world.

“Gated Communities, Infinite Freedom”: more Living+ refrigerator-magnet poetry.

• God bless the leadership strategy of not allowing subordinates to say “no” to you. This leads to the absurd spectacle of Kendall ordering up a Living+ house onstage the day before his presentation, complete with bleak fog-machine clouds, and to Greg bullying an editor into inserting the “double the earnings” quote into Logan’s mouth. (“I want to get in the good books. So you help me get in the good books. Understand, Mr. Snippy-Snip?”)

• Fantastic scene with Karl threatening Kendall before his big speech, which sets up a wonderfully ironic conclusion in which Karl is thrilled by Kendall doing exactly what he told him not to do. Surely, Karl knows the “eternal life” idea is nonsense, but the fatter the company’s valuation, the more golden the parachute for the departing CFO.

• “You’re an ATN citizen! And you’re an ATN citizen!”: Tom riling up his audience like Oprah giving away cars.

• Kendall’s ideas about what his version of the company has to offer continue to be bizarre: “Hyperlocal news, movie-themed events, advance screenings, ATN debate and discussion, multimedia events from cooking to premium-access sports. We’re talking integrated-character IP life enhancement. Maybe a director will swing by with a rough cut. Stars certainly will.”

• “Doderick Macht Frei” takes us back to Greg throwing up in his theme-park mascot uniform. Look how far he’s come!

• The ending leaves the CE-Bros in a dark place: Roman is repeatedly listening to the doctored video of his dad insulting him, just to hear his voice, and Kendall is going back into the lonely water where he passed out a season ago. Grief is hard, no less so for a detestable parent.

Correction: This recap has been updated to note that Tom was calling investors “citizens” in an Oprah-like fashion.

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Succession Recap: A Weak Monarch