“You come to me with love?”
In all fairness, the Roy children never had a chance. Like Greg’s semi-royal date from Luxenberg (and you know, the rest of humanity), the four horsepeople of Logan’s loins weren’t given a choice of who their parents would be – and unlike her, have never stopped to ponder the toxic soil fueling their family tree. Born on a mountain of cash and coddled to no end, the Roy children have never had to consider the desire to want, without the ability to immediately have; except, of course, for the two things that define every single human being: love and control (not necessarily in that order). “All the Bells Say” is really about the Roy children realizing they are utterly powerless, their lives devoid of meaning while existing in the shadow of their father. More importantly, it’s about what follows that realization, as their mother fucks them all over, and suddenly they’re all Roman, watching their plans blow up in their face as Succession‘s masterful third season drew to a brilliantly rapturous close.
Before all that Good Stuff, though, “All the Bells Say” has to clean up the mess it left with last week’s closing image that broke the internet; opening the morning after “Chiantishire”, it is immediately revealed that Kendall almost died in the pool, and had in fact passed out facedown (in fact, he only survives because Comfry of all people find him). But that’s almost an afterthought, as Shiv and Roman quickly move on from Kendall’s somber return to the weekend’s festivities to focus their attention on the anxieties stemming from GoJo’s swelling market cap – as always, the Roy family have their priorities straight, with Connor screaming in Shiv’s face about how he’s the eldest son, and Kendall clearing looking like his soul has departed from his earthly body.
It makes for a strange, unsettling opening; the Roy family cheating at Monopoly is a little too winky-winky, even for Succession, and the immediate push past Kendall’s obviously deteriorating mental state seems… funky, even for a show with so many people to pay attention to (again, Greg is cozying up to low-grade European loyalty; we must have time for him to explain the line of succession multiple times!). But as “All the Bells Say” begins to build momentum, the inelegant introductory scenes are quickly forgiven, as Succession does its Season Finale thang and finally puts its cards face up on the table.
Before that orgasmic final scene, however, comes two particularly impressive moments. As Caroline’s wedding fades into the background, Succession once again offers us a small glimpse into how Logan approaches business, and again makes the argument why he is probably right not to let his children anywhere near his seat of power. His conversational sparring with Madsen is quietly some of the finale’s most impressive writing, acting both as a way to reveal a bit about the two characters, and capturing a believable emotional tenor for a conversation between two thoroughly insane giants of industry (and taking an underhanded shot at Mark Zuckerburg along the way, which is fun no matter how easy a target that pale-skinned dumbass makes himself).
And for the first time in the series, we see Logan panic a little bit; Cox never lets the anxiety become dramatically external, but there’s a flicker of worry in his eyes after he sends Roman back to the wedding. Logan is used to winning, but his proximity to his children has done nothing but bring him closer to a loss; Kendall’s shot across the bow lands Roystar a hefty DOJ fine, Shiv’s antics have provided nothing productive, and Logan’s too afraid of what lies inside Roman’s brain to really let him hold power (also – blew up a rocket and dick picked his dad). But by entertaining selling Roystar and taking a buyout of some sort, Logan is removing his children as his personal anchors and professional shields – a necessary move, one he sees as pushing his idiot children to finally make a fucking life for themselves, but one that comes with more risk than Logan’s had to face in a long time.
As one might imagine, Logan accepting this challenge is not an easy pill for the trio of Roy children to swallow; and once it is also revealed that Logan is probably preparing to bring another terrible offspring into mortal existence, Shiv and Roman start to get desperate as Shiv starts shaking and repeating “we need to secure our position” over and over again (starting to think this is the only business term she actually knows).
Ken, of course, has all but lost his mind at this point: he insists he’s fine and doesn’t want to talk about anything, but we’re all feeling for our defeated, broken man-child at this point. He’s chain smoking on the outskirts of the wedding he’s barely invited to (drabbly dressed to his own quasi-funeral in a lot of ways), yelling to the children we never see him with – and eventually, longingly looking at the catering staff and crying in a cloud of dust after Shiv pulls him and Roman aside to talk business.
