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Succession’s “blood sacrifice” defies the gods in a stunning season finale

Photo: Graeme Hunter (HBO)
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But that was inevitable, right?

There’s been ample chatter about the theoretical structure of Succession—that season one was Kendall’s and season two was Shiv’s and season three will probably be Roman’s. There’s logic in that, sure—Roman’s leaving this season as sole Waystar COO, after all—but “This Is Not For Tears” ended not with Shiv’s coronation, but Kendall’s breaking of chains. It’s a clever trick, that. We’ve spent so much time immersed in Shiv’s and Roman’s power plays that it’s been easy to chalk Kendall’s stony subservience up as a subplot, with “Safe Room”’s trips to the Waystar roof hinting toward an arc not unlike that of D’Angelo’s in The Wire’s second season—a tragic epilogue. But his confidence has grown with his self-awareness. In season one, his desire to topple Logan clashed with his worship of his father. When he achieved the closeness he’d wanted this season, he grappled first with its inherent emptiness before being confronted with what, exactly, was binding them—a dead kid. Kendall mistook his father’s affection for love, when it was something murkier. Logan does love Kendall, but as Naomi so succinctly puts it, he loves the “broken” Kendall. And, despite all it’s done, a broken thing’s still broken. And broken things can be blamed for all brokenness. Which Logan did last week when he threw Logan under the bus before Congress.

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But Kendall won before Gil. He spun, he conquered. “But now,” Logan says, “you’re the face.” As Kendall’s spirit shrivels, Logan looks him in the eyes and tells him “the optics make sense.” And, in words he believes will comfort his son but do no such thing, he says he trusts him. But Kendall knows where that trust comes from—Logan trusts him not because he values him, but because he knows he can ruin him. Logan is cruel for so many reasons, but chief among them is that he’d frame such a thing through a patina of love. Of course Kendall is going to snap.

Photo: Graeme Hunter (HBO)

Christ, what a scene. Much has been made of Jeremy Strong’s intense process, the ways in which he immerses himself so deeply in Kendall’s misery, but here it pays off. Because when Logan begins recalling how the Incas sacrificed their children in the hopes that the sun might rise again, you can see the scaffolding of his soul begin to crumble. You can see that, despite the leverage Logan holds over him, Kendall thought that maybe, just maybe, his father would still choose him as his successor. But, no. He could save the day 10 times over, but Kendall is bound by history, by his mistakes, by the ways in which his father sees him. “Did you ever think I could do it?” he asks. Logan shrugs it off, but eventually spills. “You’re not a killer. You have to be a killer.” It’s all so easy for him, to sacrifice his son, to crush his dreams. It’s all so casual.

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Which is why that “but” in Kendall’s speech at the press conference is so damn satisfying. “The truth is that my father is a malignant presence, a bully and a liar,” he says before the snapping cameras. “And he was fully personally aware of these events for many years and made efforts to lie and cover up.” Yeah, it’s some real scorched earth shit. And he even brought receipts, courtesy of Greg the motherfuckin’ Egg. Which leads me to the questions I have coming out of this episode:

  • When did Greg tell him about the incriminating documents he saved?
  • Why did Greg tell Kendall, especially when he just turned away Ewan’s $250 million inheritance?
  • And why was Greg flying back to the States with Kendall in the first place? By this I mean: What did everyone else think his purpose was on Kendall’s trip? I know they’re neighbors, but it’s not as if we’ve seen any kind of tangible bond form between the two this season.
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I’ve got ideas, of course—Greg bungling his testimony before Gil was certainly important—but, by my gathering, these questions were not explicitly answered. And, despite knowing that they’ll probably be a key part of the beginning of next season, I kinda hate that they’re nagging at me while I’m trying to revel in the pearl-clutching glory of that final scene, which all but assures that Logan won’t be CEO anymore following the shareholder meeting.

