Succession‘s third season played a lot of narrative ping-pong in its first seven episodes; outside of a dramatic proxy vote (and you know, the undermining of the President of the United States), Succession‘s treaded a lot of water as it explored the malleable power dynamics occurring underneath Logan Roy’s bootheel. It’s all been entertaining, yes, but episodes like last week’s birthday party suffered a bit from these sense of lowered stakes, that Succession might be getting a little too comfortable in its own skin. In that vein, “Chiantishire” stands in stark contrast to the rest of season three, pushing all of the Roy children to their darkest places in what is easily the most unsettling, anxiety sweat-inducing hour of television I’ve seen this year.
For an episode where the most dramatic event is the sending of a dick pic, “Chiantishire” wrings incredible weight out of familiar conflicts. It does so, by drilling down to the essence of each character’s internal conflict, all at the most unexpected of settings; the wedding of the OG Roy matriarch, herself in the process of miserably marrying herself off to a nursing home magnate trying to skirt UK government regulations. No character, large or small, is permitted a moment of peace in “Chiantishire”, turning a number of familiar moments – Logan and Kendall barbing, Shiv and Tom’s painful charade, Roman’s ascent to Fascist Daddy’s Boy – into abject misery, as bleak and cringe-inducing as Succession could possibly get without falling off a cliff into utter nonsensical self-parody.
On the surface, this seems like the easiest episode to knock off: put Jeremy Strong and Brian Cox across the table from each other for a scene, spend five minutes watching Shiv give her panic smile, and make Roman squirm… I mean, it’s not like the show is straying from the blueprint it has so beautifully developed for 27 episodes with the plot arcs of “Chiantishire”. But the execution of them all, with the timing and delivery of them across the episode, is what makes the episode so magnificent – it is one of those “you gotta see it twice” moments when Succession delivers shots like Kendall hopeless and facedown in a pool* (after rising out of the tub as a beacon of hip-hop inspired hope in the season premiere), suffocating the audience with the misery of the Roy in a way that strips away the comedy, the cringe reflection on elite society, and just leaves us all sad for these shitty assholes, if only for a moment.
(*YES, WE WILL TALK MORE ABOUT THAT MOMENT IN A BIT)
Each of the Roy family children have at least one of these scenes, so let’s switch this review format up a bit and break it down, sibling by sibling.
Siobahn – Oh, Shiv. Though Kendall is Succession‘s ultimate punching bag, Shiv’s role as the Charlie Brown to Logan’s Lucy is increasingly some of my favorite material on the show. Remember the woman aspiring to ascend to the upper echelon of girlbosses and political power players in season one? Honey, how far we have fallen: in “Chiantishire”, Shiv is either walking with her tail between her legs around Roman and the Waystar crew, or she’s telling her goddamn husband “You know I don’t love you, but I do love you, right?”. Her ‘negotiation’ over children with Tom leads to a series of long shots similar to those of Kendall and Logan in “Lion in the Meadow”; two characters walking in the same direction, at the same speed, but could not be farther apart on where they stand.
Roman – Roman’s been riding high all season on the backs of his siblings, his rise to power an unprecedented, Nazi-tinged slap in the face to Kendall and Shiv. However, we’ve all kind of been waiting for that shoe to drop – perhaps a more appropriate visual metaphor is Roman’s botched rocket launch, because his final scene in “Chiantishire” is a slow-motion disaster of epic proportions, one that would be hard to watch if we hadn’t seen Roman shove his depressed brother, openly insult his sister (“This meeting is for inner circle only” – he is saying this shit when she’s not even around, he’s so petty). Succession is one for ominous quotes, and Gerri’s warning of Roman’s dick pic sending turns out to be a prescient one; it is only 30 minutes later that he is trying to shrink himself out of existence, as his father wonders how he could trust the financial future of his empire to a sex perv with some serious mommy issues (though c’mon – Succession knows what it has with Gerri and how she wears/uses her glasses, and leans into it… it knows how we all feel). Roman’s fall from grace is as expedited as his rise; seeing how he lashes out in the finale is going to be a joy to watch.