And for a moment, Succession pauses. For two seasons, Succession‘s been so busy in building up a flurry of stories about corporate take overs, mid (and late life) crises, and the emotionally unsatisfying lives of the ultra rich, that it never took a second to stop and look at Kendall, to really look at him – and more importantly, let him look at himself (even his birthday party was clouded by the lasting ignorance of thinking his father would leave him with his dignity). But as Caroline gets married and Logan’s team prepares to hand the keys over to Madsen, Succession takes a moment to observe just how broken Kendall Roy has become.
He is defeated as one can get; he admits he feels disconnected from his kids and his life, that he’s become an empty failure after failing to take down the king. But Succession doesn’t use it as a dramatic moment, leaning on Kendall revealing what happened at Shiv’s wedding to drive some big cathartic moment; instead, it offers another astute observation on just how broken these poor fucking kids are, as Shiv walks away to take a phone call about the GoJo merger, and Roman insists on making multiple jokes about dead busboys and how they messed up his drinks anyway – you know, in case you needed a reminder of just how fucking abnormally warped the brains of these adult children have become (though, let’s admit it – Roman’s jokes are about the most endearing thing Succession offers outside of Greg/Tom material).
Of all the things Succession does great that we’ve talked about this season, what makes it a Truly Great Show is understanding how to make you feel for these shitheads; to feel for Kendall’s depression, after he tried to take the shot at glory he thought he righteously deserved. It challenges us to not feel bad for Shiv getting royally fucked by her husband (and not in the good way), even after she’s spent the entire season whiffing on opportunities to show she gives a shit about her marriage; and of course, Succession breaks our collective hearts when our little perverted, dick-pic sending Roman FINALLY stands up to big bad Daddy (listening to his idiot siblings for possibly the first time in his life) and gets fucked for doing so – as Tom so profoundly reminded Kendall a few weeks ago, Logan Roy’s done nothing but win, and will continue to do so, because that’s how he go so fucking rich in the first place. (Also note: Roman faces the wrath of both his mommies in the last five minutes, to boot).
Succession, for all its leaning into irony and poking fun at the warped minds of the one-percenters, does treat the siblings as serious human beings, shaped by the trauma of their upbringing, and their brain chemistry permanently altered by the privilege their father’s work has afforded them. They are punchlines, but Succession does not treat them as jokes, which offers them dimensionality; throw in a trio of the best performances on television, and it’s no surprise the highs and lows of the Roy siblings in the third act of “All the Bells Say” provides one of the most gratifying dramatic roller coaster rides of the year.
Which brings us to the Tom of it all – the man who was facing prison at the beginning of the season ends up being the golden boy of “All the Bells Say”, quietly warning Logan and Caroline of their children’s sudden attempt to go “Full Coup” on Waystar RoyCo – in turn springing Logan, Gerri, and the legal fuckboys into action to cut the children’s holding company out of the divorce agreement (after all, it’s not like Caroline is after love or happiness with her children; she admitted to just wanting a golden ticket out to Shiv last week. This week, she trades them all in for a London apartment).
Turns out Tom taking Logan’s chicken and eating it right in front of him is the kind of power move that gets you respect; and after years of being emotionally cucked by his wife (she continues to shy away from the whole “freezing eggs” idea, the last, flimsy lifeline Tom was willing to offer her), Tom fucks her (and her two brothers) in front of the entire family. It’s a very Godfather moment where Succession season three ends, cutting to black as Tom consoles his dumbstruck wife (herself the anti-MVP of the season) after bringing Greg back into the fold, leaving the Roy children watch from the sidelines as Daddy sells the decrepit castle their memories were built in.
Tom’s ability to weave his way through the many hurricanes of Waystar has been an absolute joy of Succession‘s three seasons, and his power play is a much deserved one (he, of course, offers to bring Greg along for the ride, in a delightful scene where the season’s big twist quietly crystallizes). Tom is finally taking control of his life; now, if Shiv wants to hold onto the family jewels, she will have to acquiesce to the Wams and his Gregweiler. There are plenty of old idioms about fearing those who have lost all hope; Tom made that point very clear multiple times this season (he warned Kendall directly!!!), and like his wife, we just wrote them off as the ramblings of a confused man with a lot of anxiety (and probably a healthy dose of blue balls, if we’re being honest).