Photo: Graeme Hunter (HBO)
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But Kendall wasn’t the only one to snap. In what I found to be the only sketchy moment in “This Is Not For Tears,” Tom finally overcomes his overwhelming fear of Logan by snatching a piece of chicken from his plate and devouring it in front of him. It didn’t quite work, the moment, but the sentiment still lands—Tom’s been bullied in a very different way than Kendall all season, serving as the punching bag for everyone from Logan to the Pierces to Gil Eavis. Though not nearly as effective as Kendall, Tom’s been a both a loyal soldier and, to Shiv, an amenable husband. But his resentment boils over when Shiv, not for the first time, fails to stand up for him, telling Logan that, as a fall guy, Tom “looks logical.” It’s the last straw in a relationship that’s never once been on his own terms, and he doesn’t hesitate to confront her about the open marriage she requested on their wedding night. “I’m not a hippie, Shiv,” he cries in a moment that’s as funny as it is oddly sweet. “I don’t want to have threesomes!” This, as I’ve neglected to mention, comes after Shiv proposes a ménage à trois, something Tom turns down: “I don’t feel that naughty tonight.” Where will Tom and Shiv land next season? Does he really want to divorce a Roy? What does it mean for his job at ATN? These are the things that define Tom—who is he without them?

It wouldn’t be accurate to say Roman’s snapped, though nearly getting shot by a Turkish militia certainly seems to have changed him. He’s still droll and pointed, but he’s unamused by he, Karl, and Laird being hailed as the “lions of Turkey” when they arrive in Venice. He also shows some keen business acumen when he straight up tells Logan that the deal he inked isn’t sound. “They were flaky,” he says, upsetting Laird, who would’ve scored a $100 million payday had the deal gone through. But Roman is leaning as much on intuition as he is business sense, and Logan is impressed. Laird is not. Danny Huston’s been a solid player this season, but it was nice to see him bare his fangs a little. The dude’s too talented not to get a few more layers.

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Still, taking the option to go private off the table complicates things. Laird himself says somebody’s got to suffer if Logan ever hopes to woo the board away from Sandy and Stewy. That leads Logan and Kendall to try and reconcile with Stewy one last time, but the would-be usurper remains steadfast in his defiance. Thus, Kendall’s sacrifice.

But Kendall’s parting words should resonate for Shiv, too. Last week, she convinced a whistleblower to retract her testimony by promising to rid Waystar of the monsters (i.e., “dinosaurs”) that thundered through its halls. Has Kendall outing Logan as an enabler of such monsters set the stage for Shiv to take steps toward her own vision of the company? She remained silent as Logan absorbed Kendall’s words, the gears of her mind no doubt spinning.

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But, having shushed Roman, Logan doesn’t want to hear anyone but Kendall in those final moments. Last season, it was easy to surmise that he wanted to be (figuratively) conquered by one of his children, but only if they could do so in a way he admired. He wants a killer. He respects killers. He is one.

So, does he see Kendall as one now? That shadow of a smile contains multitudes.


Stray observations

  • Couldn’t jot down as many quotes this week. No screener, thus the late review.
  • Marcia’s out of the picture for the time being. Logan done fucked up.
  • Connor’s a meme now! “The Con-Heads are loving this.”
  • Speaking of Connor, it turns out his money’s a lot less liquid than it probably needs to be, what with him having sunk so much into Willa’s play, which is turning out to be a critical bust. (She throws his iPad in the ocean after reading the New York Times review’s headline.) He asks Logan to get one of his paper’s to run a good review, then asks for $100 million to help get him reoriented. Logan agrees, but on one condition: He give up his campaign. “It’s a horseshit pipe dream,” he shouts. “Everyone thinks you’re a joke. You’re fucking embarrassing me.” Will he let the Con-Heads down? We’ll find out next season.
  • “What, precisely, are ‘Greg sprinkles’?”
  • “What if your toenails aren’t all that aesthetically pleasing?” Poor buddy has a “benign fungus” on his foot.
  • Karl yelling, “Roman, we’re real people!” was sad and hilarious.
  • Kendall’s hat is bad. That is a bad hat, Kendall.
  • See you next season. I fucking love this show.
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