Connor – the background Roy child is currently ruining his personal life over the excitement of polling at 1% in his presidential primary; in “Chiantishire”, it is proposing to his girlfriend, whose previous life as a sex worker and failed playwright are wonderful backdrop for her inability to act appropriately to his ill-fated decision to propose. Connor stepping on himself all season has been the comedic backdrop season three’s needed; as we’re about to discuss, season three has set itself up to end on a very dour, bleak note, and his blubbering, self-righteous failures provide a comedic counterweight to the theatrical despair on display in every other corner.
Then, of course, we have the chosen son, Kendall Roy. Deemed a blood sacrifice by Logan at the end of season two, Kendall’s spent season three trying to keep up appearances. He buys a pet for the children he never sees (nor we see him with), he throws a birthday party everyone treats as an absolute joke, and he is laughed off the national stage by both his father the Department of Justice. For so long, Kendall’s seen himself as the hero of his own story; a guy who fought off nepotism and drug addiction to take down a bad man, and save one of the world’s largest companies – which, understanding the man that is Kendall, makes perfect sense.
Season three has openly challenged Kendall Roy’s self-perception, in ways that the show was unable to when he was surrounded by corporate airbags and safety measures; in season one, a bad acquisition simply meant some money was wasted, and season two’s power plays ultimately were a net-zero game for the company. But now, isolated from his family, ostracized by the media and a government that hung him out to dry in front of his own family, Kendall has entered reality in a way he never expected to, a reality where his status and class no longer affords him the metaphysical shelters from his father’s abuse. All of the Roy children are hiding from their traumas, of course, but Kendall’s, which he almost wears as a badge of honor, a rite of passage he believes only he could withstand; but Kendall is but a regular human, neither the good person he thinks he is, nor the otherworldly monstrosity that is Logan Roy, able to persist through decades of illegal, immoral decisions simply because he’s ruthless enough to keep notes on where the bodies are buried.
More ruthlessly, he will dig them up when it benefits him most; what he does to Kendall is but a more personal, direct version of what he does to the president. When Logan and Kendall sit down to dinner, Kendall all but begs for the deal his father offered on his birthday; at this point, Kendall just wants to get out with the remainders of his humanity intact, something his father has no interest in letting him do. Logan, out of pure ego, crushes Kendall under his boot one more time: after accusing him of trying to poison him (which he personifies by making Iverson Roy taste Logan’s appetizer, about as disgusting a move a grandfather could do) before admonishing him for his role in the busboy death at Shiv’s wedding.
Logan Roy is at his most brutal here; he might be scarier when he yells “Roman!” at the top of his lungs, but the intensity in Cox’s performance as he berates Kendall (“did you fuck him?… how long did it take him to drown? Five minutes?”) is devastating, an unhinged king lashing out at the person closest to him, for daring to challenge their moral authority and power. Logan makes no qualms about being a good person; he doesn’t have the “weakness” normal mortals possess, and spends his life exploiting it from others. Kendall, on some level, was always safe from that, at least to a degree – seeing those moors removed from their relationship, is perhaps the most devastating scene this entire series could present.
Which leads to the episode’s final scene, after Shiv unconvincingly tries to persuade Gerri, and Kieran Culkin manifests a physical performance that could single-handedly win him an Emmy (and rightfully so). Kendall, lying facedown in his pool, is shown from a camera underwater. His beer floats away, bubbles protrude from his mouth… and then Succession cuts to credits, delivering a cliffhanger even Game of Thrones would be too afraid to attempt. Has Succession killed Kendall Roy (a proposition suggested to me by fellow colleague and Mid-Season Replacements guest host Simon Howell earlier this season, that I all but laughed off)?
