“If today you’re left with nothing
Be thankful you’re not left with less
Some of us only lose the dark
To get lost in darkness.”
—“Down the Wrong Road Both Ways,” Magnolia Electric Co.
Maybe I’m silly for this, but I didn’t expect the most tragic character on Succession to potentially actually be the most tragic character on Succession. Yes, we’ve watched nearly three entire seasons of Kendall flailing and failing, exhibiting at every second of every minute of every day how he is a man perpetually at odds with himself. We’ve watched him struggle with addiction, and struggle against his father, and struggle against his siblings, and none of his attempts at connection have worked. We’ve watched him try to step up as leader, and then fall back into second in command, and then try to wage his way forward as an outsider, and then try to find respect as a whistleblower, and none of these identities has really stuck. We’ve seen him disappoint Rava, and be disconnected from his children, and realize that Naomi doesn’t know him very well at all. Do people respect Kendall? Does he respect himself? When I list it all like that, well. I don’t want Kendall Roy to die, but I’m not sure Succession wants Kendall to live.
“Chiantishire,” the penultimate season-three episode, is one grueling, agonizing, painful scene after another, a true symphony of horrendous family dynamics, poisonous ambition, and people using and abusing each other over and over and over. Every trip to Europe on Succession provides moments of crystalline truth about who the Roys are, and “Chiantishire” keeps that tradition going. I took 12 single-spaced pages of notes on this episode because so much damn stuff happens; there is no filler, no fluff, just everyone going full-bore, full-beast, boar-on-the-floor levels of unhinged. What could we possibly have wanted that Jesse Armstrong did not provide? Episodes of television normally have A-plots and B-plots; this hour-plus just had banger after banger after banger, so much so that you could argue any of these interactions was the most important to understanding where these characters are now and where they’re going next, and you would probably be right.
In terms of the past, or the now: A scene between Shiv and Caroline that proves how reactive the lone Roy daughter is, how utterly devoid of her own personality or her own demands or her own desires. She never wanted a child with Tom before her mother tells her she’d be a bad mother, and then lo and behold, Shiv jumps right into wanting a baby. It’s not so different from her relationship with Waystar Royco, is it? Shiv was all the way out until she was all the way in; tell Shiv she can’t do something and she’ll try to prove she can, but where’s her core? Did it ever exist? Meanwhile, in another “women doing it for themselves, or something” storyline, Willa reacts to Connor’s proposal with a real, “Wait, what?” look, and then leaves him hanging for hours as to a genuine answer. This is basically the “It’s complicated” Facebook status made real, and I can genuinely understand Willa’s indecision! On the one hand, Connor has money. On the other hand, just recently Willa suggested moving back to New York so she could be Connor’s secret, sometimes partner, rather than his public, forever partner. Is the wealth and access good enough to be tied to Connor on a permanent basis?
And, oh yeah, Roman finally maneuvers into a firm position of power as Logan’s No. 1 boy, and then he sends his dad a picture of his junk, and now Logan and Shiv both know about Roman and Gerri! So much to unpack here! Roman has been sexually harassing Gerri for what seems like weeks, and Gerri is unable to get him to stop. It seems clear to me that Gerri is no longer into whatever their dalliance was because of her new position and her relationship with Laurie, and she now probably considers those few masturbation sessions as a mistake, but also knows that she can’t go to anyone with complaints about Roman because her initial consent to whatever their whole deal was would be used against her. Tricky, tricky.
Logan has been increasingly loathsome and Shiv increasingly opportunistic in the past few episodes, and both of them switch those attributes into high gear when Roman’s “Eat this” text message drops. Logan calls Gerri, the woman whom he placed into a position of power because of her competence and her expertise and her knowledge, “frozen fucking piss.” Shiv, who just last season was intimidating a woman into not coming forward about her abuse suffered by Waystar Royco, now tries to intimidate Gerri into definitely coming forward: “If you can’t deal with your own sexual harassment, that’s not a good look,” Sarah Snook says with an impressive amount of simpering condescension.
And while all of that is going on, Kendall—exhausted from that horrible meeting with his father, drained from fighting to feel like someone, cut off from his mother and siblings and recreating that same dysfunctional family makeup by ignoring his own children—might be drowning. The way Mark Mylod shoots the passed-out Kendall from underneath, only slightly swaying back and forth as Kendall’s body sways, but otherwise staying fixed on that worrying stream of bubbles? Harrowing, haunting, I can’t stop thinking about it and I wish I could.
This episode mostly takes place in Tuscany, Italy, where the Roy family is attending Caroline’s wedding to Peter Munion, whom Roman distrusts (“three bankruptcies, two marriages, four children, five shell companies”) but toward whom Caroline seems… somewhat affectionate, I guess, but also fairly pitying? Like she’s doing Peter a favor by finally marrying him? (Sounds like Shiv and Tom, right?) Caroline is a strange nut to crack, but at this moment in time, she’s still more connected to the Roy family infrastructure than Kendall is. She retains a board seat, and she still has money and access because of Logan, and so when Logan demands that Kendall not be around for all the events, she says yes. Kendall lost his siblings already, and he lost Naomi last week (note that she isn’t his plus-one for the wedding), and now he’s lost his mother.
