I didn’t actually start saying “No, no, no” until Kendall Roy started talking to his dad’s digital corpse in front of an audience of hundreds of people.
Up until then, I was mostly hanging in with “Living+”—a few pauses to cringe here and there, but that’s nothing new for my Successionviewing experience. But the Logan Roy puppet show was the point where I realized we were watching something akin to the second coming of “L To The OG,” as Kendall attempted to turn Waystar’s Investors Day into his own personal grief counseling session. And thus the “No, no, no”s—which only intensified once Ken got positively messianic, inviting people into his rich boy delusion that there is nothing thatsufficient money can’t achieve, up to and including eternal life.
The fact that this climactic speech is, ultimately, presented as a victory for Kendall is one of the odder aspects of “Living+,” especially as we watch his “friends” and “loved ones” tear him apart from the peanut gallery throughout. And I’m not convinced that the episode completely sells the win—at least, not enough for us to close on that mostly hopeful shot of Kendall bathing himself in the ocean. (It’s always water, with this guy.)
But there are reasons that Kendall’s sales spiel hits, and they’re interesting ones to consider. The first is the obvious: Kendall Roy is a massive nepo baby pitching to the most receptive audience imaginable, all of whom have vested interests in making him feel like a big, successful boy. Karl might try to play hardball, and Roman might distance himself from the oncoming clusterfuck. But Kendall’s entire world (which can now, horrifyingly, include deepfakes of his own dad) is still constructed to always tell him he’s doing an amazing job. Second: He’s outright lying—bordering, possibly, on fraud—about how lucrative Waystar’s glorified retirement facilities will be. But third, and maybe most critically: When Kendall actually manages to grab people, as he does here in stops and starts, it’s for the same reasons Jeremy Strong’s performance has always resonated beneath the general loathsomeness of Logan’s Number One Boy: He possesses a profound capacity to express pain and vulnerability that can be practically irresistible in the right arena.
The HBO description for tonight’s episode outright states that “Kendall and Roman each try to match Logan’s volatile leadership style,” which, hey, certainly makes my job of analyzing this episode a whole lot easier. But the fascinating part of that breakdown is which parts of the Logan equation each brother ends up getting. Despite promises to “love-bomb” Waystar Studios head Joy (and despite at least ostensibly being the more charming of the two), Roman ends up channeling the “Fuck off!” parts of Logan almost exclusively tonight, while Kendall gets the capitalist cult leader material. But where Logan instilled blind loyalty in those around him through lies of love and shows of strength, his son manages to achieve something at least surface-similar through honesty and weakness. When Kendall, after laying down a truly epic layer of bullshit about Living+’s ability to extend human lifespans, tells a semi-receptive audience that he’d give anything for one more year with his dad? “Say the unsaid?” It lands because of the horrible truth lurking in Strong’s eyes, director Lorene Scafaria’s camera zoomed in so close you can catch every twitch and little smile and un-shed tear.
(Scafaria, in addition to this season’s “Honeymoon States,” also directed season 3’s stand-out “Too Much Birthday,” of course. As season 4 of Succession continues to pile on references, callbacks, and rhyming moments to the show’s earlier days, it’s hard not to see parallels between that Kendall-Roy-panic-attack-masking-as-blind-optimism-and-manic-demands-on-staff, and this one.)
Meanwhile: Bad night to be a woman telling Roman Roy anything even resembling the truth, huh? Roman’s (very) brief lunch with studio head Joy (Annabeth Gish, perfectly condescending to this “weak monarch”) serves mostly as preamble to a much nastier encounter later on with Gerri, who catches her walking papers after responding to Roman’s ludicrous demand that she “believe” he’s as good as his dad with a pointed “Say it? Or believe it ?” And so, acting like a man with way fewer dick pics hanging over his head than he actually has, Roman lashes out again, firing one of his oldest allies. It’s another Logan Roy pantomime that misses the actual point of being Logan Roy, a man who was almost always careful to punch down, from a position of strength, when he had his various little temper tantrums. (Like the one we see in the cold open tonight, archival footage allowing us to get one more Brian Cox explosion without breaking the show’s “no flashbacks” rule.) “Only hurting people who can’t hurt you back” isn’t a virtue, of course. Except it is, tactically—and it’s tactics where Roman fails this week, again, and again, overwhelmed by his own insecurity and inferiority.