And boy, does it end season three on a fascinating note: the ultimate fate of Waystar hangs in the balance (as does the family tree), and Succession smartly cuts to black before anyone is able to process the image of Tom walking in the room to a pat on the shoulder from Logan (a note of physical affection they’ve all been denied this season). “All the Bells Say” leaves the most dramatic moments to the imagination – there’s a reason we don’t see Kendall get saved, and why we don’t see how Kendall and Roman react to the last second revelations, and that kind of confidence is something rarely seen on TV in 2021. Even more rare is the conviction to deliver exchanges like Roman and Gerri’s mostly wordless conversation in that final scene; again, there’s no cathartic release of dialogue between the two beyond Gerri’s calculated “That doesn’t advance my position” when Roman tries to play on emotional bonds to save his legacy and fortunes, which only adds to the devastation of the moment.
Devastatingly unsatisfying and emotionally revelatory, “All the Bells Say” is a wonderful cap to this season’s deeply amusing (and depressing) observation on the cacophonous impacts of trauma; trauma on human beings, on businesses, on entire cultures and systems of government. Logan and Kendall’s beef took down the goddamn president – the so-called leader of the free world, done in over a power struggle between a narcissistic Chosen One and an immigrant broken and remolded by capitalism. The ripple effects of trauma are a defining element of the series, and one this hour leans on particularly hard, using characters like Roman and Kendall as conduits to drive a series of sharp consequential events – ending the season on as poetically resonant a note as any Succession viewer could’ve hoped for. What a fucking season of television.
“All the Bells Say” Grade: A
Season 3 Grade: A
- We had to get at least one cringe-worthy scene, and Willa’s “Fuck it” decision to get engaged to Connor is a fucking great one. Her The Graduate moment sitting down in the limo with him is a golden final moment (especially now that we know his laughable presidential campaign is now over).
- More Skaarsgard in season four? Fucking yes, please.
- I don’t talk about it much above, but the scene of Kendall on the ground, lying on the gravel as he reflects on the shattered pieces of his life in front of Shiv and Roman, is one of those scenes you sit silent through, and then nod after thinking, “yeah that’ll win everyone an Emmy”. Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook and Kieran Culkin are always dynamite together, but that particular scene, in its length and its willingness to sit in uncomfortable moments… man, it is just phenomenal. One of those rare moments you are experiencing a work of art, and can actively feel the harmonious vibration of every creative molecule involved producing something beautiful.
- Also – the juxtaposition of Roman consoling Kendall in that shot, which is followed by the shot at the very end, where Kendall consoles a broken down Roman. TV fucking rules.
- Speaking of Roman, the light he sees in his father’s eyes when he looks at Madsen must have broken his little cold heart.
- Greg: “What am I going to do with a soul anyway?”
- All I will say is that if Tom really fancies himself a Nero (as he once told the story to Greg), then boy does Greg not want to be his Sporus.
- Shiv’s dress at her mother’s wedding. I have nothing else to say.
- “We need a plan to kill this baby.”
- I LOVE the Roy sibling costuming in the final scene. Kendall, stripped of his humanity, is in muted colors; Roman is covered in the same colors as the flowery splashes on Shiv’s dress, pulling the three of them into a visual harmony of sorts that I’ll be thinking about for days. BIG shout out to the costuming team and their work this season.
- I don’t know what is sadder: Ken’s full breakdown, or his plan to release five years of emails via Instagram.
- “You’re not a killer… at worst, you’re an irresponsibler.” – Thank you, Roman.
- Connor is against the merger, because he says Madsen will “round up all the thinkers in [his] digital gulag.”
- Kendall: “I tried to do something.”
- Did anyone else notice the caterers fucking around in the background while clearing out the dinner table? That was literally me 14 years ago.
- “There’s something really wrong with me.” Who doesn’t want to hug our battered, broken fuckboi prodigal son?
- I really hope the Greg-as-European-royalty thing continues to be a running story in season four. It’s all I want.
- And that’s it for season three of Succession coverage – at least, for today. I will be appearing on a podcast next week to talk about the season, and will be writing about them for Tilt Magazine’s end of year coverage… but then, those will probably be my last words on Succession until… 2023? 2024? Oh fuck, we might not have more Succession back for a long time!!!!