It’s that desperation that drives Kendall to demand a meeting with Logan so they can finally hash it out, but I kept thinking of what Tom said at that Virginia diner: Logan has never been fucked once, and Kendall has been fucked over and over. A mini version of that plays out at this dinner, during which Kendall asks to be all the way out and his father toys with him again and again. Logan acts as if Kendall is going to poison him, and makes Iverson—the grandson he physically abused—try the food. He says the offer to buy out his shares was a joke. He refuses to let his son go, and I cannot imagine anything more hurtful than Logan’s refusal to see how desperately Kendall needs to be free: “Maybe I want you close” is basically a death threat. Does it matter whether Kendall really believes that Logan is a bad person for turning “black biles into silver dollars”? I don’t think so. Kendall repeats his insistence that he’s a good person and Logan isn’t, but we all know what Kendall did, and the guilt he’s lived with, and the fact that Logan helped cover it up. They are tied together forever because of so many crimes and so many wrongdoings and so many betrayals, and a good father would let Kendall go. Logan is not a good father.
That becomes pretty clear with everything that happens with Roman this episode. At first, Roman really nails it as the Roy heir apparent: Once Lukas starts sending off tweets making it seem like he’s going to come into a huge amount of money—fueling speculation about an acquisition by Waystar Royco—Roman travels by speedboat (a means of transportation on which everyone is hotter) to meet Lukas at his villa and get him to shut up. While there, Roman reads Lukas easily: The Gojo guy isn’t interested in getting bought out. He wants a more equal partnership with Waystar Royco, and Roman thinks he can get Logan to agree—and he does. At a meeting with Logan, Shiv, Gerri, and the rest of the inner circle, Roman sells the deal hard, and he convinces his father. Then he sends ends the text of doom, and everything goes sideways.
Certain elements of this scene still puzzle me. Logan has never been shy about praising Roman before; why text him a “Good work, kid” message instead of saying it directly to his face? Logan loves to stoke the ire between his children, and publicly compliment Roman instead of Shiv would have gotten a rise out of her. I don’t entirely buy that Logan wouldn’t do that. Also, maybe I am a bad texter, but is it normal for a text you’re sending to one person be superimposed for another person if you open their message? I’m sorry, I’m just trying to understand technology! I don’t quite get it!
But look, the Roman and Gerri news was never going to stay secret, and Roman and Gerri were never actually in a real relationship, and this move is a fantastic reshuffling of the board. Roman was at the top; now Roman tumbles down. Shiv had tumbled down, now she moves up. Connor remains neutral. And Kendall? “We can’t do this bullshit forever,” he told his father, and next week’s season finale “All The Bells Say” will clarify how long “forever” really is. Let me repeat myself: Goddammit, Kendall.
- This New Yorker profile of Strong by Michael Schulman is titled “On ‘Succession,’ Jeremy Strong Doesn’t Get the Joke,” and yeah, it’s worth your time.
- Shaved-head Kendall wanting to “get clean” reminded me very much of Frank Sobotka; make of that what you will.
- Logan really brought Marcia and Kerry both to Caroline’s wedding. Marcia has to know what’s happening, right? I truly cannot believe that she would be so unaware. Give me some more time with Hiam Abbass, damn!
- “Journalists are so fucking friendly, in my experience.” Willa still smarting over those negative reviews of her play, I see!
- Shout out to Arian Moayed’s Stewy Hosseini, who will never, ever refuse a money-making opportunity. Who cares that Waystar Royco pursued Gojo without letting Stewy, Sandy, and Sandi know first? If it can make them more money, Stewy is all about it. I appreciate that ruthlessness always.
- Alexander Skarsgård’s pouty line delivery of “Success doesn’t really interest me anymore” was perfect, and if a Waystar Royco/Gojo partnership actually happens, I look forward to more of his natural Swedish accent classing up my TV.
- Was Shiv watching The Pioneer Woman while home “sick”? That would make so much sense, actually.
- I am desperate to read a costume-analysis piece on Shiv’s blue floral dress. It felt so out of character given all her beige and navy this year, and I think that has to be intentional?
- Final Shiv thought: Her seduction talk toward Tom was 100% revelatory, right? “I’m way out of your fucking league. That’s why you want me. That’s why you love me, even though I don’t love you. But you want me anyway.” Coupled with “I may not love you, but I do love you”? Yikes!
- Is Jess just not around lately because actress Juliana Canfield was filming Y: The Last Man? She is missed!
- Best lines of the episode: Per usual, impossible to decide. My current tie is between Roman’s smirking “Don’t open Pandora’s box. There’s just more dicks in there” and his later sheepish “I’m not a radical feminist, Dad, but I think perhaps we should not fire her for receiving pictures of my dick”; Gerri’s stern “Do not try to fuck Laurie”; and Tom’s gleeful “It’s such a shame Sontag’s not still alive. You could take her to the drive-through!”
- My time recapping Succession for The A.V. Club has come to an end, and the inimitable Ashley Ray-Harris will step in for next week’s finale. Thank you all for reading these recaps, and for reading Ashley’s final thoughts too!