And which part of dear dead dad does Shiv get this week? Shiv, who has somehow maneuvered herself into the role of the show’s most compelling protagonist, as she flirt-negotiates with a distractingly barefooted Mattson, quietly schedules her own grieving time in between work calls, and engages in an extended, sexually charged dance with Tom throughout the episode? Well, Shiv embodies something I’ve come to think of as the Logan Roy Paradox, a thesis I hit on while rewatching the show a few months back, and which I never got to deploy before the old bastard died. (Thank god for children recycling their parents’ bullshit, huh?) The Logan Roy Paradox, then, is thus: Logan Roy could never respect anything that couldn’t hurt him, and could never love anything that could. (Shades of Caroline’s line from season 3 about how “He never saw anything he loved that he didn’t want to kick it just to see if it would still come back.”) It’s what destroyed his relationship with his kids, who impossibly craved both his love and his respect, and it’s the thing floating at the center of the Tom-Shiv…romance?
When Shiv incredulously asks, tonight, whether she ever asked Tom to play “Bitey”—a playground game that’s entirely about your willingness to hurt the other person, and which Shiv pretty clearly plays to lose—it’s patently absurd: Of course she and Tom have never played “Bitey.” If she’d ever seen Tom (who, we’re told, in clearer detail than we’ve ever gotten, was a rebound seemingly hand-picked because he was “safe”) as a proper Bitey partner, the entire course of their relationship would have been very different. It’s not new to note that the version of Tom that shows up with Greg—witty, cruel, aggressive—is way closer to what Shiv’s genuinely looking for from a partner than any version he’s ever presented to her. But his big betrayal—a bite Shiv can actually feel, for all that she hated it—has changed that, while Matthew Macfadyen continues to reap incredible dividends by playing a quieter, sadder, and more honest version of Tom. His quiet acknowledgement that he backstabbed Shiv, in part, to safeguard his comfortable lifestyle—with shades of Willow’s similar admission to Con back in “Connor’s Wedding”—is Macfadyen at his best; there’s a fearlessness to this Tom that, weirdly, reads far kinder than the fawning of the past.
There have been times, I’ll admit, where I’ve lost track of Sarah Snook’s performance on this show. She’s almost always the stillest person in the room, standing composed where Strong and Kieran Culkin are making massively expressive swings. But there is an increasing joy, for me, to be found in watching Shiv Roy run the numbers. Whether she’s playing “who gets on who’s private jet” power games with Mattson, or just staring at Tom’s face as she tries to figure out whether he can hurt her in exactly the right ways, “Living+” is never more electric than when the camera is locked on Shiv’s face, her eyes flitting around to see if she can finally, actually drop the mask. Roman can rage, and Kendall can try to, whatever, buy out death, but the most intriguing moves in this episode are hiding behind Snook’s eyes.
Which isn’t to give those other moments short shrift: This is a queasy, emotionally draining hour of TV, as we watch at least two-thirds of the disintegrating Kids Alliance externalize their grief in increasingly expensive and expansive ways. And while it can’t quite match up, on sheer spectacle, with Kendall doing dead parent ventriloquism schtick for a bunch of investors, there’s no interpersonal moment more painful tonight than watching Roman try to invoke “the hug-y thing” to paper over the fact that the boys went behind Shiv’s back to try to murder the GoJo deal. (Yesterday’s catharsis and connection, rendered as just another bargaining chip today.) “Living+” can’t quite match the heights of either comedy or drama that Succession has hit at its best so far this season, but it nevertheless barrels along admirably as a synthesis of the show’s two halves, dragging all involved further and further outside their comfort zones. (People are even trusting Greg again! It’s chaos.) It might end on a win, of sorts, but we’ve seen enough Kendall Roy delusions at this point to know how ugly they are when they collapse. The clouds are never going to look as good in the real world as they do in his head. And they’re getting darker by the day.