It is almost hard to believe that a show would kill off its Emmy-winning star, but there’s a disturbing amount of evidence to suggest it might be true – hell, the fact Succession is able to even turn that moment into a head-scratching cliffhanger is a testament to the show’s ability to build tension around Kendall looking over ledges for three seasons straight. It is a dark move – but would would be a more dramatically tragic end to Kendall’s arc this season, given where it ended in season two? While it would continue to be fun to watch Kendall spiral for seasons to come, there’s only so much to be gleaned out of him circling the drain; after all, when your publicist is holding back their laughter at your career prospects and your father has told you to fuck off and die, there really aren’t a lot of depths left for Succession to excavate and throw its leading man into.
It would also be dramatically fitting; with Logan on the verge of victory over the government and facing an identity crisis in the form of a massive merger, Roman openly insulting Kendall as he takes his assumed place on the tiny throne next to Logan, and Shiv willing to… well, stab her older brother in the back, Succession has set the Roy family up very nicely for an unexpected death of Kendall. For a season that’s heavily relied on older conflicts to drive its plots, there might not be a better way to kickstart this show in season four then a major death; and if we’re being honest, Succession can kill off Kendall easier than it would be able to Logan Roy (this entire series exists as characters reacting to Logan’s decisions; there isn’t enough external drama to remove him right now, the vacuum it would leave would unravel the very fabric of the show).
However, I tend to think this is not how Kendall goes out; with the potential podcast interview looming, as well as plenty of other loose ends to tie up (Naomi and Rava chief among them; one of them has to get a final scene with him, right?) – but again, the fact Succession can raise this question, speaks to its status as a family drama. More importantly (and interestingly), it is a surprising litmus test for the audience; if this were to be Kendall’s final scene as a living character, how we would we feel about Kendall Roy, the person and father?
Ultimately, haven’t not seen the finale in advance, I have no idea what the ultimate fate of Kendall Roy is. However, if “Chiantishire” is the final appearance of Kendall Roy, it is about as devastating a final arc for a character as one could imagine; ostracized by his siblings, shunned by his mother at her wedding (in favor of her shitty ex-husband, no less), and unable to find his kids, Kendall’s plight on Succession has provided one of the more affecting portrayals one could imagine for a character who is ostensibly just the archetype of “trust fund shithead running amok”, turned into an operatically tragic character by Succession‘s writers, executive producer Jesse Armstrong – and of course, the undeniably insane method performance by Jeremy Strong (if you haven’t read Michael Shulman’s New Yorker profile on Strong, it is a must-read after this week’s episode). One thing is certain: heading into its season finale, Succession is fully firing on all cylinders, delivering one of its most uncomfortably poetic hours before a cliffhanger that, regardless of the outcome, features such flawless execution we’ll be talking about it for years. Succession is great television.
- what’s worse – your mother admitting she was a shitty parent, or admitting she thinks you’re a shitty child.
- Shiv is going to get her desired spot next to Daddy just as Tom dumps her – we all know its coming! Her backdown from “let’s have a kid!” to “let’s maybe freeze my eggs, and you can maybe probably not use them if I die early” is just – mmm, chef’s kiss from Shiv.
- “I’m not a radical feminist, Dad, but I don’t think we should fire Gerri for receiving pictures of my dick.” Roman, at his absolute noblest.
- The characterization of Lukas Matsson is a bit… pointed at times (the dilemma over getting the right bed is eye-rollingly on the nose), but goddamn Skarsgard is having fun with the role (also when did he get so fucking jacked? Matsson’s imposing physicality makes his character so wonderfully offputting.
- Hey, there’s two seconds of Marcia!
- Making Dasha say the word “podcast” with such disdain is the kind of pop culture navel-gazing I’m totally fine with.
- Gerri’s reactions to Shiv’s nakedly ambitious line of questioning post dick-pic reveal is wonderful. Gerri isn’t an idiot, and Shiv thinking she can manipulate people (that aren’t Nate the political strategist, of course) is always a premise for an entertaining scene.
- Cannot wait to see the final round of Who Is Sadder: Tom or Kendall? next week.
- Next week’s preview showed a brief shot of what appeared to be Logan talking to Kendall’s son next week… cannot be a good sign for anyone (that’s the same kid he slapped during Thanksgiving, lest we forget).