What a pleasure it is to be back with Brian Cox for just a few moments tonight. “Oh, that was the thought, was it?” What a beautiful monster Logan Roy could be.
WEAR YOUR SHOES ON THE TARMAC, ASSHOLE
“Don’t criticize my jet interior. That hurts.”
This is a good night for adding to the canon of horrible Waystar Studios projects. We get a good glimpse at the very Minions-esque Morons, something called The FBII, plus Darkmoon, Legends Of Endtime, Girl Zero, some kind of animated Minotaur movie, and, of course, Doderick And Friends. (I think we might even get a glimpse at a bust of Calypsotron in the back of one shot; making up stupid movies for these people has got to be the most fun gig on this show.)
Things start bad in L.A. when Kendall unthinkingly walks in late and steals Shiv’s central spot at the table; the trio end up forming an unbalanced triangle, instead.
Jess Watch: A lil’ weird to hear Kendall call her “J” as he asks her to give him “infinite brainbox” on the longevity programs, but Juliana Canfield gets some great reaction looks tonight, especially to Rome’s “Hooray for Fuckywood.”
Joy gets off to a tremendously bad start with Roman with her hollow assurances that he’ll be fine with the whole dead dad thing, before trying to push back on ATN’s support of hard-right presidential candidate Mencken. It’s clear she didn’t think Roy management was on the agenda with these obvious placeholder rulers, and it bites her.
Roman, explaining his entire political lens in one sentence: “Mencken’s IP, just like everything.”
“Here’s the rule, ok? No one can say no. ‘Yes, Kendall, thank you Kendall, for the cool new rule.’”
“I’m sure you’re keen to get amongst it.” “It?” “Yeah, the vaginas of the cheerful women who aren’t tall enough to be models.”
The Shiv-Tom stuff in this episode is 95 percent sublime, but that “taste for the dark meat” line was gross.
The intimacy is intense, but I’d kill for one wide shot of a party-goer watching these two perverts bite each other’s arms on the dance floor.
“Tom Wambsgans, finally made me feel something.”
“I think it’s hard to make houses seem like tech…because we’ve had houses for a while now.”
I’m hoping Gerri takes a while to fire, because I need J. Smith-Cameron’s facial reactions to stick around. That quiet, defiant, “I am good at my job” was so killer, too.
Greg gets the two funniest scenes of the evening, debuting instant hit character “PitchBot” and badgering a video guy (a.k.a. “Mr. Snippy Snip”) Kendall-style, to create new words for Logan to say out of nothing.
“Numbers aren’t just numbers… they’re numbers.” Poor Pete The Finance Guy.
Kind of intimate: Shiv and Tom boning. Actually intimate: Shiv letting Tom sit in on her secret talks with Mattson. (Who, ironically, wants Shiv to basically Scooby-Doo her brothers this week, possibly up to and including dropping a sandbag on Kendall’s head.)
Shiv, whispering in Roman’s ear, nails Kendall with the same “we should protect him” bullshit that the boys used on her.
“It’s enough to make you lose your faith in capitalism… You can say anything.”
David Rasche is having a hell of a season of TV here. “You’ve got my dick in your hand, Ken, but I’ve got yours in mine. So let’s get real here.”
“How about I told you it was all going to last forever?” Creepy chills, even as Kendall walks it back as a joke.
Ken does manage to roll very well with Mattson’s Twitter joke, comparing the Living+ houses to a Disney-fied concentration camp.
Tom’s “You’re an ATN Citizen! And you’re an ATN Citizen!” presentation is very Oprah. Also: “How am I supposed to follow this? He just promised them eternal life.”
“I want to make wha-what I think is a fairly historic announcement. I’m convinced Roman Roy has a micro-dick—and always gets it wrong.”
Always dangerous to assume this, but given his track record, Kendall scratching a “1″ into the sand at the end feels like such a Jeremy Strong improv.